F@@k That!

F@@k That!

Club Run, Saturday 21st July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  108 km / 70 miles with 1,122 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 1 minute

Average Speed:                                 27.0 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    23°C

Weather in a word or two:            Sticky hot


Fthatprofile
Ride Profile

There was plenty of cloud cover around on Saturday to provide a bit of welcome shade from direct sunlight, but it would still be a hot and sticky day. Nonetheless, I’d reverted to type and gone back to wearing a base layer. I also got laughed at for turning up at the meeting point in arm warmers. I explained it was still a bit chilly first thing, especially when your first act on climbing aboard your bike was to drop down the Heinous Hill at 35 mph, but the excuses weren’t washing.

I’ve seen many odd things discarded on the roads while riding a bike, but today was the first time I’ve ever encountered a saw. A saw? How did that end up there? I swept carefully around it, giving myself plenty of room to avoid the pointy side.

The bridge over the river now has new kerbs to go with its all new shiny tarmac – still a bit fur coat and no knickers though, as there remains a gaping hole at one end.

I was feeling relatively sprightly when I hit the other side, so wound things up and carried my speed up the climb out of the valley, netting a string of new Strava PR’s and arriving at the meeting point much earlier than expected.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

Wednesdays Circus Maximus hit-outs were a hot topic, with participants convinced their collective efforts are closing in on netting someone a Strava KOM … or a myocardial infarction… I guess whichever comes first. There’s only a few more weeks planned to get there too.

There was some discussion about BMC Racing being saved by its amalgamation with CCC Sprandi Polkowice. I liked pro-rider, Michael “Rusty” Woods’ comment that no matter who the main sponsor would be, he’d be referring to them as BMCCCC from now on. I guess when you ride for EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale you know a thing or two about snappy team names. Nevermind BMCCCC, I think I’ll be referring to them as B1400.

News from Kermit was that the insurance company couldn’t find a suitable, child’s size TCR Giant 2 anywhere in the UK, so they’d offered him a £2,800 TCR Giant 1 instead. Score.

Not all good news though, as both our designated drivers, Kermit and Goose had been hit with speeding tickets from our Pyrenean adventures.

Goose was anxious to compare notes to try and determine if they both fell foul of the same speed trap. Being true cynics, we both felt this was probably located just outside the car hire compound in the airport, ideally placed to catch those struggling with unfamiliar cars, left hand drives and finding an unknown destination on foreign roads, all the while trying to remember which side of the road to drive on.

Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, amid the usual grumbling from the usual quarters and we split into two. Once again the bulk of riders went with the first group, so I hung back to even out the numbers.

OGL started complaining about routes that involved backtracking, or, even more bizarrely, riding into a headwind. Other than circumnavigating the entire planet, we couldn’t think of anyway to avoid a headwind at some point along the way and, as the Red Max explained, all routes must necessarily involve a degree of backtracking, otherwise we’d never get home.

Sneaky Pete sneakily suggested an AGM would be a great opportunity to air out any differences, discuss options and make the runs better for everyone. Once again though we were told it was pointless doing something different, or even discussing it, as nothing ever changes.


Saturday irregular Another Engine seemed confused by the split, initially went with the first group, but was soon detached and ended up chasse-patate in the no-mans-land between the two groups. We finally picked him up and as he dropped back, admitting he was totally confused by the new arrangements – a confusion that will no doubt be seized upon as grist to a certain mill.

Our route took us pretty much along the same route as last week’ but without the there-and-back loop through Twizzel. At one point Sneaky Pete took a sneaky short-cut to Walton, arriving there in time to wave through our first group, before hunkering down to wait to rejoin everyone in the second group.

Somewhere along the way we lost OGL and the headwind deniers and the ride became much faster and smoother as a result.

We then reached Dyke Neuk and called a halt to reassess our several options. “The published route, goes left here down toward the bottom of the Trench, which we then have to climb up,” The Red Max relayed.

“I must admit, I looked at it and could only thing of two words,” he continued, “Fuck. That.”

“Ok, what’s your considered opinion, now?”

“Fuck that.”

That seemed clear enough and succinctly put, so we decided to forego the dubious pleasures of the Trench and route through Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank instead.


fthat


Avoiding a ravaged road leading down to Middleton Bank, I dropped back through the group, just before the climb. This seems to be my (un)usual modus operandi for this climb, a strange habit I’ve apparently adopted, although I’ve no idea why.

Captain Black led the charge up the steepest ramps and I accelerated onto his wheel as we went over the top. We pushed on toward the cafe at a steady pace, with everyone latching on behind as best they could.

Captain Black then injected some pace and did a big pull at the front, I did a turn and then Taffy Steve took over, droving us through Milestone Woods and up to the foot of the rollers. I took over again and ripped over the ramps, down the other side and onto the final climb to the cafe.

Rounding the last corner I pulled over and sat up at the exact moment Captain Black put in a massive, perfectly timed, out-of-the-saddle attack, quickly opening up a big gap which I had no chance of closing.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Much of the discussion around the table was focused on the Toady France, with Taffy Steve sympathising with Richie Porte, sitting all alone, embittered and unloved somewhere in Tasmania, snarling at images of Geraint Thomas and telling anyone who’ll listen that he, Richie Porte, used to be that erstwhile, hapless and crash-prone second lieutenant who had great potential but always faded, or had un jour sans in the third week of a Grand Tour.

The phenomena that is Peter Sagan received some attention, including his YouTube clips of his core workout  and Sagan Parking. So used to seeing him in green, or yellow, or his national jersey, or World Champion bands, we tried to remember if we’d ever seen him in standard Bora-Hansgrohe kit.

(A quick Google suggests that, astonishingly, the last time Sagan raced in a standard team jersey (other than in a time trial) was in the Tour de Suisse in 2011!!!)

Caracol bemoaned that Sagan had suffered such misfortune in the Olympic mountain-bike event – he would have liked Sagan to unzip the maillot jaune to reveal the maillot vert … which he’d then unzip to reveal the Slovak champions jersey … which he’d then unzip to reveal the rainbow bands … which he’d finally unzip to reveal an Olympic medal, nestled in a luxurious nest of chest hair à la Mark Spitz.

I did suggest that Sagan might struggle to win the World Championships this year which looks hugely mountainous. The table were universally horrified at my lack of faith.

While Sagan was living up to expectations in the Tour, Nairo Quintana has looked a spent force, much to Caracol’s disgust as he reasoned Old Stoneface had the best poker-face in the entire peloton, never looking like he was suffering, never smiling, never looking surprised, or angry, or happy, or upset.

In fact, I was surprised no one else had seen the Quintana sex-tapes – where he wore the exact same expression throughout, even when reaching the …err, apogee of pleasure.

OK, I made that bit up.

I told them that Just Pro Cycling blogger, Mike Franchetti, once previewed Stage 9 of this year’s Giro by suggesting it would be won by Vasil Kiryienka riding away from Dayer Quintana in the final kilometre. Kiryienka would then be met at the finish by Nairo Quintana and challenged to a staring contest in order to avenge his brother’s defeat.  Mr. Franchetti concludes that: “After three and a half hours, Kiryienka blinks.”

I felt that Quintana wasn’t particularly loved or appreciated within Movistar who would always favour Spaniards such as Landa or Valverde over the enigmatic Colombian – hence the ridiculous and unworkable three-leader trident at the Tour.

“I just don’t think he’s very happy at Movistar,” I suggested.

“But, obviously no one can tell!” Caracol concluded, before suggesting that behind the blank mask, Quintana was probably crying out for help and possibly even passing around notes in the peloton that simply read, “Help! Sign me. Save me.”

Sneaky Peter returned from the café, rather perturbed by the posters he’d found in there that declaimed Beware the Grey. We wondered what it was they had against us, until we realised the message was aimed at grey squirrels displacing the indigenous reds and not auld git cyclists.


The return home was punctuated by another burn up Berwick Hill and, as we we swung onto the road toward Dinnington, I took over at the front alongside The Ticker, owner of the loudest freehub in the club since Shouty left for pastures new. We slowed long enough to allow everyone to regroup, then smashed it up through Dinnington and around the back of the airport, netting another PR along the way.

I set off for my solo ride home and arrived still feeling good enough to have actually ridden, rather than grovelled up the Heinous Hill.

Woohoo.


YTD Totals: 4,416 km / 2,744 miles with 55,183 metres of climbing

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It Burns

It Burns

Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  110 km / 68 miles with 614 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         14 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Manky and murky


march 14
Ride Profile

Normal service is resumed …

We survived the worst depredations of the “Beast from the East” more or less intact, although today we would discover that in passing it had left its mark. For now though, we’d exchanged bitter, freezing temperatures and snow, for numbing cold and a sky full of rain.

As my tyres hissed down the Heinous Hill this rain was drumming relentlessly on my helmet and jacket and the damp was already inveigling chill fingers through any unprotected layers. This was not going to be at all pleasant …

The river looked high, wide and empty although the opportunity for gawking was somewhat reduced by the concentration required to thread a route through the newly acquired holes in the bridge surface, entire, paving slab-sized plates of tarmac seemed to have crumbled and been washed away.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, I found my route narrowed between a small stream, rushing down the gutter and a broad moraine built up from swathes of gravel, grit and broken up surface that had been deposited down the centre of the road. A bit further on and the reason for the free-running stream became apparent – the drains at the side of the road were full of silt and completely blocked.

Pressing on, I wiped the rain off my Garmin screen and glanced down. The display read 8:49. Yikes! I was running late, although I hadn’t been aware of dawdling at any point. Better get a move on, I told myself. I increased my pace up a long, dragging climb and checked again. 8:55! Time was literally flying by – what was going on?

I rubbed the screen clear again and took a long, hard look at the numbers. What a complete and utter idiot, I was looking at the distance travelled and not the time and I was well on schedule. Relax. (I can only blame the cold getting through to my brain for my hopefully temporary stupidity.)


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The first thing I did on arriving was to find the spare pair of gloves I’d packed so I had something dry to wear after the café stop. I quickly pulled them on over the ones I was already wearing. It was much colder than I’d anticipated.

The boys had seriously enjoyed their mountain bike expedition through the deep snow last week, although G-Dawg said he’d been surprised that after riding for 2 hours he found he was only 20 minutes from home.

Meanwhile, OGL had been out touring the roads of Northumberland on Friday, looking for a suitable course to use for the British National Time Trial Championships. Unlike today, the weather then has been especially benevolent, cold, but brilliantly bright and dry and with barely a hint of wind. He’d been amazed by the number of cyclists the weather had lured out, including one TT’er (or Tri’er) in a short skinsuit, threading the needle between massive snow banks while sat astride a sleek, carbon time-trial machine with full disk wheels.

OGL warned us of these 6ft high banks of snow piled up either side of roads, restricting traffic to one single, narrow lane. He then warned of a whole slew of new and enormous, life-threatening potholes everywhere else.

“Potholes so big and so deep that you could ride around inside them,” G-Dawg embellished. And, you’d need to reach escape velocity to slingshot out of them the Colossus concluded with appropriate hyperbole.

Despite the dire warnings that we were all doomed, we decided to stick to the route that our ride-leader for the day, Richard of Flanders had posted, reasoning we could make adjustments on the fly if conditions proved as treacherous as some would have us believe. We were set fair for an assault on the Mur de Mitford, a long scrabble up the Trench, then a trek across the wind-blasted moors up through Angerton.

The rank weather had its effect on our numbers, reducing us to a core contingent, or the Usual Suspects™ – those who would seemingly endure almost any kind of weather in order to a avoid a Saturday morning shopping trip with their partners…

We jokingly discussed the need to split the group after a quick head count showed us to be 13 strong. Crazy Legs suggested a dozen upfront and the Monkey Butler Boy trailing a respectful distance off the back, but we had no time for such frivolity as Richard of Flanders, obviously taking his leadership duties very seriously, started barking out the orders. He hustled us into pushing off, clipping in and riding out a full minute before our usual 9:15 deadline.

There’d be no loafing today.


That extra, stolen minute almost proved critical, as it set Taffy Steve on a collision course with the X9 bus to Blyth. As irresistible force converged with immoveable object, I had visions of the bus doors suddenly swooshing open to swallow bike and rider whole, before carrying them off to destinations unknown – or, even worse … Blyth. Somehow, an epic coming together was narrowly avoided and we escaped out onto the roads with our group intact. Here, we were joined by a late arriving Buster and the Unlucky Chosen 13 became the Unlucky Chosen 14.

Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger took to the front and led us for the first few miles, until we were out onto the country lanes. Much to the disappointment of Crazy Legs, before ceding the front, they drove us straight past Kirkley Cycles without pause and the first opportunity for an early, fortifying, flat white was lost.

We found that last week’s snow and prolonged freezing temperatures had been not at all kind to the road surface, with many newly opened cracks, pots and crevasses to memorise and try to avoid. The dangers were worsened by the rain, with many of the holes lying hidden in the depths of murky, muddy puddles, just waiting to catch out the unwary cyclist.

One of these was the Slow Drinker, who hit a pot so hard his bike instantly and violently tried to eject all extraneous weight, bottles, tool bags, lights, chain and almost the rider himself. Luckily, rider and bike remained upright and no lasting damage seemed to have been done.

At some point the Garrulous Kid swung away for a solo ride, despite admitting he’d lost his pump and had no way of fixing even a simple puncture should he encounter any problems. He’s obviously the kind of person who thinks casino’s offer good odds.

Reduced back down to 13, we entered a stretch where dirty snow was humped up on either side of the lane, significantly narrowing the road surface. An impatient, overtaking car squeezed into this space, roared past and dumped a cascade of glacial, dirty water on all the riders in front of me. Ooph! What a wake up call. Undaunted, if slightly wetter than before, we pressed on with only a few choice expletives to mark our passage.


REC002 (2)
Whoosh!

The Monkey Butler Boy would later suggest he was protected from this unexpected shower because he was riding alongside Taffy Steve, thus claiming the first known instance of a cyclist acting as a rain shadow.

We encountered a few road spanning puddles, picking our way through them in Indian file, closely following the rider in front and hoping their wheel wasn’t going to suddenly disappear into a submerged pothole. We also passed found a few snowdrifts and piles of dirty snow humped either side of the road, but nothing quite on the scale we’d been warned about and nothing that threatened to impede progress.

Just before the Gubeon turn we stopped to re-assess options and the majority decided to stick with the planned route. Two hundred yards further on though, and everyone in front of me took a sharp, left-hand turn and I found myself alone on the road with just Crazy Legs. He looked back and determined that G-Dawg and the Colossus at least were following, but everyone else seemed to have baled for a shorter run to the café.

A bit further along and in ones and two’s the rest of the group started to sheepishly reappear again, chasing to re-join us, perhaps reasoning it was too early for the café, or perhaps realising they simply couldn’t get any more wet.

We had to slow almost to a standstill for the sharp turn to the Mur de Mitford, mindful of the rain slick corner. This robbed G-Dawg of some much needed momentum and a chance to build up a head of steam as he tried to drive his fixie up the slope. He somehow managed to winch his way upwards, but I’m not sure he enjoyed the experience.

At the top, the rain didn’t so much stop as the clouds had descended to our level. Now the water didn’t have to fall on our heads and could just seep directly into our clothing as the day became ever more murky, misty and gloomy.

As we traced our way along the Font valley to Neverwitton, our vista became confined to a long stretch of empty tarmac and bleak, waterlogged fields hemmed in by walls of grey mist. It was eerily quiet, the landscape cold and bleak and completely empty.


REC005


Nevertheless, at Neverwitton we waited dutifully at temporary traffic lights over the bridge, even though we seemed to be the only road users for miles around. I’m not sure how our patient waiting equates to all those tales of cyclists being scofflaw, red light jumpers, but there you go.

The lights finally released us, I assume because they ran through their normal cycle rather than automatically detected our presence. I’m not sure the inductive loop works well with cyclists and, if they operate on thermal imaging, we would have been as invisible as Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding under a riverbank from the Predator.

We started the long drag up the Trench, pressed on through Dyke Neuk and through the dip and swoop to Hartburn, before we ground our way up and around Bolam Lake.

Crazy Legs took to the front and lined us out over the rollers and onto the last climb, where he pulled over and declared his lead out work complete. G-Dawg, the Colossus and the Cow Ranger roared off to contest the sprint, while I rolled past Crazy Legs and we pressed on in half-hearted pursuit.

A loud clunk and a rattle indicated a botched gear change for the Cow Ranger and like chum in the water, it piqued Crazy Legs into action. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts took over as he attacked from behind my wheel, seeking a glorious third place. But, just as he closed, the Cow Ranger somehow slammed his chain into place, reengaged the drive and accelerated away.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We stood, dripping in the café queue as blood rushed back into chilled extremities with deeply unpleasant, burning and itching sensations. I think I preferred the frozen numbness.

Then it was black bin bags all around to keep our water-logged derrière’s off the chairs. One of the hidden qualities of the padded seats of cycling wear seems to be their impressively high capacity for water-retention – kind of like Pampers for grown up kids. Couple that with a poor rinse cycle, or excess detergent use and you can potentially end up frothing at the arse – something that seems a speciality of the Prof.

No fan of Bradley Wiggins, Crazy Legs found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of actually defending the cyclist from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into doping. He felt they should have published one line of the report “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules” and left it at that. No laws have been broken, nothing to see here, move along now …

His pragmatic argument was that, while perhaps acting unethically, Team Sky, Wiggins et al had done so within the rules of what was permissible. It doesn’t look great, but the rules are the rules and while they may have pushed right up against the line, they never stepped over it. Besides, I agree, it’s always a bit rich receiving a self-righteous lecture on ethics from politicians.

I’m not so convinced though. That full sentence from the report reads; “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”

I neither like, nor dislike Team Sky, or any other cycling team for that matter. I do like and admire some of their riders and want to see them be successful. But, the DCMS report highlights so many inconsistencies, fudges, improbabilities and evasions, that a degree of extra scrutiny and scepticism is warranted.

It also shows such a degree of embarrassing unprofessionalism that it is either damning in its own right (remember, this is a team that prides itself on getting the smallest and most mundane of microscopic details perfect) or it suggests a systematic cover-up.

Either way, the much trumpeted Sky cause of winning clean and being ethical, truthful and totally transparent, is now in tatters and they face a credibility gap that seems entirely of their own making. What happens next? No idea.

Foraging through his pockets, the Cow Ranger pulled out a spare pair of completely dry gloves, which he offered to make available to the highest bidder.

Though many were tempted, Crazy Legs deferred, reasoning that the Red Max was probably carrying a dozen or so spares in his Bag O’ Tricks.

Meanwhile G-Dawg started eyeing up the queue at the counter, “there’s a little old lady there with gloves on …” he mused speculatively an evil glint in his eyes.

“What does it matter if they’re lavender and have a fur cuff,” I agreed, “At least they’ll be dry.”

Crazy Legs however was uncertain the gloves would be the right size and tried his best to dissuade G-Dawg from becoming involved in some ugly, OJ Simpson-style, trial-by-glove pantomime.

Luckily, we were distracted from further thoughts of pensioner-mugging by the arrival in the café of a group of student cyclists, including at least two in shorts. Hard, brave or mad? You can decide, but I know where my vote would be.

As Richard of Flanders disappeared to powder his nose, we discussed the zeal and enthusiasm he’d brought to his leadership role today, like a duck to water, or perhaps a would-be despot to the well-honed apparatus of a corrupt and oppressive regime.

It was speculated that he could yet become the NGL, or our New Glorious Leader and we should probably kill him … now … before he grew into his nascent power.

Just as we were organising our pre-emptive strike however, he returned and immediately took charge. “Right, let’s go!” he peremptorily ordered, perhaps pausing to wonder why we all suddenly dissolved into a sniggering and chortling mass, or how Crazy Legs somehow ended up with a blunt butter knife tucked into his back pocket.


On the way home, I caught up with Captain Black who hadn’t made the meeting point and had traced his own way to the café. He told me he’d been enjoying a peaceful solo ride and had just turned off for the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid had suddenly popped out from behind a snow drift with a bright, “Ooh, hello!” Goodness knows how long he’d been waiting there to ambush the unwary.

We found a few more road-spanning puddles and some areas where the snow had only been cleared across a single lane of the road, but otherwise the ride back was largely uneventful and I was soon turning off for home and wondering whether I shouldn’t just step into the shower fully clothed.

The man who came down a hill and went up a knoll?

Once again the heavy rain had defeated my Garmin, robbing me of a couple of hundred metres of climbing and making the ride profile look like it had been drawn by Etch-a-Sketch. If I believed its results, I’d scaled a 90° cliff face somewhere along the route and the Heinous Hill had eroded to only half the height it had been in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier at the end of every ride if that was actually true.


YTD Totals: 1,367 km / 849 miles with 15,340 metres of climbing

 

Unicycling Club

Unicycling Club

Club Run, Saturday 3rd February, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km/66 miles with 846 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dank


3rd feb
Ride Profile

Mother Nature. What a tease, eh?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the weather’s working on two week cycles (as a complete aside, Too Weak Cycles sounds like my kind of club) – one week in the deep freeze, the next week, ultra-mild and prompting crazy talk of shorts and good bikes. After last week’s dry, warm sweat-fest and moist phalanges, I guess I should have been prepared for a swing back toward frigid and Saturday didn’t disappoint, it was ultra-nasty.

Things seemed to start out all right, it was chilly, but the heavy rain of the early hours seemed to have passed and although the roads were awash, nothing else seemed to be falling out of the sky. It didn’t even seem that cold and after the initial shock of stepping out, I was soon warmed up climbing out of the other side of the valley and arrived at the meeting point in good order.

So far, so good.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

As we gathered an absolutely enormous, juvenile herring gull flopped down with a flurry of heavy wing beats, and began to strut around, speculatively eyeing us up, as if pondering which one to carry off for a tasty snack. The Hammer, mused that while seagulls (allegedly) used to taste of fish, he wasn’t certain if this was still true of the modern, urban scavenger-gull, reasoning that finding such rich pickings inland, they might not actually visit the sea for months on end.

Speculating about what today’s gull might taste of, the logical consensus seemed to be Greggs pasties.

This reminded the Colossus that Greggs had been censured for an ad, which featured a nativity in which baby Jesus was (rather cleverly, I thought) replaced by a sausage roll. This he suggested was nothing compared to one nativity he’d seen, which was entirely constructed out of sausages and bacon.

Sad news, as another local bike shop, Cestria Cycles closed its doors for the last time recently. In the People’s Republic of Yorkshire, the venerable Toshi San and a group of cycling vigilantes are bearing witness to the decline of the nation’s traditional bike shops and carefully recording each new demise for posterity.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, we were tracing a causal link between the use of Haribo and the growth in online cycle retailers. This suggests that a cyclists loyalty can be very easily bought for a handful of sticky confectionery. If only Alexander Vinokourov  had been aware of our research, he may well have been able to buy the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a lot less than the 100,000 Euro he’s alleged to have stumped up to Alexandr Kolobnev, although being a cold-eyed, professional mercenary, Kolobnev would probably have held out for a family sized bag of Tangfastics.

The Goose rolled up on his touring bike, which hadn’t seen the light of day since his successful assault on the Lands End to John O’Groats route a couple of years ago. He decided that, instead of it lying around waiting for his next grand adventure, it should be pressed into immediate service as a winter hack. The bike proved to be a steel behemoth with fat, knobbly tyres and all sorts of ironmongery hung off it to carry panniers. We were especially impressed with the front rack, which looked like the antlers of a head-down, 6-point stag in a mid-rut charge, or bike bull bars as one observer quipped.

The final two, forward pointing tines, no more than a few inches from the ground, particularly intrigued G-Dawg, who wondered what earthly purpose they could possibly serve, before deciding each could only be used to transport one individual shoe. He seemed to disbelieve that you could fit bags on these stubby attachments and reasoned they’d have to have casters on the bottom to trail along the ground.

Taffy Steve outlined the planned route, which he suggested would be generally anti-clockwise, much to the Garrulous Kids apparent confusion. I know not why.

As we gathered to set off, a freezing rain swept in and refused to relent, staying with us for the entire ride. I pulled a waterproof over my winter jacket for some added protection from both the cold and wet and off we set.


As we reached Brunton Lane, an approaching lorry braked to a halt, stopped the line of cars behind it and waved us through the junction. Moments later and a car stopped to let us filter onto the lane itself. This was so unusual it was (literally) remarkable.

“What the hell is going on?” Crazy Legs remarked. (See, told you.)

“National Be-nice-to-auld-gits-on-bikes Day?” I suggested, “Or maybe we’ve entered a parallel universe.”

I found myself riding along beside Goose and discussing the limited range of hand signals I had available to me due to my lobster mitts. I demonstrated that I was wholly incapable of the quintessentially English, Churchillian salute, or even flipping the bird.

The Goose did console me though by pointing out Vulcan greetings were an assured doddle, while we tried and failed to recall the Orkan salute and whether this was possible to replicate in lobster mitts. Nanu nanu.

The road up past the Cheese Farm was suitably muddy and dirty and soon bikes and riders were cold, wet and generally bespattered with whatever effluvia was running off the fields. As the road rose, Goose slipped slowly backwards on his steel behemoth.

“Mountain Bike Syndrome,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “He can keep up on the flat, but uphill is a whole different kettle of poisson.”

We regrouped and pressed on, with Crazy Legs eventually drifting back off the front and I took his place at the head of affairs alongside the Cow Ranger.


3REC024_Moment


Through Tranwell and at the first stop the group abruptly fractured, half of us pressing on to complete the planned ride, while the others set off more or less directly to the café. The Garrulous Kid made some pitiful excuse about having to get home to do a science assignment, before plumping for this shorter, easier ride.

A little further on this second group was to split again, with an even closer café luring away a truly miserable bunch who’d lost out badly in the lottery of clothing choices, were soaked through, chilled to the bone and looking for any kind of sanctuary, no matter how temporary. If my inappropriate clothing choices last week were mildly uncomfortable, my clubmates’ choices this week were almost debilitating.

In the longer group, we were soon dropping down into the Wansbeck Valley and fast approaching the violent ascent of the Mur de Mitford. G-Dawg looked around and asked if everyone was ok, even though he was the one on the fixie and without the luxury of smaller gears.

“He’s a glutton for punishment,” Taffy Steve observed, “But I can’t help wondering which is worse, climbing that thing on a fixie, or the fact he’s going to the Sunderland match this afternoon.”

Hmm. Definitely the latter. Despite G-Dawg’s support, they lost.

Again.

The Mur de Mitford successfully scaled,  we headed out on the rolling roads toward the Trench. I found myself riding along with Captain Black, both of us marvelling that Goose was managing to hang on while astride the steel behemoth and wondering if it would still be the bike of choice next week.

We reasoned that if Goose removed all the pannier racks and other trekking accoutrements, he could probably turn it into a relatively svelte climbing machine of, oh, around 18 kilos.

I also had to admit even my winter boots had failed me, or at least the right one had. Water had found its way inside and my feet were probably as wet, chilled and numb as everyone else’s.

Up the Trench we went. The Colossus reflected that in the summer, at least the first part of the climb was usually quite enjoyable. In these conditions though it was just a horrid slog, which I took at a modest pace, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be the slowest. We regrouped over the top and then again after the dip and rise up through Hartburn.

With a choice of Angerton or Middleton Bank, we went for the former and found the road across the exposed moorland actually wind free for a change. It may even have been strangely pleasant, if it hadn’t been so cold and open to the continuous drift of frozen rain.

One last small climb past the lake and then we were lining it out in a dash for the café. I stayed in the wheels as we hurtled through the Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As the road dipped down, Goose used the steel behemoth’s massive gravitational impetus to slingshot around us and burst off the front. He quickly opened a sizable gap, but not a single person reacted.

As the road started to rise again, Goose’s momentum and advantage quickly bled away and we were past him by the time we hit the last corner. The Colossus and G-Dawg charged away, while I led the also-rans through, alongside Captain Black.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Ah, the café on a wet day, a warm sanctuary for weary, wet and begrimed weekend warriors, good cake, hot coffee and a lingering smell that reminds me uncomfortably of wet dog, as cyclists try to warm up, if not actually dry their steaming kit around the two stoves.

“I never thought I’d stay away,” Goose admitted while we stood in the queue, referring to his Forlorn Hope attack.

“No,” I assured him, “Neither did we.”

The Cow Ranger was soon engrossed in involved discussions about functional threshold power, training zones, power outputs, VO2 max and lactate thresholds. You know, stuff serious athletes live by.

“Ah, FTP’s,” I nodded sagely along, but didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. The conversation progressed to discussions about the evolving shape of smartwatches and training trackers, from square to round. Ah, at last, something I could understand and perhaps contribute to…

We tried to keep our eyes averted, but someone cracked, looked up and caught the Garrulous Kids eye. He was on us in an instant. What? I thought he’d scuttled off home early to complete an urgent science assignment?

Anyway, we learned that the Garrulous Kid is all set on joining a unicycling club.

Naturally, everyone was taken aback by this news, reasoning the Garrulous Kid is a big enough liability on two wheels, so goodness knows what dangers he’d present and how bad his bike handling would be on just the one!

Of course, it transpired that the Garrulous Kid had simply expressed himself poorly and he was actually talking about joining a cycling club when he  gets to university in a couple of years’ time. (Well, there’s nothing like planning ahead.)

Still, the idea of a unicycling club did have a certain appeal and we entertained ourselves for a good while imagining what a club run and café sprint would look like with everyone on unicycles.

After the failed attempts by Crazy Legs to shame the Garrulous Kid into sharing some of the work and doing a stint on the front, it was the Colossus and G-Dawgs turn to try. At first, the Garrulous Kid tried to pretend that he spent plenty of time on the front.

“I mean riding with no one in front of you and everyone lined up behind,” the Colossus explained helpfully, “Not riding off on your own.” The Garrulous Kid seemed to be having real trouble grasping the concept at its most basic, fundamental level.

The Kid couldn’t provide any evidence that he’d actually spent any time at all on the front of the group, at any time during the past year or longer that he’s been riding with us. Instead, he changed tack, insisting that riding toward the back of the pack was “chilled” and, that while there, he was representing the heart of the club.

“More like the arsehole of the club,” I suggested.

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve tried out a new mantra he’d been working on, “How many wheels can a dumb suck suck, if a dumb sucker does wheel suck?” Not quite as catchy as our “Half-Wheel Horner Society” ditty, but it could still catch on.

The Big Yin decided it was so horrible out we deserved a third cup of coffee, so went and somehow procured us additional refills.

Taffy Steve decided our experiences riding through all sorts of effluvia on the road meant we were capable of determining if we were travelling through horse or cow muck, simply by taste. Ugh. Maybe the third cup of coffee wasn’t just a luxury, but essential to dilute what we’d been inadvertently digesting.


Off out into the cold and the rain we went. My right foot hadn’t dried any, but had warmed up and I was quite comfortable despite the continuing sleety rain. I was feeling much perkier than last week, although I don’t know why. Maybe it was the shorter distance, the relative lack of wind, or the fact I’d started treating my Friday commute as more of a recovery ride and stopped chasing down every other cyclist, MTB’er, jogger, mobility scooter, dog walker, or pram pushing pedestrian.

Maybe it was simply the power of three coffees?

Either way I was zipping up the hills fairly comfortably and even held on right to the last few metres of the Mad Mile, before swinging away for my solo ride home.

As I dropped towards the valley, squeezing the brake levers, I found cold water oozing up around my fingers – the rain had finally started to penetrate my mighty lobster mitts, but they’d held up remarkably well considering.

There was nothing of note on the way home, other than an overwhelmingly glum looking bloke wearing a bobble hat whose bobble was actually bigger than his head. I’m not sure he appreciated me grinning at him as I zipped past.

And then I was leaving a pile of sodden, muddy, mouldering clothes pooled on the floor and stepping into the very welcome embrace of a hot shower.

Anyway, if the pattern continues, next weeks ride should be in relatively pleasant conditions…

I’ll believe it when I see it.


Year Totals: 699 km / 434 miles with 7,888 metres of climbing

Ozzie Rules

Ozzie Rules

Club Run, Saturday 2nd September, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   108 km/67 miles with 1,105 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                   24.0 km/h

Group size:                                           31 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                      19°C

Weather in a word or two:              Pleasant


 

2 sep
Ride Profile

The Ride:

You can’t say I hadn’t been warned and I should have known what to expect, after all I’d already managed two bike commutes into work during the week. On both occasions the cold had made me grateful for the light, long fingered gloves (my favourite and highly recommended, Galibier Roubaix Vision 4’s) that I’d used both mornings, before switching to mitts for the considerably warmer return journey.

But, Saturday morning looked bright and breezy and I was setting off an hour later than I do when travelling into work – surely it wouldn’t be so cold that I’d need to supplement arm-warmers with gloves? It was though, and dropping down the Hill at high speed didn’t help. The cold attacked my hands, especially through the chilled metal of the brake levers I had covered throughout the descent.

Along the valley floor I tried to find some relief and to break the wind chill – hands positioned on the very tops of the bars, just before the warm tape gave way to icy metal, fingers curled up tight and bundled together like cold kittens, with only the runts of the litter, my two thumbs, still exposed to the air flow and slowly turning numb.

Despite the frigid, early morning conditions, it looked like being a great day once the air warmed up a little, the pale blue above only lightly smudged with milky ripples and whorls of cloud, like a giant had left his fingerprints across the sky. It was simply a case of surviving until the suns warming influence could be felt, perhaps one of the last, fine days before the dark, cold, winds and rain of late autumn descend and so, not to be missed.

The promise of decent weather was a real incentive to get out for the Saturday Club Run, overcoming the twin challenges of illness and a sore knee. I’d missed time at work on the Tuesday, feeling sick – high temperature, nausea, stomach cramps and a headache. I still wasn’t fully 100% but had determined to try and ride through it.

Then on Thursday I’d noticed my right knee was sore, especially when climbing. I’d shared the first half of my evening commute with Mr. T (aka The Man with the Van and the Plan) on Friday. He’s trying to reach his annual mileage target, so wanted a longer route home. During the ride he wondered if I’d done anything to actually injure the knee, but nothing came to mind.

It wasn’t until later, when climbing the Heinous Hill with little stabs of pain sparking in the offending joint, that I remembered slipping on the office stairs on Wednesday morning. Perhaps that was the source of the injury? I hope so, as it beats the alternative, that my aged and decrepit knee joints are just worn out, crumbling and terminally failing.

Still, as I crossed the river, admiring a small flotilla of single-sculls arrowing downstream, I felt fine, any knee pain was at least temporarily quiescent and the bike was whirring along smoothly and quietly. All seemed well with the world.

I reached the meeting point in good time and in good order and drew up to wait for everyone else alongside the early arrivals, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Garrulous Kid reported great success with his GCSE exams, especially Chemistry, Physics and Maffs. Apparently he’d passed his English too and with flying colours, causing me to enquire if there was an oral element to his testing and how well he’d fared at that part. (There wasn’t).

Crazy Legs thanked Zardoz for his moral and very vocal support during last week’s 4-Up Team Time Trial. Apparently Zardoz’s bellowing of, “you’ve almost caught your minute-men!” halfway around the course had been invigorating and motivating, even as Crazy Legs immediately realised it was a complete and utter lie.

Aether rolled up and we awarded him a full ceremonial fanfare as this week ride leader. We all genuflected in his august presence and I’m sure, out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Garrulous Kid attempt an awkward curtsy.

With another good turnout spilling across the pavement, Aether recognised the need to split us into two, but we still haven’t quite got the hang of this and we ended up with a pair of very lopsided groups, one of about twenty-strong, the other of no more than a dozen. Sadly this was just an excuse for those who don’t agree with splitting into groups to complain that it doesn’t work. And they did. A lot.

A small few of us hung back to form the core of the second group, even rolling up to the lights on green and refusing to go through them in order to allow the bunch out front plenty of time to get clear.

The lights finally cycled round to green again and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve took to the front for the first part, while I slotted in behind them, alongside the Garrulous Kid, with Big Dunc and Zardoz following in turn and in our wheels. On past Dinnington, the front two peeled off, I pushed through with the Garrulous Kid and Zardoz, realising he was getting perilously close to the front immediately called for a pee stop, so he could slip quietly back down the order. We naturally ignored him and pressed on.

We drove the pace on, up past the Cheese Farm, trying to see how many “ease up!” cries we could generate on the climb, but they were disappointingly scarce. Passing under the A1 just outside of Morpeth, we ceded the front to Zardoz and Big Dunc. A large contingent of Grogs slipped away off the back to head straight to the café and when Moscas turned early for home shortly afterwards, there was just the front group and OGL left – a Malignant Seven – average age about 50, or if you exclude the Garrulous Kid, about 56.

We swung round a sharp corner onto the bottom of the Mur de Mitford, I changed down and attacked the slope. Ouch, big mistake, as someone introduced my knee to a little needle of niggling, sharp pain. Ah! So that injuries still there, then …

I tried to spin up, putting as little force as possible through my right leg, which felt a bit odd. It wasn’t hugely painful, but uncomfortable and the joint felt weak and somewhat femmer – definitely not something I wanted to put too much strain through.

We regrouped and pressed on. The weather had started to warm up, the sun was high and bright and I was able to abandon the arm warmers. It was, finally, a glorious day. All around us the countryside was blooming richly and riotously. Glossy blackberries dotted all the hedgerows and while a few fields had already been shaved back to a dry stubble, in the Font valley the maize was already reaching over head-height.

We swung left, onto the Coldlaw Wood Climb running parallel to the Trench and took the opportunity for a pee stop, while OGL shipped and stowed his gilet. The Garrulous Kid complained there was nowhere to pee. Crazy Legs raised a quizzical eyebrow and looked around the shady, secluded country lane, lined with a wall and hedge to one side and tall trees to the other?

“What more do you want,” he asked, somewhat exasperated, “A Dyson air-blower to dry your hands?”

“We’ve got one of them.” I added nodding back down the lane, where OGL was shoving a gilet into his back pocket.

“Nah,” Crazy Legs concluded, “Dyson’s need to be able to produce at least 100 watts.” Oh, dear … average age of 50 and we’re still such shockingly childish, immature and caustic bitches.

As the climb levelled off we swung left, while OGL, looking for a shorter, easier route went right. Rolling round a bend we passed our first group, all clustered at the side of the road while the Red Max worked feverishly to fix a rear wheel puncture.

We had no intention of stopping and rolled past, now forming the clubs advance party, or tête de la course, if you prefer, travelling down toward Dyke Neuk on a road we more typically travel up. Slow-witted as usual, it took me an absolute age to realise I actually knew where we were!

Just before dropping down the dip toward Hartburn, OGL was spat out of a side road ahead of us – now our virtual leader on the road. Once again though he didn’t press his advantage, taking a different, shorter route at the top of the climb, while we followed the less well-travelled ride plan, up to Scots Gap, before starting to close on Middleton Bank.

I drifted off the back of the group as we rolled toward the climb, happy to ride  at my own pace and nurse my sore knee along, only to find I’d acquired a pilot fish, as Crazy Legs dropped back to check on me.


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The group splintered apart, Zardoz and Big Dunc riding off the front, with the Garrulous Kid in hot pursuit, while I spun up the climb alongside Crazy Legs, slowly closing the gap to Taffy Steve.

Over the top, Zardoz and Big Dunc were pressing on for home without regrouping. Crazy Legs took over on the front, checked I was happy with the pace and set off for home. “All aboard the gimp express!”

We caught Taffy Steve in short order. “All aboard!” I called, easing back to open a space behind Crazy Legs’ back wheel. Taffy Steve slotted in, Crazy Legs blew an imaginary train whistle … and then we started to eat into the gap up to the Garrulous Kid.

The Garrulous Kid appeared to be lost in a daydream and seemed a bit startled as we thundered past, but managed to respond to the call, “All aboard!” tagging onto the back of our line.

We never did catch the rampaging Zardoz, or the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc, but then again, despite all expectation, our erstwhile front group of runners and chasers never caught us either.

We managed to keep our small group all together until the rollers just after the Milestone Woods, when Taffy Steve drifted off the back. I hung on down the descent and around the corner to the final climb, before Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid romped away to contest the minor placings in the sprint.

Ahead of me, OGL emerged yet again from another side road and I swooped around him and then eased to roll up to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The café has new coffee mugs, which are, apparently easier to carry, so I think the staff quite like them.  Or at least they did –  until they had to contend with a bunch of awkward, obstreperous cyclists insisting – beyond all reason and even after practical demonstration – that they were smaller than the previous version and we were all being short-changed.

We took advantage of the good weather to sit outside in the garden, reasoning there can’t be many more opportunities to do that this year.

Perhaps though, we should be more thankful we live in such a temperate climate, it is after all just a matter of perspective. OGL related how one of our club members was currently living in Las Vegas and didn’t seem too happy about it – perhaps because he can’t walk the dogs in the afternoon as the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) is so hot their paws blister.

Not that he can even get out himself either, as his steel gates expand so much in the heat they jam closed. Apparently the strict grid-like layout of American urban areas and the surrounding blank, flatness of Nevada ensure that all his Strava routes could be easily replicated by a child on an Etch-A-Sketch.

Crazy Legs recalled riding with the guy on one club run, in mid-autumn when it was typically wet, blustery and cold and everyone was complaining about the weather, apart from our ex-pat, who positively revelled in it and couldn’t have been happier. You see, perspectives.

Gazing into a nearby field, the Garrulous Kid seemed excited to see a black lamb amongst all its snow-white brothers. (He doesn’t get out much.) OGL revealed this was the field he was planning to use if he’d won the charity auction for Sean Kelly’s donkey at one of the Braveheart dinners. Luckily he was outbid at the last.

(I’ve yet to discover what possessed him to even think about bidding to win Sean Kelly’s donkey, or perhaps more accurately how much alcohol you have to consume before bidding for Sean Kelly’s donkey seems (even remotely) like a good idea.)

I felt duty bound to ask if OGL hadn’t felt a bit of an ass, while Crazy Legs wanted to know if the donkey had later wandered up to his room and “brayed on the door.” Well, it kept us vaguely amused anyway.


Coming out of the café and setting off home, the Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy got into a bitch-boy slap-fight, which the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to win, simply by virtue of his well-honed, rapier-sharp wit, as evidenced by his final retort – “Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler.”

“Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler?” I enquired.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”

“Who?”

“Oscar Wilde?”

“Never heard of the feller.”

I cocked an imaginary pistol, Contador-style, pointed it at the Monkey Butler Boy’s head and (figuratively) shot him dead.

“You’ve never even heard of Oscar Wilde?”

“Well, you’ve got to remember, I’m only young … I wasn’t around in the ‘80’s.”

Sigh.

The Monkey Butler Boy rode away to continue his fractious discussions with the Garrulous Kid, leaving me in splendid isolation, where I found I was continuously yawning. I mention this because it seemed so utterly incongruous – I can’t remember ever needing to yawn while cycling before – and now I couldn’t seem to stop.

I also began to feel nauseous and strangely displaced. This wasn’t good. At the next junction, I baled, swinging right to track through Ponteland for a shorter route home, while the bunch sped left. I started to feel chilled, even though I was sweating, but it was the clammy cold sweat of not being well, rather than the good, honest sweat of a hard workout and my speed began to drop away.

I stopped to throw up and pull on my arm-warmers – completely separate actions I’m afraid, I’m not that good at multi-tasking – before pushing grimly on.

At one point I suffered a too-close pass by a learner driver and started to wonder what exactly they were teaching them these days – but more or less forgave the driving-instructor when the car then bounced off the verge in a puff of dust and I saw him wrestling with both the wheel and the driver, trying to centre the car back into the middle of the road.

I finally made it to that Hill and crawled up it using gears I haven’t troubled since L’Alpe d’Huez, managing to make it home before an unfortunate attack of the Dumoulin’s. Well, that scuppered any chance of riding out Monday to catch the Tour of Britain – not that it was heading anywhere particularly scenic mind …


 

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In a picture stolen from the OVO Tour of Britain website, the peloton rides past Bamburgh Castle, en route through one of my favourite places, the remarkably beautiful, Northumberland coast.

Actually, now that I think about it, the familiar scenery is about the only thing the OVO Tour of Britain has going for it – what an incredibly dull … I was going to say race, but “series of  unconnected sprints” would be a better description – they’ve managed to make it almost as uninspiring as the women’s version.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for both races as an opportunity to see professional cycling on British roads. I want them to succeed and spread the appeal of the sport and I’d rather watch even this level of racing ahead of just about any other sport you care to mention … but … what remarkable lack of ingenuity was employed in designing this race and does anyone want to see a GC largely decided among sprinters on bonus seconds?

How come the Tour de of Yorkshire (despite its sad, naming pretensions) can come up with an interesting parcours and compelling competition based on a couple of days of racing in just a single county, yet our National Tour, which should be the showcase event for cycling, has the whole, infinitely variable landscape of the British Isles to choose from (and a super-strong start-list), yet is so completely lifeless? Got to hope for better next year.

Right, time to rest up the knee and hopefully get better before next weekend.


YTD Totals: 5,253 km / 3,264 miles with 60,111 metres of climbing

Radiation Vibe

Radiation Vibe

Club Run, Saturday 22nd July, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km / 65 miles with 436* metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dreich


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Ride Profile
* Stop me if you’ve heard this before – it rained throughout the ride and my Garmin naturally had a hissy-fit in protest. The official route Crazy Legs posted up had over 700 metres of climbing and that’s not counting my clambering up Heinous Hill or the other side of the Tyne valley. Nonetheless, I officially managed only 436 metres.

The Ride:

7:10 Saturday morning and I’m lying in bed listening to the rain hammering on the roof and window and the noisy gargle of the overflow racing down the drain pipe. Another rain swept Saturday in summer, it must be a club run day.

45 minutes later and leaving the house, the rain has eased from torrential, to just plain annoying and I’m pulling on a light, easily stowable waterproof jacket in anticipation of it actually stopping at some point. It’s always good to travel in hope.

Still, I’m more accepting of the weather than I was last week, I’d prepped the Peugeot the night before, so rolled out with the protection of full length mudguards. I’d also combined the thinnest socks I could find with my waterproof winter boots, assured of keeping my feet dry, but a bit concerned about them getting too warm.

The ride across to the meeting point was totally unremarkable, no exotic wildlife, no homicidal drivers, no near misses and the noteworthy, but not altogether unexpected absence of other cyclists on the road. It was horribly wet.

I ducked into the multi-storey car park to join the only other early arrival, the Garrulous Kid and to wait for the intrepid and insane to assemble.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

OGL was noticeable by his absence, having been called to attend some interminably dull, extraordinary general meeting for British Cycling. Someone wondered why G-Dawg hadn’t accompanied him and he visibly shuddered at the thought – explaining that not only would you have to sit through a long, boring meeting, but relive it in minute, forensic detail, blow-by-blow, in the car all the way back.

The Garrulous Kid proved he was in the running for a name change to the Hyperbolic Kid, declaring the Star Wars movies were the greatest film series ever made. Taffy Steve and I pondered if Chewbacca was still being played by the same “actor” Peter Mayhew and, rather bizarrely, the Garrulous Kid suggested Maria Sharapova, would make a great replacement Wookie.

“Only if she wears high heels.” G-Dawg drawled, while I tried to decide if in the Star Wars universe, dressing a Wookie in high heels was equated to a similar Terran expression about putting lipstick on a pig.

Jimmy Mac returned from a long absence and declared he’d qualified to represent Great Britain at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championship in Albi, in August. I had to express surprise, not so much because he’d qualified, more at the thought there was an actual Gran Fondo World Championship.

Still, if we wanted someone to represent us in a Gran Fondo World Championship, who better than the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy Jimmy Mac.

Meanwhile Richard of Flanders reported that ex-club member, Arnold had completed the L’Etape du Tour and found it not only expensive, but massive, chaotic and very, very badly organised.

Richard of Flanders wondered about heading home to swap his good bike for his winter bike, but decided not to. He wasn’t alone and there was a distinct lack of mudguards on offer throughout the bunch. There were lots of ass-savers though – or perhaps they should be re-named i’m-all-right-jacks, or ass-covers – only useful for covering your own ass. I feel if you’re going to subject your fellow riders to the constant deluge of spray off your back wheel, the least you can do is accept your own share of the misery and discomfort and not hide behind these flimsy bits of plastic. Go on – take it like a man.

In spite of the weather, it was a surprisingly large group of two dozen riders who pushed off, clipped in and sallied forth into the deluge.


We hadn’t made it through Dinnington, when we had a puncture and all piled into a car park while repairs were made. Here Jimmy Mac found he could drag his wet buttocks across his damp saddle and create a fearsome squeal, akin to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard. Real squeaky bum time.

He took time off from setting my teeth on edge to compliment the Garrulous Kid who was now sporting the biggest, blackest chain ring tattoo I’ve ever seen.

“How did that happen?” the Garrulous Kid asked, I assume in all seriousness, as he looked down at his calf in befuddlement.

A bit further on and he’d added a second grungy, oily brand above the first, just to prove it was no fluke. I wondered if he always cleaned his chain on random bits of exposed flesh, but apparently not. Actually, I think it was probably foolish of me to assume he ever cleaned his chain.

Tracking through Tranwell, someone behind hit a pothole and went down in a clatter and we stopped again to allow everyone to pick themselves up and check for damage.

“Oh, they’re alright.” The Garrulous Kid declared from his vantage point 30 metres or so away from the accident and Jimmy Mac was forced to admire the assuredness of the declaration and acknowledge that the Garrulous Kid had exceptional X-ray vision to go with his 20/20 hindsight.

At the bottom of the Mur de Mitford we lost a large contingent of Grogs, as they by-passed the hill for a shorter route to the café, while the rest of us grappled with the slope, wheels slipping and sliding on the wet road as grip became somewhat negotiable. Topping out the climb we traced a new (to me anyway) route to the Trench passing around Stanton.

At one point I dropped off the back with Taffy Steve who was struggling on his thrice-cursed winter bike and we found Rab Dee patrolling the rear about 20 metres back. He confirmed this was the ideal distance to avoid both crashes and the showers of shit being spat off everyone’s wheels.


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Down through Hartburn and rising up the other side, Jimmy Mac had a front wheel puncture and pulled over to the side of the road to effect repairs. Crazy Legs popped up to where we all waited to borrow Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and we were soon underway again. We even managed to make it round the very next corner, before a loud hiss of escaping air announced Jimmy Macs original repair hadn’t fared too well, the tyre had popped off the rim and the tube had gone again.

Yet another unscheduled stop had Crazy Legs urging everyone on to the café, while he said he’d hang back with Jimmy Mac. Only then did he realise he’d left his saddle bag on his other bike and wasn’t carrying a spare tube. He too, then decided to go with the larger group in case he needed assistance.

Biden Fecht donated a spare tube and I hung back with Rab Dee, Richard of Flanders and the Big Yin to provide assistance, moral support and a ragged, surely highly-prized and always welcome, running commentary of piss-taking. Rab Dee lifted the front of Jimmy Mac’s bike up for him and he set to work wrestling the wheel out of the forks.

Watching on, the Big Yin admitted he’d rather take a dump in public than have to change a tyre in front of an attentive and critical audience of fellow cyclists … then went back to critically and attentively watching his fellow cyclist change a tyre.

I do have a lot of sympathy with his view and tend to try slipping quietly off the back, rather than wrestle with tyres and tubes while a censorious “puncture congregation” bears unholy witness.

Extended wheel-wrangling left Jimmy Mac with filthy black lines and marks up and down his legs, that were even more embarrassing than the Garrulous Kids chain-ring tatt and it was suggested he looked like an SAS sniper covered in camo paint for a night mission. Fighting through the grit and crud and crap and mud on his wheel, somehow he finally managed to get the tube in and seat the tyre back in place.

Taffy Steve had left with the larger group, taking his mighty frame pump with him, so Jimmy Mac fished out his own molto piccolo, Leznye Pressure Drive out of a pocket, screwed the hose into one end of it and attached the other to his tyre valve.

As he set manfully to work, inflating his tyre, Rab Dee kept a careful eye on Jimmy Mac’s Garmin, reading off his heart rate and we were all super-impressed that after about 5 minutes of pumping it never rose above 128 bpm. That’s the kind of cardio-vascular fitness we’d all like to have.

Unfortunately, the tyre remained as flat as Jimmy Mac’s heart rate and after several more minutes he surmised his pump must be broken. Richard of Flanders took over and pulled out his own, identical Leznye Pressure Drive. He screwed the rubber hose slowly into his pump, sizing-up the errant tyre with a dead-eyed looked as he walked toward it, much like an assassin fitting a suppressor to his pistol muzzle before administering the coup de grace.

Jimmy Mac, our UCI Gran Fondo World Championship representative, the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy, then watched as Richard screwed the other end of the hose onto his tyre valve and began to inflate the tube…

“Hold on, do you have to screw that end onto the valve too?” he pondered loudly. “I just thought you had to press it on …”

Oh. Dear.

Richard of Flanders made light work of inflating the tyre and we were finally back underway again.

Perhaps as recompense for delaying us, or perhaps to leave the scene of his shame firmly behind him, Jimmy Mac surged to the front and drove the pace up. As we climbed past Angerton, I glanced back, finding totally empty road and told him we were alone, had split the group and needed to ease up a little.

We managed to regroup around Bolam Lake, but Rab Dee and Jimmy Mac seemed intent on making up for lost time and lined us out again. I dropped into their slipstream and hung there as the speed ratcheted up, hanging onto the coattails as we swept through Milestone Wood, drove over the rollers, down the hill and onto the final climb to the café.

At some point along the final stretch we zipped past Taffy Steve and Szell, who had taken a longer route to allow Szell tackle his bete noire, Middleton Bank and face down his own personal demons.

As we passed the pair, I eased and let go of Jimmy Macs wheel, coasting through the finish flags planted at the end of the lane for some event or other sponsored by the GS Metro club – I don’t know what it was for and there was no one around to ask, but it was nice of them to mark the finish of our club sprint for us.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Szell announced that his brand new dental x-ray produced no more radiation than you would get from eating 8 bananas and you didn’t even need to leave the room when using it.  I contrasted this to my last dental x-ray, where the dentist first put on a lead-lined apron and heavy duty goggles, before unspooling the remote-control trigger wire behind him as he left the room. I then heard the surgery front door open and close and saw him duck past the window, still unreeling the wire. A pause of about a minute, was followed by a deep hum, blinding flash and the smell of burning rubber. A few minutes later the dentist wandered back whistling nonchalantly, winding up the wire and declaring we’re all done.

We discovered that Banana Equivalent Dose was an accepted (well, almost) scientific measure of radiation exposure and eating one banana equivalent to roughly 0.1 Sieverts of radiation, while a flight from New York to LA was equivalent to 40 Sieverts.

From this Jimmy Mac concluded it was unwise to eat bananas on an aeroplane – and, never mind Snakes on a Plane, the next Hollywood low-budget schlockbuster could well involve aviation travel with everyone’s favourite Musaceae.

(Don’t worry by the way, a lethal dose of radiation is about 35 million Sieverts, you’re not going to get that from fruit – even if you’re in first class and constantly eating bananas washed down with daiquiris on a long-haul flight to Australia, or Hawaii)

The Big Yin was interested in organising a ride out to see the Tour of Britain, travelling on familiar roads somewhere on its route from Kielder to Blyth on Monday 4th September. It sounded like a reasonable excuse for a day off work and a ride out, although Szell raised the worrying spectre of us meeting other OGL’s from the all the different areas of Britain congregating on the same spot.

I dismissed his worries out of hand – there couldn’t possibly be other OGL’s out there. Could there?


On the way out, a quick word with the Red Max confirmed he could lay his hands on Tyvek overalls, a respirator and rubberised boots, should I ever find work in a banana plantation.

Given our puncture-crash-puncture-puncture ride interruptions, we were late leaving the café and it looked like we’d be late getting back. As we rolled down Berwick Hill I found myself on the front with the Red Max and encouraging his almost constant half-wheeling, even as Crazy Legs reported we’d split the group.

We kept going, nonetheless, up through Dinnington and around the the airport. Fast. I didn’t look back once and have no idea what was going on behind. I was still surprised, however to exit the Mad Mile without being caught and overtaken by a duelling G-Dawg and Colossus, sprinting for home and first use of the shower.

Just before crossing the river I tentatively removed my rain jacket. Oh well, better late than never and was soon heading uphill and home.

And that’s it for the next couple of weeks, as I’m off to Nice on a family holiday.

I think it’s just as well I’m leaving work before someone punches me in the face for being annoying. The trouble is, whenever I’m asked where I’m going, I can never resist:

“Where you off to then?”

“Nice.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Niece.”

It reminds me of the time a work colleague spent some time in Scotland.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Ayr”

“I SAID, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

Don’t worry, I’ve finished now and you won’t be subjected to any more crap jokes for a couple of weeks. Hopefully the weather will have improved by the time I get back too (Ha ha. Sorry, I promised no more crap jokes, didn’t I)

In the meantime, enjoy the peace.


YTD Totals: 4,609 km / 2,863 miles with 52,634 metres of climbing

The War in the Trenches

The War in the Trenches

Club Run, Saturday 29th April, 2017        

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km / 69 miles with 1,200 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 22 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                        22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                   16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool


 

 

29 April
Ride Profile

Last week the nice people at WordPress, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say their politely programmed bots, sent me best wishes on Sur La Jante’s 3rd birthday.

So three years in and still churning out this lowly ‘column’ (as one reader rather grandiosely labelled it) or my ‘diary’ as another refers to it. (I thought diaries were meant to be honestly truthful, whereas I’m very liberal with the truth and have been known to outrageously embellish – in fact anything for a cheap laugh).

Anyway, it remains to me, nothing more than a humble blog or, as we decided a couple of weeks ago after adopting the Ashington idiom, blerg.

I think blerg seems an especially appropriate name as it sounds onomatopoeically redolent of vomiting; the disgorging of the wordy effluvia that passes as wit and wisdom around here, but I digress.

Saturday morning found me working up to another blerg entry as I pulled up at the meeting point after a wholly remarkable ride to get there, where nothing much happened at all. After the travails of the last few weeks, I’ll take that kind of boredom any day.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I found Taffy Steve in mid-spiel talking about Uh-murca, Uh-murcan politicians and how to make Uh-murca great again, all the while pondering why the ruling elite always referred to their country as Uh-murca and never America.

This provided the perfect cue for my entry into the dad-joke of the week competition – which, by the way I feel I won hands down: “I hear the Trump Administration are trying to ban shredded cheese. They’re trying to make Uh-murca grate again.”

I swear you could actually hear the wind soughing softly through the tumbleweeds as I dropped the punchline.

Taffy Steve then tried to put the Garrulous Kid’s Uh-murcan upbringing to the test, by having him re-enact the pledge of allegiance that all school kids are supposed to start the day with. It was a decidedly disappointing, lame, half-hearted performance though, carried out with about as much conviction as (I like to hope) any real American kid with half a brain would adopt.

The Prof rolled up on the Frankenbike that he’s adorned with some deep section, carbon rimmed Zipp wheels – something akin to slapping lipstick on a pig. He still struggles getting on and off a “proper” bike without a mounting block, even after a couple of years of trying. I blame far too long riding his glorified-Meccano built, folding-shopping trolley of a small-wheeled velocipede, with its girlie step-over styling.

Yet again I instructed him to try tilting the frame away from the vertical before swinging a leg over it. Yet again, I’m not sure he quite grasped the concept.

Crazy Legs was chatting with OGL about new cars and comparing notes on the Citroen Picasso. Crazy Legs himself has somewhat reluctantly just swapped his own Picasso for a Cactus and the memories of his old car brought a sad tear of reminiscence to his eye. He professed that he really, really missed the ability of opening up the Picasso’s hatchback so he could sit sheltered under the tailgate whenever it rained. It was left to a clearly perplexed Taffy Steve to ask the painfully obvious and perfectly logical question, “Err, couldn’t you just sit inside the car when it rains?”

Princess Fiona reported that she had successfully led her “fish out of water” expedition of cyclists on a walk into the Cheviots last weekend, but the pleasant stroll had unintentionally turned into a 6-hour forced death march. Caracol was conspicuous by his absence today and while Princess Fiona was quick to re-assure me he was actually at a music festival in Leeds, I have my suspicions that she may somehow have broken him.

Crazy Legs outlined the planned and pre-publicised route for the day, which was heavy on climbing with perennial favourites, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench and Middleton Bank all thrown into the mix.

Zardoz shuffled up, already enacting another charade to highlight his (entirely feigned) dreadful enfeeblement and pitiful inability to propel a bike with any great vim or vigour.  In a perfectly judged, slightly quavering voice he pleaded, “You won’t abandon me in the Trench, will you?” a line I’m fairly certain he lifted in its entirety out of some patriotic, creaky old movie about the Great War.

With only 22 lads and lasses out, we decided not to split the group until the Mur de Mitford, when those looking for less hilly alternatives could follow OGL for an alternative, slightly gentler ride.


Off we set and I was soon shuttling between OGL and the Garrulous Kid, trying to follow two random conversations at once. We passed the eye-brow raising sight of what appeared to be a runner in cyling shorts and jersey. “Hmm, I think he’s forgot his bike,” someone quipped, even as the runner seemed to wave and acknowledge us as being in the same “tribe” as him.

I was discussing the Badlands of Dinnington, with the Garrulous Kid and talking about what a strange place it and its (possibly) unjustifiably denigrated citizens were. Then, as we swept down from the village,  frantic hand signals upfront sent us swerving around a major obstacle in our path. This turned out to be a black bin bag, stuffed to overflowing with the countless, bloody corpses of dead pigeons and dumped on the side of the road. Too weird for words.

Unfortunately, this prompted a bizarre and rather random conversation with the Garrulous Kid, which started when he ask if I’d ever been to the Royal Fee-ayter in Newcastle (I have) for the pantomime (yes, to that too) which he insists always, always, always, traditionally includes a sketch about dead pigeons. (Err, no.)

Naturally, once I’d doubted the veracity of his claim, he then had to work back through the entire group, trying to find someone who’d been to the Royal Fee-ayter and seen the pantomime that involved dead pigeons. I think he’s still looking for some sort of positive corroboration.

A quick pee stop found two of the oldest members of our group immediately reaching for their mobile phones, like social-media obsessed, needy teenagers, or perhaps sex pest’s let loose on Tinder.

Then a sharp scramble upwards, followed by a sharp dip down, found us approaching the Mur de Mitford around a tight, momentum sapping left-hand turn, horrible for anyone who didn’t realise what was coming  and found themselves caught in the wrong gear. Up we went in a rush, before regrouping over the top and assessing the damage and who was left.

Surprisingly only a couple had taken the opportunity of a less demanding route to the café and followed OGL and I was somewhat surprised to find Szell still with us, but reasoned the lure of tackling his bete noir of Middleton Bank had been too tempting to refuse, no matter how hard he had to work to get there.

With Biden Fecht and Ovis driving on the front, we were soon scaling the Trench and strung out in a long line. I eased approaching the top, recognising there were still plenty more hills to come and heard the unmistakable “swash-swash-swash” of G-Dawg turning a massive gear and climbing out of the saddle as he bridged across to me.

Another general regrouping and then we were climbing the long, hard drag up to Rothley Crossroads. At the top, an obviously fatigued Garrulous Kid was asking how much further we had to go. I told him it wasn’t too far, but heard a distinct groan when I mentioned we still had Middleton Bank to scale.


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A rolling road led us onto the approach to this hill and hoping to take maximum advantage of any help he could get from gravity, Szell pulled out wide and began hurtling down the outside, pulling just about everyone else along with him, while Crazy Legs cried out in disgust at being swamped by hurtling bodies and chaos on either side.

We then hit the bottom of the bank and the natural order was quickly restored, with G-Dawg and Biden Fecht pulling away at the front, while those less enamoured of gravity began slipping backwards.

I found myself amongst the wheels as we reached the steepest ramp and, as the incline bit, the Garrulous Kid did a bit of ill-conceived fishing for another gear. With the change down, his legs started whirring round ineffectually and as he lost momentum, I pushed around him, rose out of the saddle and began to lead the chase to the front pair.

I ran out of hill before making it across, but the pace slowed briefly so we could reform and then we slowly started to wind it back up again. As we swept around Bolam Lake I manoeuvred to the back of the pack, waiting to see if anyone attacked up the rollers, but holding station as nothing happened up front. Where was the Red Max when we needed him?

Down the dip and onto the final climb and, as we rounded the last corner, Ovis attacked from the back and I slid onto his wheel. He dragged me up toward the front of the group and he sparked a reaction from G-Dawg before slowly fading and drifting to the side. Crazy Legs followed G-Dawg’s acceleration and I switched across onto his wheel, as we slowly wound in and passed Keel, hitting the front just as we crested the last rise and all finishing line-astern.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As we stood at the counter being served, Crazy Legs unconsciously prepped my coffee with milk, while I handed him a knife for his scone. “We’re like an old, married couple,” he remarked.

“Well, except we don’t hate each other,” I replied.

“Speak for yourself,” he countered.

Charming.

For some reason, completely unknown to me, Crazy Legs then became fixated on describing pictures he’d seen of the Chuckle Brothers sharing a bath with a young female model, an image he encouraged everyone to Google – before concluding it would scar you for life. If that’s incentive enough for you, then feel free, I have to admit I’m not brave enough.

Under poor and imprecise instructions, we had G-Dawg chasing a speck of errant butter all around his face and I wondered if there’d be any aerodynamic benefits gained from greasing your head. This, quite naturally led to discussions about Spanish footballers, whose de rigueur, hairstyle of choice appears to be anything long, slicked back and very, very greasy.

Talk then progressed to Ronaldo’s unfortunate bronze bust, with its uncanny resemblance to ex-Sunderland plodder striker, Niall Quinn. We thought perhaps that only the Garrulous Kid and the artist would be able to see a resemblance between these two remarkably different footballers.

As if on cue, the Garrulous Kid then showed up, hovering over the table to ask everyone if they’d ever been to a pantomime at the Royal Fee-ayter, while I sat with my head in my hands.

Deciding to put him to more practical use, I asked him to go get some coffee and learned he wasn’t allowed coffee. I have to admit that far more than anything else he’d ever said to me, this made the most sense – he’s hyper enough that I just can’t imagine what he’d be like wired on caffeine.

I explained that what I actually wanted him to do was get refills for our coffees and off he went and dutifully delivered.

As he returned and finally pulled a chair up to the table, talk uncharacteristically turned political and serious, with Crazy Legs revealing he’d actually been paid a visit by his incumbent Labour MP. In person!

He’d discovered she was quite human, honest and had a decent sense of humour and he’d actually quite liked her. I’m not sure my MP ever leaves his party office, other than to shuffle down to Westminster periodically and draw his cheque and the only time we ever hear anything is when he wants our vote.

The Garrulous Kid then derided Jeremy Corbyn as a communist and I couldn’t help wondering why he thought this was necessarily such a bad thing.  Apart from the preposterous notion that he was a traitor working for the (now defunct) Soviet Union, the big reason the Garrulous Kid gave for disliking Corbyn was he would … dan – dan – dan … raise taxes!

I find the common, prevailing meta-narrative that always portrays taxes as wholly evil and some how wrong to be incredibly facile and tiresome. Just to be bad, I found myself asking why he felt those with higher incomes and incredibly comfortable lives shouldn’t be asked to pay a little more to help support a crumbling health care system, or our shockingly under-provisioned schools.

The ensuing conversation had Zardoz wondering what school the Garrulous Kid went to and what they were actually teaching them, but Crazy Legs felt the answer for his views could probably be attributed closer to home than school.

Lending an ear to the fast evolving conversation the Garrulous Kid was now having with G-Dawg about PSHE and Citizenship lessons, Zardoz nudged me and muttered, “It’s alright, we’re back on safe ground now, he’s off talking about chlamydia again.”

Turning the tables on the Garrulous Kid, who always seems to find at least one obscure and unlikely resemblances between a club member and some obscure celebrity, Crazy Legs suggested the Kid reminded him of no one quite as much as Jar Jar Binks. I think this was quite a blow to his ego, as he sees himself more as a bad-ass, Kylo Ren.

It was far too early for G-Dawg to leave for home as he’s conscious getting back before 1.00pm would set a very bad and unhealthy precedent. So, while Taffy Steve joined up with the rest for the return back and then his epic solo journey on to the coast, we settled in to waste a little more time with idle and inane chatter.

Finally judging it was safe to leave, we left Zardoz in the café to meet up with his venerable wrecking crew of veteran cyclists, while G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Garrulous Kid and me set off for home.


Crazy Legs and G-Dawg took up station on the front for the first part of the ride, while I rode alongside the Garrulous Kid and asked him the burning, million-dollar question – had he ever tried riding and talking to OGL?

In my own mind I was already imagining with horror the tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that might be unleashed if the two spent any time together. Disappointingly though, the Garrulous Kid reported riding with OGL is boring, as “all he ever talks about is bikes.”

At the top of Berwick Hill we pushed through and took over pace-making duties from the front two. By his standards, the Garrulous Kid seemed quiet and a little subdued over the last few miles. Perhaps he ran out of words, or was feeling tired after our rather lumpy ride?

Perhaps he was just savouring his last club run for a while as he’s been condemned to more Saturday schooling to try and improve his maffs. Either way it was a quite peaceable end to the ride.

With the sun finally breaking through I declared it was probably the best part of the day. Crazy Legs then rather astonishingly claimed credit and declared that from now on we should refer to his bike, the much-cossetted Ribble, as “Cloudchaser.” Hmm.

The Garrulous Kid and Crazy Legs then turned off and I entered the Mad Mile with G-Dawg at a quite sedate pace. With Son of G-Dawg absent, I guess there was no competition for first use of the shower so we had a more relaxed run in.

I waved G-Dawg off and then set course for home, which, like the trip out that morning, was unremarkable and incident free. I unclipped at the front gate having ridden bang on 69 miles with exactly 1,200 metres of climbing. Hard but fun.


YTD Totals: 2,480 km / 1,541 miles with 26,625 metres of climbing

Perfect Day

Perfect Day

Club Run, Saturday 25th March, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,119 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 31 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.5 km/h

Group size:                                         29 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Perfect


 

25 march
Ride Profile

The Ride:

All the forecasts were pointing to a fine, fine day and didn’t disappoint, although clear skies overnight meant a very chilly start to the early morning. The grass down the sides of the hill was pale and stiff with lingering frost and it didn’t take long for the cold to gnaw through my light gloves to chill and numb my thumbs. Nonetheless, I was certain it was going to warm up quickly, so guessed the choice of shorts, short-sleeved jersey and base layer, arm and knee warmers, would prove wise. Eventually. Wouldn’t it?

Overhead the sky was a washed out blue, mottled with high, gauzy clouds, while a jet plane seemed intent on  carving a lazy, chalky contrail from horizon to horizon. As I approached the river a handwritten sign caught my eye, “No Litter! No Rats!” That, I thought is a rather outlandish take on a much-loved, Bob Marley classic.

When I looked over the bridge, bright sunlight splintered and bounced back glaringly from the broken surface of the river below, temporarily dazzling me, so I didn’t even see the deep chasm I smashed through. It felt like someone had created a hole by lifting an entire tombstone-sized slab of the road out of the surface and I hit it so hard I felt the shock right down through my toes. Ouch!

Amazed I didn’t blow out at least one tyre, I spent the next few miles checking everything was intact and in working order, before picking up the pace to hit the meeting point well on time.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I found the G-Dawg Collective sitting on the wall, enjoying the sun, which was such a contrast to last weekend. I naturally enquired how their MTB trip to Kielder had gone and how much they enjoyed slogging around in the mud and freezing rain, while getting hacky-mucky, filthy-dirty. To be honest conditions out on the roads hadn’t been much better, so the smug quotient was non-existent.

They reported that, all in all it had been great fun and an enjoyable off-road, adventure that’s bound to be repeated sooner or later. The only slight blemish on the day was the BFG, with near perfect timing, managing to snap his chain right before one of the day’s heaviest, most prolonged downpours. Ooph!

This week we learned that the club has (allegedly) 259 members registered with British Cycling, of which a grand total of 48 actually pay their membership fees. Since he’s a stalwart of the club and much longer serving member than me, I was interested to find out if G-Dawg had ever met these mysterious 211 “Others”– all of who, incidentally may well have voted illegally for Hilary Clinton in the recent US elections too.

We then wondered what problems it would cause in the highly improbable event that they all decided to turn up for a club run on the same day, although we would of course be rolling in it if they also coughed up for their membership fees at the same time. I did like the idea of getting them to turn up en masse and all hand over their subs in £1 coins to OGL, just before we set out for a ride. At the same time I realised this would be almost impossible to co-ordinate, as we can’t even organise the club members who do show up regularly.

The reasonably warm, bright and dry weather brought out lots of long absent faces, including both Andeven and Richard of Flanders, back from various assorted broken bones. Richard felt he was just about fully healed, but didn’t want to be falling on his fractured elbow again, so if any problems occurred he made it known he would be hurling himself bodily to the left, curled into a foetal ball and whimpering ever so slightly.

He said he didn’t think there would be any long-term side-effects from his injury, although I couldn’t resist suggesting his left arm was now two inches longer than the right.

“You’ll probably find you’ll only be able to ride in a circle now.” G-Dawg warned.

The Red Max rolled up wearing some brand new, super-shiny, carbon-soled road shoes from Planet-X, bagged half price, along with other swag totalling a couple of hundred pounds. He revealed he’d tried to pre-empt and mitigate censure from Mrs. Max, by including some pink bar tape in his order, solely for for her, but sadly she’s too wise to his ways and had seen right through this sop and purely token gesture.

Goose arrived somewhat flustered and seriously over-dressed in a waterproof and windproof winter jacket, having failed to plan ahead and swap out at least some of his winter kit for warm weather gear. Running late, he’d panicked and just grabbed whatever was to hand, hence the jacket. I was somewhat reassured by his explanation, which confirmed he hadn’t acquired secret knowledge of a freak, radical change in the weather heading our way and we could look forward to a pleasant ride. Meanwhile Goose tried to determine if he could ship the jacket in favour of just the short-sleeved jersey he wore under it, but decided it was still too chilly.


With OGL mysteriously absent, we still stuck to the plan, G-Dawg outlining a proposed route and then leading off the first group, while Red Max volunteered to take a second group off a few minutes behind on a slightly shorter run.

So, around two-thirds pushed off, clipped in and rode out, while the second group waited to allow us to get clear, before following on.

I slotted in alongside Rab Dee as the Prof and De Uitheems Bloem led us out, frequently checking that the pace was ok for everyone. At one point, the Prof called back and asked what speed he should set, but typically half a dozen people suggested half a dozen different answers, none of which were particularly helpful, or remotely sensible.

Because I’m a smart arse, I wanted precisely 16.37mph, while Rab Dee wanted us to try and achieve constant angular acceleration. Not getting a reasonable response, the pair just decided to stick to their own pace, which worked for a while, although as the ride progressed their enthusiasm began to get the better of them and they ultimately slipped the leash.

With the bridge leading up to the Cheese Farm temporarily closed, we looped east instead of west and I found myself riding next to Kermit, who’s not from around these parts, so obviously knew far more about local history and the countryside’s assorted attractions than I did. He even engaged his best tourism guide persona to point out the Cale Cross monument as we rode past, transported stone by stone from its original site on the Quayside. It’s now a feature of the Blagdon Hall Estate along with an interesting, if eclectic mix of local art and history that, according to Kermit is open to the great unwashed public “about one day every other year.”

I caught up with Taffy Steve, who confessed to being as giddy as a kid at Christmas at the thought of a ride where numbers were manageable and speed and distance weren’t dictated solely by the weakest. He even admitted to being up extra-early, so brim-full of anticipation to get started that he couldn’t sleep any longer. And so far? So far, it had all gone perfectly well and he was in acute danger of actually enjoying the ride.


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We were soon dropping down to the River Wansbeck, but again our route nudged a little east instead of west, to miss the dubious pleasure of the Mur De Mitford climb, skirting around the edge of Morpeth before climbing inland again.

Here the enthusiasm of the Prof and De Uitheems Bloem would get the better of them and they started riding off the front, before taking the wrong turn, or looping back to find us again. I wondered if we weren’t witnessing a movement for Dutch independence, or a “Hexit” if you will, while G-Dawg suggested it was just like taking a couple of loopy young Labradors out for a walk; they’d enthusiastically bound on ahead, only to panic when you were out of sight and come lolloping back briefly, before haring off yet again.

(Their habit of riding up the inside of cars stopped by traffic lights and then holding up the traffic when the lights changed was much less endearing though, and probably not a great way of fostering mutual respect and understanding with other road users.)

After all the shouted warnings of pots, ice, water, mud and gravel that had become such a staple of our winter rides, it was refreshing for a change to hear the warning cry of “squirrel” – what better indication could there be that the weather is at last improving.

We stopped to regroup and outline route options for the rest of the ride, G-Dawg in particular looking to check that Sneaky Pete was ok and knew what was coming up. He then spent a good two minutes scanning all the assembled faces looking for Sneaky Pete, who just happened to be camped two feet in front of G-Dawg, hiding in plain sight directly under his nose. That kind of stealthy anonymity and ability to blend in must be an absolute boon to someone of Sneaky Pete’s sneaky proclivities.

The stop also revealed that the Goose was well and truly cooked and he took the opportunity to finally pack and stow his jacket as, all across the group, zips were inched down and gloves and arm warmers abandoned.

Route options aired and outlined and splinter groups agreed, we set off, climbing the Trench and then began the long, hard and hated haul up Rothley Crossroads. A pause to regroup again and then we set off – all fractured and strung out at high speed, as if the scent of coffee was already hanging in the air.

At one point, I cut a corner, picking up a few quick bike lengths, but finding a car approaching head on, if still some distance off. A quick twitch and I was back into the right lane and slipped easily past.

I can honestly say that the incident didn’t even register as noteworthy, there was no panic, no sudden surge of adrenaline and I never felt even remotely endangered. Everyone around me thought it had been a “close call” though, which I found a bit more disturbing than the actual incident.

We approached Middleton Bank at high speed and, as the climb began, I just had time to acknowledge a flash of black and green as the Monkey Butler Boy whipped past downhill with his new training compadres.

I hit the steepest ramp of the climb and, in an instant, all the strength just drained from my legs, like one of those jointed toys held up by elastic that collapse when you push a button on the base. Someone had just cut my elastic and I was going nowhere fast.

I ground on upwards, managing to just about hold onto Taffy Steve’s wheel over the top – and then we started to chase down the front group.

A mile or so further and Son of G-Dawg cruised past, with Zardoz in tow and we jumped across to this train. Then, as Son of G-Dawg pressed to re-join the front group, Zardoz slowly lost his wheel and declared himself all done.  By the time I’d rounded him, Son of G-Dawg was gone and had successfully hooked up with the front group, but we were still adrift.

With what little energy I had left I tried to narrow the gap for Taffy Steve to jump across, pounding away until my efforts became ragged and there was nothing left. At this point, he dropped out of my slipstream and was on his own as he tried to close down the group up front.

I dropped the pace back and sat up until the next train churned past, this time driven by Aether and with a recovered Zardoz sitting on his wheel. Zardoz tapped me on the backside as he passed, a move that, had it occurred in Catalunya would probably have seen us both docked a minute for pushing, as it was I took it as a cue to slot in behind him.

As we hit the rollers, I pushed to the front and dragged the group up and over, then down the final descent and back up toward the café, which we found rammed full of both cyclists and civilians, lured out by the fine weather. Luckily, this was good enough to let us sit comfortably outside, so we decamped to the garden for hopefully just the first of many visits this year.

Before this, I had the fun of watching Zardoz place an order with one of the staff and then attempt to pay a completely different one, who wondered why a strange man was offering her money for no apparent reason. Apparently, “they all look the same.” 


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Squeezing onto one of the seriously crowded tables, I learned Buster had nearly-almost joined the club Velogames Fantasy Cycling League for the Spring Classics, but had missed the deadline. I had to admit that three races in we were all doing so badly that there was still a chance he could still sign up and win. I guess the unpredictability of the Classics is part of their appeal and perhaps why the bookies love them.

I mentioned how cold it was starting out this morning, especially on the long chilly drop down to the valley. The Red Max was unsympathetic, suggesting it was a natural consequence of living “across the river” in a land he suggested was always shrouded in black clouds.

“You think I live in Mordor?” I asked.

Apparently so, and not only that the Red Max believes the Tyne Bridge is the Black Gate, which … which means my path home leads through Cirith Ungol!  No, man, not spiders, I mean, like I don`t dig spiders…

The Red Max revealed the Monkey Butler Boy is now taller than he is … and still growing. He has also proven surprisingly feral and an adept forager, so even refusing to feed him hasn’t helped.

Max was lamenting that he used to be able to punch, jab or slap the Monkey Butler Boy (one of the abiding, constitutionally encouraged requirements of fatherhood) and elicit the odd, offended yelp, such as: “Aye-ah!” or “Ow!” or “Hoo-man!” Now he says the Monkey Butler Boy just brushes off such rough and tumble horseplay, glares at him stonily and mutters “Soon, Dad. Very soon.”

To cheer himself up he’s off to a fancy dress party tonight as a 70’s porn star. Captain Black wondered aloud if he wasn’t actually going as his barber, which amused half the table and left the other half suitably perplexed.

Meanwhile Zardoz tried to convince the table that we’d deliberately not contested the café sprint because the front group have such fragile ego’s that they would have been crushed if we’d caught and dropped them.  It was a good effort, but no one was buying.


Zardoz declared he was going to wait for the arrival of local legend, the indomitable Ray Wetherall – three quarters of a century in and still riding, so we left him behind, sitting out and enjoying the sun while we gathered for the return trip with everyone in high spirits.

The Red Max led from the café at a furiously fast pace, trying to burn up the surfeit of energy that remained after leading the shorter ride. I mentioned to Son of G-Dawg that had been just about the perfect ride, a good route, good group and bright, dry, not too windy and not overwhelmingly hot either. We had to wonder if this was our allotted, one and only perfect ride for the year.

When the Red Max finally faltered, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg picked up the lead and drove us at high speed home. I held on as long as I could, until they hit the Mad Mile and started the race for first use of the shower in earnest, at which point I tailed off and started to pick my own way home.

The roads were surprisingly quiet, the weather remained good and the trip back was supremely pleasant and incident free. I even discovered the chasm in the bridge wasn’t quite as big a hole as I’d assumed, but still deep and steep-sided. I’ve committed its exact location to my fallible memory – hopefully I can avoid it from now on – I’m pretty sure I’ll notice if I don’t.

That was fun. Small steps taken and more to come. Roll-on next weekend.


YTD Totals: 1,520 km / 944 miles with 15,948 metres of climbing