Finally – finally – I found some enthusiasm for cycling this weekend. It’s been a while and frankly, a lot of it has been due to the rain which for me has acted as a major demotivator over the past few weeks.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s ride wasn’t without incident, as we shall see…
The weekend started rather well, with Kev and myself getting out for a road ride out to Newdigate on Saturday morning. Recovering from a head cold and with those weeks of relative inactivity behind me I found it quite an effort to hold Kev’s wheel for 32 steady miles, not helped by a headwind which seemed to be the same no matter which direction of the compass we were riding in.
By Saturday afternoon I was exhausted rfom my efforts but still determined to get out Sunday. We had arranged a long-ish ride over to Reigate via Walton as with the expectation of a bit of mud I’d plumped for my regular 32:18 geared Inbred 26er. I wasn’t sure I was up to pushing any higher gear in any case.
I wasn’t alone in welcoming the sun like a druid at the summer solstice. The car park at Bocketts was rammed with an eventual 15 riders, including DaveC, JohnR, DaveS, BigAl, KevS, AK, Karl, Steve, Garry, a lesser-spotted Lee, PaulM, MarkW, DannyP and Jez and we set off in high spirits.
Within half a mile our fastest ever mechanical apeared thanks to DaveC’s dodgy rear skewer which was quickly persuaded back into place. Back on the bikes, and it was soon clear that those trees are sucking up the moisture at a rapid rate as the trails were – in the main – pretty firm and dry.
We blasted down to Leatherhead and then climbed up Alsation. It was quite steady, not too fast and I felt I could go a fair bit faster apart from a niggling sense that my stamina wouldn’t hold out. Kev and I were both glad of Saturday’s warm-up I’m sure as our sore legs gradually loosened up.
At the top we kept the stop as short as was fair on Steve who was to carry the lantern rouge for the day before progressing via Life on Mars, climbing it for the first time in a month or so. It was pretty slippy in places and I was concentrating so hard turning the singlespeed’s wheels (out of the saddle and grinding) that I caught a solid tree-branch with my crash helmet at little over walking pace.
It was enough to make me see a few stars as my head was snapped back, given me a nice whip-lash effect that produced an intense headache that afternoon and evening. I didn’t even see the bloody thing!
Past Headley we pushed on toward Walton, under the M25 in a big whooping pack of riders. Really we must have seemed a bit intimidating (in a gnarly middle class, middle aged kind of way!) to anybody who met us today.
By now I was starting to find the peddling easier going, mainly because with a group this big there’s always a fair few slower than you and often they are ahead of you! So I could just relax into the pack a bit which suited me after my low mileage recently.
At Walton Mark showed us a few new back alleys (yikes!) and paths that got us across the Heath nicely, including a fun little jump and bombhole area. We had a good play around but sensibly left just before the testosterone kicked in heavily and then skirted the Golf Club perimeter.
Normally from here we’d head toward Margery Wood but it’s not much fun riding up it so we instead struck out with a loose plan to get to the loop we were shown by PIJ which brings you into the back end of Gatton Park on the otherside of Reigate. The problem was we were a bit further across than usual so as we breached the A217 we needed to make a few route adjustments.
While we scratched our heads, Mick McManus (or possibly Michelle McManus) cycled past dressed as a roadie. Lycra has many qualities, most of which had been expended by the rider inside this outfit. Maybe it was all that sunshine but he was far from alone today, in fact while we camped at Headley later on some of the biggest riders I’ve ever witnessed appeared in skintight lycra to engage in a major ‘carbo-loading’ session.
Still, at least they were out with their bikes which is more than I’ve managed recently.
Our route deliberations involved perhaps riding north or perhaps riding south, a matter settled when Danny said we should head to the M25 and turn left toward Fanny Farm Shop(pe). This short tarmac stretch brought us back onto the fast descent to Gatton back under the M25.
I really enjoyed myself down there, watching Danny disappear in front of me while I went as fast as I dared. The outcome was a pinch flat for Danny and a heavy landing for me which burped a bit of air our of the tubeless set up I’m running.
Steve, myself and Danny were left to cool down at the bottom of the long (and now featureless Gatton climb) while Danny sorted himself out, with DaveC bent on holding the masses back from tea and cake at the Reigate tea room. Our plans meant a few more miles before food.
We headed on to the top of Reigate hill where I half expected us to recross the M25 for Margery Wood but instead we headed back to Headley more directly (obviously cake was high on people’s minds!).
This section of trail is one which trends nicely downhill and as the pace picked up I could resist hopping off the odd lip or bank as we sped along. This very nearly ended in trouble as we skirted the large open field. To do so requires the trail to head directly downhill, the a 90° right and along the bottom edge before another 90° right points you back up the other side.
Coming into the first downhill section I was a touch too exhuberant, jumping off a step only to find myself catching Steve very rapidly. And you can’t stop the bike when it’s in the air! A flinching Steve managed to pull aside just in time!
After hauling up some sharp inclines and negotiating the closest thing to the Somme on this part of the North Downs (that’s Green Lanes for you), we finally dragged ourselves into Headly car park where karl was kind enough to buy me a hot Eccles cake. This is a culinary delight that I highly recommend if you ever get the chance; microwaving is no good as it just goes soggy, it has has to be heated in an oven for the full effect mind.
Back on the bike after our own ‘carbo loading’ session and Secret Singletrack beckoned. I followed Karl until he disappeared in the process of setting a pretty quick time down there. I was briefly hampered slowing for a walker and lacked the gears to really push but no question Karl was a good 9 or ten seconds quicker than me today.
The fun continued with Life on Mars which I really like but this time I had to slow up with traffic in front of me. That’s the way it goes really.
All of us pushed on to the Alsation descent and had a fast blast all the way down which was when disaster struck. The half of us who reached the bottom were all buzzing from our efforts when Steve arived and said Dave had stacked it and had broken his collarbone.
A significantly slower ascent followed (compared to the one at the start of the ride) to find DaveS (not DaveC as we all supposed), nursing a painful shoulder from having the misfortune of stacking his bike just before the tarmac crossing. Fortunately there had been riders behind to help him but he was in no condition to ride.
The initial thought from Dave was it was his rotator cuff (which may still prove to be the case) but an afternoon X-ray revealed a broken collarbone, his second in as many years. Really bad luck and I hope you recover quickly Dave.
JohnR phoned Dave’s better half and the two of them made their way to the road while the rest of us – in a more subdued manner – headed the short distance home. It goes to show how quickly things can change from euphoria to disaster.
By the time we arrived back the ride was showing around 22/23 miles which had proved to be largely huge fun.
All the best to Dave and thanks to everyone for providing what assistance they could.