With the rather early Spring sunshine of the past few rides deserting us temporarily at times during last week, it was great to wake up on Sunday with a healthy dose of rays streaming through the blinds. Judging by the trees populating neighbouring gardens, the strong northerly wind had also died as per the weatherman’s predictions, so, bar the remnants of a fairly heavy frost, the scene was set for another enjoyable ride around the North Downs.
Meeting up at Bocketts was Tony, DaveC, DaveW, DaveP, Jem, Neil, Andy and myself. After general chatter and a short deliberation over general direction for today’s venture, we set off for a loop over to the fringes of Epsom Downs and back along Stane Street.
We rolled along quite happily on the easy surfaces down to the river before climbing up to cross the A24 and over to the start of Alsatian, where there was that general sense of foreboding hanging thick in the air. This is definitely one of my bogey trails, ascending it of course (catch it at the right time and descending it is an absolute thrill). It’s not particularly steep but it does drag, only to level out at a point, before cranking up the gradient just slightly once again. It’s also the first real climb we do to gain any height and, for me anyway, it’s a real leg warmer.
We gathered at the top to recover and then carried on up past the golf course to cross the road at Nower Wood before heading up to Headley, via a fairly sticky bridleway offering the first real sign that rain had fallen intermittently during the last week. By the time we reached the road at Headley we had gained all the altitude we were going to for a while, so we took the rather rutted track down through Great Hurst Wood to the edge of Walton-on-the-Hill.
A few yards on tarmac and we back on bridleway again, this time the long, chalky, flinty descent down to the back of the racecourse. A challenge at the best of times, today we had the added task of removing a ‘small’ tree that had fallen across the path. I say we in the loosest sense as it was actually DaveC, DaveW and Andy that did a great job of getting it wedged backed in its more familiar habitat.
We remounted and eventually spilled out onto the track to Langley Vale to regroup initially, but after an audible hissing sound emanated from Tony’s rear (tyre) it was clear his Dr Sludge tube had failed dramatically. Closer inspection showed a good centimetre split along the seam and a good coating of green slime on both tyre and rider. It was quickly fixed however and we carried on our way. Sadly our good progress lasted all of a few minutes as Tony, pulling away up the horse margin, was clearly puncturing again on the same tyre. It was fixed again quickly, but not before Andy had managed to stab himself with a small penknife being used to rid the tyre of offending thorns. The green slime on everything of before had made way for a fair few drops of blood. Nice.
Thereafter we traced a relatively straightforward course along Stane Street until we had reached the golf course again and, just yards from where Matt ripped off his rear mech not so long ago, Andy became the latest victim to a puncture. This one was a fairly lengthy stop, so by the time we got going again DaveP peeled off at Cherkley Court for an early bath while the rest of us carried along to descend Juniper Hill.
To reach the tea stop at Box Hill we had little choice but to climb again, this time up Happy Valley, and so with a general sense of resignation it was back in the granny ring for a few of us. Jem and Tony flew off together leaving the rest of us to battle it out with our own demons. I held sight of the two of them until not that far from the top but gradually slipped well off the pace, with Andy clinging to my tread as we both pushed ourselves to the limit. At the top Andy and I were not far from death whilst Tony was just finishing mending his ‘spare’ tube from earlier! Classic. A few moments later we were joined by the rest of the group and it made for a fairly silent roll along to the café for a welcomed rest.
Judging our arrival at the café to perfection (queue-wise) we were soon munching on treacle slices and sipping hot tea in what was turning out to be a lovely spring day once again. The café is definitely a pull for all sorts of rider but occasionally you see the odd one that definitely prescribes to the ‘all the gear…’ school of riding. Let’s just say our latest exponent was a chap in full ‘freeride’ gear riding an all-mountain machine familiar to many of the moles which was spotless. Clearly he’d just come straight up the Zig Zags!
We left our freeride friend to his strutting and headed back along towards China Pig as it was deemed a far better way of rewarding our climbing efforts than just going off the front towards Mickleham. After the insistence of the others I led out down the trail which was damp and under the trees quite slippy on the corners especially under the front wheel, with one or two close shaves. After a while I was conscious the others weren’t in close proximity, but I was in the groove and flowing nicely, so I kept pushing on and as anyone who has ridden this trail will know it’s not just a case of rolling to the end. You really have to work it to the end.
After a few minutes sitting on the fence at the end, I really began to get worried. I pitched the bike back over the stile and started going back up the trail, but thankfully the rest of the guys started to appear. It turned out DaveC had washed out on the trail fairly high up and had an altercation with a tree. It sounded nasty. Perhaps Dave can take us through it later. We dropped down into the car park and headed back along the road where we left Neil and DaveW, who headed back up Juniper Hill to Stane Street. The rest of us headed towards Norbury Park, but not before another chance meeting with our Freeride Friend confirmed our suspicions that despite his dress code and steed he was definitely more at home on tarmac than dirt!
We pulled up through Norbury for what was now the final throes of the ride, but we still managed a little more off roading (crazy I know) taking in the loop around Norbury, the rooty descent adjacent to Bocketts, before the wiggly route through the trees beside the bridleway back up to the main track back into the car park.
Here we left Andy, who as it turns out is one lucky boy. In exchange for his ‘five’ year old Whyte PRST-4 which developed a crack in a weld last time he was out with us, he is now waiting on the delivery of a new E5 frame with Maverick forks. Nice work. And great after service.
Today was punctuated, literally, by several stops that made for a reasonably late finish, but 23 miles on the clock takes my own three month total for the year to over 340 miles, which isn’t too bad. However, with our first child due in just two weeks I’m making the most of the sun, the dry trails and any chance to get out and ride. Today was no exception.