This year's North West Passage ... the very long enema audax across the flatlands of Lancashire, started as it always has with a large group of largely badly dressed cyclists meandering their way along the valley bottom into West Yorkshire, there to find the sun coming through the cold mist. For Yorkshireman Brian this change in the weather was part of the normal cosmic flow of events that pass between the county borders. Nothing remarkable. The gentle ascent from Tod was gently taken, save for Pete would decided to lead one of his main rivals for a top finish into a pot hole, causing said opposition to puncture whilst the cunning retiree from the force pottered on. John had a little dig somewhere toward the top. A sign of things to come later. Burnley was still asleep when we went through, so no abuse from the passing windows of slouch-mouthed family saloons. Barrowford was also asleep, but we woke up a bit on the climb, though a gentleman's pace was maintained throughout, allowing a larger group than normal to drift sedately upon the Naked Man. Cards stamped, save Nigel's, which was requisitioned by the stamper who seemed to have warmed to her bureacratic task with an almost soviet zeal for making the most of paperwork. Booker Brow witnessed another one of John's kicks, setting the singled-out train in motion, with him at front, then Chris who did take a really really long time to come round when being a team mate and all he should have come forward sooner, before the Condor then upped the pace massively .... for about a second ... and then dropped off into a far more doable rhythm and we pedalled briskly into Kirby. The burger bar at the bridge was standing in a pool of sunlight so warm and bright that even the feint pall of fat that always surrounds such mobile food outlets seemed almost a spring-like pollination. The people running the burger bar seemed to be practising for the how many operatives can you squeeze into a mobile burger bar competition ... they looked to be five twisting about in the trailer, and none of them were small. They made vegetarians wait until ALL the bacon eaters had been served. Quite right. Pete and Brian re-convened with the group, so we all of us set off to Lancaster on a very smooth run, back into the fog, because of course we were leaving Yorkshire. Then John let loose past Garstang. We kind of hung on. Many of the un-named we'd picked up coming into Lancaster got dropped, and we caught the front group just before Scorton. Pete was getting excited. Front group and all. Though not for too long, as we split up by the Roebuck. John and Chris had finally got fed up of dragging round a flock of tired Condors, so set off a pace leaving us, uncomplaining about being left, though the twins here decided they better start complaining about something, so found themselves suffering from cramp, which gave them ample opportunity to set up a brotherly grumble about the different types you might incur, classified according to a complicated categorization involving location, intensity, duration and shrillness of associated cry of pain. We managed the first hill through to Blackburn without too mucg ado, though I was of course hanging on, keeping quiet, but not as quiet as Brian, who was also hanging on it seemed, though less successfully, as he fell off just after the main raod. We mentioned this to Pete, and how we might wait, but Pete seemed reasonably happy with his reasoning that on no account should Brian be allowed to catch him up because we had the hill coming. Not sure the logic was there in this argument, but it seemed sufficient for Pete, who then put down some speed as though he were back working and had been given permission to sound off his nee naw siren. Even more encouraging for Pete (and I must admit for myself too, and maybe even Nige and the Condor), we found John and Chris by the road side trying to fix a ripped tyre with a discarded lucozade bottle and in time honoured Condor fashion sped past them whooping with delight that the the shoddy VS equipment had held them up. The last hill .. .something with Bets in the title i think ... is not really a hill unless you've 130 miles in your legs and are not that fit and then it is a slog at the top of which lies a dark and lonely inward place the door of which you knock at, get let in, and then accept it is only one way. Luckily, as in all previosu years, the rest of the route is downhill, and, aside from Pete's anxiety to visit the heavenly version of a one way door as he ventured to re-write the give way laws in favour of anything that was old and wearing a condor jersey, we found the end without much actual physical endeavour, which was kind of just as well, given I for one had nothing left to give. It was all worth it of course, because Condor had beaten VS in what will be the only event of the year when the two race head to head. So first and last blood to the blue streak and just goes to show it's always best to hand within the shadow of a VS wheel and then trust to the linguistic coincidence that 'fast' rhymes with 'last' . The ride finished as always with pie, peas and a one way chat with a someone who seemed content just to stare mutely into the middle distance. Oh those audax boys know how to have a good laugh.