Ride; or don’t ride. After all is said and done, that what this pastime boils down to. So last night, after a fine Spring-like day we went out for a ride across the Surrey Hills.
DaveW, Tony, AndyC, MattP7 and myself met at the garage as usual, not quite knowing who else was around. As it turned out, just us! As we stood around I could feel the temperature dropping rapidly but I’d already committed myself to riding sans bib tights after finding the past few rides too hot.
We had a brief discussion over route planning but after Tuesday’s monsoon were under no illusion as to the conditions we were going to encounter. With that in mind, we just decided to get on with it, heading over toward White Downs.
The first few hundred yards through WIggly Wood were enough to confirm our expectations but it was a bit of a worry that we found so little traction and so much energy draining mud so early in the ride. Really, it was a struggle to churn through there. I’m still making the mistake of thinking I can just carry on at summer-dry pace and quickly suffering for it.
Onward though toward Polesden and it wasn’t too bad as we skirted the edge of the big field but things quickly turned into a treacherous, greasy clag as we headed downhill. Deep, deep clay had me pedalling just to go downhill as the bike and rider lumbered along. At least I was comfortably warm and not over cooking as I would have been in my biblongs.
By the time we reached the Old Dorking Road to cross over onto the Polesden estate we were all blowing hard at our exertions, although once again Tony and DaveW seemed comfortable enough. I find that having not ridden regularly for just a short time soon takes it’s toll and I need a few rides to ‘stretch’ my lungs a bit. But the sharp air seemed to be causing a mild amount of exercise-induced asthma for me; or maybe it was just my lack of fitness putting excessive demands on my cardio-vascular system.
So by the time the Tanners climb up to Ranmore loomed I was starting to tire. It’s not helped I think by singlespeeding – having to stand on the pedals is putting strain across my shoulders which clearly need strengthening and not for the first I found myself wishing for my Orange Five. Maybe it’s time to start dusting it off for summer. Mind you, DaveW doesn’t seem to be suffering the same problems!
What is suffering though is the Tanners climb itself, particularly near the top. The lower two thirds are as usual, steep grinding (or spinning Andy!) gradient where you have to dig in. But where before it levelled off and you could start to spin some of the lactic acid out of your legs in the final thirds it’s now deep liquid mud, a good six inches of the stuff where the felling work has been going on. A miserable climb is now even more miserable!
Once on Ranmore the falling temperature became even more apparant with the grass clearly frosting up under clear skies and bright stars. We headed toward Badger Run and then continued along Collarbone after stopping to let a group of riders pass in the opposite direction and provide them with good-natured advice on their riding! Their progress along Collarbone where we took our night light shots was painful and I wasn’t expecting ours to be any easier.
So when we finally started down there it was no surprise to find the combination of slippery roots and deep ruts of greasy clay were almost impossible. Not quite thought as well all slipped and spun our way along, with AndyC having one minor off and Matt having big problems with chainsuck in the mud.
Tony and DaveW slowly drew ahead but it was the sort of conditions that could catch you out at any point and if you stopped pedalling you stopped dead. It was very taxing on the legs and lungs and counter-steer was general theme as the bikes went where they willed. I managed to get all the way along to White Down with just one dab over the tiny fallen sapling near the end but just didn’t have either the energy or the momentum by then to hop the bike over!
Regrouping after that we headed down the White Down descent, showing it a lot of respect in view of the fact it’s made of almost 100% chalk! There’s now deep gulleys criss-crossing the trail all the way down and it needs you to be fully concentrating. I kept trying to put Jess’s advice (from Astounding Adventures) into practice and look as far ahead as possible rather than just stare at whatever was in the pool of light made by my bike lights and it definitely helped, so long as you actually reacted to what you were seeing!
At the bottom were crossed the large field to the railway and over to the bottom of the valley where we picked up the track back toward Westcott. All of us were feeling the pace I think so we decided to climb back up to Ranmore via the Trackway with me and AndyC bringing up the rear. I keep telling myself that every turn of the cranks brings us that bit closer to finer weather and longer days and that’s really the only thing I can do in the face of these final dark days of winter.
On RAnmore again, Matt peeled off from the Church toward Bagden Farm while we continued along to Denbies, taking the steep and fast descent straight down. I felt surprisingly confident hammering down on the loose surface which tells me those Avid Elixir 5 brakes must be one of the best bargains around at the moment as I was unconsciously pushing them quite hard. Coming down the final chalky stretch where we cross the roadway my vision was bouncing so much I could hardly see where I was going!
By the time we reached the A24 we all had numbing headaches from the chill through the Vinyard. It’s not just the easy speed we carry through there but it is always a few degrees colder I’m sure! Whatever, it had us groaning with the sudden pain last night!
The final stretch was a brisk spin and plenty of conversation along to Leatherhead on the A24 before Tony parted from us, leaving just AndyC, DaveW and myself to head back to Bookham via Bockett’s Farm.
I had set out the hose ready to clean the bike off before I’d left earlier in the evening but returned to find the nozzle frozen. I managed to coax it to work in the end only to find the mud was actually frozen to my bike!! Which goes to show how cold it was I guess even though I woke this morning to find a thaw and steady rain.
I’d plan on more mud then everybody!