True Grit

True Grit

Total Distance:                                     89 km / 55 miles with 934 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 5 minutes

Average Speed:                                   21.7 km/h

Group size:                                           13 riders, 2 MTB’s

Temperature:                                      3°C

Weather in a word or two:               C-c-c-c-cold


 

true grit
Ride Profile

Another week, and the North East still seems to be in the icy grip of a nano-femto-yocto Ice Age. Still, I’d kept riding through through the freezing conditions, managing three commutes by bike without any issues. That was until the Friday morning, when I rolled onto the bridge into the University, hit an extended patch of slick ice and came crashing down, right behind an ambling building contractor. He got a shock, jumped, but somehow stayed upright, while I got a brand new hole in my shin and the Pug seemed to take most of the impact on the saddle, which ended up badly deformed with a rail bent inwards.

As Campus Services are usually good at keeping the pathways ice free, I can only assume the bridge had been gritted, but this had been washed away in the rain overnight and then re-frozen. I picked myself up and carefully walked the rest of the way, using the Peugeot as an impromptu Zimmer frame and weaving around lots of unsteady pedestrians, slipping and sliding down the slope toward me and having real trouble with a lack of traction.

Another commuter on a mountain bike came whipping past and I waved for him to slow and warned him he was heading toward dangerous ice. I didn’t hear a bang and crash behind me, so assume he was better at staying upright than me, or dismounted to join the rest of the teetering walkers.

It wasn’t until I was cleaning the bike after the club run that I discovered I also snapped my rear mudguard clean in two, although hopefully my gaffer tape, bodge-job will hold, at least for a while.

Saturday morning promised more of the same, and found me picking my way slowly down the Heinous Hill, steering wide of the icy runnel down the side of the road and hoping the evil glistening of the tarmac was just because the road surface was wet.

The red-glowing LED letters of my digital checkpoint told me it was 8:19 and 0°C as I passed, and I did wonder if it was actually colder than that, but the display couldn’t handle negative temperatures. At one point in our ride Aether reported it was -2°C, so maybe that is the case.

I was right in the bottom of the valley now, down where all the cold air had sunk and ice crept out across the road from either verge. Luckily there was little traffic about and I was able to pick my way carefully down the relatively clear, narrow meridian in the centre of the road.

I arrived at the southern end of the Newburn Bridge just as the traffic lights turned red and, having had one bad experience on an icy bridge already this week and not wanting to hang around getting colder, I dismounted and took to the white and glittering footpath to walk across.

As I passed over the river a coxless-four slid out on the black water under the span, with a rhythmic clack-clack-creak, clack-clack-creak of oars. I never appreciated just how loud those boats are, they always look to be gliding silently and effortlessly along.

On the north side of the river I then got delayed before a long set of roadworks where more resurfacing was going on and got the impression the workmen thought I was slightly mad, but I was on more travelled routes now and the dangers of hidden ice seemed significantly reduced.

Traffic was unusually heavy, perhaps swollen with a mad rush of Christmas shoppers and I had trouble switching into the right hand lane before a busy roundabout. As a result, I had to circumscribe a wide orbit around the outside, but luckily found myself shielded from behind by Mr. Patient, who seemed to instinctively understand where I was trying to go and positioned his car between me and the rest of the traffic.

Onto the side streets, and the final, icy looking roundabout was taken slowly and as upright as possible as I emerged just ahead of G-Dawg and coasted carefully through to the meeting point.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point

G-Dawg’s meticulous route-planning input continued, this time advising Aether on the roads that would be officially gritted according to secret, local government insiders and intensive, cyber warfare-style, web-trawling. He really does have too much time on his hands these days.

None of his assurances were quite good enough for OGL though, whose sleeper contacts in the Outer Hebrides had reported danger and unpassable roads everywhere. He had allegedly spent the entire morning fielding dire warnings from “cyclists all over Newcastle” that the roads were lethal and nigh on impassable. And yet … despite declaring we were all doomed, (doomed! I tell ye!) here he was, at the meeting point on time and ready to ride.

With Taffy Steve’s thrice cursed winter-bike still quarantined and locked in either the workshop, or the doghouse (the story varies depending on his mood), he’d arranged a less frenetic ride with Crazy Legs on mountain bikes. This would give him another week to replace his broken freehub, afford Crazy Legs a more civilised re-introduction back into club runs as part of his rehabilitation from a truly nasty chest infection, and it meant they had a little better grip and were slightly more comfortable with the conditions.

This sounded good to G-Dawg, who suggested if any of the lanes looked dodgy we could send the mountain bikes down ahead of everyone else to scout for danger, and avoid the route if they failed to return.

There was some talk of the still missing Prof, who seems to have taken up with a bunch calling themselves the Backstreet Boys, or something similar. I’m not quite sure how working as a tribute act for a dodgy 90’s boy band fits in with his cycling, but apparently (with enough make-up and props, and in the right light) the Prof is a dead ringer for Howie D. and has all the dance moves down pat and everything.

There was only time then for OGL to declare that the “slithering reptile” comment a certain Mrs. Wiggins issued in connection to a four time Tour de France winner had been made in a private, closed group and was not intended for public consumption. To me it’s just another sign of the insidious and dangerous nature of social media, which has so rapidly become a horrendous cess-pit of hate and bile and ignorance. My simple, much too often ignored, golden rules – think before you write, re-read before you post and never, ever post anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face.

(There’s also a newly-minted, club rule that recently surfaced on Facebook and I think is worth adopting: you really should stop posting before reaching the bottom of your first bottle of Merlot.)


Off we trundled then a brave, a foolish, or a bravely-foolish 13, including our two mountain-bikers tucked into the back. They’d later report rolling along with us was pretty straightforward, until we hit an incline and then it became bloody hard work.

I spent the first part of the ride tucked in alongside the Big Yin, who was perhaps the only one relishing the freezing conditions as he had new “extreme conditions” socks and overshoes and wanted a good and proper test for them . We decided that  if he counted his toes when he got home and they were all intact, the test had been successful.

The roads weren’t brilliant, but they were comfortably passable with just a little diligence and care, you never actually felt you were teetering on the edge of disaster and there were no incidents.


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We rolled past Tranwell Airfield and pulled to a stop before the junction. At this point we discovered our errant mountain bikers had disappeared and someone wondered where along the way we’d lost them. Half-jokingly, I suggested they’d probably turned off at Kirkley Cycles, lured by cake and fresh coffee in the café.

I should have put money on it…

Most of the group showed true grit, and took a right at the junction for a longer loop around, while I tucked in behind OGL and Sneaky Pete as they headed directly for the café, reasoning I’d tempted fate enough for one week.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

Our own extreme weather conditions led to Sneaky Pete discussing English explorer-eccentric Ranulph Fiennes, or to give him his full, glorious title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE. Apparently made irritable by frostbite he decided to cut off the dead ends of his fingers because they kept getting in the way.

“I tried tentatively to cut through the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work. Over that week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days.” Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes.

Oh my, and we thought Johnny Hoogerland was the epitome of tough!

We were soon joined at the café by our indomitable, errant mountain bikers who, as predicted, had indeed been unable to resist the siren-call allure of the café at Kirkley Cycles.  Taffy Steve had thoroughly enjoyed his mountain bike sojourn, and declared he hadn’t had so much fun since the Cyclone he’d completed with the Red Max. This had ostensibly been in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.

While they did this, the older pair combined Red Max’s innate cunning, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local back roads, to skip around the official course and always stay one step ahead of the youngsters. In this way, they were able to strategically position themselves prominently at the side of the road, conspicuously enjoying cakes, coffees, ice creams and iced cokes, and giving the kids a big thumbs-up each time they sweated and toiled their way past.

With the rest of our group all safely back following their extended loop, talk turned once again to slithey toves and slithering reptiles. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Froome was bang to rights and looking at a lengthy ban. Interestingly, and apparently in the face of scientific evidence, there wasn’t a single cyclist there who didn’t think a puff of Salbutomol wouldn’t help them breathe deeper and ride faster.

Brandishing his own Ventolin inhaler and offering a pay-as-you-puff scheme, Crazy Legs tried to describe the horrible, scary and debilitating effects of an asthma attack (I haven’t suffered from asthma for about 10 years now, but still recall it’s like trying to breathe through lungs stuffed full of wet cotton wool.)

Talk turned to the odd practice of “scarfing” –  Michael Hutchence, Steven Milligan et al, with Crazy Legs seemingly disappointed he’d never experienced any of the supposed stimulating effects of autoerotic asphyxiation – even when suffering a severe asthma attack dressed in nothing but stockings and suspenders, with an orange stuffed in his mouth.


A bunch of us took a slightly longer ride home through Whalton, where I had a chance to catch up with G-Dawg as we pushed along on the front. We agreed Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve may have hit upon a viable alternative to the club ride when conditions were a bit sketchy – a relaxed peregrination around the region’s best loved cycling cafés by mountain bike, although I couldn’t help adding they’d probably earned more java kudos than Strava kudos.

Crazy Legs declared he was going  through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill, hoping to finish the ride at his own pace, but we decided this was probably the safer route all around, so we made him ride with us a little further. Over the River Pont, I then swung away west and started my solo ride home.

Down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley again, I found the mornings roadworks had been completed and slalomed through the traffic cones to ride on the freshly laid, still steaming new tarmac. Luckily my tyres didn’t melt like a road tyre on a turbo, but sadly I also felt no warming benefits from the fresh, just cooling blacktop.

Still, I was now close to home and a very welcome hot shower. It wasn’t the longest of rides, but it got me out, was still enjoyable and, most importantly, everyone got home safely.


YTD Totals: 7,264 km / 4,514 miles with 83,674 metres of climbing

Ice Cold in Darras

Ice Cold in Darras

Club Run, Saturday 25th November, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  89 km / 55 miles with 885 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 55 minutes

Average Speed:                                 22.7 km/h

Group size:                                         12 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold


 

25 nov 2017 icid
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Saturday brought a temperature that was about as low as you could get without the guarantee of encountering huge swathes of ice, lurking on every untreated and shaded surface. It was certainly cold enough to persuade many of my fellow riders that the roads would be too dangerous and the only sensible recourse was the turbo or gym.

I decided that, with a little prudent riding, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, especially if we stayed on treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little (and a positively tropical 6°C was promised by mid-morning!)

It was definitely a day for wrapping up well though, an additional pair of socks, warmest merino base-layer and lobster-mitts to supplement tights, winter jacket and gilet. My hands got a little sweaty at one point, but for once I think I just about chose right.

I picked my way slowly down the Hill, hands constantly on the brakes to kill my speed, trying to stay as upright as possible around the corners and pick a straight line between all the manhole covers. There was a rime of ice in the gutters and banks of leaves, furred and bleached white by the frost, were spread across the pavements like cold ashes.

Dropping down toward the river, my new digital checkpoint on the side of a factory unit, flashed up brightly to inform me it was 8:11 and 2°C and it felt even colder with the wind chill.

The approach to the crossing was crowded with cars, there was a loud burble of voices from either side, accompanied by much clanking and clattering from the riverbanks and swarms of pedestrians were shuffling over the bridge. It looked like being a busy day for the Tyne Rowing Club.

I later learned I was in the midst of preparations for the Rutherford Head of the River Regatta, involving 278 crews and boats from all over the country. The event was still going strong when I returned the same way 5 or so hours later, the surface of the river dotted with boats, both upstream and down.

Reading up on the event, I especially liked the organisers stern warning: CREWS WITH INSUFFICIENT WARM CLOTHING MAY BE REFUSED PERMISSION TO BOAT. Given the prevailing conditions, I’m not sure what sufficient warm clothing would have looked like, or how they could have got it all in those skinny little boats.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I was pleased to see that G-Dawg had followed through on his promise to pack his brand new, fancy-dan, Sidi kicks up until Spring and had resorted to shoes he didn’t feel obliged to display and could cover with overshoes. I suppose his toes were pleased by the decision too.

Talk of overshoes lead to discussions about the knee-high, neoprene Spatz (spatzwear.com) overshoes that ex-pro, Tom Barras had developed, that looked like some kind of fetish wear. A snip and a bargain too at only, err £80 – which is more than I paid for my winter-boots. I did wonder if they came with a free gimp mask. There’s always one though – and the Cow Ranger declared he thought they looked ultra-cool and he wanted a pair.

OGL had lifted a pair of Giordana bibtights with wind proof panels from his own shop, much to Mrs. OGL’s chagrin (I think she grips onto the purse strings with a cold fury.) He declared they were exceptionally good, if anyone wanted to buy a pair.

“Yes” I suggested, “Especially now they’ve been broken-in for you.”

(Oops, apparently he didn’t mean the exact pair he was wearing.)

Carlton arrived, declaring himself just that little bit nervous about the ice, but talked himself into believing it was just “first ride nerves” and once he became acclimated to riding once again in frozen conditions he’d be good.

Plans to follow the posted route were abandoned, G-Dawg proposing a rough route, principally down major (well, by Northumberland standards) roads and more directly to the cafe, from where we could take an extended route home if conditions improved.

A fine, dirty-dozen then, in all our windproof, waterproof, winter warming, hermetically sealed, thermally insulated, impermeable but breathable, high-viz, cold weather, protective gear, of wildly variable effectiveness, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. Bugger, but it was cold.


I found myself riding alongside the Garrulous Kid, who passed the time talking at me as we rolled merrily along. It largely went in one ear and out the other, so I can (perhaps mercifully) recall only snippets about Dundee University, perhaps a mention of football here and there, Dennis Wise, Stranger Things, Ant & Dec, foul-mouthed teachers, the worthlessness of history and how the Garrulous Kid could be drafted by the Armed Forces of Uh-merca in the event of  a global conflict. C’mon Trump, you can do it…

We stopped for a pee near the now abandoned Tranwell Airfield and (still) extensive bunker system and received a potted history lesson from OGL, which no doubt the Garrulous Kid deemed worthless.

We learned the airfield had been developed during the Second Big One (WW2) and, according to OGL, had been the joint home to an anti-aircraft training battery and a squadron of the Polish air force. This, he concluded, was why there was so many families of Polish descent now living in Morpeth.

The Colossus wasn’t the only one who sensed the potential flaw in the plan of having  trainee, trigger-happy ack-ack gunners sharing the same air space as foreign pilots, whose native tongue wasn’t English.

“I hope the gunners never got that good,” he remarked dryly.

History lesson complete, off we rolled again, although for the sake of accuracy I have to report that while Tranwell Airfield was used for anti-aircraft training, it housed a French and not a Polish squadron throughout the war. Where the Polish population of Morpeth comes into the picture is anyone’s guess.


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We had swung around and were heading straight to the cafe now, realising we were going to be there much earlier than usual and pausing only briefly to check it would actually be open.

At some point, up ahead, Two Trousers slipped, or slid, touched wheels, or shied from a pothole, I’m not sure what happened exactly, but as a result he started careening across the road, narrowly missing the Colossus, who took evasive action, swerved, spun to a stop and, contorting his entire body, calmly unclipped and just stepped smartly off his now prone bike. I don’t think I could explain it any better, even if I could watch it a hundred times in slow motion.

The Colossus ended up stood facing the wrong way, one leg over, one leg through his frame, looking down on his bike, befuddled and wondering how it got there. MeanwhileTwo Trousers carved deep furrows across someone’s pristine grass verge as he swooped up, off the road and toward a waist high fence.

I felt for sure he was destined to explode through the woodwork in a crash of flying splinters, or the bike would just stop dead and flip him over the top, but somehow he wrangled back control and slowed enough to merely smack the fence with a meaty thud, bounce off and topple slowly earthward.

Our unlucky pair stood up, dusted themselves down and determined there was, by great good fortune, no real damage. Two Trousers bashed his handlebars straight again and onward we rolled.

There was a general quickening as we approached the cafe, but no full-blooded sprint today, although I did chuckle when G-Dawg and the Colossus took up primary positions on the front, where they could keep an eye on everyone else, while warily eye-balling each other.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

One benefit of arriving early at the cafe was it was unusually quiet and we were able to dive straight into the queue and grab a seat beside the fire. One major downside however, was that G-Dawg and the Colossus had to forego their traditional ham and egg pie, which was still in the oven and wouldn’t be available for a good time yet. They had to go with the alternative, corned beef option, which apparently is still good … just not as good.

Cowin’ Bovril flashed a newly acquired, 100 trillion dollar bill and for one, brief moment I thought he was going to stand us a round of coffees. I didn’t realise we were in such exalted company and we were being accompanied by an actual trillionaire, although I assume if I ever time-travelled back to Zimbabwe, where his note was legal tender, I could rub shoulders with 16,684,615 more of them – and find Cowin’ Bovril’s note would barely buy a single cup of coffee, let alone a full round.

We found out the Colossus was coveting a new mountain-bike where, with one touch of a handlebar button, he could not only adjust the seat height, but actually change the bike’s geometry.

I suggested this was the kind of thing I’d only ever seen from Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-a-Car in The Wacky Races.

The Colossus  acknowledged the connection and declared all he would need to complete the picture was some hairy, Neanderthal cave-man to ride along behind, trying to bash him repeatedly over the head with a club. I looked pointedly at G-Dawg, possibly the prototype for the original Slag Brothers, but luckily he was pre-occupied fielding inane questions from the Garrulous Kid.

It was then the turn of the Colossus to answer the Garrulous Kids quick-fire questions, which tended to tumble out, one after the other and leaving no space for an actual reply:

“When you were at university, did you play pranks on your flatmates?”

“Were they all Scottish?”

Did you go to the lectures?”

“Did you enjoy the lectures?”

“Were the lectures, like, in a classroom?”

And then, a final zinger …

“Why is Newcastle full of Malaysian students?”

I cracked at the last and had to withdraw from further communication for a while. Luckily I was saved by a discussion about Shane Sutton amusingly colourful description of Bradley Wiggins during a rough period as “flapping like a dunny door in a gale.” This then led to talk of Wiggins’ attempt to secure a place in the British Rowing team for the next Olympics.

In his favour, OGL stated Wiggins knew how to train and prepare to a specific goal, had a great engine and long levers and was capable of changing his body shape, seemingly at will. He also cited the precedent (albeit the other way around) of Rebecca Romero leaving rowing to become a successful cyclist.

The only major negative we could find was his age, but as G-Dawg argued, it hadn’t been a hindrance to Steve Redgrave, you just needed to pick a crew young and talented enough to carry you across the line. (Sorry Steve, only joking).

The Garrulous Kid was having none of it, declaring Bradley Wiggins would be a “rubbish rower” because he only had twig like arms and no upper body strength. We tried to explain that rowing was as much about the legs and lungs and core as arm strength and that the seats in the boats actually slid backwards and forwards so you drove them with your legs.

This seemed too complex a concept to grasp and the Garrulous Kid flatly refused to believe that leg strength was, in anyway, necessary to row fast, or even that the seats moved in a boat.

The Colossus asked if he’d ever been on a rowing machine in the gym.

“Yes.”

”Did the seat slide back and forwards?”

”Yes.”

What was it called again?”

“A rowing machine…”

“Well?”

”But that doesn’t move … a boat moves on the water!”

I couldn’t quite grasp why this was such a difficult concept for the Garrulous Kid to wrap his head around, so tried to counter his objections in simple terms.

“So, if you’re in a plane travelling at 700 miles an hour and drop a pen, does it just fall straight back down, or fly backwards?”

Luckily as a physics student, the Garrulous Kid was able to correctly identify and apply Newton’s first law of physics. Although I’m not sure if it helped him understand the mechanics of a rowing boat any better, we had great fun imagining the mayhem caused in airplanes if this law didn’t apply and any dropped object would shoot backwards with the velocity of subsonic munitions.

The cafe remained resolutely empty apart from itinerant bands of frozen cyclists, popping in for a brief respite and chance to defrost. I suspected it was going to be a quiet day business-wise and began tormenting G-Dawg with the thought they’d never sell all the ham and egg pie now and maybe, just maybe, they’d let him adopt it and take it home.


It was still early when we left, pie-less,  but it had warmed up a few degrees, so all but the Garrulous Kid took a longer route back. The first few mile were hard and into a particularly chilly headwind that seemed to spring out of nowhere, but afterwards it was plain sailing. After looping round Darras Hall, I was within striking distance of my usual route back and struck out for home on my own.

Soon home, ice avoided, cold conquered and ride complete, it turned out to be not such a bad day, after all.


YTD Totals: 6,962 km / 4,326 miles with 79,909 metres of climbing