Well, if you can’t learn something as the years advance there’s no hope is there?
It still took just as long mind you. A day that started the pedals turning at 9:30am finally ended at 5:45pm after a day in the hills or a day in the pubs, depending on your perspective. It certainly involved cycling though, as my legs are now telling me.
We were lucky to have a good turnout for the traditional post Christmas get together and lucky too that the trails were in good shape with mild weather. Australia burns; we get less frost. We should count our blessings and my good wishes go to the Aussies.
Joining us for the ride were some faces I literally haven’t seen for ten years. Jason and Paul put in an appearance and if they’ve got any slower its not immediately obvious. Unless our own pace has decayed at the same rate!
We also had a croaky JohnR, Karlos, Chris, The Prof (MarkP), electro Jem, Lloyd(!) and myself making a sociable group of 9. Sadly neither Elliot or Tony were able to join us this time, while Kev remains serving out his sentence in Morrocco (it’s a hard life!).
The plan – a very charitable description of what we had in mind – was to head to Holmbury, then Pitch, then ultimately to Leith via a pub or two and back to Abinger.
We set out in leisurely fashion, then scaled it back from there. Well maybe not quite. You can’t avoid a bit of work if you want to get anywhere and we needed to build a thirst.
So Paddington Farm gave us a chance to warm up and for most to realise they had far too many layers on for the mild weather (it reached about 11°C which is crazy for January). I was actually quite comfortable in a long-sleeve base and eye-catching long-sleeve Morvelo MTB jersey but I did suffer if we stopped for too long.
Next we headed up to Holmbury via the Youth Hostel car park, keeping things simple and direct to get to the start of Barrie Knows Best.
I had the advantage by being at the front and had a completely clear run to the bottom, setting a time only 6 seconds off my PR although I’m certain my best times have all been missed by Strava at various points in the past!
I was certainly hot and tired by the bottom and needed the time waiting for the others to catch my breath.
Next it was up onto Pitch Hill. The Walking Bottom car park was completely stuffed but its nice to see other people using the hill – several trail runners, along with families teaching very young kids to ride.
We even bumped into Unreliable Simon (who insisted on calling me Mark!). He’d interrupted his run to assist a Dad who’d smacked his head hard in front of his son and they were making their way back to medical assistance at Peaslake.
We also picked up three more riders and were happy to show them round some of the usual highlights of Pitch – Proper Bo, then back up to the T-trails, then back to Peaslake via T-5/The Graveyard. It was all very sociable as we also stopped to talk to Pinky/Purpley Cotic Girl and her friend who Jem had met on a Cotic demo.
By that time, I needed coffee because it was all quite a workout with the Graveyard being huge fun back to the car park. When it’s properly bedded in later this year…
Suitably caffeinated, we had to get back up to Holmbury Hill. Yes, it’s all uphill and yes it’s horrible. We set off sensibly enough but when two roadies passed us (one on a nice titanium number), it quickly triggered JR.
Off he set at a pace that belied his tubercular cough. I found my own rhythm which still allowed me to set my fastest MTB time for the climb, but by then JR and the other two cyclists had disappeared impressively into the distance.
We made our way up to the trig point for the obligatory photo op, mercifully this year without trying the terror of the levitating MTBer shot.
Then it was off down Yoghurt Pots, by the end of which my legs were complaining because it was running nice and fast. We moved on from there to Telegraph Road where we parted from Jason and Paul who had run out of time. I hope they enjoyed their morning.
We veered off to Au Naturel which was just the right side of lethal. I lost the front wheel in the soft loam but managed to gather it all up safely but my thoughts were more on which pub we were going to.
It turned out to be less simple than you’d think. Sundays at lunchtime is peak pub time round here for a lot of people with time on their hands and money to enjoy it.
We called into the Royal Oak on Felday Glade but every table was reserved, so we ended up sitting on their large terrace round the back. Had it been high summer it would have been better but we were reasonably well sheltered.
Realising that every other pub would be the same we stayed to have lunch – mine was not my best choice for further riding – along with pints of Felday Legacy from their own micro brewery. Very nice, I would happily drink more of that; however after and hour or so we were beginning to feel the chill so…
It was back onto the bikes and this time a drag up the road followed by a circumspect climb up the Mother to High Ashes Farm. I started out cold and full of Camembert but slowly managed to get some heat back into my body.
Leith Hill was busy with walkers and families, with a long queue for coffee at the Tower but given the cold wind we didn’t stop for long. Instead we headed off for SuperFlow at the back of the Hill. Our route finding was very much of the ‘its here somewhere’ sort, so a little stop-start.
One stop in particular was more sudden and more painful for me than anticipated but I put on a brave face. A good shake out down SuperFlow seemed to get everything back where it should be!
I think by this stage we were starting to feel the effects of a long ride. JR needed to part ways with us, so we were down to a core of riders who dragged ourselves back up the Hill. I found my limit as I kept pace with electro Jem, but I had nothing left for conversation so could only nod and grimace while he did the talking.
My legs were shot. We had just enough energy to enjoy the top of Summer Lightning to the cricket ground, then a mazy run through the pines to the top of Deliverance and a nice noodly eye-of-the-needle thread down to Waggledance and straight down to Coldharbour via the remains of Regurgitator.
This time we got space inside the Plough and warmed ourselves indulgently over more beers.
By the time we left the pub, darkness was not far off but we still had light. It was an effort just to get to the original start of Summer Lightning and I could feel the beer in me. Once we were onto the trail proper, and had a bit of gravity to assist things improved considerably.
I had great fun following the Prof, even when things turned uphill, but as Summer Lightning segued into Cousin Vinnie’s and then Wolverns I was starting to tire. Eventually I found myself trailing a very fast Karlos into the final section to the Rookery – I think we were both buzzing from booze and adrenalin by that point.
All that remained was to fish out the lights and trundle into Wotton where the charms of the Hatch lured us into sitting under a heated shelter for the final ebb of light from the landscape while we enjoyed more beer.
All in – about 24 miles. Not massive, but I was done in by the time we got home. The bike remains dirty, but no matter. What a tremendous days’ ride!