Ok, so I gave up Geography for French when it came to ‘O’ level choices *; but I still thought my reasoning was sound, surely a sandy heath will drain better than trails on chalk or loam? We would find out later, the hard way!
Three of us gathered at the garage (MuddyMatt, Lizard Mike & myself), with only Lee missing (M25?) from those that expressed an interest in braving the bogfest that is currently masquerading as the Surrey hills.
Matt headed up to Wiggly Wood, before turning hard left on the descent to bring us across country and parallel with the A24 towards the radio masts and Mickleham. Sticky would be an apt description of conditions, which required a hard pedalling effort just to keep going on the downhill sections. The level sections were almost impassable, and the only hope for heading upwards was to find some armoured chalk trail or, ideally, a tarmac road.
Ignoring the lure of an early pub stop in the Running Horse, we headed up Stane Street and across the gallops to pick up the bridleway to Headley Heath. Stane Street provided the armoured chalk surface that allowed us to make progress uphill, with Matt & Mike politely waiting for me at the top. Once off the gallops, the bridleways transformed into the expected bogfest. On Headley Heath, Gear Selecta provided top entertainment for Matt. Having smoothly made it to the top of the first crest, he was able to catch Mike and I slithering sideways on the descent and failing miserably to make much headway up the slope. To be fair to Mike, he was impeded by me sliding backwards, sideways, then down.
Most of the bridlepaths on the heath seemed to be made up of 6 inch deep mud, on a base of … mud. We resorted to a few ‘off trail’ diversions to find some sandy heathland trails. What we actually found was more mud. This time it claimed Mike as a victim, as he keeled over in the wheel-grabbing slime. We eventually made it to the start of Secret Singletrack, sadly for us, Ali had long ago packed up her snack wagon and departed.
From the ride stats shown at the end of this report, you will notice a fair amount of waiting time. Let’s start with Matt leading off down SS, followed by myself (armed with my newly upgraded and 40% brighter Ay-Up lights), then Mike (armed with his new ‘Magic Shine’ Chinese specials) who has only ridden SS once before. As the path heads uphill after the initial sharp right hand turn, Matt pulled out a lead of about 20m which I was determined to reduce or at least maintain. We had great fun as the bikes slithered their way down the trail, with a great deal of counter-steering effort required to keep them pointing in the right direction. On a couple of occasions I checked to see that Mike’s lights were still behind me, though they were slowly receding.
The thrill of the chase dislodged thoughts of Mike until we came to the final entry onto the last section of track that heads straight downhill to the road. At this point I thought I’d better wait to ensure that Mike knew where we were headed. After a few minutes, I ventured back up the trail for about 400m, shouting his name into the darkness. I concluded that he’d found another way down, and had picked up the main path and rejoined Matt. This gave me the perfect excuse to ride the last section again, fantastic. Except when I joined Matt at the road there was still no sign of Mike.
This time it was Matt’s turn to head back up, only via the lower track, and he eventually returned with Mike about 10 minutes later. It seems that in heading ‘off-piste’, Mike and Matt had stumbled across another interesting line of descent that could well be worth a return visit. Back towards Alsation via Life On Mars, with the bridlepaths in the same muddy state as we’d left them about an hour earlier. Like SS, LOM provided much entertainment, though Mike might disagree as somewhere along the trail he headed face first into the mud again.
Alsation allowed me to turn the tables on Matt, as I had a great view (thanks Ay-Up) of Matt’s front wheel sliding out from underneath him causing him to slide neatly along on his side before coming to a jolting stop. No harm done, though he may well have quite a sore neck today, judging by the way his head hit the dirt. On the way back to Bocketts we bumped into Beanarillo, who had been showing an ‘infrequently riding’ mate the local trails. After another lengthy pause for a chat (Hope it went well today, mate?), we headed back to the garage. The singletrack to the side of the path after Bocketts didn’t appeal at first, but on reflection, Matt made the correct choice as conditions were a lot drier and grippier here than on the main trail.
Matt invited me back to his place to see his hose, but as my mother had warned me about men like him, I politely declined. I did give my chain a thorough scrub and re-lube before chucking the mud-covered steed back into the garage. Ah, the maintenance-free joys of an Alfine hub.
Ride stats from my GPS
Distance = 15 miles / 24 km (plus 2 miles for me to get to start & back)
Total time = 2 hrs 38 mins (Riding time = 2 hrs 04 mins, i.e. waiting time = 34 mins)
Average moving speed = 7.5 mph / 12 kph
Total height ascended = 643m
*For younger readers, ‘O’ levels were the public exams that preceded GCSEs