Sunday 28th

Sunday 28th

So my intention to get out more in 2018 got off to a damp start. I got to ASDA at 0840 to see who would turn up. Nobody until our long-travelling nutter Stevie Bowden arrived at 0850 from his Cheshire home. The only other Macman we saw was Ian Browning, out for his Sunday constitutional coffee break ride to the Toon but even he had no buddies on this damp squib of a morning. Steve and I set off around 9:05 and headed up the A19. The windscreen wipers were no longer needed when we reached Seaton Burn and the rain had stopped completely as we pulled into the Ridley Arms car park in sleepy Stannington 15 minutes later. Just before the stroke of 9:30 ace Northumbrian navigator Mark Ramsey appeared, as promised. That was it.

We kitted up and set off for Morpeth via the path up the east side of the A1 at a reasonable pace, the fairly strong westerly not hindering us on the northern leg. I took Mark by surprise hoisting him back at Clifton to head for Glororum, he’s used to going straight on down here. My first taste up upward gradient didn’t take long to hit the old bones but it wasn’t too bad so I had just about enough to lead through the fields to the first downhill singletrack, a very skinny ribbon with the odd rock lying in wait for the unwary. It was fast in the dry but today the heavy ground made speed impossible and it was hard hanging onto the bike. There was a loud pounding coming from inside me as we reached the gate at the bottom so I forced a conversation until I was ready to continue.

Just before we re-joined tarmac we parked to get rid of a layer each, it certainly wasn’t cold today with an expected midday high of 11 degrees and we knew it already. We slipped back under the A1 and turned for Mitford before hitting the copse at the top of the hill for a bit of a play. The little BMX track was too soggy to get any speed on so we just followed the main rooty trail through the trees, nice little bonus and perfectly dry though technically tricky at speed. That left us with the scary road descent to the riverside, way too fast for my liking with the ever present threat of daft car drivers squeezing past so I feathered the brakes to be slightly slower than the other two speedsters.

Mark led us onto the riverside path as we cruised gently through Morpeth avoiding pedestrians, a ladies jogging club and dogs. So far so good. Then we took to the singletrack along the riverbank to find even the first field crossing nice and firm as was most of the trail as we romped along towards Bothal. Mark did the pacesetting which only Stevie could contend with while I plodded along behind, only making any decent speed on the down slopes to keep the other two almost in sight. It had turned into one of those perfect riding days, the wind irrelevant so far as we travelled east.

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As we emerged onto the road to Bothal I called the lads back into the trees so I could give the Trek’s back wheel a good dip in the river to dump the grinding paste off it. It was changing gear OK but being quite noisy. Then without looking at my map (yes, I had one as I had made subtle changes to the “normal” ride we do along here!) I gestured to Mark that we should go straight up the hill. Once we got to the top Mark indicated that we may have come the wrong way, and after a quick glance at said route plan I agreed, so we’d climbed that dirty great hill for nowt! We flew back down into the village again stopping for a quick pic with the castle as a backdrop before Mark led away down to our river crossing and the stepping stones which were about to induce some extra bite into the ride.

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I stood high up on the bank while Steve and Mark carried their bikes into the middle of the river for a photo in classic posing style, Steve even cheeky enough to sit on his bike. That done they crossed to the opposite bank and headed up the track. I followed them down the steps and out onto the stones. They were really green under their streams of gushing water and I could feel my feet sliding at every step. I got three quarters of the way across and for some reason swapped lead feet. I always move one foot then follow with the other, moving the same foot first every time, always my right. For some reason I now switched feet, leading with the left. I keep my bike on my right when pushing or carrying and this meant my weighted left foot was furthest from the bike and it immediately slipped away, slamming me straight onto the stone I was reaching for and into the river. I don’t like water. I can’t swim. I panicked as I felt the strong current dragging me off the slab to my untimely demise but somehow managed to grab the handlebars with my right hand and use the bike as an anchor. Luckily it had fallen off the upstream side of the stepping stone and the left pedal was hooked over the edge of it, otherwise I’d have been done. Eventually the other two reappeared, obviously wondering where I was, and Steve came back over to extract me. Not a trick I’d like to repeat and I’ll be extra wary of greasy rocks from now on! Oh, I forgot to mention that falling on that thing really hurt and drew blood from several places quite apart from soaking me from the chest down.

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We then faced a long, straight field crossing to Choppington, very boggy at the lowest point and hard work the rest of the way but at least the wind still wasn’t in our faces. The bikes were scraped clean when we reached the road. Past rides would have seen us turn right and head back towards Morpeth before dropping through Hepscott but not today, as I had a cunning plan.

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Mark found a path into the trees which seemed to fit my plotted route so in we went. Later I discovered it was too soon to leave the road but regardless of that the first mile and a half were fine through the trees as we guesstimated our way through to stay out of the strengthening wind. When we reached the very familiar railway crossing and Steve and Mark had crossed the line I decided that the ground on the south side would be worse than anything so far from my memories of it having spent quite a bit of time around here years ago, and spotted a very lightly worn path through the undergrowth pointing west and homeward, so I persuaded the lads to use that instead. Mistake!

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Mark led off again as we struggled with the savage brambles until he wrecked his derailleur a quarter of a mile in. We’d never seen one damaged like this before. One arm of the cage had snapped and the whole thing folded itself up and in half so it almost looked right, although a good bit shorter than the one that left Stannington! Looking back it’s been very rare, if ever, that we’ve had to walk a really long way home after a mechanical and today was no time to try that. I’d reached exhaustion point already as I’m well out of training for this kind of struggle so I was desperate to find a fix. I could sense the old single speed conversion thinking going on but that hardly ever produced a good, lasting result with full suspension bikes so I was determined to fettle the thing.

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Luckily I was wearing my favoured Thursday night bum bag instead of my rarely carried Camelbak so I had a small pair of flat jawed adjustable pliers with me, and just as well. I managed to square up the side rails of the cage easily enough thanks to the lower jockey wheel fixing bolt being extremely tight. The hard part was bending the thing back in line. The hanger had a very slight bend but the main twist was in the axle bracket that connects it to the gear body (SLX Shadow). I managed to get the hanger straight very quickly but a lot more effort was needed on the bracket which went “ping” just as I had it aligned. Somehow it stayed there although there was a visible break in the top bolt area. Stevie was getting a batch of cable ties ready for the inevitable bodge while Mark and I split the chain and threaded it through the revised (upside-down) jockey wheel system. Amazingly the thing pedalled smoothly and quietly with the bike on its seat and bars. Even more amazingly Mark was able to ride it away over this horribly rough ground we’d found ourselves on!

Another quarter mile later we found ourselves facing a railway line, a pond, a north-bound rabbit path or a retreat. Go on, guess. Yep, I decided we should follow the rabbits and a mile later we found ourselves back where we’d started at the crossing! Tiredness was making me desperate now so I ushered Mark into the trees as we headed for Choppington again on a nicely metalled path. Back out onto the road at Bedlington we hoisted ourselves up to the town centre and took the Nedderton road westward. I had to stop half way along here to recover some energy before reaching the top of the hill and at last a chance to freewheel for a while. We’d lopped off another 3 or 4 miles of what I had originally planned but I was in no fit state to do any more, quite apart from the threat presented by Mark’s gears if they were to fail, so we headed straight for Stannington Station where at last we faced directly into the strong headwind but with Mark’s boundless energy shielding us up front we got back to the cars in decent time.

Below:  Planned route in purple, actual route in brown! The arrowed star is where I called them back from while the smaller arrow shows where Mark found that troublesome stick. As you can see we did a nice rectangular 3/4 of an hour time-filler for nowt and it cost Mark a new set of gears. I feel distinctly guilty!

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Here's my Strava trace 

That was very hard for me, and not too easy for my buddies but at least we got out there and did it. You missed a great day for biking even if it may have been tough going. See you next time!

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Next Sunday Ride (plus other odd days) - See our Facebook page.

Next Night Ride: Thursday as usual.

Thursday nighters are 10-25 milers, 7:00pm start at ASDA East car park, Benton, 3-3.5 hours and generally OK for fit new riders but you need decent lights you can see with, NOT CANDLES. You MUST wear a cycle helmet.

Sundays are generally much longer, 8:00am to 10:00am starts from ride venue ending around teatime, and much harder rides.

Other ad-hoc rides are always being organised, see our Facebook page. Gloves, waterproof coat, snack and drink recommended. Carry basic tools.

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