Today just a few hardy souls ventured onto the hills. Unbeknown to us, a splinter group were enjoying the trails over at Tunnel Hill, leaving just four of us to head out from Bockett’s Farm with no inkling where everyone else was.
It turned out that we were the classicly polite English set of gents. Whilst this enabled perfect harmony on the ride, it meant that making a decision was rather circumspect. JohnR, JamesS, Elliott and myself were so affable that any suggestion of where to go was met with ‘I don’t mind’ or ‘if you like’ or some such equivocation. It’s a wonder we managed to get anywhere at all!
Somehow, we hatched a plan to head over to Leith Hill, via a typically circumspect route to View to a Kill that involved heading to the house at the top of Crabtree Lane, taking the footpath back toward the downhill section from Wiggly Wood to the Farm, then turning back to VtaK at the crossroads. Circuitous, and I can’t think who’s idea it was…
Actually, it was a nice preamble. As we started on that downhill section, I noticed a new trail heading off to the left which is probably worth us exploring in the future as it appears to pop out after the uphill slog to VtaK. It also – possibly – cuts straight over the track and disappears down the hillside.
We pressed on to VtaK with conditions best described as ‘slick’.I went first to get some pics but as I got going again once everyone passed I managed to drop my chain at both ends on my singlespeed, which took ages to get back on. Somehow my chain tensioners have shifted unde the significant loads I subject the rear wheel to and the change now appears to be significantly slacker than ideal. Or maybe it’s stretched, but for whatever reason it was flappier than a flappy thing in flappy land today. Which got frustrating.
Actually, my singlespeed is shagged. The cranks now require tensioning every few miles, forcing me to ‘whip out my tool’ at every opportunity. I suspect the BB has gone and of course there’s the chain issue. And my forks seem to lack air pressure (hope it’s not a problem other than lack of pump action). All in all, it’s amazing that I can coax so much performance from what is clearly a liability [modest smile!].
Once underway again, its was up to Ranmore via the pain of Tanners Hatch. Pain it was for me as my back protested all the way up while I watched the others pull away. I’ve suffered all year with back pain which now regularly wakes me at night. It’s not affected my riding – if you ignore the long rest periods between my weekend riding – until now, when things got far worse. In fact, today was the worst discomfort I’ve ever experienced on a bike before.
We took in a typically traction-less Wire in the Blood, having equivocated once more over the idea of Land Rover or Scouting for Boys but I’m pleased to say LandRover won and it was a hoot. For me, not high speed, but controlled, in a way I wasn’t when I first tackled it back in 2003. That time, both Dave and I (I think) were sent flying! Today, big smiles and smelly brakes (which were probably mine).
John then suggested rather than heading over the railway that we should head to Wescott by heading to the concrete road and riding under the railway. We were too polite to disagree(!), recognising a quiet need in him to increase his mileage (sorry John, can’t resist pulling your leg). Before long, we were riding up the Rookery but not before I had stopped to tighten my cranks (three full turns). Once again the other spulled away while I ground away. All the way up I was on the point of stalling but I somehow kept going with the mantra ‘it’s OK to walk, it’s OK to walk…’ on repeat in my head. I was seriously knackered a the top.
Then up Wolverns, with a brief pause for Elliott to unleash the power of woodland management on some unsuspecting branches. It was heavy going and hard work because James, John and Elliott are all faster than me. My back by now was a constant pulse of discomfort, but things were uneventful as we made our way to the Tower for coffee where me bumped into Jonesy and Nick (not the same person). Nice to say hi and have a brief chat in the murk of the day.
After a break, we headed back onto the new trail (do they call it Summer Lightning Part 1 now?). As everyone headed off I dropped my chain for the second time, requiring another long pause watched by a couple of riders with no inclination to help. Eventually moving again, we followed Elliott onto the new trails back to the Cricket Pitch, all good fun as usual but I was struggling keep up once more. We strung together a nice run all the way back to the original Summer Lightning via Waggledance, with the run into Waggledance being quite a tricky technical challenge in the slop. My back was aching more and more as I followed James.
A short regroup and then it was Summer Lightning itself where I relied on momentum and familiarity to make up for a deficit of power. On the second section I was keeping up with Elliott quite happily – to a point – when once again the chain came off. It was to come off regularly for the rest of the ride.
My back meanwhile was finally starting to really impinge on my enjoyment of the day. It was starting to ache under load but also on the downhills and I couldn’t find any way of relieving what is basically just a non-specific pain. It’s not agony by any means, but it’s enough to make you ease off or in some cases to stop altogether.
The rest of the ride for me was pretty much defined by my back. I could see I was getting slower and slower and was finding it increasingly uncomfortable. Once back in Wescott, with another couple of chain drops and a few turns on the nut to keep my crank arm on the bike, the drag up High Med was a torture. We decided to head down Dearly Beloved as the most direct route back but again, despite enjoying the trail, I was at the back and falling off the pace. When we entered the Polesden estate I took a moment or two to remount my bike and by the Stone Bridge decided to walk up the final steep rise. No shame… no shame…
When I finally rolled back out onto tarmac, I wasn’t keen to leave it. Instead, I was heading home by the shortest possible route for a hot bath and some stretching, of which I expect to do a lot more of over the coming days. John, Elliott and James also headed off on the own homeward trajectory and I can only apologise for holding them up and thank them for their patience. The bike was falling apart and so was I.
In th efinal half mile I was caught by Graeme (who we often see at Newlands) who told me he’d seen a fallen horse rider over near Walton being attended by paramedics which puts things into perspective. It turns out that one of the two MTBers close by waiting to help if the rider needed carrying was none other than MatS. It’s a small world and all that.
I’m off to lick my wounds – metaphorically of course – and wish a speedy recovery to all.