It never rains when I have my MudXs on my bike. Well, that truism lasted all of 8 days before they got their first proper test in the Surrey clay on a cross country run to Reigate and back. They gave a pretty good account of themselves too.
That aside, having managed to avoid the chap for months, we once again bumped into PIJ as we rode ‘his’ route to Gatton Park and Reigate, via Walton Heath.
Meeting at Bockett’s as usual we had Ray, Keith, Barrie, PaulM, DaveW and myself, just the six of us today as DaveC remains unwell – must be catching! – and some of the others had Swinley on their mind. Barrie didn’t fancy Leith, we did Newlands last week, so Reigate it was!
The rain was never far away today although to be fair it was disappointing more than anything else after Saturday’s perfect blue sky weather but at least it was mild, as long as we were moving. It was soon obvious that the dry trails of Wednesday have given way to winter mud – if not slop – as we headed for the Alsation climb.
My fitness is improving rapidly but I’m still no where near the form I had last summer and climbing Alsation hurt, with a sprightly DaveW and Barrie up front and Ray ahead of me too. Half way up we met Lloyd and his mate, both nursing hangovers and clearly suffering. After trailing us to Tyrells Wood they left us behind, obviously preferring to die alone! They were headed to Reigate too.
We pressed on, skirting Headley and heading down the long run toward the Epsom Downs under the motorway. My bike continues to feel fantastic after its’ recent wheel and tyre upgrades, money well spent in my view. Passing under the motorway we passed a runner who had paused for us and I’m pretty sure it was my old PE teacher, Mr Mitchell. I guess I should have stopped and said hello but suspect he wouldn’t have had a clue who I was!
Onward up the long drag to the road, once again Barrie and Keith had pulled away but we had DaveW, Ray and myself in a train, all of us suffering as we put the hammer down. With no wish to back off it was a relief to finally reach the road for a breather, waiting while Paul caught us on his demo Ibis Mojo that he was trying today. A lovely looking bike that clearly wasn’t designed for a Surrey winter.
Heading onto Walton Heath we managed to get a little off track and were surprised to see Lloyd and his mate again making steady progress as we regained the correct path – clearly they had not been too far behind us. We split from them again at the golf course where our lack of GPS was showing as Barrie and I tried to force fuzzy brain cells to recall the exact route.
Fortunately, our collective memory was ‘good enough’ and we soon had everyone back on track with a few minor excursions. I picked up a hawthorn at one point and prevaricated over removing it, knowing it was a going to be a fair sized hole. When I did pull it out, there was an immediate hiss of air leaving the tyre but after rotating it so it pointed directly at the ground the latex in my tubeless set-up did it’s job. I was underway again within 20 seconds, very pleased to be running tubeless.
We soon popped out on the A217 and followed it for half a mile before crossing it and picking up the trails again. Paul remarked that the noise and rush of the road really contrasted with the peaceful surroundings we were enjoying as the normal world rushed about its business. We weren’t hanging around though it must be said, short sharp climbs interspersed with stretches of flat farmland.
I could feel the wind had picked up with a chilly blast and there was rain in the air but at the workrate we were at it wasn’t hardly a problem. Before long we’d started on the fast descent back under the motorway and down to Gatton Bottom which I think we all enjoyed as it was pretty quick.
From there it was a long drag up to the Tea Rooms. Thankfully at that stage we were oblivious to the challenge PIJ had set to see who can climb it the quickest. Regardless, it wasn’t going to be me today as Barrie, DaveW and Keith took the lead with me having to make do with fourth in the race to rendezvous with DaveC and Jem for coffee. We also caught up with Lloyd and friend again who had made it there despite their handicap.
Ray and Paul were both suffering from their tyres on the greasy climb whereas mine did perform remarkably well, seeming to find traction in the thickest mud. Throughout the ride today I found myself warming more and more to the Bontrager Mud Xs as they went about their business with the minimum of fuss, finding traction in the unlikeliest places and sliding predictably when the laws of physics took over.
At the Tea Rooms we once more bent over and let the Urban Kitchen take unseemly advantage of us, although we’re getting wise to them. I contented myself with a Snickers and coffee, getting change from £3 and next time will bring my own provisions. It’s a shame because normally we’re happy to pay for food as it means you’re supporting a local business, but when they’re taking advantage of you it wears thin. Even the attractive dog walker we got talking to felt the same.
The ride back started badly as we had all cooled quite drastically in the biting wind at the Tea Rooms. It took a long time to get some heat back, way past the Monument at the top of Colley Hill but by the time we’d ducked into the shelter of the trees on the other side of the M25 and had started on the singletrack things were better. Riding along the exposed Colley Hill you could see the rain and wind driving in the from South so the trees helped a lot.
The singletrack was quite testing as it was mainly clay and roots but it’s not hard to find an enjoyable flow through here and my trust in the MudXs continued to grow. By the time we’d slithered back onto the road I was well happy and we started to gradually crank up the pace as the six of us proved surprisingly able to maintain a consistent spin.
We flew across the golf course where I had the feeling the wind was helping us or at least wasn’t blowing full in our faces. Barrie was hampered by topping out on his singlespeed as the rest of us snicked into higher gears. By the time we reached the road no-one was cold anymore.
Back round onto Headley, the notorious stretches of thick mud proved no hindrance as long as you picked a careful gear and line. Pulling up the hill I was leading but starting to tire when PIJ and a mate came into view. The resulting chat was just what I needed at just the right time. It’s beginning to feel like a game of Where’s Wally as once you know what to look for you start to see him all the time!
Secret Singletrack presented itself next, after we parted from Barrie and I shot off down there, seeming to hit things just right as the bike with those wheels and tyres felt to sorted. I lost the front end to a sliding rip of a sound on roots as we rounded the tree by the gorse bush but just kept going without too much drama as the bike seemed to know it’s own way down the trail. I loved it.
My hopes we high for Life on Mars once we’d reached Tyrells again but alas the trail is in a poor state after a winter of use. The top half is thick with mud that’s hard to negotiate with any finesse and the off camber sections just want to throw you off the trail entirely, while the logs – easily negotiated – are there to stumble over when you’re running relatively slowly. Normally the pace is quicker and flow more obvious. It’s not until you reach the lower woods that the trail dries a little as you climb uphill and the smiles start to return but even so, today you needed a good imagination to realise why this is normally such a cheeky trail.
The last part of the journey was a blast down Alsation, friskily leaping the road crossing before reigning in our enthusiasm at the final turn with horses ahead of us. My legs had felt tired al ride but I was pleased at how they were hanging in there and by now I was feeling very comfortable despite the slowly increasingly rainfall.
The day ended with a final drag to the car park up the tarmac before we parted and headed home. I had 25 miles on the clock and we were back by midday which was a measure of how fast we’d been going in pretty heavy conditions.