Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Day#2 – Going off Grid

Breakfast of Champions

A decent night’s sleep was fortified by a sterling breakfast where our supremely attractive and very friendly waitress seemed to delight in adjusting her décolletage and pouting into the dining room mirrors solely for the edification of the hotel guests.

By 9:00 the Oberlanders were on the road in the bright sunshine and heading for our rendezvous at the foot of the Alpe. It was a pleasantly warm start on a day when the temperatures would soon climb into the very high twenties. Not quite as scorching as yesterday, but plenty hot enough for pale-skinned Northerners.

I was astonished to find we had a full house, our entire collective was up and ready to go and we were, very briefly, all together as we started to climb. The first few ramps soon took care of that and it wasn’t long before we were scattered all over the road. From this point on we wouldn’t be together again as a group until we sat down for our evening meal.

Big ring, inner ring, granny ring. I dropped down at the front, while the chain inexorably rode up the block at the back. It didn’t take long and then, that was it, I was out of gears. Most of the others stretched away as I settled down to the task of spinning upwards in my own time, knowing I had over an hour of work to do to reach the top.

Despite a full service and a brand new bottom bracket, the bike had developed an annoying creak whenever I put any power through the cranks, which would have been just one more excuse for my light-spinning approach. Or at least, it would have been if I felt I needed one. As it was, I contained the creak to the few moments when I stood out of the saddle, more to keep the blood flowing everywhere than out of any real necessity to climb faster. (The creak seems to have completely disappeared on return to the UK, which is rather confusing.)

Gianni Bugno Smells

The first few hairpins were pleasant, but the higher we climbed the more exposed the road became and the temperature was rising, probably at a faster rate than I was. Around the pair of Gianni Bugno hairpins (#6 and #7) the smell of burning brakes and clutch were unmistakable, although there was very little traffic to account for it.

Unfortunately, much of the traffic that there was, consisted of heavy, construction vehicles, as it looks like more ski accommodation is being thrown up right across the mountain. It made for some interesting overtaking manoeuvres that played out in extreme slow motion.

Steadfast was climbing at around the same pace as me, so was always in sight, but otherwise I don’t recall passing any serious cyclists and can only recall a handful passing me, it was a quiet day on the Alpe.

I was pleased to see the photographers, always camped out near the top, an indication that the end wasn’t too far off and judging by the number of (in)action shots they took of me, I think they were glad to see me too. I still couldn’t summon up a wave or a smile though.

All The Way to the Top

Up through the village, I scanned the cafe’s few occupants, hoping we’d decided to make this our official end point. No such luck, it looked like we were heading to the official Tour finish line higher up the mountain. I joined up with Steadfast going through the underpass and hoping he knew the route – I think I’ve been a different way every time.

His instincts proved right, we found the rest of the gang camped out at the display of past winners. That still wasn’t good enough for them though and they made me climb another 300 metres to the official sign, before we press-ganged a bystander into the obligatory group photo.

Dog Days

Other than Goose’s hilarious positioning and pose for the photo, the strangest sight on the day had to be the girl on a mountain-bike being towed up the climb by an indefatigable Jack Russell. We don’t know if it got a Strava PB, but the Big Yin claimed the pair had overtaken him quite easily.

As for the Big Yin, there was no sign of him. I took a can of cola (Coke to you and me, but maybe the French reserve that term for a certain white powder?) from the snack van and slumped on one of the picnic tables for a rest and to replenish liquids while we waited.

“Watch that doesn’t bite!” the Ticker warned me, pointing at a greenish-yellow insect that had landed on my knee. I flicked it away. Too late, a bright bead of blood bloomed on my skin. Guess the butterfly yesterday was just to lull me into a false sense of security.

Café Olé!

Drink consumed and with still no sign of the Big Yin, we rolled back to the cafe in the town, thinking he might have stopped there. Nope, not there either.

“Café au lait, si vous plait?” Crazy Legs asked the waitress.

“Un?” she enquired.

“Deux – trois – quatre – cinq – six – sept,” we all individually added our orders in turn and then she turned to Goose last of all. We waited … tension building … he opened his mouth …

“Huit!” he finally barked. Internally I gave a silent cheer, but then … “Gracias!”

We’re the Fuquari

By the time we’d finished our coffee and were ready to move on, there was still no sign of the Big Yin. I messaged him. He’d been through the village, past the cafe and was (supposedly) on the road to our next destination, the Col de Sarenne.

A little later we received a screenshot of a map location with a red dot in the middle of a featureless nowhere and a plaintive “where am I.” We had no idea either. It turns out that, as we headed east toward the Sarenne, the Big Yin was working his way ever northwards until he reached Lac Besson where a local confirmed that no, he wasn’t on the road to the Sarenne, or indeed anywhere near it.

Down by one, we pressed on. The road was much, much rougher, narrower and more gravel-strewn than I recall. It would have reminded me of home, except I don’t think the clartiest farm track in the outer wilds of Northumberland is quite as bad, or certainly not as consistently bad over such a long distance. Traction around the corners felt like a bit of a lottery demanding caution and I was just waiting for a puncture as we rattled and bounced over pots and fissures and cracks, but it was worth it as the scenery was utterly spectacular. Luckily the route was also quiet and we only encountered a single car and a handful of cyclists as we dropped down and then started the climb up to the col.

The climb split us up again, as everyone took it at the own pace, allowing the Hammer time to clamber up above the road and frame me in splendid isolation against an empty landscape in what he termed his epic Rapha shot.

Behind me, Crazy Legs had run out of energy and said he was climbing so slowly that a butterfly had do-si-doed its way through his spokes totally unscathed. He was delighted to finally reach the Col de Sarenne sign, doubly so when he noticed its height was given as 1,999 metres, so he could taunt the Ticker that he hadn’t managed a climb over 2,000 metres yet.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Ticker wandered away to check out some goats in a nearby enclosure and returned fully impressed with just how generously well-endowed they were(?) Meanwhile, in the silent, pale blue high above us, vultures and buzzards circled effortlessly around the peaks.

We didn’t take a group photo around the Col de Sarenne sign, but several shots were added to the collective pool, our favourite resembling the perfect album cover for some moody, mid-80’s synth band, (think Blancmange, or maybe China Crisis.)

Arrivée: Nominated in the category of UK best pop album, 1986

Braking Bad

Crazy Legs announced he was turning back, ostensibly because his legs were empty, but in reality just so he could enjoy the plush, super-smooth descent of the Alpe. In retrospect, we probably should have done the same. The descent off the Sarenne was awful, a steep, narrow and broken track with multiple tight switchbacks, each one swathed in an unstable delta of loose gravel and melting tarmac. There was no opportunity to let the bike run as I followed the Hammer and Ticker down, almost constantly on the brakes. By halfway I was shaking out my hands and trying to gain some relief from the pressure of pulling hard and long on the levers, while from both above and below me the descent was punctuated by continual warning shouts of “gravel!”

On one uncharacteristically long straight, the Hammer called out for space from a French rider who was grinding his way upwards, head down and on the wrong side of the road. The Hammer appeared to get a mouthful of abuse for his warning. I don’t know, maybe the road was so bad it just made everyone tetchy?

The hairpins eased toward the bottom and things became a little easier and almost enjoyable. Then thankfully we were down, although it took a while to finally regroup and recover. The next order of the day was finding somewhere for lunch, which wasn’t looking all that promising as we sped through a number of small, seemingly shuttered hamlets, before stumbling on Les Filles in Mizoën.

They managed to pull together a table for the seven of us inside and served us excellent and inexpensive quiche and salads along with copious drinks. Duly fortified, we had a fast, much more pleasant descent down to a stunning vista above the barrage at Lac Chambon, before clambering into the next valley and taking the road northwest and back to Bourg d’Oissan.

Bomb the Base

Salt-encrusted, sun-baked and empty-legged, most of us sought out a bar in the town for some liquid recovery, while Goose determined he needed more cycling and set off toward Le Riviere d’Allemonde, as if drawn there by some strange, unspoken compulsion …

Sitting down in the shade with a well-deserved beer, I was astounded when Buster unzipped to reveal that even in the extreme heat he was wearing a base layer under his jersey. I expected him to claim some sort of scientific mumbo-jumbo about its benefit in wicking away sweat to maintain core temperature, but he admitted it was just so his chest hairs didn’t poke through his jersey in an unsightly manner. Has any man ever suffered more to try and look good on a bike?

Unmuzzled at La Muzzelle

With remarkable foresight, Goose had booked us into a restaurant in town for the night, La Muzzelle and managed to secure a table for all nine of us. It wasn’t positioned exactly to his liking, but he somehow managed to endear himself to the staff while re-arranging their seating in the middle of a busy dinner service.

He then stress-tested his own claim that everything he says passes through careful filters by declaring his dislike of tattoo’s in front of our heavily tattooed waitress and while completely ignorant of any indelible body art his dining companions might be sporting. He then followed up by positing that bald blokes are much more likely to have accidents where they bang their heads.

In amongst this deluge of “carefully filtered” observation and (rocket) fuelled by our waitress introducing us to the local liqueur, Génépi, we tried to come up with a plan for the next day.

We already knew the traditional Circle of Death (5 cols, 170km and 4,250 metres of climbing) was a no-go because the Galibier was closed for resurfacing prior to the Tour. This had been confirmed by the Collapsing Cyclist group from the previous night, who’d ridden it despite being told it was closed and had to force their way back down through the newly laid tarmac. For their troubles, they’d then said they’d spent hours chipping the dried bitumen from their wheels and tyres with multi-tools, not an exercise we were at all keen to indulge in.

The consensus seemed to be to follow our original plan and ride up to Riviere d’Allemonde for ravitaillement, keeping both Crazy Legs and Goose happy, then take in the Glandon/Croix de Fer BOGOF. From there, depending on how people felt, we could split, with those wanting to head out further perhaps taking in Les Lacets de Montvernier before returning by more or less the same route.

Once again we had somehow cobbled together a plan, a rendezvous point and a start time. We were all set for the next day.

Day & Date:Friday 17th June
Time:3 hours 27 minutes
Distance:56km
Elevation:1,614 metres
Average Speed:16.1 km/h
Temperature:28℃

Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Day#1 – Planes, Chains and Automobiles

It’s a truly ungodly hour, 4.10am, Thursday 16th June. The sun is barely above the horizon yet and I’ve already been up for more than three-quarters of an hour. Now I can be found desultorily dragging an over-sized bike bag across the dusty floor of Newcastle International Airport.

I’ve been slightly thrown off course by the closure of the main, A1 route to the airport and having (half-awake) to follow multiple, poorly positioned diversion signs, plus the fact that Mrs. SLJ had to pay £4.00 just for the very dubious privilege of dropping me off outside the airport. Four-feckin’ pounds to just pull up at a kerb and unload some baggage? Pure highway robbery and generating a feeling of resentment only slightly less dark than scrambling around to try and pay for parking when you’re visiting a dying relative in hospital.

So how did this come about? Well, I accept I’m partly to blame. After a two-year, COVID enforced absence, I signed up for yet another chevauchée des Alpes à vélo. We’d originally booked the slightly more civilised 06.00 flight from Newcastle to Heathrow, until British Airways decided to cancel this with no explanation. Given the choice between a flight at 05.25 and one at 09.15, we’d bit the bullet and chosen the earlier one.

18 days later British Airways also deemed it necessary to cancel (again without explanation) our connecting, 09.25 flight from Heathrow to Geneva and we ended up on the 08.20 instead, so change all round. Still, somewhere along the line, we managed to dodge a bullet as the alternative 09.15 flight from Newcastle to Heathrow which had also been an option, was cancelled while we were actually in the airport – and just hours before it was due to depart.

I made it through the formalities of check-in, security and baggage drop, quite pleased to discover my bike bag weighed in at just over 16kgs. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this travelling light malarkey. As a precaution, shoes, helmet and most of my cycling kit were packed into my hand baggage in case the bike went AWOL and I had to hire a replacement.

So the bike was ready to go, but the same couldn’t be said of the rider who was way off his fighting weight and pushing close to a portly 70kgs. It was definitely going to make the up bits a bit more of a struggle, but would maybe add a little impetus to the descents.

Relieved of the bike bag, I wandered upstairs to Departures and tracked down the rest of the crew, lurking in our traditional pre-flight venue, the Caffè Ritazza. I was the last to arrive so the usual suspects had already convened: Crazy Legs, the Hammer, Goose, Captain Black and, new conscript to our ranks, the Ticker. Meanwhile, tremulous-flyer Buster and the Big Yin are off seeking dronkemansmoed encouragement in one of the bars and we’ll not see them until after the flight is called.

Not the Fat Controller

Busy times at the airport. Crazy Legs said the oversize baggage handler (the handler of over-sized bags, not some Ivor the Engine-type Fat Controller) had revealed they had 50 bikes going out on flights today. Actually, they had at least 51 as, unlike my compadres, I’d taken the British Airways website at its word and hadn’t pre-informed them I would be flying with a bike. (Although, as a precaution, I had taken a screenshot of the webpage that said you didn’t need to let them know in advance that you are bringing a larger bag or item.)

There was some discussion about a name change for the Ticker, whose beloved Hunt wheels, with their ridiculously loud freehub, have worn out and been replaced with quietly refined Mavic’s – which on a positive note means much more peaceful free-wheeling within our group.

With temperatures in Grenoble, near our destination, currently residing in the mid-30’s, we were heading into especially hot weather and there was some discussion about whether this might affect our rides. Goose took this as a reminder to go and buy some sunscreen and then had the dilemma of trying to determine if we’d need to pass through security again at Heathrow, in which case the sunscreen would be well above his 100ml liquids hand baggage limit and would need to be abandoned.

“It could always be inserted into a body orifice and smuggled through,” I suggested.

“Good plan!” he replied quick as a flash, “Just bend over there will you … “

And we were off!

The Squall

Crazy Legs was delighted that the Ticker was sitting flanked by two babies when he took his seat on the plane and they naturally started howling in stereo as soon as the plane began to gain serious altitude. “That’s just how they clear their ears,” he helpfully suggested later. I wondered whether I should just scream incoherently rather than pinching my nose and trying to blow out, I mean it wouldn’t be particularly dignified, but it might be an entirely more effective way of dealing with changes in air pressure.

We picked up Steadfast at Heathrow to complete the gang and there was just time for us to grab some lunch and for Captain Black to tell the Starbucks staff his name was Hans. I’m not sure they were aware they were engaging in a much valued and time-honoured tradition. Then we were being hustled aboard our short flight to Geneva.

Games Without Frontiers

I managed to reclaim a little sleep on the flight and we passed seamlessly through passport control. The stern and hostile border officers of our first trip that had transitioned to completely indifferent border officers on the second, had now been replaced by cheerful, happy, warm and welcoming types. Perhaps too welcoming, as the Hammer couldn’t get away from his, a guy who’d studied at Newcastle University and wanted nothing more than a good chinwag about the changing fortunes of our local football team.

With typical Swiss efficiency, the bike bags were awaiting pick-up – alongside many, many others, in what looked to be at the very least a “special operation,” if not an outright invasion of continental Europe by British cyclists.

Elevator, Going Up!

We then had to make our way to the French side of the airport to pick up the hire cars, passing through a security checkpoint and manouvering our bags and boxes into a lift for a short hop up to the next floor. The doors behind us swooshed closed, the lift lurched up and then the doors in front opened so we could step off without turning around. The doors closed again and the lift disappeared, heading down, while we pulled to one side and waited for it to disgorge the next batch of cyclists.

With a bright ‘bing’ the lift returned and the doors rolled open to reveal not a bunch of hairy-arsed cyclists and their bikes, but an old couple with two fully loaded trolleys that they’d pushed into the lift, then jammed side by side so they couldn’t push them out again. No matter how hard they barged and banged at the trolleys, twisting them this way and that, they were stuck fast and not moving. The doors silently closed on their struggles and the lift descended again.

‘Bing!’ A few minutes later the lift reappeared and the doors open on the same couple, with the same stuck trolleys and the same frantic efforts to try and move two immoveable objects. Nope. No go. Down they went again and then back they came. Again.

Bing! This time Crazy Legs leapt forward like a madman and started wrestling suitcases off the trolleys until he’d created enough space to pull first one and then the other out of the lift, watched all along by the appreciative, somewhat sheepish couple and the rest of our gang, who’d given up on the lift and decided to use the escalator instead.

Jumpy Around! Jumpy Around!

After that mini-drama, the car hire pickup all went surprisingly smoothly and quickly, but, despite two identical orders, we ended up with two different vans, with vastly different capabilities. I was assigned to the first, a Citroen Jumpy, the other was a Ford Transit. The Transit was brilliant, with loads of space and highly efficient air-con. The Jumpy? Well, that was a bit crap. The seats seemed immovable (or at least the car hire rep didn’t know how to move them and we couldn’t figure it out). Our designated driver, Goose, also felt it was a bit underpowered and the air con struggled with the 37-38℃ we experienced on our journey.

Still, we managed to jam 4 people and 4 bike bags inside, but that was the limit. On the return the Ford took 6 people and 6 bags, so would be the vehicle of choice if we could ever specify. Unfortunately, the best you can ask for is a large van and then it’s a bit of a lottery what you actually get after that. With two Jumpy’s I think we would have struggled mightily, so thumbs up Ford and big thumbs down to Citroen.

We were “entertained” on our road trip by Goose’s play-list, a somewhat eclectic mix of Radiohead, Abba, Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, the Glee soundtrack, a heavy smattering of The Gypsy Kings and some American feller I’ve never heard of that Goose referred to as Jay-Zed. I would like to say it helped pass the time …

Still, we did all right, with no delays or missed turns and, dropped Steadfast off at his campsite at the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez to await the others, while I pressed on with Goose and Captain Black, through the centre of Bourg d’Oissan to the Hôtel Oberland where we’d booked a room for the duration.

Hôtel Oberland, Bourg d’Oisans – kinda hard to miss

Saddle Saw

The early flights did have one benefit, we were here already and there was still plenty of daylight left, so we set to assembling the bikes for an afternoon ‘leg loosener.’

I thought my bike had survived intact, but somewhere along the way my saddle had taken a hefty knock, the rails were crushed and it was deformed. I continued to ride it throughout, though it’s fair to say that after a good few hours it very literally became a real pain in the arse.

Reg. Assembled and ready to go, but enjoying some shade in the grounds of the Hôtel Oberland

Butterfly Kisses

The three of us set out with a vague idea of heading to the next town down the valley, Allemonde, and then doing a short loop that Steadfast had used on one of his previous trips. It was a good plan, only complicated by the fact that we had only the vaguest notion about which right-hand turn we were supposed to take to circumnavigate the village.

Though late afternoon, it was still what would in North East of England, have been classified as an absolutely scorching day, and it was nice to get moving and get the air flowing as we pushed our way down the main road. There’s a well-marked and maintained cycle path here, but your still mixing with a lot of commercial traffic on a fairly busy route.

At one point a butterfly came and kissed me on the lips and then fluttered away and even this unwanted attention seemed superior to the swarms of black flies we’d encountered a few weeks ago back in Northumberland. (This gentle introduction to the region’s insect life would prove somewhat duplicitous.)

There was some serious road re-surfacing going on in Allemonde itself, which makes me suspect the Tour de France is going to be routed through the town in a few weeks. Still unable to find the right-turn we were meant to take, I suggested we just take the Route des Cols, the start of the climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer and then we could call at Crazy Legs’ all-time-most-favourite crêperie/cafe, Les Favets at Le Riviere d’Allemonde.

In lieu of a better plan from anyone else, this seemed acceptable and so we started our zig-zagging way up the face of the barrage skirting Lake Verney and heading up into the hills beyond.

Goose was hugely intrigued by a group of teens jumping from a viaduct into the lake and took a lot of dissuading from joining in. We suspect on some of the solo outings he tacked onto the end of our group rides he’d visit this spot and try to work up the courage to hurl himself into the lake. The only alternative explanation we could attach to his meanderings was an infatuation with the waitress at Les Favets, with him passing this spot multiple times on his odyssey to pay homage to her.

Leaving the lake and heading under the trees, the climbing proper began and, even under the shade of the leafy canopy, it was still brutally hot as we crawled slowly upwards.

“Is it much further?” Goose asked plaintively after we’d been working away on the climb for a good while. Truth be told we were all finding it much longer and much harder than we recalled,

“Another 3 or 4km,” I suggested, although I was just guessing. Then a few houses appeared at the crest of a rise.

“… Though hold on though, maybe not.”

This was a false dawn though, the few houses were all there was to the very quiet hamlet of Articol (I think) and our destination was still further up the climb, with 3 or 4 km being surprisingly prescient.

The cool air exuded from the streams and rivulets that rushed down the mountain and dashed under the road proved temporary relief, but never lasted long enough and we were all dripping with sweat and in need of liquid replenishment as the gradient slightly levelled and we finally reached our destination.

I told you half and hour ago I’d be ready in 5 minutes!

We arrived at the cafe just after 5pm, just as the place was due to close. Throwing ourselves on the tender mercies of the extremely pleasant and friendly waitress, we didn’t have to try too hard to project the image of sun-frazzled and tired cyclists in desperate need of refreshments. For whatever reason she took pity on us, “Okay, but we’re closing in five minutes!” We ordered cola’s all around and my companions indulged in a beer for that Ice Cold in Alex experience, as we took our seats in the shade, admiring the views up to the peaks above.

Our five minutes respite had turned into fifteen by the time a group of Swiss motorcyclists took the table behind us.

“We’re closing in 5 minutes!” the waitress cheerfully called out to them in passing.

“Yes,” I assured them, “She told us that 10 minutes ago, too.”

The motorcyclists were largely appalled that we chose to go on holiday to ride up mountains and suggested in Switzerland the general form was to drive your car to the top of a mountain, unload your bike from the back then enjoy an effortless descent. You know, on face value that seems eminently sensible, but maybe it’s cutting out half the fun …

As we were leaving a new set of tourists sauntered up to the familiar refrain of “We’re closing in 5 minutes.” I do wonder what time they actually managed to close.

Most of the road down to Allemont had been resurfaced as it featured in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné the upcoming Tour de France. It’s a fast, easy descent anyway, with long, sweeping bends and not too many pinch points, but the plush surface just encouraged more speed, so I laid off the brakes and let gravity run its course. I managed to hit over 80kph before I caught a white Hyundai Tucson and couldn’t find a way past, Nonetheless, great fun. while it lasted. Maybe the Swiss have the right idea after all?

We stumbled across the rest of the crew as we passed through Allemond and they tagged on for the ride back. We’d just crossed the bridge and were about to start down the man arterial road, when Goose spotted a sign for a cycle-track, off to the left and supposedly also heading back to Bourg d’Oissans. We decided to give it a go and called everyone back.

What a revelation, the track was a wide, smoothly tarmacked and traffic-free strip running alongside the Romanche river. It was perfect and became our go to route whenever the roads took us north. In fact, it was such a pleasure to use that on the last day I rode up and down it several times with Crazy Legs just as a superb way to decompress and spin the holiday out a little longer.

The meal that night saw us heading back to the Dutch bar where Goose revealed he has a very well-developed internal filter that he uses to carefully process everything he says before he gives it voice. It was quite a startling revelation and one that we all had cause to question in the coming days.

Our meal was somewhat interrupted when one of the guys at a table behind us passed out and dramatically collapsed. They were a bunch of English cyclists from Nottingham and had been touring around the country putting in huge distances by car each day to take in all the iconic climbs. It seemed one of them had been pushing it a bit too hard and was down and out with heat stroke, or possibly something even more dangerous.

His friends pulled him out of his chair, cleared some space and laid him on the ground while the manager of the restaurant hovered, concerned and with the number of the local emergency services tapped into his phone just in case. The guy seemed fully recovered after a few minutes, and appeared none the worse for the episode, even happily looking ahead to more climbing and pushing himself just as hard tomorrow.

We’d already found out today it was debilitatingly hot, even for the modest efforts we’d put in. For us at least this simply didn’t seem like the right time for any crazy long rides or heroics and I was already thinking our usual ‘Circle of Death’ – the Croix de Fer-Télégraphe-Galibier, long Saturday ride wasn’t on the cards this year.

Let’s see what tomorrow would bring. After the odd interruption to our meal, we all seemed a bit distracted and disorganised, so in lieu of any other suggestions, I (wholly uncharacteristically) proposed the Oberlanders would set out early tomorrow to climb Alpe d’Huez as the first order of business and we could decide what to do after that slight obstacle had been accounted for. I agreed with the Hammer we’d swing by their campsite at 9:15 to pick up anyone else who wanted to join us, but wasn’t hopeful we’d put on a unified front.

I’ve said it before, organising cyclists is like herding cats. In a thunderstorm. At night. On a ship. Still, half a plan is better than no plan, so let’s see what happens.

Day & Date:Thursday 16th June at 16:32
Time:1 hour 46 minutes
Distance:38km
Elevation:626 metres
Average Speed:21.6 km/h
Temperature:29℃ to 31℃

Noodle Legs

Noodle Legs

The trick today was to get the layers about right as the morning was decidedly chilly, but there were hopes temperatures might nudge into double figures by the afternoon. G-Dawg had decreed it was most assuredly an official ‘shorts-day’ though, so that was one decision taken care of. Now I just had to work out how to stay warm at the start and yet have the flexibility to shed bits and pieces as things warmed up.

So, arm warmers, short-sleeve base layer and jersey, cap, track mitts with light running gloves on top and a lightweight windproof jacket. I toyed with knee warmers, but thought I’d be straining the capacity of my jersey pockets if we somehow struck lucky and I had to abandon the gloves, cap, jacket, arm warmers and knee warmers.

It was then a first outing of the year for my legs, pale, flaccid and as unappetising as over-cooked noodles. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I think I got the layering about right, unlike G-Dawg who stepped out, was immediately struck by the cold and ended up pulling on a Castelli winter jacket, which I’d sure he’d regret once we were well into the ride. At the other extreme, James III went with just shorts and short-sleeved jersey and admitted he was seriously under-dressed for the early conditions.

He did however take the opportunity to apologise to Crazy Legs for wearing his Ineos jersey again and assured him he’d ordered something “more acceptable” from Wiggle.

We speculated what “something more acceptable” might be, but even bandying around names like UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, or Astana Qazaqstan we couldn’t quite find anything with the same palpable aura of distaste as suggested by the Ineos Grenadiers kit.

(Given the very serious human rights violations of the regimes backing these alternative teams I realise this is a seriously shallow and quite absurd prejudice. One day I might even unpick the reasoning behind it, but not today.)

“Anyway, I don’t understand why it’s ok for football fans to wear replica team kit, but not for cyclists,” Brassneck argued.

“It’s not the replica team kit he objects to particularly,” I suggested, “but the fact it’s Ineos kit.”

Alternatively, I could have legitimately argued that it is decidedly not ok for grown men to wear replica football kit. If you’re going to a match it might be acceptable, but beyond that, it just seems a bit, well … weird. Or, as one Shelbourne FC fan on the Internet would have it, “To the match? Yes. To the shops? Only if you’re picking up jelly babies and some Pokemon cards.”

We welcomed the return of the Ticker and BFG back from cycling accidents and broken bones (collar bone and elbow respectively.) The Ticker had concussed himself and could remember nothing about his smash, or how he even got home, while the BFG swore me to secrecy about the cause of his entirely avoidable prang and hoped amnesia would eventually erase it from his own memory too.

To change the subject he spent some time admiring G-Dawg’s shiny bright gold chain, carefully coordinated gold cable ends and yellow (but not quite gold!) tyre valve dust caps. Always one who likes a bit of bling, the BFG admitted he’d once invested in some Swarovski crystal dust caps. Personally, I think that’s a step too far.

While the BFG was admiring G-Dawg’s bike, Taffy Steve and I were admiring his latest, steel-framed steed replete with ultra-deep Vittoria carbon wheels (with added graphene) which he assured me were an absolute bargain at only £1,500. Right.

G-Dawg was our route architect du jour and had planned a trip down into the Tyne Valley and then a loop above and around the Bywell Barn before descending there for coffee. That meant that post-cafe everyone else had the very dubious pleasure of dodging the traffic to cross the A69 and the climb out of the valley, while I would be sailing downhill to follow the river home.

G-Dawg sat on the wall explaining the route, replete with extravagant hand gestures to sketch out the left and right turns, ascents and descents, while Crazy Legs sat alongside and mimicked his every move. It looked like he was performing one of those “not-my-arms challenges” where you stand behind someone who has their hands behind their back and slip your arms through under theirs to take their place and get up to all sorts of mischief. I did chuckle.

I am that immature.

Once again we struggled to get enough sacrificial lambs into the first, fast group, until Richard of Flanders volunteered with one of those fateful, “I can always drop off and join the second group” observations. (This only tends to happen once you’re totally cooked so dropping back seldom leads to any respite.)

“Well, there’s brave and there’s foolish, and I know which way I’m leaning,” Taffy Steve noted as he watched Richard of Flanders join-up with the handful of racing snakes, but then Aether, TripleD-El and a few others bumped down the kerb to join him, so at least the front group had a good core of steadier riders too.

I dropped into the last group and away we went, slotted in beside the BFG who hadn’t forgotten our previous conversation and returned to the theme of amnesia. Seemingly worried about age-related memory loss, he’d recently pestered his doctors into administering him a simple cognitive test … and then, just as a precaution spent several days beforehand actually trying to revise for it.

He passed, so like other people who claim to have “aced” this memory test he can at least call himself “like, really, really smart and a very stable genius.” Strangely though, none of the general knowledge questions he’d been swotting up on had actually featured.

We lost the post-Covid and still recovering Crazy Legs somewhere around the end of Limestone Lane, as he took himself and Yet Another Paul off to the cafe at Matfen. Then a few miles further on, the BFG called it a day and cut short his ride too.

The 5 remaining members of the last group pressed on, dropping down into the Tyne valley via Wylam and following the river west, at one point riding through fields of vividly yellow rapeseed, the air heavy with its sickly sweet perfume.

“Eh lad, it’s just like the Tour de France, but with rapeseed replacing the sunflowers,” G-Dawg suggested, while I looked around for a horse to gallop alongside our group for that perfectly clichéd Grand Boucle photo op.

Narrowly avoiding a head-on smash into an approaching car, the kind of everyday occurrence that happens when you take a blind corner too fast and stray a little over the white line, we worked our way out to the Bywell bridge and then started to climb again as we looped around to approach the cafe from the north.

The climbing got a little more intense as we took a “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) back toward our coffee destination, with steep sections encouraging out of the saddle work, but also a narrow broken surface strewn with gravel and limited traction to keep you planted firmly in your seat.

All the hard work was rewarded though as the track spat us out onto the main road and a short descent brought us to the cafe.

I think we had enough numbers to stress-test the service at the Bywell Coffee Barn and uncover its (rather serious) shortcomings. As the last group to arrive we had an interminable wait for our order, a lot of which came piecemeal.

A desperate Richard Rex started to hungrily eye up the sugar sachets on the table as an alternative fuel supply, while Taffy Steve compared us to starving labradors, fixated on the cafe door, stopping all conversation and sitting bolt upright every time it swung open, only to be hugely deflated when it revealed a waitress with one solitary order that was inevitably for another table.

We did finally get served, but half our group had already left for home by then.

Cake and coffee finally delivered and rapidly consumed, the remainder of us formed up just outside the cafe courtyard where we found a natural suntrap and sat on our bikes idly chatting in the warmth, seemingly reluctant to get moving again. When we finally did get underway, the group turned left and headed uphill, while I waved them off, took a right and dropped down.

It was still a little early to go straight home and things had warmed up enough that this was the best part of the day. On a whim I decided to cross the river at Bywell, then take a detour through Stocksfield to climb out of the Tyne and then drop down into the Derwent valley.

I took my usual route (another goaty track) up to Broomley through Shilford Woods, somewhat surprised to find the Forestry Commission has been hard at work and felled a huge swathe of trees near the crest, so the climb looked totally unfamiliar. I then had the delight of the drag up to Whittonstall into a stiff headwind, but it was worth it for the long fast descent down toward Ebchester. From there I climbed some more, looping through Burnopfield, Byermoor and Marley Hill, before turning south for a straight run home.

Despite the detour, I was back in time to watch the magnificent Elisa Longo Borghini’s decisive and well-worked move to take a hugely deserved win at Paris-Roubaix.

The world’s fastest adopted Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna was very heavily favoured (well, at least by the female members of the SLJ household) for the men’s race the next day, but it wasn’t to be, so congrats to Dylan van Baarle for a totally unexpected victory after so many attempts and failures by Skineos over the years.

(Jens on the Podium Cafe website had the most likely explanation for this and concluded that “moving Amstel in between Flanders and Roubaix was brilliant for Ineos as they got confused and mistakenly won a cobbled monument without thinking about it.”)

Hmm. Is that the faintest trace of a tan line on my legs?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 16th April 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Riding Distance:95km/59 miles with 1,037m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:22 riders
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Problematic
Year to date:1,257km/781 miles with 13,004m of climbing



Plague Diaries Week#65 – Riders of the Lost Ark

Plague Diaries Week#65 – Riders of the Lost Ark

Last week social media on Tyneside blew up with multiple posts detailing random, unexpected encounters with cycling Hollywood actor and fully-fledged “sleb” Harrison Ford. Mr Ford, up in the area to shoot the new Indiana Jones movie at Bamburgh Castle, was spotted on a number of occasions enjoying our fine weather (a rarity) to travel around Northumberland au velo, clad in Pedal Mafia cycling gear and trusting his smart red and black (allegedly £17,000) Colnago to the depredations of our local roads.

I wonder what sort of abuse he got from our local drivers … and how much of it got lost in translation?

Maybe its just me, but I’d prefer to meet his co-star, the whip-smart (see what I did there?) Phoebe Waller-Bridge, still I took his brief cameo to try and convince Thing#1 that no less a person than Indiana Jones had agreed to join us on our Saturday Club Ride. She almost bought it.

Saturday wasn’t quite as good as the previous couple of weeks, it was fairly chill to start with, a cutting westerly slicing a good three or four degrees off the temperature, and arm warmers and gilets were the order of the day, at least until things warmed up a little.

I was out and across to the meeting place in good time, but still behind an ultra-enthusiastic G-Dawg, returning for his first official club run in 7 weeks and quite obviously chomping at the bit. Even Szell turned up for the second week in succession, even as we patiently explained Middleton Bank wasn’t on the route today and he might as well just go home. I must say he took this blow with a surprising degree of aplomb and decided to accompany us anyway, perhaps he too was hoping to ride with a certain Hollywood A-lister?

What route-architect Buster had originally planned was a drop down into the Tyne Valley and a trip westward to Corbridge. Apparently road works now meant we’d be turning before entering the confusing maze of one-way streets that form that particular burg, but there’d still be a long portion of the ride heading due west and directly into the full force of the wind.

G-Dawg determined he wouldn’t be heading into the valley as he wasn’t sure he’d make it out on his still gimpy leg. While he said pedalling was easier than walking, he revealed that one of his hardest tasks was unclipping and sometimes he’d found it easier to just pull his foot out of the shoe and leave it dangling from the pedal, while he hopped around barefoot under the quizzical gaze of bemused onlookers.

With the route briefed in, OGL stepped up to deliver a purely inspirational, empathetic speech, ostensibly addressing last weeks unfortunate accident that had grounded Zardoz for the foreseeable future.

Unrelated as they were, he somehow managed to squeeze in all the old tropes we’ve come to expect: how he’d single-handedly saved the club from dissolution, how there was a time when he was the only member, how we never look back when we ride, look out for each other and are always leaving people behind, that it’s a club run not a race, a social event where we should never push, or test ourselves in any way, shape or form, that if you want to ride fast you should put a number on your back and anyway, he’s the only genuine, experienced and accomplished bike racer amongst us and we are all just feckless dilettante’s who’d never amount to anything.

Perhaps he then finally remembered what it was he was meant to be talking about, as he hurriedly concluded that he wasn’t there when the accident occurred last week, but it didn’t matter because he’d checked and Zardoz hadn’t payed his subs, so wasn’t a club member anyway.

With those bright and inspiring words of encouragement ringing in our ears, the first group formed up and I set off with them, only mildly disappointed at the no-show of Mr. Harrison Ford.

I found myself riding alongside young Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, back from university in the far south-west looking older (not surprisingly) but also much bigger. Arrayed around us were the Cow Ranger, Goose, Crazy Legs, Andeven, Spry, Buster, Biden Fecht, the Big Yin and yet another FNG (YAFNG). A decent sized group which felt manageable, yet large enough so the workload of wind-taming could be shared out enough to keep people fresh.

I had a good natter with Jake the Snake about university life and Tour de France predictions (neither of us being able to see past a Slovenian winner, or at all certain that two of Ineos’s main challengers, Geraint Thomas and Ritchie Porte, would make it to Paris without falling over.) We did our stint on the front, battling the headwind, before the route took a southbound turn and we dropped into the Tyne Valley at Wylam.

There I caught up with Biden Fecht, astride his heavy winter-bike after he’d tired to replace the bar tape on his good bike and found a “penny sized hole” through the top of his handlebars. His LBS determined this was most likely caused by excessively long turbo sessions and Biden Fecht’s sweat eating through his alloy bars like Alien blood.

Worse news was to follow though, as checking the bike over had revealed a much less fixable issue, a crack in the carbon fibre of one of the seatstays. Repair or replace, either option sounds like an expensive remedy.

A little further along and the Big Yin rode alongside me and glanced down.

“Hey, did you design the club kit solely to match your shoes?” he demanded. I didn’t, but, truth be damned, I told him I had. Actually the (strictly unofficial) club kit came first and I just happened to find a pair of shoes on sale that were a remarkably good match (as well as being £100 below list price.)

At this point in proceedings the serious climbing began, as we turned to escape the valley, using the bridge at Aydon to vault over the 4 lanes of rushing traffic on the A69.

I found myself climbing alongside Crazy Legs who’d been chatting with the FNG and reported back that he was a Rupert in the British Army.

“That explains why he’s built like a shit-brickhouse,” I gasped, before realising I’d slightly mangled my words (I blame my legs, they were demanding all my blood in order to to climb and depriving my brain of sufficient oxygen to function normally.)

We paused at the top, mainly we could all share in the Big Yin’s complaints …

“There was a hill and at the top there was another hill and then when we got up there, just for a change, there was yet another hill,” he lamented, while Crazy Legs decided Shit-Brickhouse was an apt nickname for the FNG.

Through Matfen and on to Stamfordham, I took to the front again, alongside Buster, while Crazy Legs negotiated a change of route to take in his favourite bit of fast road, through Heugh down to Limestone Lane. The change was agreed on the fly and we burned down this dragstrip at high pace.

A couple of riders attacked off the front and I toiled away for a while to try and close the gap without much success. My legs and lungs were shot by the time a second group charged past in pursuit and I couldn’t latch on, eventually joining a few other stragglers as we pushed our way out to the café at Kirkley.

I joined the winter ride “nutters” (I prefer stalwarts, but each to their own) Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, the Red Max and Taffy Steve at a table in the bright sunshine.

“Did you watch the football last night?” Crazy Legs enquired.

“A bit of the second half,” G-Dawg conceded.

“I saw the highlights,” the Red Max replied.

“Was there football on?” I wondered.

“Italee vorsus Torkee,” Crazy Legs confirmed.

“Italy versus Torquay?” I pondered, “An entire sovereign state against a small town on the south coast of Devon? That doesn’t sound fair.”

Taffy Steve started chuckling, having had a similar conversation with a broad-Geordie work colleague on first moving to the region:

“Where’ve you been on holiday?”

“Tawkee.”

“Ah great, did you visit Babbacombe model village?”

“Nah man, Tawkee. Tawkee, ye’ knaa, Effasiss an aal that.”

This got us started on indecipherable accents with, naturally the dialect of Eshington (Ashington) being a particular favourite, celebrated in this very blerg (blog) and allowing Crazy Legs to tell one of his favourite Eshingtonian (Ashingtonian) jokes.

“Just failed me driving test. I hit a kerb.”

“Ah, man.”

“Aye. And I didn’t even kner it was berb a jerb week.”

We pondered if paying club subs could somehow magically protect you from serious accident, but then remembered OGL’s speed-wobble crash several years ago which had put him out for several months, so that couldn’t be true. To be fair though, in the re-telling, this been constantly embellished, moving from a 30kph accident to one that took place at terrifying speeds approaching 100kph, so perhaps “club immunity” only works if your travelling within the legal speed limit?

We thought that it was probably worth mentioning to non-club members (officially it seems club members are very, very strictly defined as only those who pay their subs, even if they never, ever ride with us, ever) to carry a spare tenner in their back pocket and if they are mortally injured, whip it out, present it to OGL. Then there’ll (probably) be a blinding flash of light, a chorus of heavenly angels will descend and bike and rider will be miraculously restored to pristine condition. Unless of course the accident happened because you were travelling in speeds in excess of 100kph. (Please check the small print. Terms and conditions apply.)

I mentioned my disappointment that Harrison Ford hadn’t tagged along on our ride today.

“Nah, that was never going to happen,” the Red Max informed me, “Not a club member.”

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve imagined the bragging and points scoring that a Han Solo appearance on a club run might invoke, adopting his best caricature of OGL’s voice and his penchant for exaggeration to declare,

“So what, I made the Kessel run in only 10 parsecs.”

Time to go and we rolled out and formed up in a sizable group. Dropping down the other side of Berwick Hill, Cowin’ Bovril pulled up alongside me and looked down.

“Did you deliberately buy shoes to match your jersey?” he wondered.

I looked at him in astonishment.

“Wait! What? Doesn’t everyone?”

Passing through the Mad Mile, while G-Dawg and Spoons disappeared to the left I swung right, almost immediately finding myself backed up into a long, long line of barely moving traffic outside the rugby stadium. My rambling peregrinations through the housing estates of Kingston Park to try and avoid this backed-up traffic would eventually reveal that the main road was closed (apparently for repair work on the Metro).

I ended up backtracking almost all the way to our meeting point, reversing the route in that I usually take in the morning and, while I didn’t feel the diversion added too much to my trip, I was approaching 80 miles by the time I made it home.

Still, I have plenty of time to recover as I’m not out next Saturday, so roll on July.


Riding Distance:126km/78 miles with 1,089m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 55 minutes
Average Speed:25.6 km/h
Group Size:10
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Not brilliant, not bad
Year to Date:2,150km/1,336 miles with 23,231m of climbing
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#64 – Blood on the Tracks

Plague Diaries Week#64 – Blood on the Tracks

Another warm, dry sunny Saturday beckoned and things were going well as I made my way across to the meeting point, until I got caught behind a bus at traffic lights on a steep hill and was forced to stop and unclip. An uphill standing start is always slightly tricky and this was no exception.

As the bus chugged, lurched and then lumbered forward, I pushed off with my left leg, forced the right hand pedal forcibly downward and, using the slight momentum gained, tried to clip in with my left foot before the bike toppled over. My foot skated across the top of the pedal, failing to engage and slipped off, with the pedal scoring a ragged line up and then down my calf as it spun. That stung. I stopped. Tried again and this time managed to get going, passing through the lights and heading downhill.

As I freewheeled away I looked down to inspect the damage. The edge of the pedal had scored a deep line through my calf leaving a strange looking A-shaped wound in my leg. Even as I watched fat beads of bright blood were forming and dropping behind me and I imagined them bursting like star shells as they hit the tarmac below my wheels.

I figured that if I somehow died of exsanguination even the technical wizardry and combined brain-power of the CSI teams in Miami, New York and L.A. would struggle to identify the cause of the injury, a Look Keo Classic 3 pedal, which apparently comes with its very own razor sharp edges which need filing smooth.

Luckily I didn’t die, the blood flow dried quickly into an unsightly, crusty scab and I made the meeting point without further mishap.

There I had a chat with Caracol, before he disappeared with the other mob, the oppressed, and he predicted there’d be a bumper crowd out today as the weather was so pleasant. He speculated even Szell might be coaxed out of hibernation and the next, obvious question was if Middleton Bank was part of our planned route.

No sooner had Caracol departed with the JPF, than Szell did indeed make an appearance and we had a brief chat about sartorial style and cycling kit, although he claimed that as a drummer he was allowed a certain latitude. I knew scientists had discovered the motor areas of drummers brains are organised more efficiently, but this was the first I’d heard of them getting a pass in terms of dress sense. Still, the contempt for bassists in their “collar, tie and V-necked knitwear” seemed very real. Perhaps band members are an even stranger sub-group than club cyclists?

Is that possible?

Naturally, Szell’s presence implied we would be traversing his personal bête noire, Middleton Bank sometime today and we questioned route planner Aether to discover that this was indeed the case.

“Bring it on!” Szell declared, undeterred, declaring he knew it would be on the route and that’s why he’d turned up today of all days.

Our new girl turned up on a new bike and instantly deflated some of Szell’s bravado. She was already too fast and fit by his reckoning and any thoughts she’d bought a super-heavy clunker and would actually be slower, quickly evaporated when she declared how pleased she was with her new bike and how easy it was to ride.

We decided we didn’t need to travel strictly in groups of 6 anymore (which is probably just as well based on the last few weeks) and after the usual hesitation, persuasion, and evasion we did manage to get the first group out and on the road. I joined up with Captain Black, Crazy Legs, Zardoz, an FNG, Andeven, Not Anthony, and Wallis as we got underway.

On the front with Crazy Legs through Dinnington, he amended the “all the gear, no idea” idiom to “all the gear, half an idea” to apply to a couple of bicyclists ahead of us and, as we caught and passed them, he cheerfully invited them to tag onto the back of our group for a tow.

Half way up a hill we passed a council workman using a strimmer to cut back the road verge and I instantly ended up with The Lion Sleeps Tonight as an unfortunate ear-worm for the rest of the day. Well, it was an obvious connection to my addled senses anyway.

In a world turned upside down, Zardoz did another turn on the front! What is going on? Having completed his stint on the front, dropped past me to the very back of the group as we approached Dyke Neuk. We’d lost the “all the gear” group on the first hill, but somewhere along the way had picked up another passenger who Zardoz recognised and they were chatting happily away.

Then as we pushed our way through Scots Gap, Zardoz appeared alongside me that his usual mischievous glint in his eye.

“Do you know which café we’re going to today?” he asked.

I didn’t, but, “Well, I know we’re taking in Middleton Bank, so I would assume the café at Belsay.”

“Ah, good,” he replied, “It’s just so I can plan my attack!”

Through Scots Gap and on to Cambo, as we started the long descent towards Wallington I dropped behind, intent on not pedalling if I didn’t have to, while the others raced on ahead. Over the vicious rumble strips, we took a sharp left and as I joined onto the back of the group, we pushed on at a fair clip toward the bottom of Middleton Bank.

We were spread across the full width of the open road and I was just behind and on the left of Zardoz as he took a drink and bent low to push his bottle back into the cage at the same time as he ran his front wheel through a rather shallow and innocuous looking pothole. For the briefest of moments he was impossibly balanced, bent low, head and shoulder pushed under his top tube, then gravity took over and he slammed down, going under his wheels as the bike flipped and arced overhead.

Fuck! That was a bad one.

I dropped my bike onto the verge and went running back to find a badly scuffed up Zardoz, shaken and in obvious pain, the back of his jersey ripped to shreds and blood pooling from a deep gash on his right arm. We slowly got him sat up, but it was obvious serious damage had been done and he wasn’t riding any further.

As some of the more medically qualified checked him out, Crazy Legs put his natural volubility to good use firing off a whole series of questions to try and determine if Zardoz had suffered any form of concussion. Luckily, the mind was willing, even if the body was weak.

I checked on the bike, which, apart from a shipped chain looked wholly undamaged, cushioned largely by its owners body as they both hit the deck.

Assured Zardoz was badly damaged, but largely intact, we tried calling for an ambulance, only to find that in the deep folds of land in the Wansbeck Valley there was no phone signal. Andeven determined he would climb out of the valley to get a phone signal and instead of relying on a stressed NHS service, he would lean on his good wife to provide transport to the hospital for bike and fallen rider.

As we waited, we were joined by other club members as our following groups caught up and we were passed by a whole host of other cyclists, with each and everyone stopping to enquire if they could help, one even donating an emergency space blanket to the cause. Sadly, this concern was not mirrored by others, with one White Van Man evidently furious at having to drop his speed below that of the national speed limit. He bustled past us, swearing and gesticulating furiously. Sadly he didn’t stop to discuss his issues any further.

After a long pause, Zardoz slowly levered himself to his feet, but looked pale and unsteady and we finally persuaded him to wander down the road a little, to where a neatly trimmed grass verge bordered the high walls of some no doubt posh residence. This seemed a more comfortable place to sit and wait and he he lowered his battered body down onto the grass, sitting back to back with Aether providing support.

We’d done everything we could, so got the rest of the club moving again. I hung back with Aether, Captain Black and Crazy Legs to wait for the arrival of Andeven and the cavalry.

As we sat and stood quietly around a car pulled up at an entrance cut into the high wall and a woman clambered out to open the gate, pausing to flash us the evil-stink eye on the way. She opened the gate and returned.

“That’s private property, you know,” she declared icily, in an unfriendly, how dare-you and get-orf-my-land kind of way.

Oh shit, one of them.

What did she think we were doing, having a picnic? We explained that there’d been an accident and the person trespassing on her land was seriously injured and not really capable of moving far. She huffed and disappeared, returning a minute or so later to begrudgingly enquire if we needed to call for an ambulance. We told her it was all in hand and she left with the admonishment that we picked up any litter behind us. Ah, the milk of human kindness.

Sadly, I didn’t think there was much we could do about the bloodstains on her carefully manicured grass. Still, I’m sure it’ll wash out.

We passed the time with a sweepstake to guess the time Andeven’s wife might arrive and a contest to guess what car she would be in. Sadly I was well wide of the mark with my suggestion of a Bentley, but Captain Black was spot on guessing both make, model and even the exact colour of our rescue transport.

We loaded Zardoz in the car and his bike in the back for transport to the nearest Emergency Department and thanked Andeven’s wife for giving up her Saturday morning to help a bunch of raggedy-ass cyclists. Zardoz gave us the royal wave as he was carted off, news filtering back that evening that he was fine and enjoying the pain meds, but had a broken collar, cracked rib and multiple cuts and contusions.

The rest of us regathered and made our belated way to the café , with Crazy Legs guessing there wouldn’t be much of an appetite for the café sprint today. Still, at least we dodged the queues.

We heard that it was OGL who had condemned the new girl’s old bike, in Captain Black’s words, “Apparently he said the only thing worth saving was the saddle and even that probably wasn’t worth saving.” This we decided was his modus operandi, he never seemed to just fix the specific problem you took the bike in for in the first place, but would assess every single component. I don’t know if that’s good or bad practice?

Once we were seated, Not Anthony returned Aether’s pump that he’d borrowed out on the road to combat a slowly deflating tyre and then ridden away with. He then returned to borrow it again before we left. I could have told him he was only delaying the inevitable and his best option was have done with it and replace the tube. But he didn’t ask.

Suggesting he needed to borrow Aether’s pump and was riding without the means to fix a simple puncture gains him automatic entry into our Hall of Shame. Crazy Legs remembered how one of our former club members, Arnold, had broken his pump one week, which seemed timely as it was close to his birthday, so he’d asked his missus for a new one. The following Saturday he punctured again and had to beg the lend of a pump because his actual birthday wasn’t until the Sunday, so he wasn’t allowed his present before then. Not that we ever brought this up again, you understand.

I wondered if Crazy Legs had lent him the molto piccolo on that occasion, a fantastically crafted pump, so small it could slip comfortably into a watch pocket, but also so ineffectual it took over a 1,000 strokes to just to make a tyre rideable.

Crazy Legs then speculated that if pumps made a noise then the molto piccolo would probably sound like Warren Barguil throwing a strop after ingesting helium, or a noise that would be pitched so high it would only be audible to dogs. Perhaps they are one and the same thing?

I thought if pumps made a noise it should be like a swanee whistle, but this was too simplistic for Crazy Legs, who wondered if the pumps used by Colombians shouldn’t sound like Inca pan pipes and a Yorkshiremen’s should sound like a brass band.

Moving from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, past British tour winners became a topic for discussion, with Chris Froome engendering a collective, No Shit Sherlock moment with his assertion earlier in the week that he wasn’t going to win the 2021 Tour de France. There was also a healthy dose of opprobrium heaped on both Bradley Wiggins’s appearance and his less than insightful… err… insight on the Eurosport pundits couch. If we had any Sir Brad fans in attendance they were keeping a very, very low profile.

It was good to see G-Dawg put in an appearance in the café and even better to learn he’d ridden there, a mere 6 weeks after breaking his leg. Apparently the doctor had given him the all clear to ride again on Friday, so he’d promptly gone home, got on his bike and gone out. This was his second ride in two days. I expect he’ll keep riding every day now until he makes up for all the time he’s lost.

With G-Dawg in tow we set off for home, passing Not Anthony in one of the lanes alongside some other cyclist he’d corralled into lending him a pump and working to finally replace his leaky tube.

I had a chat with G-Dawg, comfortable with the pace, although he said standing on the pedals to climb still caused a bit of discomfort. His biggest issue was the imbalance in strength between his two legs now, the damaged one having been idle for so long, while the undamaged one had been doing the work of two and so had actually gotten stronger.

“Ah well,” I told him cheerfully, “It’ll be good if you ever need to ride around in a circle.”

We parted at the end of the Mad Mile. “See you next week,” G-Dawg waved cheerily.

So, one back as another goes in for rehab and convalescence. Upwards and onwards.


Riding Distance:107km/66 miles with 972m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:25.3 km/h
Group Size:8 with 1 FNG
Temperature:10 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Fine
Year to Date:2,024km/1,258 miles with 22,142m of climbing
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries – Week#27

Plague Diaries – Week#27

A licky boom, boom down

So following discussion, the investigation of all possible loopholes, wormholes and arseholes, no end of reading and research, questioning British Cycling and the Police and anyone else who’d listen, there was no clarity and no certainty, but it looked like club runs, even in groups of 6 were verboten. Sigh.

It seemed clear cut to me that we’d be back to solo rides and that’s what I planned for, even as the debate continued. Finally “the Amorphous We” called off the club ride for the weekend, although G-Dawg did suggest that if everyone just so happened to be at the cafe at a certain time and we strictly enforced social distancing, we could at least benefit from such a serendipitous and guileless coincidence.

So then, I had a start point and I had an end point complete with a rendezvous time. It was just a case of filling in the middle. Before all that however, I had a bit of unfinished business, a side mission to reclaim a Strava K.O.M. that I’d lost while on holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a hotly contested segment that hundreds of people are striving to capture, but a quiet stretch of road I use on my commute’s home. I’d set the record somewhat inadvertently coming back from work on my single-speed and, since it’s the only K.O.M. I’ve ever had, or I’m likely to ever have, I have a certain attachment to it.

My thinking was that if I tackled it at the start of my ride and on my good bike, and made a deliberate run at it, there was a reasonable chance I could snatch it back, even if it was just for a week or two. So, I took a circuitous route down the Heinous Hill, circled around my target, found the right gear and bashed my way upwards.

It felt fast, but I wouldn’t know if I’d been successful until I got home and downloaded the file to Strava.

I got back on course, crossing the river at Newburn and tackling the climb up Hospital Lane, before taking a left through Westerhope instead of my usual right. I found myself climbing Penny Hill from top to bottom for the first time. I was just over half way up when the unmistakable figure of G-Dawg in his multi-coloured Mapei jersey emerged from a side road ahead of me.

I accelerated to greet my clubmate and slowly began to close, until he looked back, saw he was being stalked by another cyclist, raised himself out of the saddle, stomped forcefully on the pedals … and rode away.

I’d already been climbing for about 5-minutes and had no response as G-Dawg disappeared around a corner in the distance ahead, probably not even realising who was trying to ride across to him just to say hello.

Then again, maybe he knew exactly who was chasing him …

I rounded the corner to find G-Dawg momentarily stopped by some temporary traffic lights and I arrived just as they turned green. I used my momentum to nip past, complaining loudly about the length of the hill I’d just been forced to climb and pushed on toward Stamfordham. I assume G-Dawg took a different route by dint of the fact that he didn’t catch and pass me somewhere along the way.

From Stamfordham I took the road to Whittle Dene reservoir, then followed the signs for Stagshaw. Climbing up through the plantations I had an awkward encounter with a black-eared hare that decided to belt straight down the road in front of me, instead of simply stepping to one side and disappearing into a hedge.

Every time my momentum saw me catch up with it I tapped my brakes and every time the hare heard the zissing of the pads it started to jink erratically, zig-zagging crazily across the tarmac in a manoeuvre obviously designed to make a predator miss.

This happened three or four times and I was getting embarrassed for the poor critter, until the light finally dawned in its little brain and it stepped off the road and into cover.

I pushed on through Matfen, turned for the Quarry and ran slap bang into a stiff headwind that was going to dog me pretty much the rest of the ride, as I routed through Belsay, Ogle and on to Kirkley and our low key club rendezvous.

The cafe was quiet today. I got served quickly and there was more than enough space for everyone to sit 3 or 4 metres apart.

Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, TripleD-Be and Triple D-El were already widely spaced around a table and it wasn’t long before Aether joined our impromptu collective, with a few others rolling up later.

Everyone seemed to be fully enjoying the Tour, little knowing at that point that the rather inevitable procession toward Paris was due a further surprise twist, one that would upend the Rog and Pog show to supplant it with the Pog and Rog show. Incredible.

Considering the Giro and Vuelta are generally more open and entertaining than the Tour – and we have both yet to come, it could be a vintage year for cycling’s Grand Tours, despite everything.

Even better, we have almost a full suite of Classics to look forward to, including, as Crazy Legs reminded us, an autumn Paris-Roubaix with a strong possibility of atrocious weather to spice things up even further.

Not everyone is a fan though, G-Dawg admitting he couldn’t see the novelty of riding on gravel, or cobbelstones, be it the pavé of Paris-Roubaix, or the sterrati of the Strade Bianche. His argument was that there were perfectly good roads leading to the same destination, so why would you use something inferior and from ages past. He does, I concede have a point, after all no one is competing in these races on ancient steel-framed clunkers. Secretly I suspect he’s just averse to the thought of all those nice shiny bikes getting trashed beyond even his cleaning and restorative prowess.

Crazy Legs informed us that he’d been well into his ride, when he determined his shorts were unbearably uncomfortable and it was a good while longer before he realised why – in a faux pas previously only committed by the Garrulous Kid, he found was still wearing his underpants. He then had to seek out a private and secluded stopping spot in order to more or less completely disrobe to remove the offending article.

Now, like an unrequited Tom Jones fan, he was carrying around his pre-worn knickers in his back pocket and offering them as an extra thermal layer to anyone who complained it was a bit chilly outside. As far as I’m aware there were no takers.

This got me wondering if there was an opposite to “going Commando” – perhaps “going Home Guard” or maybe “going Quisling?” Yeah, I know, it’ll never catch on.

Crazy Legs then asked everyone, “Would you grass your neighbours up for breaking quarantine rules?”

TripleD-Be looked mightily confused. “Grass?” he queried.

“Grass. Snitch. Nark. Fink?”

“Huh?”

“Become a stool pigeon?” I suggested, thinking that Kid Creole and the Coconuts perhaps-maybe could have troubled the Eurocharts back in the day?

TripleD-Bee looked even more bewildered now.

“Stool pigeon?” He mulled the alien phrase over, “As in a stool you sit on and pigeon like the bird?”

“Err – yes.”

“Informer,” someone suggested and that seemed to do the trick, he at least knew what we were getting at.

“But, why stool pigeon, where does this term come from?” he returned to the topic of Kid Creole’s 15-minutes of fame.

I had to admit I had absolutely no idea, perhaps leaving him even more confounded by the absurdity of the English language.

(The most plausible explanation I can find after additional research is that the term derives from the French estale, a pigeon used to entice a hawk into a net.)

Talk then meandered its way to the club time-trial.

“When is it?” TripleD-El queried.

“Next August,” Crazy Legs informed her.

“Ah, good, I don’t have to start training yet,” –

“Yeah, you do,” Crazy Legs shot back.

Ooph. Burn.

TripleD-El was left speechless, while TripleD-Be collapsed in a fit of giggles.

We left soon afterwards, before Anglo-Dutch relations became more fractious, each going our separate ways.

I routed home through Ponteland, finding I now had Snow’s “Informer” as the soundtrack to my ride. Stopped at the traffic lights just past the airport car pulled up behind and blasted me with a snarky sounding horn. I was stopped at a red light, standing perfectly still and composed, what could I possibly have done to earn the ire of this particular motorist? I decided to ignore it and pushed on when the lights changed.

The car pulled up alongside, the passenger window slid down and I braced myself for a stream of invective, or worse.

“Halloo there!” I glanced across to see the BFG leering at me from behind the wheel of his mini.

“Oh, hi.”

He doffed an imaginary hat and sped away. Oh well, looked like I was going to avoid ugly confrontations with arse-hat motorists. This week at least.

Plague Diaries – Week#26

Plague Diaries – Week#26

The Joy of Six

Woah! Week#26 of this stuff already – half an entire year and still no end in sight.

Oh, if you’re at all concerned at the loss of week#24 and #25, they were taken up by a deserved holiday in North Yorkshire. I’ve never seen so much rain. This was then followed by an entire weekend decorating Sur La Jante Towers while trying to dry out.

In the time I’ve been away from club riding, the pandemic has tightened its grip on the UK, cases are rising again and tighter restrictions on social gatherings are about to be implemented – the so called Rule of Six, which sounds to me like Bo-Jo the Clown channeling the ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Anyway, since it doesn’t look good to have up to 30 cyclists hanging round, talking bolleaux, guffawing loudly and generally cluttering up the pavement,we decided on collective, pre-emptive action.

Orchestrated through various social media channels, everyone was encouraged to wear masks at the meeting point, wait under the eaves of the multi-story car park instead of out on the pavement and, as soon as we we could form each group of 6, we determined they should head straight out and not wait for the usual 9:15 collective start time. It seemed like an obvious, eminently practical and sensible variation on how we usually do things and would allay any negative perceptions that we were flouting social-distancing procedures.

For reasons that I might get around to explaining one day, this was the first time I’d ever done a club ride with a knapsack on my back. Val-deri, val-dera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha and all that. This was fine when I started out fresh and it was empty, but as the day wore and I filled it with more and more of my clubmate’s jersey’s, it seemed to get heavier and heavier, bulged more and became more of an aerodynamic drag, a literal and metaphorical anchor on my back. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. (It was only loaded with 1.9 kgs of stuff, but it felt like so much more!)

I’ve also just swapped out my venerable, chunky Garmin Edge for a sleek, Decathlon Van Rysel bike computer and this was its first outing (it does pretty much the same things as the Garmin, but for half the price).

Unfortunately, I was too lazy/impatient to set it up properly and format the displays, which was something I didn’t discover until 10-minutes into my ride, when I realised I could see my maximum achieved speed, but none of the various screens I flicked through showed me what time it was.

I guess I could have stopped and checked the time on my phone, but … well, where’s the fun in that? So, I pressed on, picking up the pace just to make sure I wouldn’t be late. I needn’t have worried, I made it in plenty of time and joined earliest arriving rider, Richard Rex in the car park. We masked up, before shooting the breeze about the Tour: young tyro-cyclists like Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar, sly, old cyclists Like Alessandro Valverde and, for a change of pace, the unpredictable weather in the Lake District

Crazy Legs and G-Dawg arrived in tandem, but sadly not on a tandem. They quickly gathered four others and away they went. Smooth as you like, our first group were out on the road and we were up and running. Another group quickly formed up and followed, before our newly organised Newbie group got underway too.

Then OGL arrived, found half of us had left already and embarked on an epic, apoplectic rant about us leaving in small groups, not waiting until the allotted time and apparently running roughshod over all sorts of long-held club mores, traditions and values.

And the reason for all the vituperative ire? In the biggest self-own imaginable, apparently he wanted to get us all clustered closely together so he could address the gathered masses and tell us we needed to reconsider our social-distancing arrangements.

Aether took the brunt of the attack and simply tried to explain that it was down to individual choice and that we had all, collectively arrived at a practical, pragmatic and much needed decision, that had been widely discussed and agreed across a range of social media. This did not, he admitted when challenged, include the “official” channels of the club Facebook page or website, because a large number of legitimate and fully-paid up club members have been arbitrarily excluded from actually accessing them.

I’ve never been good arguing with incoherence and lack of logic, so stood politely, if rather awkwardly aside until the storm blew itself out to dark mutterings. I never did quite grasp what his suggestions actually were for improving our response to social-distancing guidelines, other than some scare-mongering about our chosen coffee stop and some random, non-cycling people being fined in, err … Salford was it?

The furore interrupted our efforts to set everyone off in groups, rather than have us mingling and potentially raising the ire of Priti Vacant Patel, but we finally hustled the last few groups out onto the road. I joined up with route architect Aether, root architect Ovis, Famous Sean’s and Sneaky Pete to form a quality quintet and, somewhat belatedly, we got underway too.

Aether confided he was confounded beyond belief that OGL hadn’t taken the opportunity to congratulate us on our pre-emptive initiative and well-thought out social distancing rules enacted for the benefit of all club members. Ha ha.

I had a catch up with Famous Sean’s who I hadn’t seen for a good while. In the middle of our chat I almost fell into the trap of talking about how borderline chilly it was, but then I looked over and noticed that, as usual, Famous Sean’s was almost completely mummified in layers of clothing – a long-sleeved jacket, buff, tights and overshoes. I reasoned he probably didn’t have the faintest inkling of what the weather was like outside his protective carapace, so I let it slide. “I was going to put my winter gloves on,” he later confided, “But thought people might laugh at me.”

Still, at least he wasn’t wearing his entire wardrobe all at once, like the time he made it onto one of our winter rides with a silhouette resembling a bomb-disposal expert in full blast armour.

Halfway up Berwick Hill we passed one of our earlier groups, wrestling with Captain Black’s tyre after an unfortunate puncture. We zipped past and pressed on, swapping turns on the front until we reached the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and Sneaky Pete sneaked away rather than face the steep drag up.

The second group having made the necessary repairs were right on our heels as we tackled the climb and Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, attacked from that group and whooshed past as we dug into the climb.

“Ah, the exuberance of youth,” Ovis remarked wistfully, although he was gliding up the steep slope without apparent effort.

I asked how he was doing. “Ouh, a’m not gowin’ too bad att’a moment,” he replied modestly, before confiding he’d recently ridden the entire Marmotte route on Zwift. Just because he could.

With only the four of us to swap places on the front and battling a surprisingly stiff breeze, we somehow stayed ahead of the group behind, but as we took the climb parallel to the Trench, the Dormanator was once again flitting past to attack the slope with gusto.

Aether was flagging a little as we made it over the top. “I still haven’t found my climbing legs,” he confided, pausing in contemplation before adding, “and it’s been fifteen years now.”

Up past Dyke Neuk, we dropped down the other side and were just making our way toward Meldon and more climbing, when Aether pulled over with a puncture. We got things sorted pretty niftily and were almost done when the group behind churned past, putting us firmly into last place on the road again. I hoped this might play to our advantage and let the cafe queue die down a little before we got there.

My wishes were semi-granted, the queue wasn’t too long and we were served without the usual interminable wait. Armed with coffee and yet another crumbling scone on a paper plate, I meandered across the grass looking for a bench to perch my posterior on.

Spotting me approaching the table where he was sitting with G-Dawg and the Colossus, Crazy Leg hooked his leg around the spare chair beside him and drew it in under the table and out of reach. The. Bastard.

I moved toward the next table to join a couple of furious wasps who were dive-bombing it’s surface in apparent agitation, but at least appeared more welcoming. Crazy Legs relented though and invited me to sit with the cool kids after all, although he did check that I wasn’t carrying jam or anything else that might attract flying pests’ having been caught out before when sitting next to Szell and his wasp-magnet confiture.

This remembrance did gift us a quick sing-a-long round of “K-K-K-Kenny and the wasps” but luckily it wasn’t enough to gift either of us an Elton John ear-worm.

I wondered how the Colossus had been faring in the sneakily gusting wind, riding his TT bike with the solid disc wheel and he admitted it certainly made life a little interesting.

As a counterpoint to this discussion, a capricious gust of wind then picked up my plate and hurled it away, jettisoning my scone, which grazed Crazy Legs’ temple as it spun past. He looked up in pained surprise, but luckily it didn’t have the concrete hardened crust of a stale pork pie, because if that had caught him in the eye, Crazy Legs would have bit the dust.

I retrieved my scone from several metres away where it had finally come to rest. They may be flat and they may be crumbly, but they are impressively aerodynamic for baked goods.

I then commended everyone for making an early start this morning and missing out on an epic OGL rant, as he complained about the further Covid-19 precautions we’d taken, because he wanted to discuss taking further Covid-19 precautions. Still, I needn’t have worried as he turned up out of nowhere for the singular purpose of delivering a full-throated reprise of his earlier rant, just so no one felt left out.

Never. A. Dull. Moment.

With everyone gathering their gear to leave I told Captain Black not to wait as I was thinking of heading straight home through Ponteland. Ovis though was hanging back to wait for me and I was coerced into joining up with him, Aether, Captain Black, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg on a more circuitous return up Saltwick Hill.

At one point everyone else dropped back to wait for Aether, but I was flagging, so I kept plugging along, tiring rapidly and with the rucksack starting to give me a sore back. It’s ok for 20km round commuting trips, but not so comfortable on extended club runs.

The group caught me once again just past the airport and I tagged onto the back for a while, but it wasn’t long before I was on my own again and this time for the rest of the ride. Crawling up past the golf course into a direct headwind wasn’t much fun, but it was largely downhill to the river from there and once across I had a tailwind to usher me to the foot of the Heinous Hill. A last clamber up and I was done for another week.

STOP PRESS: The entire North East is now subject to tighter lockdown restrictions. We (or, “the amorphous we” as OGL has disparagingly named us) have decided to suspend group rides for now, so it’s back to solo undertakings for the time being and until further notice.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Plague Diaries – Week#17

Plague Diaries – Week#17

One a Dem

Internet oddity of the week came from reading about a medical scare in late Victorian Britain that saw doctors warning women about the deleterious effect vigorous cycling would have on their health. Apparently, “over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance” was thought to cause bicycle face “hard, clenched jaws and bulging eyes” accompanied by “a flushed complexion, with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes”.

Most agreed that bicycle face could strike anyone, but women were disproportionately affected. Some implied the effects could be permanent, while others maintained that, given enough time away from a bicycle, it would hopefully subside.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

I decided it was time to bite the bullet and rejoin civilisation, or at least that small portion of civilisation that is (very) loosely embodied in a local cycling club. The hardest part was getting out the door by a set time to get me to the meeting point on schedule. After weeks of a laissez faire, I’ll leave when I’m ready attitude, this was a bit of a shock to the system. Must do better.

Still, I managed somehow and rolled up to the meeting point to find G-Dawg talking to a complete stranger in full Aberdeen University kit, who turned out to be none other than the Garrulous Kid … but all growed-up.

Even more surprising, that elusive, seldom-spotted, Sasquatch-like, Strava-stalker, the BFG was there too and I haven’t seen him out and about on two wheels for over a year. Strange times.

G-Dawg was proudly wearing perhaps one of the gaudiest kits ever inflicted on the pro-peloton, a classic Mapei jersey with it’s jumble of primary coloured cubes, once aptly described by Simon Smythe in Cycling Weekly as “a design that looked like someone had detonated a car bomb beneath a Rubik’s cube.”

He even had Mapei socks and cap, but, “No matching shorts?” I queried.

“I thought they were a little over the top,” he deadpanned.

Hmm. Quite.

The BFG decided we all had the air of survivors from a nuclear war, emerging from the solitude of our bunkers to blink, blearily uncertain into the dim light of the future and wonder what remained of the world we’d once known. I don’t think he was too far off the mark.

By the time we had tamped down the blather and were ready to move, we had assembled a small congregation of 15 riders. G-Dawg had posted up a route he invited everyone to follow, the end point of which was an 11.30 re-gathering at the cafe at Kirkley. He then led the first small, select group of 6 out and away.

We gave them a bit of time and space, then, along with Goose, the Ticker and Fourth Down, we formed a rather unlikely quartet and pushed out to follow. None of us had paid much attention to the proposed route and we deviated almost from the off, being the only group to head out along Broadway, but we all seemed happy to accept our personal deviations from the norm.

We were travelling at a fair clip as we pushed through Ponteland, along Limestone Lane to Stamfordham and then out to the reservoir. From there we climbed up through the plantations to get to the Matfen road, then on to the Quarry and through to Belsay.

At this point we were about 2 hours into the ride and had the choice of stopping at Belsay, or pressing on and meeting everyone at Kirkley. No contest really, even if Goose has severe reservations about the Kirkley scones and their current currant content (or lack thereof.)

Just about everyone else had made it to the cafe in good order, along with those who’d ventured out solo, or in smaller groups from a different start point and it was good to catch up. Even better, Goose found an acceptable alternative to the disappointing scones.

I found a seat next to prognosticator-in-chief the Garrulous Kid, who was predicting the end of all things Chris Froome, in particular any further Grand Tour wins. This was expounded with almost as much conviction and fervour as his frequent proclamations that Germany were a nailed-on certainty to win the last World Cup. (We all know how that turned out, so feel free to put a fiver on Mr. Froome for this years Tour.)

We then learned too much about the wild, debauched drinking parties at university, one of which apparently featured a manly imbibing of … err, Prosecco? It was unclear whether these parties were so extreme, wild and debauched that participants even refused to raise their pinkie finger from the glass while downing their Spumante.

There was just time to catch up on the whereabouts of Taffy Steve via Sneaky Pete (still incapacitated with a severe rotator cuff injury) and the Monkey Butler Boy via the Red Max (apparently developing a severe case of bicycle face while not riding bicycles, per se). Then, with Jimmy Mac’s passionate defence of wearing orange socks still burning my ears, we started to slowly disperse.

Crazy Legs and Sneaky Pete were adding on a slightly longer loop home, up Saltwick Hill and I tagged along, realising as soon as I hit the climb that my legs were well and truly shot.

I dropped back using the ungodly racket of the much cossetted Ribble’s creaking bottom bracket and its assault on my ears as an excuse. Crazy Legs wasn’t kidding when he mentioned his bike was still complaining vigorously, despite all his mechanical ministrations.

Jimmy Mac and G-Dawg blew past us just before we entered the Mad Mile, depositing the Garrulous Kid and a gasping Cowin’ Bovril on our back wheels as they flew by.

Cowin’ Bovril suggested he’d been out for a pleasant, solo ride when they caught him and for some mad reason he determined to hang onto the back of the group for the run home. I think we represented a much more sensible and civilised option for the last few miles.

Minutes later and I was flying solo, picking my way through to the river and home. Luckily there were no wandering Victorian chirurgeon’s around as I began to climb up the Heinous Hill, so I managed to avoid being condemned and confined with what I can only assume by then was my own, very bad case of grimacing bicycle face.

A Two Percent Chance of Rain

A Two Percent Chance of Rain

Club Run, Saturday 12th October 2019

Total Distance:97 km/60 miles with 1,122 m of climbing
Riding Time: 3 hours 53 minutes
Average Speed: 24.9km/h
Group Size: 22 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 14℃
Weather in a word or two: Better than usual

Ride Profile

Heavy overnight rain passed, but left a rearguard of sporadic, unpredictable, light showers that punctuated the early morning, occasionally sweeping past, before fading quietly away.

I pulled on a showerproof jacket as I left the house and it stayed on my back for most of the ride out. Dropping off the hill, I spotted a couple of cyclists ahead of me as I traversed the valley floor and gave chase. Always a good incentive to pick the pace up, and I caught and passed them as we cut through Blaydon.

Luckily, the stiff headwind that had blown down the Tyne Valley last night and that I had battered myself against on the commute home, seemed to have dissipated. It was just as well, as we were heading straight upriver, to just outside Corbridge for our annual club hill climb up Prospect Hill.

I crossed the river, turned my back on what little wind remained and pushed through to the meeting point arriving in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

OGL turned up, checking we had enough volunteer officials for the event, before driving out to Prospect Hill to set up. Crazy Legs and G-Dawg had once more volunteered as official starters and time-keepers at the bottom of the hill, with Benedict set to provide timings at the top.

Mindful of typical Hill Climb weather (usually very cold and very wet) each had prepared appropriately, with Crazy Legs packing at least two jackets, while G-Dawg was wearing a heavily insulated, quilted winter jacket. Perhaps most sensibly, Benedict had a kit bag stuffed with warm clothing that he gave to OGL to transport to the hill for him.

Before leaving, OGL asked who was actually going to ride the event. Out of the twenty plus riders there, only Rainman stuck his hand up. The rest of us were all wimps, or had tried-and-died once too often on the slopes of Prospect Hill. (One day I might return for a final crack at our Hill Climb but not this year.)

What can I say, Rainman is either brave, or foolish. Or both. Then again he is Dutch, so maybe normal rules don’t apply.

The poor response caused a suitably disgusted OGL to wonder what kind of riders we actually were. Some would argue sensible and sane, but I know that’s a lie, so I’m not sure what the answer should be.

On other fronts, Crazy Legs was eagerly awaiting the publication of this years Tour de France route, primed for an excursion via camper van to the venerable Bourg d’Oisans campsite, to watch the pros take on some iconic Alpine climbs, such as the Alpe d’Huez, Col de la Croix de Fer and the Galibier.

The only hint we had about the route was a rumoured time-trial up the Planche de Belle Filles, or, perhaps if the gravelled section was used Super Planche de Belle Filles.

This, we quickly decided, was far too much of a mouthful for us ignorant and lazy Brits, so it quickly became PDF and Super-PDF – a diminutive that I feel is likely to stick.

I’m not sure whether his plans will need to change, given the subsequent unveiling of a rather unusual Tour route, that seems to deliberately avoid all the traditional, tried and tested big climbs.

With around 24 riders gathered, even if not everyone was riding the hill, we felt we’d be able to at least provide support for our Go-Ride kids, as they hurled themselves upward with mad abandon. I’d even tried downloading a cow bell app to my phone, but had to admit being unimpressed with its desultory, sotto voce, and unremarkably dull clunking. It wouldn’t get used.

With the need to get to the hill as quickly as possible, G-Dawg had us marshalled and ready to go bang on 9:15, although, as he rightly acknowledged, they (literally) “can’t start without us.”


We picked our way out of the city en masse and I’d pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg as we made the turn toward the river. Just past the corner, Crazy Legs looked back.

“Bloody hell,” he wondered, “Where’s everybody gone.”

Our numbers had essentially halved. Support on the hill was going to be noticeably muted and quite sparse then.

On we went, threading our way through periodic sharp showers and bursts of bright sunlight, angling ever westwards, occasionally flanked with arcing rainbows that seemed to mark out our final destination.



Every time we were lashed with another sharp shower, Crazy Legs gleefully reminded us that the weather forecast promised “only a two percent chance of rain.” It seemed to be a line he was able to trot out on more than half a dozen occasions.

Down into the valley and along the river, G-Dawg found himself over-heating in his padded, quilted jacket and seemed to be looking forward to the odd, cooing rain shower, even as they became less and less frequent.

He checked everyone had the requisite documentation and inoculations, before bravely leading us across the bridge and into wild, savage lands, south of the river … welcome to Mordor, have a nice day.

We were on the final push now, pausing only to carefully skirt a devastating roadkill, an untidy pile of featureless, pink, blancmange like sludge, scraped into mouldering heap in the middle of the road. Try as we might, we were completely unable to discern any trace of features that would give us a clue and help us determine what type of poor creature had contributed its corporeal body to form this unsightly splatter.

Rainman roared off the front for an extended warm-up and by the time we’d reabsorbed him, we were at our destination – by G-Dawgs reckoning we covered around 40kms at a decent clip and in less than an hour and a half.

Perhaps shamed into riding, 7 or 8 of the seniors decided they would give it a go and joined the swarms of happy, excited Go-Ride kids, queuing up to sign on to ride the hill. Even our FNG decided to take part. Will he ever forgive us?

I helped pin on a few numbers, before making my own way up the hill to a junction about halfway up where I could provide some slight vocal encouragement and snap a few photos of the contestants for the group Facebook page.

It was great to see the kids hurling themselves uphill with reckless abandon, sometimes on their own, sometimes with parental outriders providing escort duties.

Cowin’ Bovril volunteered to escort one of the kids, acting in loco parentis and later admitted he’d had a good workout and he struggled to stay ahead of his young charge with the finish line approaching.

As the last riders came past I was joined by Rainman and Buster, both celebrating new best times on the hill. We made our way down to the start line again, where numbers were unpinned and all the shed weight (bottles, pumps, jackets et al) reclaimed.

We then just had to wait for Princess Fiona and Mini Miss to rejoin us. Neither had been seen since they’d finished their efforts up the hill, and had taken OGL’s advice on the best route back down to the start. They eventually appeared from completely the wrong direction, having been who knows where and complaining bitterly that they’d been sold a pup.

We then let Den Hague guide us through the tortuous labyrinth of Corbridge’s one-way traffic system, before we made our way to Valhalla, no, hold on, that’s not right, to Vallum, our cafe of choice for the day.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

A quick check of phones revealed that Eliud Kipchoge had managed to break the two hour record for the marathon. You can’t help but be impressed by someone running a 100 metres in about 17 seconds and then doing it again and again and again, without pause, 421 more times in a row.

Spry, seemed slightly underwhelmed though, pointing out it wouldn’t be a recognised world record, as this wasn’t an open competition, Kipchoge was led by a pace car and accompanied by a phalanx of pace-setters, with bike riders on hand to hand over fluids as needed.

Kipchoge even had a laser directed at the road in front of him to keep him on pace, something I seem to recall was proposed for the Wiggins’ Hour Record, but the UCI rejected. (I’ve seen Cat#1 wildly chasing the red dot of a laser pointer and can confirm it is the most insidious form of mechanical doping known to man. Or feline.)

Anyway, we suggested that Spry take to Twitter to inform Kipchoge his record was worthless. Having already used this medium to allegedly enrage Elaine Paige fans as well as lambast Philip Deignan for having the temerity to marry Lizzy Armitstead, we reasoned adding one more mortal enemy on social media wouldn’t be too much of a burden.

By the way, can I please ask why long distance runners have taken to wearing arm warmers with a vest? At least Kashoge’s managed to match his to his top, unlike recent shocking efforts from Sir Mo, but nonetheless, it’s not a good look.

Meanwhile, Spry confirmed his single-handed, Go-Pro-armed, vigilante crusade to eradicate bad driving on the mean streets of the nation’s capital was going well – with 17 incidents reported to the police, of which 15 had resulted in cautions being issued. Not exactly crime-fighting worthy of a superhero, but you’ve got to admire his efforts.

As we were leaving, Crazy Legs vowed to hmm, maybe, perhaps, possibly, consider taking part in next years hill climb, before looking at me meaningfully, as if to remind me that as a friend I’d promised to never let him do it, ever again and I had a solemn duty to protect him from himself.


Leaving the cafe, we were soon skirting Whittle Dene Reservoir and, with the time already rapidly approaching when I’d usually be home, I swung off to head back down into the valley to make my way home.

The sky had cleared, it was a bright warm day and I had a good trip back, arriving just in time to catch the last 40kms of Il Lombardia. The Race of the Falling Leaves always signals the end of the pro-cycling season to me, despite whatever nonsense the UCI gets up to in the Far East. It’s a sign that winter is approaching and shiny plastic bikes are soon to be packed away until better weather returns.

Hopefully we’ll have a decent winter and there wont be too many interruptions to our rides. Still, I’m sure the Flat White Club is primed and ready if the conditions get too testing.


YTD Totals: 6,298 km / 3,914 miles with 83,003 metres of climbing

Resting Bitch Face

Resting Bitch Face

Club Run, Saturday 3rd August 2019

Total Distance: 109 km/68 miles with 1,030m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2km/h
Group Size:38 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature: 24℃
Weather in a word or two: Almost felt like summer!

Ride Profile

A misty start to the day, but there was a promise of much better weather, if only we could avoid the widely forecast thunderstorms.

I pushed away from the kerb and was quickly reaching for my brakes as a car shot past and then cut in front of me, either racing the changing traffic lights, or determined not to be held up by a cyclist descending the Heinous Hill. Once again I was struck with the idea that many drivers have no real understanding of just how fast a descending bike can go. I frequently get cars pulling out of junctions directly in-front of me on the long downhill I use on my commute. This either means a rapid application of brakes, or, if I have momentum and a clear road, a bit of over-taking that I’m sure the drivers think is completely reckless and dangerous.

Here, I just had to engage in a bit of tail-gating, stuck behind a car travelling much slower than I would have been, if I didn’t have to hang on the brakes all the way down. I would like to think the sight of a cyclist louring in their rear-view mirror had an intimidating effect, but I very much doubt my presence even registered.

Luckily the rest of my ride across town was incident free and the sky had even shaken of its milky, misty filter by the time I was climbing back out of the river valley.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

I found club run irregular and Steven Kruisjwijk look-alike Eon waiting with G-Dawg at the meeting point. Eon suggested this was one of his rare penance rides, when he joins a club run just to ensure he exacts the full value out of his £10 annual membership fees.

“I was expecting more out today, though,” he added.

“Well, it’s early yet, let’s wait and see.”

We didn’t actually have all that long to wait, as numbers kept building until we had almost 40 riders and bikes packed like sardines on the pavement. It was going to be a big, big group.

Crazy Legs spotted a couple hanging slightly back from the fray, determined that they were first-timers and invited them into the fold. They had exotic accents, by which I guessed they weren’t from around these here parts…

“Your not Dutch are you?” I challenged, “Because I think we’ve already exceeded our quota on Dutch cyclists.”

“Yeah, it’s true,” Double Dutch Distaff added.

They seemed rather relieved to be able to claim American citizenship, while at the same time quickly disassociating themselves from the Dutch, while no doubt wondering what bunch of lunatics wouldn’t want more lovely people from the Hollow Lands to come out and ride with them.

“Where are you from anyway?” Crazy Legs wondered.

He was from Wisconsin, the girl from a state not a million miles from Wisconsin, but still a sizeable distance away from America’s Dairyland. (Which is my feeble way of saying I didn’t quite catch her reply.)

“Where’s Wisconsin then, is that in the North, on the border with Canada?”

“Hmm, not quite.”

“Is it in the East then?” Crazy Legs continued, undeterred.

“In the West? The Middle?”

“Kinda, North Central.”

“Oh!” I’m not sure we were any wiser really.

“Are you a Packers fan, though?” I wondered.

“Well, you’ve kind of have to be,” he answered, not especially enthusiastically, perhaps worried I’d think he was secretly Dutch if he claimed to be an ardent Cheesehead.

OGL arrived in time to condemn the unwashed state of the Monkey Butler Boy’s bike. It seemed only natural to progress from there to the state of the Garrulous Kid’s bike and in particular his filthy, grungy chain (well, it is about 3 months since his bike was last serviced, which was when it was last clean.)

“And black socks too!” OGL despaired, “That would have resulted in an instant disqualification in my day.”

“Well, they were actually white when he set out this morning,” G-Dawg quipped, “But with that chain, you know …”

Aether outlined the route for the day and the need to split such a big group into at least two. The first group pushed off and started to form up at the lights, but their numbers looked a little light and someone called for additional riders.

Ah, shit, is this what I really wanted to do after a week of indolence, sitting around a pool doing nothing but eating and drinking? I reluctantly bumped down the kerb and tagged onto the back of the group with a few others. I was going to regret this, I was sure.


I slotted in alongside Plumose Pappus, where we tried to determine if there was any pattern to Eon’s seemingly irregular appearances on a club run. We determined that he probably had a number of different groups he rotates through, smashing each one in turn before moving onto the next one and, sportingly, allowing them all 3 months to recover before he puts in another appearance to repeat the cycle.

We then had an involved, entertaining and engaging conversation about beach volleyball. Hold on, I know what your thinking, but this was actually a conversation about a beach volleyball rather than the sport (game?) of beach volleyball itself. Suffice to say, Plumose Pappus may soon be the proud owner of his very own, completely free, beach volleyball. Why? I hear you ask, but I’ll simply paraphrase his well-reasoned answer: Well, why not?

On the narrow lanes up toward the Cheese Farm, three approaching cars in quick succession pulled over to the side of the road and cheerfully waved us through. Perhaps it was just as well though, as we were churning along like a runaway express. Caracol and Rab Dee had kicked things off, the Garrulous Kid and the Dormanator, Jake the Snake (recently rechristened Jake the Knife by Crazy Legs) had added fuel to the fire and then Eon and Andeven increased an already brutal pace.



From 30kms into my ride to the 55km mark, across 32 different Strava segments, I netted 16 PR’s, culminating in a 20km/h burn up the Trench itself.

Prior to that, we had tackled the Mur de Mitford, pausing briefly at the top to regroup, where the Garrulous Kid was invited to lead us to the Trench.

“Take it to the Trench!” I extemporised, channelling just a teeny bit of James Brown.

The Garrulous Kid hates hills now, so refused, claiming he’d just get dropped on the climb.

“Well, just take us to the bottom of the Trench,” someone suggested. Even better, there was a bridge at Netherwitton, just before the Trench.

“Yeah! Take it to the bridge!” I was quite enjoying myself now. The Garrulous Kid just looked at me blankly with a WTF expression and steadfastly refused to lead us out.

Eon and Andeven then pushed onto the front and off we rolled.

Get up-a, git on upp-ah…

And upp-ah we went-ah … up the Trench, a tight knot of us clustered around Eon’s rear-wheel, while trailling a long, broken tail of discarded riders.

Once more, we stopped to regroup at the top, where the Monkey Butler Boy spotted a small knot of dithering sheep in the middle of the road. It looked like they’d escaped from a nearby field only to discover the grass really wasn’t any greener on the other side. The sudden appearance of wild, potentially dangerous animals gave the Monkey Butler Boy strange, flashbacks to a time when he claimed he’d passed a pack of wolves on this very road. Nobody had the faintest recollection of this, or any idea what incident he was actually referring to. Perhaps they’d been a pack of hounds, he concluded lamely … or vampire sheep, I helpfully suggested.

I took the lead alongside Biden Fecht, who had the great joy of calling out a warning of “Sheep!” as we passed the panicking, evidently non-vampiric, ovine escapees. Anyway, a simple pleasure and one that makes a refreshing change from constantly having to shout out Pots! Gravel! Car! or other, equally mundane cycling hazards.

Half way up Middleton Bank and I was done in by the relentless pace, bad gear choice and rampaging speed. Gapped over the top, I chased fruitlessly for a kilometre or two, before giving up, forming an impromptu, very small and select grupetto with the Monkey Butler Boy to cruise the rest of the way to the cafe. I did still manage a quick dig up and over the rollers – but it was just for forms sake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I wandered into the garden, sitting down in time to catch the end of an anecdote in which the usually mild-mannered, happy-go-lucky, Crazy Legs, admitted he’d recently snapped, losing it and going absolutely postal with a driver who’d shouted at him for not riding in a segregated bike lane.

On being told he was a stupid idiot, Crazy Legs had fully admitted the possibility, but suggested that at least he wasn’t going to keel over and die of a heart-attack anytime soon, unlike his fat, lazy, lard-arsed adversary.

Dinger listened with some sympathy, having himself fallen into the trap of hurling childish insults at a “speccy-four-eyes, bastid” driver in the heat of the moment, before admonishing himself with the simple question, “What am I, five again?”

Elsewhere, we learned that a disgruntled Big Yin had been complaining that Stage 18 of this years Tour de France saw Nairo “Stoneface” Quintana climbing up the Galibier in a time that was considerably faster than the Big Yin had managed going down.

Crazy Legs had caught an interview with Marcel Kittel in which he came across as knowledgeable, humorous, likeable and engaging person, suggesting a stint as a TV-pundit wouldn’t be a bad call if he couldn’t get his cycling career back on track.

I thought this would probably have to wait until the unforeseen time when his hair-modelling options inexplicably and improbably dried up. Crazy Legs then wondered what damage Kittel could do to the Alpecin brand, if he suddenly revealed his hair was falling out. I was all for him shaving his head bald and blaming a certain, caffeine-shampoo for the hair loss, but realised this was unlikely as it would severely curtail hair-modelling opportunities.


We found a fantastically ostentatious, bright red Ferrari in the car park as we made to leave. “That’s worth more than my home,” someone quipped.

“It’s worth more than my family,” I assured them.

G-Dawg looked at the car somewhat askance, before shaking his head in dismay. “You’d never fit a bike rack on that,” he concluded dismissively.

And away we went … Even with early departures, it was still a big, big group that set out for home. Things were fine until we took the lane up toward Berwick Hill, noticing the road was closed just past the junction. This didn’t affect us, but seemed to have forced a huge volume of traffic to share the lane with us, some caught behind with no room to pass, while we had to constantly single out, slow down and hug the hedges for the stream of cars approaching from the other end of the lane.

At one point we passed a group of cyclists heading in the opposite direction, being led by a woman who looked fully enraged. I’ve never seen such anger on a bike, although I suppose Crazy Legs may have approached such levels of incandescent fury during his altercations with his lard-arsed adversary.

I wondered aloud what her problem was, maybe the cars stacked up behind, or the the sea of cyclists filtering past? Surely it couldn’t be the weather, which had been beyond even my most optimistic expectations?

“RBF,” Caracol concluded.

“What?”

“Resting Bitch Face,” he clarified.

Not a phrase I was overly familiar with, but apparently a recognised phenomena, with its own Wikipedia page! Resting Bitch Face is defined as a facial expression that unintentionally makes a person appear angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any particular emotion.

Hmm, perhaps he had the right of it.

Up the hill to Dinnington and one of the youngsters was struggling to hold the wheels, so I dropped in alongside him and matched my pace to his. Up ahead I could seen Carlton looking back concernedly and rightly concluded this was probably another Carlton prodigy I was escorting and he would be ripping our legs off in a (short) few years.

While the main group disappeared up the road, a few of us dialled back the speed a little for the final mile. As they all turned off I started my solo run for home. The legs were tired and heavy, but it had been a good ride and the decent weather was a real bonus.

It almost felt like summer.


YTD Totals: 4,991 km / 3,101 miles with 66,160 metres of climbing