Whoa! That was a long ride today, for most of us just shy of 30 miles on some of the more popular trails on Holmbury Hill. Despite giving it full beans today (and being made to wait for my coffee), we all returned safe and sound.
After a couple of late nights I wasn’t sure I had much in the tank this morning when I opened my eyes to find my wife telling me it was an hour later than I’d anticipated. Oops! Cue a hurried scramble for mtb clothing, water and supplies for what looked to be a warm morning of riding. I could so easily have rolled over and gone back to sleep but remembered agreeing to meet a new rider – Greg – today and didn’t want to leave him high and dry.
Bockett’s Farm saw myself and Greg meet up with DaveC, Kev, Elliott, Jem, Unreliable Simon, Richard, JohnR and JamesS, making a party of 10 setting out for the hills. We had a rendezvous at 10:00am with Karl and Al over at Holmbury planned, while Jem and Simon were planning on a one-way trip with us to Peaslake. Jem is ‘riding his way back to fitness’ and was due to be collected by his wife. Nice to have a team car at your disposal!
Off we went up to Ranmore via Polesdon as usual with a short detour onto Hogden Lane and a climb up Pamplona. I was at the back on the run down Hogden Lane and can vouch for the appearance of dust on the trails, plenty of which found its way in between the toes of my summer socks during the course of the ride. The ascent to Ranmore proved unremarkable but a nice little leg and lung stretcher and before low we were onto Badger Run and then Collarbone.
The MTB world has gone crazy for fat tyres and I’ve made a step up myself from fully skimmed 2.0 MudXs to a 2.3 Specialized Butcher/Purgatory combo. It’s still at the skinny end of the spectrum (and they were dwarfed by Als’ 2.5 Minions later on), but at least the new tyres feel a big step up in capability now that dry trails have arrived.
We continued with our base miles along to White Down. If we were comparing our riding to eating then our climb to Ranmore and along to White Down probably counts as at least two – maybe three – of our recommended five-a-day. White Down itself, on the other hand, is the equivalent to a big blow-out in McDonalds.
Woosh! I chased a rapidly moving Richard down, himself being distanced by Elliott with the steep, fast descent in great condition (even the fallen tree has been cleared by the trail pixies). We didn’t hang around too long at the bottom but instead pressed on toward Abinger Roughs in order to stay on target with the Karl/Al rendezvous schedule. Greg’s limited-time pass expired as we reached the Roughs so he had to turn back but the rest of us rolled on to the A25 and the Paddington Farm climb.
We weren’t hanging around. Another worthy but dull five-a-day vegetable appeared in the form of the slog up to the Volunteer but at least by now we had warm sun on our backs. Despite the lack of rest this weekend I was starting to feel nicely warmed up for the Hill to come.
Thank goodness I was. In an effort to make sure we weren’t late for Karl and Al Dave directed us up through Felday Glade and on up to our meeting point at the end of Yoghurt Pots (we split from Jem and Simon for a few miles as they made their own way up, both in energy conservation mode). Personally I would have doubled back behind the Village Hall and meandered up as the climb itself was pretty brutal and reminded me why we don’t often to it. As it turned out we had enough time in hand as well, so rather than hang around at the bottom of Yoghurt Pots we went up to the top!
I really gave it some beans today and made full use of my new tyres and the dry trail to exhaust myself down there, so much so that I was really panting at the end. The regroup allowed Karl and Al to magically appear bang on time (which was quite impressive), so we all decided to repeat the run again. This time I thought I was taking it easier (especially in the new lumpy bits on the mid-section) but it later turned out I managed a PB. Well happy with that (but other moles were faster – kudos Karl)
Now that Al was on board we soon got introduced to a new trail (new for us). Al insisted Crackpipe would be of interest and it certainly was; a mix of narrow singletrack, dusty berms and plenty of plunge. Spat out onto the tarmac at the bottom DaveC was heard to remark it was his kind of trail; JR, unaware of this, remarked the opposite when he reached the road. Neither comment was unexpected!
A painful reclaim of altitude followed up past the cricket club and despite having reached mile 15 there was not yet any suggestion of coffee and cake.
Rejoining Jem and Simon, our party headed for Telegraph Road.
Despite being a well known trail I only really enjoy the lower reaches of Telegraph. The rest is either too pedally or just too edgy as you rattle and slide through tortuous rooty sections or haul hard uphill. So it proved today with a high work rate from me, which came to nothing when I had to back off toward the end as my rear mudguard started to rub the tyre! I spent several seconds thinking ‘shall I stop? shall I carry on?’ before deciding to f*&k it and hope for the best as the moto noise got louder and louder! I was definitely rather battered at the end of the trail.
JR and James headed for home at this point so with our group depleted we headed up the Hill again with Barrie’s a vague destination. Before we got there we thundered down a very steppy and rattly I should Coco, fast and fun but all the hammering was starting to make itself felt with this rider. It will be interesting once my Five is back on the trails. It’s not that I think I will go faster (my current pace is fine), it’s just I hope to find things less of an effort.
Barrie’s was a blast from start to finish, particularly because – unspoken but very much expected – there was coffee at the end of it. I did slow up momentarily on finding a mole-clad rider sprawled in the dirt in front of me on the first berms before I realised it was Jem taking photos, but after that it was go, go, go! There was no chance of catching DaveC on his Gyro but plenty of fun trying!
19 miles before coffee and cheese straws. I’ve never been so badly treated, while at the same time enjoying my morning’s ride. I made sure to savour every minute of our rest stop at Peaslake while at the same time appreciating the remarkable flexibility that some road riders have… plus I knew that the return journey was going to be tough despite people throwing the word ‘slow’ around rather too freely.
Imagine my disappointment as we set off (minus Karl and Al now) when Kev suddenly seemed to hit overdrive on the Tunnel of Love bridleway down to Abinger village. I was really struggling to keep up and suspect the pork and leek slice Kev had consumed at Peaslake had hit the spot for him.
The return journey was pretty straightforward but unchallenging it was not. Richard was showing signs of wear as the climbs kicked in, compounded by the cruel effort of climbing White Down. It was basically lunchtime at this stage with the heat bouncing off the chalk surface as we winched painfully up the hill we’d raced down a couple of hours or so earlier. Very painful, but at least we were knocking off the big ticket stuff.
The final knock came as we clambered up Yew Trees with Richard suffering a bout of cramp. I was well aware of the climb myself but had only the pain of the climb to contend with. By now it was something like 27 miles, 17° and 4+ hours of fairly intense riding, so to finally roll back into the Bockett’s car park and shortly after to get home with 30 miles on the clock felt like something of an achievement.
Looks like this weather will be around for a while too; can’t be bad…
Some additional pictures of our Holmbury marathon are on Flickr.