As if a switch has been flipped, we’ve moved seamlessly from constant, bright blue skies to overcast and a slow fade to grey. As I dropped down the Heinous Hill it prompted me to run through my repertoire of Visage’s greatest hit
s – which, to be fair, didn’t take all that long. I was done by the bottom and luckily escaped without inflicting an annoying earworm on myself.
Despite the impenetrable cloud cover, it was a decent enough day, cool rather than cold and with only a gently tugging breeze to impede movement. There was rain forecast, but not until just after midday. Or so they said.
I crossed the river and followed my new, preferred route up Hospital Lane, annoyed to find my shoe sliding around sloppily and feeling dangerously close to pulling itself out of the pedal’s grasp. I didn’t remember my cleats being so loose last time out but made a mental note to increase the tension in the pedals and, that done, spent the rest of the climb concentrating on keeping my foot planted squarely and still engaged.
This small distraction aside, I made good time and was closing in on the meeting place when I stopped for a pee. Stepping away from the bike I was accompanied not by the usual clip-clop from my colourful clown shoes, but an odd clip-clop-clop. l reached down and found the cleat had worked itself loose and was sliding around, largely untethered. Like the world’s most ungainly stork I removed the shoe and balanced precariously on one leg as I tightened up the bolts. A simple fix, even in the field, but I’ve never had cleats work loose before and can’t work out why they had this time?
At the meeting place Ahlambra was intrigued by the stock wheels that came off my 13 bike and had been press ganged into service on Reg, in particular the single red spoke on each. I told him this was apparently to mark where the valve hole is, because, well, you know, they’re really, really hard to find with the naked eye. Or something.
This led to a discussion about wheel building, spoke choice and another paean from G-Dawg, lamenting how silver spokes and rims were no longer commonplace, but had at one time fuelled his descent into unspeakable Duraglit addiction.
As we talked the showers scheduled for that afternoon decided to put in a very early, surprise appearance, offering up the chance to demonstrate cyclists know enough to come in out of the rain. This was an opportunity that we did eventually take, shuffling under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and managing the task before we were completely soaked through.
Several of the group were planning a ride out midweek to see the Tour of Britain but, even though our former clubmate beZ is riding with his Ribble-Weldtite team, I’m boycotting the race this year after their unconscionable decision not to route it past my front door, or even through my immediate neighbourhood. It’s just not good enough.
Plans are afoot to travel out to watch Stage 3, which would include a trek out into Cumbria toward Alston and potentially up Hartside Pass. A mere mention of this climb was enough to have OGL wax lyrical about epic winter rides in adverse conditions – the good old days of 130 mile plus club runs.
“130 miles, eh?” G-Dawg laughed, “And this from the bloke who is adamant club runs are getting longer!”
Our numbers seem to be holding steady at about 20 riders, give or take, so we split into two (naturally unbalanced) groups and away we went.
I dropped into the second group with G-Dawg and maybe half a dozen others and things were progressing relatively normally, if at a rather glacial pace as we found a new, very pleasant, quiet road with a perfect surface. The only drawback was it didn’t really lead anywhere we couldn’t get to more directly. Still, if nothing else it served to pad out our mileage.
A brief halt to gather up stragglers somehow turned into an impromptu pee break, so we’d no sooner re-grouped than been split in two again and had to stop a second time to try and corral everyone. OGL was last to arrive, delayed, according to Cowin’ Bovril, because he’d begun “filming a porno” – forgetting he had a rear-facing camera on his bike that was capturing his micturition attempts in glorious technicolour.
Cowin’ Bovril suggested the wide-angle lens might at least provide a flattering image, only to be told by OGL that he wasn’t previously known as, ahem, “the ginger pendulum” for nothing.
That was uncalled for.
The declaration was met with a universal rolling of eyes and a unanimous, clearly audible groan. I mean, after the last person caught in self-aggrandising braggadocio had ended up holding the nuclear football for a 4-year term, I’m not sure we should be indulging such “locker-room banter” and, err, “alpha-male boasting” anymore.
We tried to move swiftly on, only to encounter a sign bearing the dire warning that there were slow birds on the road. Eh?
Then, round a gloomy bend under some trees we slowed as we came across one of the worst sights you can see on a club run, bikes abandoned on ether side of the road, typically in response to some form of accident. In this case, it had been in our front group, where Aether’s wheels had slid out on the greasy surface and he’d brought the Soup Dragon down on top of him. They were both up on their feet again, but Aether was hobbling, while the Soup Dragon was bleeding from nose and mouth.
I had no idea if they’s ignored all the warnings and somehow slow birds were involved.
(Aether would later spend 11 hours in A&E to be told: “Yes, you have a pelvic fracture.” This, he calculated, was approximately two hours wait for each word of his assessment, proof, if we were in any doubt, that the NHS is in dire need of better financial and governmental support.
Our second group stopped briefly to see if any assistance was needed, but there were plenty of willing helpers, so we were encouraged to clear the road and keep going. And so we did, working our way out past Dyke Neuk and toward Longwhitton before the start of the long, grinding drag up to Rothley crossroads.
“Last chance to cut the route short,” G-Dawg identified, and Taffy Steve paused to weigh the options. His head, he revealed, said go, but his legs said no. In such instances I recommended that you should always listen to your legs as mine, at least are twice as smart as my head. He took the advice and he and Big Dunc hung a left toward Hartburn, leaving me, G-Dawg and Sam-Aye-Am to complete the full route, up to the crossroads, before scaling Middleton Bank and picking up the pace for a fast run to the cafe.
We’d left the cafe choice open, but the rain had turned drizzly and then stopped, the weather was warm and brightening and Bolam Lake was G-Dawgs preferred choice, I’m sure not at all influenced by his opinion that they were the purveyors of the very best in bacon sarnies. (I trust his assessment, he is clearly a connoisseur of such things.) Anyway, he was on the front as we reached the junction and seemed to decide instinctively, while I just followed the wheels.
We arrived to find Taffy Steve and Big Dunc already ensconced, the former somewhat perturbed having complimented the cafe staff on finally installing electronic payment and hearing how the card-reader wasn’t the only small, buzzing electronic device the waitress liked. All delivered with a rather knowing wink.
(Speaking of which, and as a total aside, I heard this week that Ewan McGregor’s fighter-pilot brother goes by the call-sign of Obi Two. That’s way cooler than Maverick, or Iceman.)
Survivors from the the front group joined us and conversation turned to cyclists riding with quite ridiculous injuries, typified by Tyler Hamilton who finished 4th in the 2003 Tour despite riding most of the way with a broken collarbone. This was a follow-up to a 2nd place in 2002 Giro achieved with a broken shoulder and, on that occasion he’d apparently ground his teeth so hard through the pain that he had to have 11 of them capped or replaced after the race.
We touched on the Commonwealth Games track cycling, which featured some para-athletes on tandems and Chris Boardman commentating that crashes were not only very common but, he suggested, inevitable.
Once again the violent depredations of wheelchair, rugby, tennis and basketball were touched on, before someone mentioned blind football again and I was able to steal someone else’s line about it all being well and good chasing around pell-mell, trying to hoof a ball with a bell in it, until the neighbours cat wandered out into the arena.
We coalesced into one large group for the ride home, which was proceeding rather unremarkably, until Sam-Aye-Am insisted he could smell watermelon as we passed through Ogle. I had to admit there was a distinctive and fresh odour being carried on the breeze, but I’m fairly certain that, despite global-warming, the climate in the North East still isn’t conducive to the cultivation of watermelon. Then again, there was that odd moment earlier in the year when Newburn had the odd scent of grapefruit …
G-Dawg stretched us out up Berwick Hill and I pushed onto the front alongside him as we began the descent, straight into an easterly headwind that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and made the usually easy downhill bit an absolute grind. It certainly didn’t make me envious of Taffy Steve’s route home, all the way out to the coast directly into that.
There was then only time for some juvenile farmer in a tractor to vigorously insist that G-Dawg was a serial self-abuser (for no discernible reason we could see) and then I was splitting off and heading for home and an appointment with the sofa in front of what’s turning out to be a rather entertaining Vuelta.
Stay on board, now.
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 3rd September 2022|
|Riding Time:||5 hours 8 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||117km/73 miles with 1,127m of climbing|
|Group Size:||20 riders, 0 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||A fade to grey|
|Year to date:||3,780km/2,349 miles with 43,073m of climbing|