You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have no time for the utterly horrendous, archaic and anachronistic, entitled, greedy, unaccountable, elitist human beings that compose the British monarchy, but I’m not going to knock back a day or two off work to commemorate the career of someone who should have been allowed to retire many years ago.
Even better, Bank Holiday Thursday was an extremely pleasant day and a few of us ganged up for a foray into the hills south of the river, taking in a typically difficult 1,700 metres of climbing in just over 100km of riding on draggy roads. We battled our way out to the cafe at Parkhead Station on the Waskerley Way for our obligatory coffee and cake stop, a venue the Hammer suggested had been directly transplanted straight out of Royston Vasey.
Still, weirdness aside, it served its purpose and a fantastic, if tiring day seemed to be had by all involved. There wasn’t though enough time for my aged and ancient body to recover in time for Saturday’s Club Run, where I had the horrible premonition I’d be leaden-legged and suffering. I should have put money on it.
Saturday’s weather wasn’t up to the standard of Thursday’s either and it was chilly enough for me to pull on a windproof jacket “early doors” (Football Cliche-Class 101™) for my jaunt across to our meeting place.
Once again the JPF were tardy in getting their 9.00 run started and the two groups mingled quite happily, before they eventually got their act together and ventured out. A similar start-time from a similar place and the interchangeability of riders between the two groups, coupled with the hard-fought-for changes to our own club structure, prompted a discussion about whether the JPF actually serves a purpose anymore. As much as I like a good existential debate, personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight, so my opinion is irrelevant.
We had enough for 3 groups and G-Dawg encouraged, cajoled and coerced a number of us to volunteer for the first group by pointing out there were none of the usual, faster riders present, so it could be run at a fairly relaxed pace. Without the metronomic arrival of Carlton (en vacances en Espagne) to signify the exact departure time though, he was a little premature and there was still time for Jimmy Mac and young racing snake Dansah to join us before we pulled out. Hmm, what was that about a relaxed pace …
G-Dawg had planned a solid and familiar route, heading north and then west to take in the Curlicue climb and Middleton Bank, but swapping out the Mud de Mitford for a dive through Morpeth town centre instead. A few years ago this may have been a no-no, but like many small towns, trade seems to have abandoned Morpeth and it simply wasn’t all that busy in terms of either traffic or shoppers.
We climbed out of Morpeth and paused to regroup at the top, where Jimmy Mac commended Richard of Flanders on his perfectly matched orange socks and bidons. Richard suggested the next step was matching bar tape, while I suggested matching underwear. He may have laughed off this suggestion, but I could tell I’d planted a seed that might yet come to fruition.
On to Curlicue Bank and the rather vexed question of whether it’s better or worse than the Trench, which it climbs more or less parallel to. I asked Not Anthony but he didn’t have an opinion, which was fine, I didn’t have one either, so I just stuck my nose out in front to try and control the pace as we rode up. From this and this experience alone, I would have to say it’s a steadier and therefore slightly easier climb than the Trench – although I guess it all depends on how fast you go up it, so I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.
At Middleton Bank, Jimmy Mac tired of waiting for us laggards and rode off the front, while the rest of us regrouped and pushed on toward the cafe. I attacked as we hit the foot of the rollers. I had to, simply because I always do, even though it never, ever works to my advantage. This time it was a much bigger mistake than usual and I only made it halfway up the second hump before the legs simply gave up. I waved the others past to get on with it without me. I might have missed the sprint, but I did manage to sneak to the front before the cafe and park my bike in the space Crazy Legs likes to use. Just because …
We took our coffees and cake out into the garden, which was warm enough when the sun came out, but chilly when it hid itself within the broken cloud. Having discarded my arm warmers, it was simpler to pull my jacket on when the temperature dipped.
Crazy Legs cornered Jimmy Mac for a private consultation. Jimmy Mac then risked doctor-patient confidentiality to assure us Crazy Legs would be fine, once at least once the swelling died down and the weeping discharge cleared up …
I didn’t find any other republicans at the table, most just seemed largely indifferent to Her Madje’s Platinum Jubilee, although Richard of Flanders was very unimpressed with four consecutive days of “flag-shagging” as he so delicately put it.
Of course, replacing a monarchy with a constitution is no panacea, I mean look at the knots the USA has tied itself into trying to apply rules that seemed sensible 300 years ago. I mean, whoever thought it was a good idea to grant people the right to arm bears?
Richard of Flanders suggested the best electoral system was the one imposed on Germany by the Allies after WW2. I don’t know enough about it to say whether it’s the best, but I’m all for trying something different, especially if it means the state no longer has to pay out the estimated £300+ million per year needed to keep the Windsor family from extreme penury.
The cafe stop revived me enough to be able to hang in the wheels on the way back until I set off to drag myself back across the river and up the hill home. So, two hard days with a day’s recovery between exposed a few weaknesses. Not the greatest portent for what’s to come in the next couple of weeks, but it is what it is.
With the weather a few degrees warmer but essentially following the same pattern as last Saturday, it was a case of repeating last week’s successful layering strategy to get me through the chilly start and into the temperate/bordering on pleasant late morning.
One major difference though was the wind which had a real chill edge to it and was strong enough to seriously slow me down as I crossed the river and pushed on eastwards.
It also blew a tiny, black fly into my face and I watched helpless as it skated across my spec lenses, hung precariously balanced on the edge for the briefest moment, and then plunged into the corner of my eye.
This proved a painful distraction for the next few minutes, as I tried to furiously blink and wipe away the discomfort. The only good thing was it took my mind off the new stem I’d fitted to my bike and now found to be ever so slightly misaligned with my front wheel. It wasn’t physically affecting anything, but every time I looked down I had a weird sense of vertigo and it was making me feel nauseous. Luckily, despite the headwind, I was able to reach the meeting place with enough time to unbolt and realign my bars.
Funnily enough, just after fitting the new stem, the venerable Toshi San had asked how my Holdsworth “Reg” was these days and I’d rather off-handedly replied, “like Trigger’s broom.”
The character Trigger in the TV comedy Only Fools and Horses claims to have used the same broom for 20 years before revealing it has only “had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”
Thinking about it now though, that seems a much more accurate description than I intended, as the only original parts of the Focus Cayo I bought in, oh maybe 2014, are the front mech, the handlebars, brake calipers and 90% of the STI levers. Since then I’ve replaced the frame and fork for the Holdsworth (crash damage in 2016), had three stems, three seatposts, half a dozen saddles (still haven’t found one that suits me) at least 5 sets of wheels, one rear derailleur, two or three sets of pedals, new bottle cages and even new bar ends.
Add to this the usual consumables that wear out over time and need replacing: tyres, tubes, chains, cables, bar tape, cassettes, headsets, brake blocks, bottom brackets and whatnot and, at any point, could I legitimately claim to have a new bike?
This is the Ship of Theseus paradox, about which Plutarch asked if every single piece of wood on a ship was replaced over a number of years, was it still the same ship? This philosophical conundrum has perplexed the smartest of thinkers over the centuries, but being a cyclist of the n+1 persuasion, I can assert that it’s still the same bike – because at no point have I ever not wanted something newer and shinier.
But I digress …
Today marked the welcome return of the Famous Cumbria (Dave/Steve) not seen since the last time he rode off the front up the Trench and, despite our repeated shouts, sailed blithely past the left-hand turn at the top and disappeared. Now he had returned to us, potentially after circumnavigating the entire globe and it seemed only fitting that he had the opportunity to do it all again.
This was because Biden Fecht had planned today’s route to include a climb up the Trench in what otherwise seemed a random cut and paste of regularly traveled roads that would at least give everything a patina of freshness. This included a descent down “Curlicue Bank” (hint: not its real name) for the sole purpose of 5 minutes later climbing back up the Trench to pretty much where we started.
Just for a change, Biden Fecht also selected the seldom visited cafe at Bolam Lake for our coffee interlude, the “cabin the woods” offering plentiful seating, decently quick service (well, by cycling cafe standards) and excellent value for money, with the only major drawback being it was cash only, so back to carrying lots of jingly coins in your back pocket.
Still, as Taffy Steve observed, now we’ve freed ourselves of the shackles of always using the cafe at Belsay, we have a lot more variety in terms of routes (as well as coffee and cake offerings)
Meanwhile, G-Dawg and Jimmy Mac discussed last night’s rugby game, where the Newcastle team were decidedly dreadful. They determined that we were subject to the universal yet unwritten law that states that a city can’t have two professional sports teams doing well at the same time. Given this rule, it was obvious that with the football team being one of the form clubs in the Premiership, the rugby club has to suffer as a consequence – they can’t both be good.
“Hang on,” I interjected, “I remember it wasn’t so long ago when the rugby team and football team were both shite.”
“Oh, yeah,” G-Dawg acknowledged, “But that’s not against the rules.”
We got three reasonably similar-sized groups out and onto the road without too much trouble (for a change) and away we went.
It was a bit of a mish-mash of a route, but greater than the sum of its parts. It worked well and all was good. The third group I was travelling with passed the second group, held up by a puncture just past the Cheese Farm and, despite a lengthy stop at Dyke Neuk, they never seem to close and we wouldn’t see them again until the cafe stop.
As we left Dyke Neuk, Crazy Legs explained the next part of the ride was a long descent, solely to have a long climb back to more or less exactly where we’d just been.
“Well, that pretty much sums-up cycling, doesn’t it?” Goose replied sagely. No one disagreed and no one opted for the couple of hundred flat metres to the top of the Trench in lieu of the descent and subsequent climb.
We’d already impressed on the Famous Cumbrian that we would take the left-hand turn at the top of the Trench, just to make sure he didn’t miss it and ride off into the sunset again, but as we dropped down Curlicue Bank, I felt it was worth reinforcing our route for him.
“So, it’s first left at the top of the Trench,” I confirmed with Crazy Legs, loudly enough for the Famous Cumbrian to overhear.
“Yes. The very first left at the top of the climb,” Crazy Legs emphasised for clarity.
“Is this left turn easy to miss?” a puzzled Famous Cumbrian queried.
“Apparently,” I dead-panned. Well, I thought it was funny.
We made it to the top of the Trench without any difficulties and the Famous Cumbrian even made the left turn. We took the swoop and rise through Hartburn and then the left turn toward Angerton, where Crazy Legs celebrated the astonishing, potentially miraculous lack of headwind along this most notorious and most-exposed part of our route.
One last clamber and a very short descent later and we were at the cabin in the woods.
We then had one of those interludes where our rambling conversation didn’t have any particular focus, but it ceaselessly looped and bounced all over the place, while we all misheard or misremembered things. It was the kind of surreal conversation I imagine you might encounter in a particularly eccentric and fesity old people’s home where the inmates are stimulated by patchy recall and half-understood snippets of tabloid headlines.
It started when I asked about Crazy Leg’s sister. She’d been hospitalised for a week when chest pains were diagnosed as a suspected heart-attack, but it turned out the discomfort was simply due to muscle strain. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs himself has had the results of a recent blood test revealing high cholesterol. I don’t think he has any hope of a mis-diagnosis in this instance as he affirmed his recent diet has consisted primarily of chocolate, crisps and beer.
Somehow this led to Goose declaring that he’d been to Popeye’s village and we felt obliged to break the bad news to him that Popeye was in fact a fictional character. He was, of course, referring to the set of the Popeye movie which had featured Robin Williams, (not as Crazy Legs suggested Robbie Williams, which would have made it a whole different kind of film).
Whatever the merits of the film, or its set, I suggested the greatest thing about it was probably the near-perfect casting of the Olive Oyl character, although he couldn’t remember who the actress was. (It was not Olive Rudge from On The Buses as Crazy Legs helpfully suggested).
Popeye prompted talk of Sylvester Stallone and his curious habit while filming the Rocky series to always take one “real” punch to set himself up for the fight scenes, or at least he used to until he told Dolph Lungren, “punch me as hard as you can in the chest” and he ended up in intensive care for four days. Maybe this is what happened to Crazy Legs’ sister?
Crazy Legs then had us try to guess the well-known film that Sylvester Stallone had directed, but even with the clues that it was a sequel and starred John Travolta, none of us could. I did recall a film that Stallone not only directed but wrote (and was surprisingly entertaining). I knew it was about a wrestler, had Tom Waits appropriately playing a character called Mumbles, but again the title eluded me. (It was not, as Crazy Legs suggested “The Wrestler.”)
Someone wondered if Stallone’s mother was still alive. Naturally, nobody could remember her name, but we reasoned she was either deceased, or so truly ancient she was unlikely to be putting in many personal appearances. Then again we were also conscious of Kirk Douglas who lived to a ripe old age and, while fairly sure he had recently passed, there was no certainty in the group.
Somehow Kirk Doulas segued into Caribbean food and discussion about the Scotch Bonnet and whether it was the hottest pepper as measured on the Scoville Scale (not as Crazy Legs suggested the Schofield Scale, which apparently measures how naff your morning TV programmes are.)
At least we all agreed that the Scotch Bonnet wasn’t the hottest pepper around, but (obviously) no one could remember what was.
There was then a discussion about whether you could be the victim of physically “spiking” (i.e. injected with a drug) without realising it had happened. For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of how the conversation ended up here!
We backtracked to learn Crazy Legs’ dog is jealously possessive of pine cones and likes to lick people after being fed. Mrs Crazy Legs argues it’s a sign of affection, Crazy Legs thinks it’s a canine form of tongue cleaning …
Luckily it was time to leave, before someone else had a go at spinning the conversation randomiser wheel, and we saddled up to scoot.
It was a good and pleasant run back. Then as we crested Berwick Hill I nodded at the red flag, fluttering taut above the firing range and noted the direction it was streaming.
“That’s looking like a block headwind all the way back to the coast for you,” I suggested to Taffy Steve. He resignedly acknowledged this was probably true, but one man’s misery might be another’s good fortune and so it proved – I had a tailwind/cross-tailwind to help me up all major climbs on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed my wind-assisted amble home.
Just for the record and thanks to the power invested in me by Mr. Google, I can tell you that:
The Popeye film set is near the village of Mellieha on the island of Malta.
The actress who played Olive Oyl in the Popeye movie was Shelley Duvall.
The sequel Stallone directed John Travolta in was Staying Alive.
The wrestling film Stallone wrote and directed was Paradise Alley. Surprisingly he doesn’t play a wrestler.
Stallone’s mother was called Jackie and she died in 2020 aged 98.
Kirk Douglas was 103 when he died. It was relatively recently, also in 2020.
The Carolina Reaper is officially the World’s Hottest Pepper rated at 2.2 Million Scoville units or 200x hotter than a jalapeño. In contrast, the Scotch Bonnet is only 40x hotter than a jalapeño. (I apologise in advance to my Dutch friends if the Scoville Scale is composed of retard units.)
Mr. Google has no idea why Crazy Legs’ dog feels the need to lick people after being fed. Perhaps it’s a suitable topic for the world’s greatest thinkers now I’ve finally cracked the paradox of the Ship of Theseus?
Well, I guess we had to pay for the fine, fine weather last week. And we did. The altitudinous uplands of Whickham received more than a smattering of snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as winter bit back with a vengeance. Luckily the snow had all cleared by Saturday morning, though the temperature was still hovering around zero as I set out and the north side of the river was completely hidden behind an opaque veil of freezing fog.
Crazy Legs had devised a route taking in ascents of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench and with the ground likely to be wet and slick, especially for the former, it was time to dust down the Pug and lean on having a selection of gears to aid my crawl upwards with my weight plonked firmly over the back wheel.
The almost universal adoption of shorts last week had been temporarily abandoned and everyone was more or less wrapped up from head to toe, with the exception of G-Dawg who, striving to retain his Geordie-ness, had compromised with three-quarter length tights. It was cold, but the consensus was it wasn’t cold enough for lobster mitts – which I suspect for those in the know, may be a better and more accurate indication of the temperature without the need to resort to purely scientific measures.
Before the group assembled we had a brief chat with an FNG on a smart, white Orbea bike he’d recently bought, having given up waiting on Ribble who’d quoted no new bike availability until late September at the earliest!
Speaking of Ribble, one of the first to arrive was the Cow Ranger astride his Ribble, which once would have been recognised as a twin to Crazy Legs’ much cosseted and pampered velocipede, but had been press-ganged into service as a winter bike and was starting to show signs of neglect. Unfortunately, the RSPCR (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ribble’s) has yet to be formed, so Crazy Legs had no outlet for his evident distress other than to keen loudly while covering up his eyes.
Sliding to a halt, the Cow Ranger lept off his bike and started fiddling with the rear mech, furiously spinning the cable stop barrel this way and that.
“Uh-oh! Adjusting your gears moments before a club ride never turns out well,” Crazy Legs remarked with incredible prescience.
“I just need a couple of gears to get me through the ride,” the Cow Ranger muttered.
“Well, you already have that, you can choose the big ring or the inner ring,” I suggested. Apparently unhelpfully.
The Cow Ranger jumped back onto his bike and took a test spin through the car park trailing a long litany of clanks and clunks, clangs and naughty swear words behind him. Skidding to a halt in front of us, he attacked the rear mech again.
“Can you remember what you did last time?” Crazy Legs asked out of curiosity.
“I think it was about 7 full turns clockwise then 6 anti-clockwise,” I volunteered. Again apparently unhelpfully – even though I swear it was a fairly accurate assessment.
Another test spin. Another test failure. The Cow Ranger stopped again, running a critical eye over his drive-train and muttering something about a “kinky chain” before admitting he was using an oddball and mongrel mix of Shimano and Campagnolo components that quite obviously really, really didn’t like each other.
Ever the Campagnolo champion (Campagnolo Campione, or maybe even Campagnolo Campionissimo?) Crazy Legs channelled his inner Joe Dolce and gave voice to the Italian components.
“Hey goombah! You gotta no respect? Whatta you think you do? You ‘spect me to work wit dees?” (Or something along these lines…)
Still, help was on the horizon as OGL appeared and predictably couldn’t resist his natural urge to become embroiled in any and all mechanical issues. Even his accumulated years of mechanical bike tinkering however didn’t seem to do the trick. The Cow Ranger took one last tour of the car park before riding off into the sunsetrise and home.
Well, that was entertaining.
Crazy Legs briefed in our route for the day, we split into two groups and the first bunch disappeared up the road.
“Let’s get rrrrready toooooo … err … trundle!” Taffy Steve announced in his best Wrestlemania voice and then we were away too.
I found myself riding along with Brassneck, who reported an ominous conversation with his daughter and Mrs. Brassneck, who’d both separately informed him that, life insurance being what it is, he was worth considerably more to them dead than alive. This had understandably seen a little bit of paranoia creeping into the unguarded recesses of his mind. He was beginning to wonder if all the encouragement he was getting to ride his bike wasn’t because it gave him pleasure, but simply because it was the most dangerous activity he indulged in (unless vinyl poisoning is a thing?)
It occurred to us that a club cyclist was probably the easiest of targets for an assassination attempt – our route and timings were published well beforehand and, let’s face it, no one would think twice about yet another road traffic accident where a cyclist is killed by a careless motorist who, even if caught red-handed, is unlikely to face much more than a cursory slap on the wrist.
His paranoia started to infect me too and I wondered if I shouldn’t find someone else to ride alongside in case I became collateral damage.
Other than this, things were going smoothly and we pushed onto the front as we turned up toward the Cheese Farm. We made it to Tranwell Woods before the bolt holding Brassneck’s front mudguard in place mysteriously worked loose and dropped out and he found himself riding with the constant tsk-tsk of tyre rubbing on guard.
We discussed if this was intentional sabotage, how far he was willing to ride with the constant irritating accompaniment of tyre rub and whether it was better to ride to destruction or stop and embroil everyone in more mechanical shenanigans. We eventually decided to stop and secure the mudguard in place with a cable tie. OGL would later realise we could have used a bolt from a bottle cage as a replacement – a good idea and handy tip should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but with just our temporary fix to go on Brassneck turned for home.
“This all might be part of the plot against me,” he confided as he turned to go.
“Yes,” I agreed, “You’re vulnerable, alone and separated from the herd now. Good luck.”
He nodded once, stoically and was gone …
Crazy Legs determined we were well behind schedule having actively trundled our way up to this point and then spent so much time trying to get Brassneck up and running again, so decided we’d skip the Mur de Mitford and Trench to claw back some time. Maybe I hadn’t needed to ride the Peugeot after all – although we still had a reasonably sharp climb out of Mitford and then up Middleton Bank to contend with. Anyway, at least I’d given TripleD-El the opportunity to suggest I should turn my tricolour bar end plugs through 90° to celebrate my Dutch colleagues rather than the Pug’s French heritage. It seemed a reasonable request, but not one I was willing to attempt while riding along.
Down through Hartburn, it was the turn of Sneaky Pete’s mudguard to work loose, but luckily his had clip-in mounts and he was able to pop them back in and we got going again.
TripleD-El dropped her chain on the approach to Middleton Bank and our group got seriously split on the climb. I followed Zardoz over the crest and we joined up with Crazy Legs, Liam and the FNG as we decided not to wait but push on to the cafe. I followed in the wheels until the final hill and then tried to keep the pace high as I hit the front, but it didn’t seem all that effective and everyone zipped past to contest the sprint. If I’m not mistaken, Zardoz then snatched a hard-fought victory to commemorate his text-book lessons in canny riding, following the wheels and assiduously avoiding being in the wind on the front.
We were back to interminable queuing and glacial service at the cafe, but despite the congestion we caused, I was told we’d apparently been missed! (Or, for the cynical amongst you, our reckless spending on cakes and coffee had been missed.)
At the table, Crazy Legs was enthusing about the discovery of Shackleton’s ship, eerily preserved in almost perfect condition 3,000 metres down in the depths of the Weddell Sea after being caught and crushed in the pack ice. He also recommended the book about the expedition, South which describes the extreme cold and relentless hardships endured by the survivors – suffice to say that if any had been riding today, they’d almost certainly have turned up wearing shorts.
He could not, on the other hand, recommend the Geraint Thomas book, The World of Cycling According to G, which is apparently unbefitting of its subject, extremely bland and boring, with its most startling revelation being that (apparently) it tends to rain a lot in Wales. I’m not sure how you can make such a seemingly engaging person so grey and dull, so that’s certainly an achievement, if in no way commendable.
Speaking of grey, we learned that Goose is still toying with the idea of a new paint job for his beloved Boardman and thinks primer grey would be the ideal colour choice. Given his earlier plans to re-brand it as a Volvo that somehow seems fitting, if a little underwhelming.
The return ride proved uneventful and, despite a gathering of dark clouds, completed without getting rained on. That’ll do nicely and hopefully next week things will be a little bit warmer.
Following last week’s travails, I was aiming to complete the entirety of the next club ride, or at least make it as far as the all-important café stop, so the plan was to press the Peugout into service yet again. This was only reinforced by G-Dawg’s route which included both the Mur de Mitford (a mere 350 metres of sharp ascending, but topping out at 18% in parts and a bad, often slimy surface) and the long drag up the Trench.
A selection of gears for this assault on my body seemed appropriate, so I’d dutifully fixed the rear wheel puncture I’d limped home on of last week in anticipation of press-ganging the Pug into use once again.
I’d checked the bike out midweek and then on Friday evening made sure the tyre pressures were good in prep for use the next day. I shouldn’t have bothered. When I pulled the bike out the next morning the rear tyre had conspired to expire overnight and was flat and empty.
With no time to swap out the tube, I swapped bikes instead (and shoes, bad planning and different pedal systems!) and there we were, back on the single-speed despite the best of intentions. Was I ready for this? Nah, definitely not.
Saturday proved to be yet another windy day too, for about the fifth weekend in a row, but at least the widely forecast rain never materialised. This meant that there was a good chance the Mur de Mitford was perhaps semi-dry, or at least not awash with surface water and I might have a fighting chance of hauling my sorry carcass up it.
I had a blissfully uneventful ride across to the meeting point, arriving far too early and taking a tour around some local roads to fill in the time. It was here that I discovered the road past Fawdon Metro was closed for repair work, so turned around and backtracked.
Passing G-Dawg heading the other way, I tried telling him the road ahead was closed, but he just took my shouts and wild gesticulations as an overly enthusiastic greeting and sailed imperially onwards. Not that it mattered anyway, he just bluffed or blagged his way straight through the roadworks.
Even with the back-tracking and obligatory pee-stop I made it to the meeting point in good time, where a group of 16 or so gradually coalesced. This included Not Anthony who reported that last week he’d had to bail at high speed as an alternative to being blown into a roundabout. This apparently was the result of Brassneck cajoling their group into taking advantage of a ferocious tail-wind to try and capture a Strava segment PB for Mini Miss and then finding the helpful tail-wind suddenly became a deadly cross-wind.
Not Anthony reported that closely following young speedster Dingbat had gone over his handlebars in the ensuing kerfuffle, but both apparently survived with only minor cosmetic injuries to bikes and bodies.
“More importantly though,” I had to ask, “Did you get the PR?”
Luckily, I was told their sacrifices had indeed paid off.
Wonder of wonders, OGL reported that he’s been in contact with several local venues as he looks to arrange somewhere suitable for the club EGM demanded by British Cycling. I’ll just leave that one out there …
Even more wonderous and unlikely, Ovis put in a very rare appearance. So rare in fact that Crazy Legs wished him a happy new year and shook his hand and then repeated the gesture for the year before too.
Ovis had turned out in his habitual and seemingly indestructible Rochdale Tri kit – “Just so people still recognise me!” and brought along his usual abundance of malt loaf and self-effacement. “Oh, I’ve not been out much on the bike and I’m not very fit at all. I’ve just been doing little bits and pieces on the turbo. Hope I can keep up.”
Ovis would join the third group with me and of course, he was never off the front for more than a few minutes, relentlessly spearheading our efforts and driving the group on through strong headwinds, uphill and down dale.
Not fit, my arse! to borrow a turn of phrase from Jim Royle.
With his pace-setting, it wasn’t long before we were closing in on the Mur de Mitford and my main challenge for the day. While everyone else fussed over gear selection, I just rolled around the sharp left-hand turn, eased out of the saddle and got at it. It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I just about managed, not putting too much force down through the pedals to keep the tyres gripping all the way up.
In the group ahead, G-Dawg wasn’t quite so lucky. He found he couldn’t push the much, much bigger gear on his fixie without standing up, but whenever he eased out of the saddle his rear wheel just skipped and spun uselessly across the greasy road surface. He ended up having to dismount and run up the hill cyclo-cross style. At least I was spared that indignity.
As we approached the long climb up the Trench, Ovis was (obviously) on the front, driving us on alongside Crazy Legs who suddenly started guffawing loudly. He then turned to me and nodded at Ovis.
“He says he’s not very fit and wants us to wait for him at the top!” he explained disbelievingly.
Naturally, Ovis led us up the Trench where we stopped to regroup before pushing on again, down the dip, dive and rise through Hartburn and on toward Angerton. This was the most exposed section of our route and, collectively, we could only recall one solitary occasion in over 10-years when anyone cycling this road has had the benefit of a tailwind.
Surprises apparently don’t come in three’s and with Ovis showing up for a club run and OGL (perhaps) preparing for a club EGM we’d evidently exhausted our quota of unlikely events for the day. It was the expected headwind. It was indeed as brutal as we thought it would be and by the time we’d climbed up to Bolam Lake I was starting to feel heavy-legged and tired.
Still, I thought, at least I can sacrifice myself to provide a good springboard for the café sprint, so I took to the front and started to wind up the pace. I pulled the group along until, halfway up the rollers I was done, swung over, sat up and watched the others zip away for the final climb and to contest sprint honours.
I thought I’d done a decent job of getting the group moving, until Crazy Legs informed me in the café that I’d been going much too slowly, he’d wanted to jump past much earlier but recognised I still wasn’t 100% fit so had indulged me a little.
Ooph! Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.
While enjoying some well-earned cake and coffee, Crazy Legs was keen to promote the world-renowned, architectural marvel and stunning tourist attraction that is the perspex tunnel linking the car park and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bude, Cornwall. So great is its appeal that it has its own Trip Advisor page to extol its virtues as a “stunningly crafted marvel,” “truly life-changing” and an “awe inspiring and enthralling experience.”
As Dave M. from Prestwick gushed, “I have walked through the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the towering domes, the gold-inlaid marble, the carpet that took 1000 weavers 100 years to complete, the thousand-tonne chandeliers – but nowhere does bus-shelter Perspex quite like Bude.”
With 946 excellent ratings out on 1,076 reviews, this sounds like a must-see, but of course, there are always people who don’t appreciate art and incredible human achievements, with Linden-S from High Wycombe “baffled at how an empty plastic tunnel running beside a supermarket can possibly be considered an attraction,” while John M of Woking simply declared it a “waste of time.” Philistines!
Crazy Legs then pressed us all to enter an “Ogle road lottery” and predict what conditions we would face when we took the lane through to the hamlet. Captain Black went for “very bad” I went for “bad” Crazy Legs “mingin'” G-Dawg, “fine” – while Sy6, undoubtedly a glass half full kind of guy, suggested the road would be “perfect” – miraculously restored to a pristine condition.
G-Dawg won that one, and we enjoyed a surprisingly mud-free and relatively dry passage. I was fading rapidly as we topped Berwick Hill, but managed to hold on through Dinnington and past the airport, before dropping off the back. Then it was just a long, slow slog home.
So, the week before last I had yet another birthday, which is a bit strange since it’s only seems a year or so since the previous one. Anyway, belated thanks to all those who sent through best wishes and that I was too lazy and indolent to reply to. It’ll have to do.
I know they say age is just a number, but does it have to be such a big one? To counteract this I’ve decided to only count my age in prime numbers and so, by my careful calculation this was my 17th birthday.
Being (as already mentioned) lazy and indolent, and easily distracted too, I never got around to writing up our ride from two weeks ago, so bits of that will probably stray into this particular blerg post, maybe by way of little random cameo’s, but probably in a more organised, chronological fashion as that’s easier to write (and you know. Lazy. Indolent.)
This more elastic, elongated view has made me realise that for the past month and a half our weather has been a remarkably consistent, Russian-roulette coin-flip, offering up just two variations. Randomly flip heads and you get dry, overcast, very occasionally sunny. Flip tails though and you get wet, overcast and frequently delugional. I know, I know, no such word exists. Until now. (Although Mr. Google has just told me Delugional is a font “representing the typeface of a lost civilisation.” Huh?)
So, with our bipolar weather we have experienced, or perhaps endured:
31st July (Droond Rats) = Tails. Cold and miserable with non-stop rain to accompany a miserable grind up the Ryals.
7th August (Venga! Venga! Venga!) = Heads. Ideal weather for taking an unplanned, unexpected adventure (aka getting lost.)
14th August (Hokey Cokey) = Heads. So pleasant it had us talking about tan lines and swapping arm warmers for bare arms willy-nilly.
21st August (Put on the Red Light) = Tails. Wet, wet, wet. The heavens wept. Maybe it was appropriate.
28th August (last week) = Tails. You guessed. Wetness and plenty of it.
4th September (this week) = Heads. No sun, but warm and just one light shower to dampen or ardour.
This list also serves to show just how shit an August we’ve had. What’s even more remarkable is that for every single one of those days the BBC Weather app has given us a copy-and-paste forecast: Overcast they said. Light winds they said. Small chance of light showers they said. All lies. On not one of those days has the weather remotely matched the forecast. Even a broken clock is right with greater frequency.
So, 28th August, (the ride with no name) saw me pulling my rain jacket on and off and on again, until we left the meeting point when it was firmly on and staying in place. It was warm enough, but as wet as an otter’s pocket. Or as wet as an eagle I guess, if you happen to be a Peep Show aficionado.
I travelled out in the third group, which, despite constant carping about the pace from OGL (or maybe because of it) was travelling so fast we had the second group in our sights by the time we passed the Cheese Farm and were closing rapidly. We would have caught them too, had not the curse of Buster’s leaky bladder struck at the top of Bell’s Hill, forcing us into an impromptu pee stop. He’s like a dog with a lampost fixation now, goodness knows what he’ll be like when he’s racked up 17 or more prime numbers in age.
We then had a false start, forced to stop and pull our bikes up onto the grass verge to allow the passage of a giant combine harvester that took up all of the lane and more. Then, a few metres further up the road we were forced repeat the process, this time making way for a tractor transporting the combine’s header unit which took up even more space and was definitely not something you want to tangle with.
It was beginning to look a lot like harvest-time and there was a good chance we’d have close encounters with tractors and combines all day, although I’m certain at that point we didn’t realise just how close.
Our route took us through the outskirts of Morpeth to Netherwitton and up the Trench. Buster chased Young Dinger up the climb at a remarkably furious pace, while the rest of us followed much more sedately. We paused at the top long enough to regroup.
“Aha,” I said, noticing Buster’s new ‘Band of Climbers’ socks, “Did you’re new socks inspire you to ride so furiously up the Trench?”
“No, I was just desperate for another pee,” Buster confessed.
Passing through Belsay and on to Ogle, G-Dawg then ended up playing chicken with an approaching tractor when the driver decided he had the right of way across both lanes and was intent on using the full width of the road, no matter what. He obviously felt no need to slow down while passing other vulnerable road-users either and even gave G-Dawg a sharp horn-blast in reprimand for refusing to cede the metre wide ribbon of tarmac he’d left us which, horror of horrors, made him have to plant his left wheel on the opposite verge.
It was touch and go, but we made the café at Kirkley without any of us being harvested. There, over coffee and cake, I had a good chat with Zardoz about veteran, octogenarian (and more) cyclists. You know the kind, they’re instantly recognisable: rake thin, barely able to stand straight from prolonged crouching over the bars, their stooped shoulders and odd gait giving them the appearance of some awkward, arthritic wading-bird. That is of course until they swing their leg over a bike and take flight, becoming instantly transformed into a tidy figure of grace, speed and power.
Zardoz regularly meets up to ride with his old crew from back home who are all like this and he was happy to confirm their competitive spirit remains undimmed. This gives me the hope that I’ll be able to make my 23rd (prime number) birthday still forlornly chasing people up hills and revelling in the knockabout absurdity of the café sprint.
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, pleasant and innocuous sort of ride, where not a lot had happened, either good or bad and everything was chilled and relaxed as we left the café and made the turn onto the narrow lane toward Berwick Hill. Crazy Legs was rolling on the front, the pace deliberately low while we waited for everyone to catch up and he was all for keeping it pegged there as we ambled homeward.
Then, the Nutter appeared, just to remind us how quickly things can turn ugly and how injury or worse lurks around every corner. I was up near the front as we crossed over the river Pont and started to climb, when there was a muffled thud from behind and some incoherent shouting that then transformed into vociferous swearing. The Nutter, on a life and death mission to who knows where and taking a rat-run away from major roads, had decided he wasn’t going to wait behind a group of cyclists clogging up the narrow lane and had tried to squeeze by where there was no room to pass, bringing down one of our number, in what Crazy Legs would later contend was a deliberate act.
He’d then stopped, just long enough to get out of his vehicle, shout and swear some more and accuse the rider of attacking his car, (“He tried to smash my wing mirror off with his face, officer!”) as a prelude to refusing to give any personal details and fleeing the scene of the accident.
Our rider picked himself up, bloodied but thankfully unbroken and, Johnny Hoogerland-style, insisted he was good to press on. So we did, ending what had been a good ride up to that point in somewhat subdued fashion.
So onto another week and another run, with luck one that managed to avoid kamikaze tractor drivers and homicidal motorists. This time we were repeating one of Jimmy Mac’s new routes, crossing over to the south of the river and taking in a scrabble up our hill climb course, Prospect Hill just outside Corbridge. As an added attraction, this included a stop at a new café, the Bywell Coffee Barn. Others had done the same route while I’d been away on holiday and it had been well received and lauded, but not nearly as much as the new café was. The Bywell Coffee Barn had instantly become a favourite – even after just one visit. Hopefully it would live up to the hype.
Our Johnny H. wannabe failed to show, suggesting either bike or rider were more damaged in last weeks Nutter-incident than suspected at the time – although hopefully there’s a more innocent and much less sinister explanation. As a substitute though, the day marked the re-emergence of Dave from Cumbria, last seen ignoring our shouted instructions and ploughing on, straight-past the turn-off at the top of the Trench to disappear up the road. He’d either managed to find his own way home and been avoiding us in a fit of pique since then, or he’d spent the last few weeks circumnavigating the entire globe to return to the spot where he started.
Again our numbers were pushing 30 as we split up and rolled out and I joined the second group. I took a turn at the front alongside Cowboys as we passed through Darras Hall, catching and passing OGL who we’d left behind at the meeting point, but who had obviously taken a short-cut up Broadway. (Yes, the very same Broadway he’d previously refused to ride along and declared an absolute death trap.)
OGL was accompanied by just one solitary rider, who I recognised from other runs, but don’t think I’ve ever spoken to. “Did you see the look on his face?” Crazy Legs would later cackle. “His eyes were already haunted and silently pleading for us to take him away with us.”
I stayed on the front after we’d stopped to don rain jackets in the face of a sudden shower, and I was still there as we started to descend into the Tyne Valley. There my bottle took advantage of the crappy, lumpy road surface to bolt from its cage, performing a graceful double Salchow and twist as it somersaulted and bounced freely away.
I pulled to a stop and luckily Brassneck trailing behind me proved a true gent and retrieved the errant bottle, skidding to a stop just in front of me to hand it back while grinning about how ineffectual his rim brakes are in the wet.
We pushed on to Bywell Bridge were we stopped and G-Dawg asked if anyone wanted to go straight to the café. Luckily it had stopped raining by now, so there was no excuse to alter our route and we all declined. Crazy Legs then got into a conversation about mistaking Not Anthony for Cowboys, while the Big Yin looked on bemused.
“But are you not Anthony?” he asked Cowboys, with furrowed brow.
“Well, he’s not Not Anthony,” Crazy Legs confirmed. The Big Yin looked none the wiser, as we quickly clipped in and pressed on.
We cut through Corbridge, crossed the river and made our way to Prospect Hill, where it was every man for himself as we tackled the infamous 9 hairpins that made up our annual hill climb course. I’ve never ridden the climb at anything other than eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ race-pace, so it was interesting to try it without worrying about “setting a time.” It was still bloody horrible though, especially the first section so churned up and rutted it looked as if a giant hand had crumpled up the road in disgust and then thought better of it and tried to smooth it back into place again.
“I can’t believe we actually try to race up here,” I gasped as I winched myself past G-Dawg who was trying to hide the shame of being caught using his inner ring.
At the top I was commended by Crazy Legs for steadfast fellowship as he recalled the conversation we’d had after his last attempt at the hill climb. “Your my friend,” he’d implored me, “Don’t ever let me do that again.” So far so good, but the way he was talking about specifically training for the event, perhaps the memory of the pain is starting to fade?
We took in a long loop back down to the valley and I nudged ahead of the rest and caught up with Crazy Legs on the descent. “Careful,” he warned, “There’s a car coming.” I’m not sure how he knew, it was a blind bend and I heard nothing. Maybe he has preternaturally acute hearing, or he’s clairvoyant, or maybe he has one of those special radars that allow motorists to overtake cyclists when approaching a bend, safe in the knowledge nothing is coming the other way? I suggested I started calling him Raedar, which he admitted was at least a step up from a similar nickname he had in his schooldays.
On the valley floor we turned east before crossing the river back to the sanctuary of the north side via Bywell bridge, then it was a straight up toward the new cafe.
“Swash-swash-swash,” I chanted rythmically as I pulled up alongside G-Dawg on the long climb.
“Swash-swash-swash,” his deep-rim carbon wheels replied for him, as he stood up, stomped on the pedals and we settled into the climb, thinking it was was the perfect excuse to reward ourselves with coffee and cake. About three-quarters of the way up the hill we swung left for the delights of the Bywell Coffee Barn and our just reward.
First impressions were it was a really pleasant place, the coffee smelled great, the cake display was mightily impressive and the staff seemed genuinely welcoming. The same however can’t be said for the other customers.
“Are there going to be any more of youse?” a tight-faced, twin-set-and-pearls type demanded pointedly, all the while sucking on an imaginary lemon. It gave me great pleasure to politely inform her there was at least one other group behind us, although this strangely didn’t seem to cheer her any.
They served a damn fine cup of Joe (flat white with a default double-shot of espresso), the cake was good and the service friendly and efficient. Hell, even the receipts were printed on thick, luxurious paper. It was while admiring these that we noticed that both Brassneck and G-Dawg had not only placed identical orders, but they’d both been assigned the same order number 12. Hmm, in a straight up, knockdown fight over a lone bacon sandwich, I wasn’t sure which of them I’d back. Luckily it never came to that as both orders were fulfilled at precisely the same time and we were all able to breather a little more easily.
Bacon sandwiches can be an emotive subject at the best of times, but there seemed to be a consensus around the table that there would be many more vegetarians in the world but, well … bacon.
The outstanding feature of these particular specimens was the large, glistening asparagus spear nestled atop the soft, pink rolls of bacon – a decidedly eclectic garnish and perhaps a little-too refined for a bunch of hairy-arsed bikers? In fact, on a quick list of accompaniments to the perfect bacon sandwich, asparagus surprisingly didn’t feature at all amongst popular runners-up such as egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausage, black pudding. It stands to reason then that asparagus had absolutely no chance of toppling the undisputed king of accompaniments: more bacon.
Talk turned a little surreal with discussions about the home-brew fad, that at one point or other seemed to have infected everyone’s parents as they fermented and distilled all sorts of weird grains, berries, fruits and vegetables into largely undrinkable effluvium. Brassneck’s dad took first prize for his attempt at home-brew Malibu. Just. Why?
From home produced effluvium to mass produced, we marvelled at the one-time popularity of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, while Crazy Legs said he knew of a shop renowned for selling every possible type of Lambrini. What? Wait. There are different types of Lambrini? Well, apparently so, according to Wikipedia this “light and fruity perry” has been manufactured (my emphasis) in Liverpool since 1994 and you can enjoy it in original, cherry, peach and strawberry flavours, all the while indulging your desire for the cheapest alcohol in wine measured on a price per unit basis. Yeah, think I’ll pass.
Time to leave and I swear the waiter came out to fondly wave us on our way. We’ll be back, but whether his other customers appreciate that is still a moot point.
We climbed up to the rest of the way to the A69 which has once again returned to 4 thundering lanes of seemingly nose to tail traffic. There’s certain things about the pandemic lockdown I’m actually going to miss. We then spent an age waiting to dart across in ones and twos and then more climbing followed until we could turn off for Whittledene. From there it then it was a straight run through Stamfordham and toward Heddon, where I left the group to travel straight on while they all swung left.
The run for home was good, the route was good, the new café was excellent and no one tried to run us off the roads. That’s a major success in my books.
A better day all round, cool but never cold and while mostly grey, the clouds had the good manners to hold back any actual rain. It would do, it was a far cry from last weeks meteorological thrashing and dry enough even for a white bike too, a decision which was vindicated when Crazy Legs arrived on the much cossetted Ribble.
It was also a day for the animals to show off their strange local, migratory patterns, a grey squirrel being the first to wander idly across my path, followed by cat, a hare and a weasel. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, like some kind of grim prey-predator processional, but interspersed throughout the ride. All were welcome sights, but the same can’t be said for the stupid, suicidal pheasants, who’d obviously got bored waiting for cars on some of the quieter lanes in Northumberland and so seemed intent on committing seppuku by bicycle instead. That’ll get your adrenaline flowing every time.
Maybe I’m getting a bit faster, as yet again I was the earliest arrival at the meeting point and, indeed in time to catch the insurrectionists of the JPF gather before embarking on a cross-river pilgrimage to Slaley. The exotic spoils on the far side of the Tyne were even enough to tempt a few of our regulars to follow too, with Jimmy Mac, the Ticker and Biden Fecht hitching their wagons to the southbound train.
They disappeared up the road in one large, swarming group, but without Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, who arrived moments later having just missed the caboose. We encouraged them to give chase, thinking it would be an easy task for them to catch up (I wouldn’t even have tired), They umhed and they aahed briefly, before deciding to give it a go and then the chase was on.
Our numbers were growing and starting to spread across the pavement when Crazy Legs glanced up, saw an inbound OGL and (purely coincidentally, I hasten to add) determined we had enough people to get a first group out and away. We bumped down the kerb and were off, our group of six morphing into seven when Buster joined, declaring he had to be home early, wasn’t doing the full ride and therefore he didn’t really count against our numbers. Okay, 6½ then. I pushed onto the front with Crazy Legs and we led out the rest, Buster, Aether, the Big Yin, James III and a recurring FNG.
The first thing we passed of note was Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger, pulled to the side of the rode and working furiously to repair a puncture that had seriously derailed their spirited pursuit within only a couple of hundred metres of its start. Even they were going to struggle to catch up with that southbound train now.
I learned that Crazy Legs had abandoned his holiday plans last week because one of the family came down with a bad case of kennel cough, and so he’d been out suffering in the rain with everyone else last Saturday. He concluded it was one of the worst experiences he’d had on a bike. (Still, I’m sure G-Dawg would agree, probably better than not going out at all, though.) Crazy Legs was also at pains to absolve himself of any wrongdoing with regard to the unfortunate Bumping Uglies incident with Aether a few weeks ago, swearing blind it wasn’t his brain fart that caused their moment of unexpected intimacy.
At the top of Bell’s Hill we paused for Buster and James III who needed an impromptu pee stop , evoking memories of the Prof and his unfeasibly small bladder. Crazy Legs then managed to embroil us in his travails with anomic aphasia by demanding to know if could think of any famous Dave’s from Cumbria. We all drew a blank, my suggestion that Melvyn Bragg’s middle name may have been David getting short shrift. In reality, we actually found it difficult to name any famous Cumbrian’s at all, and even Google could only suggest a less than stellar cast (ymmv, of course) consisting of Stan Laurel, Beatrix Potter, Ken Russell and William Wordsworth. Oh, and Postman Pat.
Crazy Legs then explained that he’d been calling the recurring FNG “Steve from Teesside” only to discover he’s actually called Dave and from Cumbria. Crazy Legs now felt he needed a handy mnemonic to help remember the right name, hence the odd request. I explained to the others that he did have form in this area, having confessed to asking Caracol multiple times what his name was until, on about the dozenth occasion, he was told it was “still Nick.” He then told us how Eric became “Not Anthony” after a bad case of mistaken identity. Crazy Legs then went on to suggest that the latter mistake was fully under control now, thanks to his uncle having lived the past 3-years with an adopted raven that just happened to be called Eric.
The Big Yin looked on, mouth agape, bewildered. “Am I still asleep? Am I dreaming this?” he asked no one in particular, “It’s so surreal, it must be a dream.”
Off we went again, still searching for famous Cumbrian’s called Dave and threading our way through multiple fields of violently-bright, painfully-yellow, flowering rape-seed that made me grateful I was wearing polarized lenses. I wonder what Wordsworth would have made of it, I mean this was someone who seemed totally overwhelmed by just a few paltry daffodils after all.
Up the slippery slope of the Mur du Mitford, we then took the route that Buster had proposed for his Altered Carbon ride, replete with the new stretches of silky smooth tarmac that had him so aroused. Strangely, at this point he abandoned us to head for home, driven, I suspect by a simple desire not to bespoil another pair of shorts.
At the last minute the Big Yin decided to “go with” and they both zigged while the rest of us zagged, then, just like that our group was down to just 5. The new tarmac down to Netherwhitton was undoubtedly lush, but there was a hell a lot of climbing to get to it and I was beginning to feel heavy-legged even before we had to scale the Trench.
Crazy Legs patiently explained to Dave-Steve, the FNG that there was a junction at the top of the Trench, the first left hand turn, where we’d all stop to regroup before following the road through to Dyke Neuk. With that, we began to climb, passing a bloke toiling upwards on a time-trial bike with an audibly rubbing brake. “As if this hill isn’t hard enough already,” I told him while he glowered at me for having the temerity to ride without any additional handicaps.
Nearing the top Dave-Steve put in a dig and gained one or two metres on Crazy Legs … and then just kept going, riding straight past the turn we needed to take. Crazy Legs and James III bellowed after him to stop (I didn’t have the breath to join in) but all to no avail and we watched Dave-Steve sail on, blissfully unaware, round the corner and disappear from sight, without once looking back.
We waited a good 5 minutes or so to see if he’d re-appear, while I queried if the Scottish border was closed, otherwise their was a danger he might just keep going. Dave-Steve had truly disappeared though, with no hint of a return and our 5 became 4. Off we went in our reduced numbers, passing through Ogle to take the seldom travelled route through Shilvington – still a novelty to me and adding a little extra distance to our ride To be honest though, I was already approaching 50 miles for the day, so didn’t feel it was strictly necessary, especially as we laboured up what Crazy Legs insisted was a false flat, but which looked (and felt) disconcertingly like a hill to me.
Still, it wasn’t long before we were turning into the café at Kirkley, utterly astonished by our good fortune to find … dan-dan-dah … no queue! We only just made it though as our other groups started to pile in shortly afterwards, having decided the Shilvington loop was a novelty they were happy to take a pass on.
I grabbed a bench and was joined by a bunch from one of the other groups, Captain Black, TripleD-El, Princess Fiona Mini Miss, Cowboys and Zardoz, the latter two causing a stir of slapstick confusion around the rightful ownership of a cheese scone. Cowboy’s fact of possession gave him nine-tenths of an advantage (ably reinforced by the fact that he’d already ingested half of the disputed baked good before its provenance became contentious).
Luckily all was resolved happily when a second scone finally appeared, but the incident seemed to have revealed a slight flaw in the café’s delivery system, with Zardoz confessing to once having picked up his freshly brewed cappuccino and downing half of it before he realised he was drinking someone else’s hot chocolate.
Chatting with TripleD-El, we learned that she hadn’t been able to return to the moederland since the start of the year, but was hoping to get back in the next couple of months. She was immeasurably happier with the news that Tom Dumoulin had announced a return to racing, as she felt he was the Netherland’s only legitimate shot at a medal in the men’s Olympic road cycling (unlike the women’s events, where they’ll probably fill all 3 medal places.) I confessed I didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t Greg Van Avermaet, so I could finally see the back of the tacky, tawdry gold helmet that has long overstayed its welcome. (It’s not that I have anything against Greg personally, I felt much the same way about Sammy Sánchez’s gold-themed Orbea and that I didn’t even have to suffer for 6 interminable years.)
TripleD-El went on to say how much she liked our new “not club” orange gilets. “Of course you do,” Zardoz chuckled, “Your Dutch, you’re predisposed to like anything orange.”
Talk turned to the possibility of larger ride groups, once lockdown rules are relaxed next week, when up to 30 are allowed to meet outdoors. While British Cycling had recommended a limit of 15 per ride during lockdown, we’d tried to keep more or less to 6 per group. Now, while no one could se a return to mass roll-out’s of 30 plus, the flexibility of being able to form into 6’s, or 8’s or 10’s will provide a little more welcome flexibility. Zardoz’s eyes lit up at the prospect of larger groups, as even the master of stealth has been finding it a little bit harder to avoid turns on the front in the smaller groups.
As if to put the theory to test, a large group of us left the café en masse to ride home together, with Zardoz safely tucked in, out of the wind amongst the wheels at the back. It looked like we were breaking the Rule of Six early, but we were (probably) still within the confines of British Cycling’s 15 man maximum. I don’t know if it was the novelty of seeing so many cyclists together after so long a time, or maybe some form of subtle intimidation by numbers, but unusually the cars along the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill all seemed happy to pull over so we could slide past.
As we started the climb pushed onto the front alongside Crazy Legs and lifted the pace a little. We were hoping for a rest on the subsequent downhill, but found ourselves riding into a strong headwind and had to keep pushing hard to maintain the speed, relinquishing the front as soon as we turned off toward Dinnington.
Mini Miss and Princess Fiona took over and kept the pace high, even increasing it and slapping on their game faces as they pulled everyone up to and past a lone female cyclists.
Past the airport, into the Mad Mile, the sun started to make itself felt and I was looking forward to a pleasant ride back across the river. Passing over the bridge I was surprised to find Plumose Pappus and the Cow Ranger approaching from the other direction. Not only had they lost the other group, it seems like they’d managed to lose themselves too.
With a week off before starting my new job, on Wednesday I played the good clubmate and set up to deliver a batch of new (unofficial) jerseys to four of our number. Door-to-door delivery by dedicated bike courier – now that’s what I call service. Waiting just long enough for the rush hour traffic to die down, the first on my list was the Ticker, which found me staying on the south side of the river, but heading due east and out almost to the coast. Following some disembodied Google navigation in an ear-piece, took me over some pretty rough and broken trails as my route ran along the banks of the Tyne, bouncing over kerbs, tree roots and fractured tarmac, while slaloming around potholes, glittering sprays of broken glass and dimly wandering dogs replete with dimly wandering owners. Seat of the pants stuff, but we made it.
I took up the offer of a coffee al fresco and the Ticker (obviously a man of many hidden talents) noted he would have whipped up a batch of fresh scones if I hadn’t arrived quite so early. He had already provided the highlight of the Classic’s Season when, on our WhatsApp bike racing group chat, I’d wondered how Kasper Asgren felt finding himself in the decisive move at the Tour of Flanders, but sandwiched between Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. “Like a bloke who’s just realised he’s sharing a taxi with the Kray twins,” the Ticker had aptly suggested. Now he was in contention not only for Comeback Comment of the year, but for Cyclist’s Coffee Stop of the Year, albeit a little too far out of the way to become a regular fixture on our club runs.
[Major hat tip to Kasper Asgren by the way, for managing to outwit and outmuscle both MVP and WVA and take a quite stunning and unexpected (to me, anyway) victory.]
From the Tickers abode, I tracked back west toward the city, dropping down to the river before crossing the Millennium Bridge and climbing out the other side, skirting the city centre to drop off point 2. I handed over the jersey picked up my bike by the stem and saddle … and found myself holding two separate bits of bike, my seatpost having silently crumbled just below the clamp. Naturally it had broken in the worst possible place, with the ragged remains of the pin sat 5mm deep in the frame and leaving nothing to grip to pull it out. I had to abandon my mission, leaving both Biden Fecht and Crazy Legs shirtless, call my own personal voiture balai and deposit the bike in LBS to see if it can be rescued or will need to be trashed.
With the weekend approaching I was left with a choice of riding the Frankenstein single-speed, or lumpen Peugeot, although it wasn’t a long debate once I saw Buster’s planned route, with it’s smattering of climbs, including the Mur de Mitford and the Trench. Heavy or not, at least the Peugeot had the advantage of a choice of gears. Although Aether’s Bianchi had survived last weeks mishap, his rear mech was smashed and had snapped several spokes as it tore loose, so his good bike would also be hors combat for the weekend. He too was planning on riding his heavy winter bike, so we agreed to ride together and hopefully avoid any fast groups or racing snakes.
At the moment we seem caught in a repeating cycle of weather characterised by below freezing nights and brilliantly bright, but deathly chill days. Saturday was to be no different. This shockingly-cold-to-moderately-cool pattern meant the Golidlocks ‘just right’ layering formula was especially problematic and even pushed one uncertain FNG to post on Facebook to seek clothing advice. The girls in the club found this highly amusing as they had previously thought they were the ones seeking fashion tips and arranging clothing coordination. Naturally the range of advice to the FNG went from my gloves, jersey, jacket, cap, buff, tights and overshoes, to G-Dawgs shorts and short-sleeved jersey only – so wide as to be be utterly useless.
On Saturday morning I made my own best guess at the right number of layers and clothing combinations, but the descent off the Heinous Hill had me shivering and convinced I’d badly misjudged. It wasn’t until I was climbing out the other side of the valley that I began to feel comfortable.
Even being thrown onto the winter bike hadn’t lessened my enthusiasm for the untarnished novelty of another group ride and I was out early and at the meeting place well before 9.00. There I found the clubs latest splinter cell about to head out on their own ride, with the Prof tagging along and so confirming the scurrilous rumours that he’d split from the Backstreet Boys. A sizeable dozen or so left, leaving those of us not yet in open rebellion at the club hierarchy scattered on a suddenly empty pavement, like flotsam from a receding tide.
Once the splinter cell had departed, we opted for a more discrete presence, so reconvened under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and out of the public gaze. With cyclists being figures of hate as it is, we don’t need any unwarranted criticism for being perceived to be flouting COVID distancing rules too.
It was here that perhaps the strangest FNG yet (a surprisingly high bar!) introduced himself. Clad in just a skin-tight, long-sleeved base layer, skinny jeans and trainers, he declared a new found love for cycling and a desire to solve the eternal conundrum of how you clip in to clipless pedals, as well as learn how to “get aero.” (I assume he meant his riding position and not the popular bubbly chocolate confectionery, but who knows?) He tailed off by suggesting he’d been building up the length of his rides and was now managing “about 4 miles at a time.” I was hoping I’d misheard that last statement, but didn’t wait to clarify as we now had an agreed first group and the winter-bike brigade of Aether and me rode out, along with an escort of fast-movers comprising Crazy Legs, Not Anthony and one of last Sunday’s FNG’s.
Stopped at the first set of lights, we saw route planner and nominal ride leader Buster just approaching, so we barracked him for his tardiness, feigned ignorance about the route and peppered him with questions – is it right here, or left? Where are we going again? Which way? etc. Well, we thought it was funny …
Out of the roads, we found Crazy Legs on fine form and in full human jukebox mode. “Construction Time(?)” gave way to “Into the Groove” after he pulled the FNG back for three-quarter wheeling and was met with the excuse that the FNG was just “in the groove.” This then morphed into Kool & the Gang’s “Groove Tonight.” Carefully picking our way around a Dove’s Building Materials lorry delivering supplies, he eschewed the obvious, more rumbunctious “Wings of a Dove” for “When Doves Cry,” prompting a deep philosophical discussion about whether doves can actually cry and if they do, do they make a sound. (Personally, I think they’re most likely to be silent weepers, but if anyone does know, drop me a line). “When Doves Cry” segued seamlessly into “Purple Rain” and then numerous others as Crazy Legs declared the best thing about riding in groups again (as well as an appreciative audience for his warbling) was the fact that he had enough stimulus to ensure he never got stuck with a single bad song on permanent repeat.
In this way the miles slipped past until we were approaching the short, sharp Mur de Mitford and I was discussing with Crazy Legs the merits of not warning the FNG about what was just ahead, hoping he might take on the climb in the big ring so we could watch his knees explode halfway up. Perhaps luckily, our evil intentions were thwarted as Not Anthony let the cat out of the bag, outlining a climb of less than half a kilometre but at an average of 7% and a 14% max. In part it’s brutality is predicated on the fact it’s accessed directly from a sharp left junction which robs you of all momentum and its rough, yet conversely slippery surface.
At the top, all knees mercifully still intact, we regrouped and decided to miss out the planned loop around Croftside, pushing out along the more direct route to Pigdon before scaling the Trench. I dropped to the back as we started the climb, riding alongside Aether and shouting abuse at those skipping ahead of us on their lightweight summer bikes.
Again we regrouped over the top for the run to Dyke Neuk then cut through Meldon, Whalton and Ogle and on to the café at Kirkley.
At the café we were astonished to find NO QUEUE, a fact which which we simply couldn’t process, so ended up dutifully waiting behind two blokes even though they insisted several times that were just leaving and weren’t waiting to be served. Finally realising that there really wasn’t a queue, we took full advantage of our luck and were served and seated in quick order and primed to welcome in our other 6-man groups as they rolled up one by one.
“Nice top that,” Crazy Legs greeted everyone wearing one of the new jersey’s, “Wish I had one of them,” he said wistfully, while pointedly looking at me. Bastard.
The FNG surprised us by understanding a reference to “classic” (i.e. old and creaking) children’s TV and we learnt he was in fact a big fan of Gerry Anderson and Captain Scarlet in particular. We wondered whether a Captain Black would still be allowed these days, or would be substituted for a Captain BAME, while I felt a Captain Rainbow was probably needed to cover off the LGBTQ community too. Then the whole premise of the show, with the Mysterons as belligerently evil and vengeful arch enemies was dissected in the light of the first episode when it was the humans who destroyed the peaceful Mysteron settlement on Mars completely without provocation. This absurdity was nothing, we felt, in comparison to the design of the SHADO interceptor from the show UFO, with its single big fuck-off missile attached to the nose cone. None of us could work out what the correct procedure was if confronted by 2 or more opposing UFO’s at a time, when you only carried the chance to destroy one of them.
G-Dawg arrived with his group (“Nice jersey that,” Crazy Legs complimented him) and we learned his latest road rash injury wasn’t caused by a bike fall, but the artificial turf of a five a side pitch. (I know more middle-aged blokes who have suffered serious injury playing five-a-side than all other sports combined.) I wondered how many (allegedly) carcinogenic and toxic pellets he’d managed to collect in the wound and he admitted the cleaning had hurt more than the actual injury.
Crazy Legs recalled his worst injury was coming of a holiday rental scooter face first and skinning both his palms, wounds, I suggested, that probably enforced celibacy on him for a fortnight.
G-Dawg related that no matter how hard he tried he was always trailing the pellets from the artificial pitches into the house and even though he took of his socks and shoes and dusted himself down, he always woke up in the morning to find a pile of them in his bed. Going for a brace of sexually related insults, I suggested they probably got caught up in his wrinkly old scrotum … and then ride-planner Buster arrived with the last group to save me attempting a hat-trick of insults.
Buster got served and wandered over with a frothy coffee (froffee coffee?) plonked himself down on a nearby chair and started waxing lyrical about the bit of his route that we’d avoided, which he said has a new, super-smooth tarmac surface that has to be experienced to be believed. He got quite animated in his advocacy of the the road, started waving his arms about and sloshed coffee out of his cup and onto his crotch, where it quickly spread to form a unfortunately placed, hugely unsightly and highly suspect frothy, creamy stain.
“Whoa,” Crazy Legs observed, “That stretch of road really, really does excite you.”
We seemed to have been sitting around, enjoying the warm sun and talking garbage for an age, but eventually it was time to leave. Crazy Legs went off to route home through Saltwick, most the other went for Berwick Hill, while I took a solo ride out through Ponteland and home. Climbing the last, steepest ramps of the Heinous Hill sometine later, a frazzled Mum, pushing a heavy looking pram began berating her two young offspring who were lagging behind and complaining about the slope. “Eee, howay,” she admonished “Yoo’ze lottar fastah than me.”
As I struggled past, I couldn’t help thinking that seemed like a suitable tagline I should adopt for all my future cycling exploits.
While idly meandering through various social media (mediums?) this week, this picture was perhaps the most arresting that I came across …
And I quite liked the analogy that related it to the pandemic, inferring that you need to account for the idiots who could unwittingly cause harm to both themselves and others.
Still, as much as the photo fits the compelling narrative of the caption, it sadly isn’t at all accurate. It didn’t take much digging to identify that the picture is actually from the Algerian War of Independence and shows French Legionnaires rescuing a malnourished donkey and carrying it to their base, where it would be nursed back to health and adopted as the the unit mascot.
Still, does that knowledge invalidate the message and make it any less apt?
I’m still not quite there with group rides yet, so planned another solo adventure for Saturday. Actually, suggesting I had a plan is giving myself far too much credit, what I actually had was inkling of an idea and an odd yen to climb the Trench, reasoning it’s been months since I travelled those roads and it might be quite … well, refreshing?
(I guess anyone who’s actually climbed the Trench will recognise just how odd a yen this was.)
My route there, or at least the only route I could trust myself to follow, included a clamber up the short-but-steep Mur du Mitford and from there my way home would be traced via that perennial club favourite, Middleton Bank. In effect, with the Mur, Trench and Middleton Bank, I’d set my sights on a triumvirate of torture.
Throw in the climb of Hospital Lane to get out of the Tyne Valley and my usual drag up the Heinous Hill to cap things off and it was actually more like a pentagram of pain. Perfect.
The weather promised to be decidedly “meh” though – almost unbroken cloud cover and occasional showers. The start was dank and dismal too, a light, weeping and ever-present drizzle, that slowly soaked everything, whilst the roads were still awash from an overnight downpour.
I’d learned my lesson last week having indelibly besmirched another pair of pristine, white socks and turned them a poisonous shade of dingy grey that no amount of Persil will ever rectify. This week I went for navy socks and hid my shame under a pair of light overshoes. Jersey, shorts, arm warmers and a rain jacket completed my super-stylish ensemble and I was good to go, hoping I’d be able to ship the jacket somewhere along the way.
There was movement out on the river this week, rowing is back underway and the water was dotted with single sculls. No sign of the crewed fours, or eights yet, but an indication things are slowly returning to normal.
There was another sign of returning to normal at Westerhope, where, at 8:50 and presumably still ten minutes before opening time, a queue of raggedy-haired, mop-topped blokes was already forming a disorderly queue on the pavement outside the barbers, desperate for a post-lockdown shearing.
I dropped down the hill toward Kingston Park, slowing to remove my specs and thread them into my helmet vents as they were becoming increasingly opaque as as the mist-come-rain speckled the lenses. My bike frame was beaded with glistening droplets of moisture too and starting to resemble something you might find in an exotic soft-porn shoot.
Or so I’ve been led to believe…
From Kingston Park , I picked up standard club run routing through Dinnington, then running up Bell’s Hill, confident I knew where I was going. Only the road was closed just past the climb and I was forced into a slight detour. Still, even then the surroundings were reassuringly familiar and I was soon through Tranwell Woods and closing in on Mitford.
It was here that I encountered my first group of riders, around a dozen or so cheery female cyclists, travelling well-spread out in three or four distinct clumps. I would later wonder how I missed the memo about it being National Women’s Cycling Day, as at least every other rider I passed thereafter seemed to be female. It was good to see so many out enjoying the riding, if not the less than perfect weather.
At Mitford, I stopped for a cereal bar breakfast and to peer through the drizzle at the ruins of the castle. We always scamper past this en bloc and at relatively high pace, so I’ve never really stopped to consider it. Internet sleuthing tells me it built as a motte and bailey castle by the Normans in the late 11th Century, only to be destroyed, burned and abandoned two hundred or so years later.
Sight-seeing and needless, pedantic sight-seeing commentary over with, I pushed on to the Mur de Mitford, where I found the left-hand lane demarcated by a long, frayed streamer, a coppery-blue-hued, glistening rainbow of spilled diesel, stretching all the way up the climb, from top to bottom.
Luckily the road was otherwise empty, so I switched to the far right-hand lane to clamber up, warily avoiding the evil gleam of the oil spill that promised an immediate loss of traction and potential pratfall.
From there it was a straightforward run to the bottom of the Trench and a fairly civilised, I might almost say enjoyable, climb through it, although the legs were tiring as I pushed over the top and on to Dyke Neuk. Here I decided on the spur of the moment that I might as well go for the full set of club climbs and take in the horrid grind up to Rothley Crossroads too.
Instead of back-tracking, I took the road toward Hartburn, turning right just before the dip and rise to the village and heading north once again. This is a road we often traverse in the other direction and now I know why, it’s actually a testing little climb going the other way.
Having completed a big loop around Dyke Neuk, I was soon back on the road leading from the top of the Trench and passing through Longwitton, and climbing to the crossroads.
I don’t know what it is about this climb, it’s not particularly steep and shouldn’t be half as hard as it actually is, but it’s a constant grind, difficult to find the right cadence on … and it hurts like hell.
I was halfway up when the silence was split by the hollow, lone bellow of a cow, evidently in extreme discomfort. “You and me both,” I muttered to myself.
The commotion seemed to be coming from the field off to my right, but its source was screened by a dense line of trees . Once again the cow brayed its distress and I couldn’t help thinking that if my legs were to be given voice at that precise moment, that would be the exact sound they’d make too.
A brief pause at the crossroads, then I dropped through to Scots Gap and up Middleton Bank, where a toiling cyclist ahead of me provided an additional bit of motivation. Cresting the top I finally decided it was safe to remove my jacket and shoved it messily in a back pocket.
Then it was homeward bound, Bolam, Belsay, Kirkley in short order, through Dinnington, out to Westerhope (the queue outside the barbers was long gone) and across the river at Newburn.
The volume of cars on the road is back to near normal levels, so I abandoned the main road up the Heinous Hill about three-quarters of the way up, taking to the side streets to avoid the queuing traffic stretching from the traffic lights back down the bank. Well, that was nice while it lasted.
Then, one last short, steep ramp, and I was home again.
As 2019 dragged it’s scabrous, rancorous and rotting cadaver to a close, slouching toward another shiny new decade we could all gleefully defile, severe self-doubt seemed about the best emotion I could muster.
Pressure at work ratcheted up, my parents started to shrink, fade-out and intermittently disappear, to be replaced by incomprehensible and faltering strangers (don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been bat-shit crazy, but this personality-void is incredibly disheartening) and the entire world seemed in the grip of pernicious, venal, self-serving, morally bankrupt shysters and psychopathic killers, supported by a host of blinkered parasitic enablers and deranged acolytes. What a shit-show.
Foolishly, I began to wonder what was the point in churning out more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles and, like any sensible, rational human-being, I reached the conclusion that there was no point.
I decided to take an indefinite break from blerging.
A new year rolled in dragging with it waves of extreme weather, intense storms, hurricanes, fires and floods, war, famine, more genocide, violent displacements, wild destruction, plagues of locusts, plagues of … well plague and a growing sense that not enough people in the right places care that we seem to be accelerating toward some, as yet undetermined, catastrophe. Things are bad and not likely to get better anytime soon.
I’m not so much worried about the fragility of nature, but its utterly implacable, indiscriminate fury and at the moment it seems to be raging. I’ll continue doing what I can to be a good citizen, but I’m conscious it’s never going to be enough and I’m not sure what else I can do.
So, having considered all the options, I’ve found I’ve only got one answer, more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles…
Saturday morning then, crisp, chilly and a bit blowy, but nothing like the gale force winds that have scourged club rides seemingly every weekend for a month and a half.
Not that I would know, I missed all of that. I’ve been slowly recuperating from an unknown, malign and pernicious virus (probably not that one) that’s kept me off the bike for 5 weeks. This is my first club run back, although I (just about) managed to commute to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This was enough to convince me of the truth of that old adage that it takes 6 weeks of activity to reach a tolerable level of performance, but only 2 weeks to lose any semblance of fitness.
Hills in particular were an issue, my lungs felt as though they were stuffed with wet cotton wool and it took real effort to gulp enough air down, through whatever was constricting them. If I wanted to be dramatic (hey, why not?) it was more akin to slow drowning than asphyxiation.
When Aether posted up the route for the Saturday ride, including an assault of the Mur de Mitford, a clamber up the not-Trench and then a scamper up Middleton Bank, I knew I wasn’t up to it and considered a few options.
I was thinking about driving across to the meeting point to cut down on the total distance and even wondered if I’d be better on my single-speed, with its in-built pace inhibitor (the rotational speed of my legs) in the unlikely event I got carried away. In the end though, Sneaky Pete, suggested he was up for escorting the frail and infirm and would use all his sneaky prowess to find us a particularly sneaky route that would sneakily avoid all the big climbs. Top man.
So, Saturday morning, first thing and, after a long, long absence, I’m out and piloting the Pug down the Heinous Hill en route to the meeting point. I can tell it’s been a while, because it’s already fully light and the last time I travelled this route, I had a grandstand view of the sun slowly rising.
There was little of note on my traversal of the valley, some new traffic lights, a busy flotilla of boats on the river and one or two new potholes to memorise and try to avoid.
At the meeting point:
I rolled into the meeting point to find the Cow Ranger studiously transferring grime from his bike frame onto his gloves, evidently in anticipation of a snap inspection by OGL.
He’d surprised himself by being the first to arrive, despite returning to the house twice for extra layers, as he realised just how chill it was out.
He needn’t have worried about his bike passing muster either, as G-Dawg was the next to arrive, along with news that OGL wouldn’t be out as he was suffering with some kind of bug, although apparently not “that one.”
Nevertheless, G-Dawg had tried to persuade him to self-isolate for 6 or 7 weeks, just as a precaution.
Well, it was worth a try.
We checked in with our front-line warriors in the fight against Corona virus, Alhambra and the Cow Herder. Both suggested things were hectic and a little haphazard, but we were coping. For now.
The Cow Herder confirmed he’d received his Government issue plague mask and was preparing his own selection of prophylactic herbs to guarantee his immunity. His only regret seemed to be he couldn’t wear the mask on the bike.
I’m sure I heard Alhambra say something about breeding more leeches too, but I may have been mistaken.
With just 18 of us out (Richard of Flanders would later join at Horton Grange) we decided to travel in one group. Aether briefed in the route and away we went.
I had a chat with Spoons as we got underway, before drifting back to find Sneaky Pete as we hit our first test of the day, Bell’s Hill. I survived that, but was as breathless at the top as I had been when I first joined the club 9 long years ago. Had I regressed that far?
We pressed on, wending our way through Mitford and across the bridge before climbing to the junction. Here the group turned right to descend and test themselves on the Mur, while I followed Sneaky Pete as we turned left and sneakily sneaked away.
The day was busy with multiple groups of cyclists buzzing past and everyone in good cheer. The pair of us rolled along companionably and it wasn’t until we reached Dyke Neuk that we realised that neither us had any particular proclivity to dictate our route to the cafe.
I tentatively suggested the right hand turn, so that’s what we took and luckily Sneaky Pete has an aversion to Middleton Bank, so at the next decision point there was no prevarication and we went left toward Angerton.
By the time we started to scramble up the hill to Bolam Lake I was heavy-legged and hurting, trailing along behind and looking forward to much needed cake and coffee.
I hauled my protesting body up the final climb and rolled into the cafe. Both done and done in.
At the cafe:
Parked ostentatiously, right outside the front of the cafe was a slick-looking, low slung, Dolan time-trial bike, with a solid disk rear wheel and tri-spoke front.
We paused briefly to admire it’s aggressively low-profile, but decidedly uncomfortable looking form.
“What sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today?” we both mused.
We stepped into the cafe to find exactly what sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today. The Colossus was sitting at the first table, avidly devouring a bacon sandwich and it was his mean machine.
I was somewhat surprised the Colossus was out at all, he’d fallen out of love with cycling back in the summer and the only time I’d seen him since was for the Christmas Jumper ride. (I suspect he couldn’t resist one last opportunity to squeeze himself into his stripy elf hot pants.)
I wondered if this was a prelude to him taking up time trialling, but apparently not, he’d just always wanted to have a go on a proper time-trial bike and with his first ride on it today, he’d taken the opportunity to scratch the itch.
“What now?” I queried.
“Well, I’ve done it now, so I can probably just hang the bike on a wall and forget about it.”
I think he was joking.
We learned that he’d bought the bike, barely used, from e-Bay, the previous owner being an avid mountain-biker, who’d decided to give time trialling a blast, dropping a few grand on all the right kit … before quickly backing out and deciding he hated it. People is odd.
The only real drawback for the Colossus was the bike was located in Wales, so he’d had to drive down to collect it, through the teeth of Storm Ciara. The Met Office had declared nothing but essential travel was allowed, so at least the Colossus could justify the journey and contend it was officially sanctioned. Sadly though, he didn’t have the opportunity to test-ride the bike during the raging storm, that could have been interesting.
We were onto our second cup of coffee as our main group pile up and into what was a surprisingly quiet cafe. Or, maybe not so surprisingly quiet.
Aether and G-Dawg, joined us at the table, G-Dawg bringing lurid tales of people blatantly stealing toilet rolls from restaurant toilets, seemingly just to confirm my earlier contention that people is odd.
I also learned that menthol cigarettes are due to be banned as a “gateway” to … err … proper smoking? I wondered if menthol cigarettes might be useful for clearing the airways and why Chris Froome hadn’t given them a shot before major time trials. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a much cooler look than pedalling away on rollers with a cotton wool bung soaked in Olbas Oil jammed up each nostril.
Sneaky Pete decided to sneak off early, so I joined him for the ride back at what I hoped would be a fairly refined pace. I actually thought we’d successfully make it home and dry, until we rounded the corner just before the Kirkley Mill stables and ran through an elongated stretch of flooded road. Instant soaked feet.
Luckily the rest of the ride was without incident and before long I was thanking Sneaky Pete for a most agreeable ride, before swinging away to plug my way home.
I was seriously tired and it was slow going. I was now in survival mode and on one of those rides where every enforced stop at a red traffic light seems like a beneficent gift. Although still chilly, it looked like Spring wasn’t too far away, with the bright purple and white heads of tulips spiking the grass as a promise of better weather to come.
I had a quick chat with a few other groups of cyclists as they swept effortlessly past my labouring form, then I was turning to climb up the Heinous Hill and wondering just how slowly I could crawl up it without actually toppling over. (The answer is, pretty damn slowly.)
That was hard. Surely it’s got to be easier next time?
PaltryYTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing
Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?
Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.
Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.
Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”
Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.
I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.
The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.
Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.
The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.
This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.
It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”
Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.
He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.
At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.
The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.
From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.
Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.
The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.
I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.
We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled onthe front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.
Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.
TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.
He didn’t look too sure.
“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.
In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.
We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.
I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.
I wonder how that worked out?
Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”
After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.
Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.
[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]
TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”
“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.
“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.
The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.
And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.
It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.
YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing