If someone were to be keeping a weather journal then their entry for any given day in the past two weeks or so would be very likely to read ‘weather continues dry’. Which is how things were today; as autumn progresses we find ourselves under the Great High of 2014 – which is not some passing reference to the Wednesday Weed but instead a recognition that we have a metaphorical weather umbrella over us keeping off all the rain. So far.
This all added up to an opportunity to take our pick of routes and trails this weekend. It was very tempting to once again indulge in the Bongos and a bit of Wonderland and Petrol Pump, but instead we headed toward Holmbury for a change, not having ridden over there for a few weeks.
Arriving at the car park we found a couple of new riders, each realising that if you’re going to try us out then today was a great day to do so. Paul was planning to head out with Lloyd at 9 for a steady run while Mark was joining Dave, newKarl, Elliott, DaveW, JohnR, PaulM and myself for the Holmbury run.
Regular riders will be surprised to note PaulM’s appearance. I think this is probably his second ride with us of the year but pretty soon it was clear what he’d been up to. He’s emigrating to Australia in November, so this was likely to be one of his last rides with us. We wish you all the best Paul and hopefully we’ll catch up before you go for good.
Our initial route took us up to Polesdon and then down Hogden Lane, chucking up clouds of dust for those at the back before turning up Pamplona and then on to Yew Trees for the drag to Ranmore. Nothing unusual and I was more than happy to trundle along in others’ wake.
Up on Ranmore we headed for the top section of Wire in the Blood which was running nicely, a bit more speed over the log seemed to help, and soon we were trundling along Badger Run and Collarbone toward White Down. Rather than head straight down we turned up to Trouble in Paradise (where Dave surprised me by tackling the big log without too much trouble) and then over to Abba Zabba
Abba Zabba felt fantastic today; maybe it was being able to ride it in the dry, on a rattle-free Five with tyre pressures than felt spot on (although a recent forum thread shows I have no idea what their pressure actually is!). Colin’s advice – a bit less at the front, a bit more at the back seems to make sense. The flow was perfect, round the twisty chicken run, over to Blind Terror, down the massive drop and then up and round to the roll-in to the road before switching to the lower half, over the rooty top section, then round to tackle the easier line, a nice bit of air over the jump at the bottom and down to the road. Everyone enjoyed that.
After re-grouping it was off across the Abinger Roughs, my legs finally starting to feel warmed up despite a saddle that was set to compromise height for the day (I couldn’t be bothered to keep adjusting it today). Quickly dispatching the sharp climb in the middle (while Strava was looking the other way), we managed to co-ordinate gate opening to perfection to ensure we kept rolling down to the A25.
Paddington Farm was the usual necessary evil up to the Volunteer pub but we made the best of it, trying to work out which trails to incorporate into our ride. First up was Au naturel (naturally), which meant a short climb and ride across the bottom of Telegraph to reach it. As it’s name suggests, it’s a very natural feeling trail, the top quite open and flowy, partially obscured by the bracken, then the second section getting increasingly tricky (read: steep and rooty) as it drops you down to car park number 9. I enjoyed this very much but would be a lot less enthusiastic if it were damp!
We were pretty much back at the bottom of the hill we had recently started, so the only way was up. John would normally at this point disappear into the distance but we nudged him to the right to pick up the track that parallels the fire road and Telegraph and settled in for ten minutes of climbing at a steady pace, which brought us past the end of Yoghurt Pots and eventually to the top of the Hill. Being a completest I would have liked to visit the trig point but instead Dave got his camera out and him and Karl filmed us on their Go Pros down Yoghurt Pots.
Now, Ratboy we ain’t but it was a nice brisk run down despite the Go Pro making us look much slower. I was within a couple of seconds of a PR although I can’t work out how as it felt really steady and Dave’s time was wildly different so I’ll take it all with a pinch of salt. At least I have video evidence or air time at a couple of points, including off the rock hump on the top section and have realised that I probably put too much input through the steering.
Without wishing to waste too much time we set off for Crackpipe, aiming to keep the flow going. This sweet little trail has suffered a summer of hard use, and it was showing, as it is quite badly eroded in places. I struggled manfully to keep in touch of Dave as he still had his camera running but very nearly ended up deep in the bushes as he pulled away on the loose turns.
Another climb beckoned (I managed 3100 feet of climbing today, over 28 miles), this time up past the cricket ground and back up past Yoghurt Pots. Our aim was what Strava variously calls Jackie Brown or Jesses Trail or Peter Rabbit and it’s one we done a few times. It’s fast, rather twisty and has the odd section that sports exposed roots to keep to honest. Another one that gives it’s best in these conditions as a bit of rain will rapidly slow you down. Today was as good as I’ve ridden it; I put some of that down to a lot of recent mileage starting to pay off as many of these trails are long enough to tip the balance from bike handling to fitness as the ride goes on. We’d certainly been either climbing hard or ragging hard from our first moments on the hill today.
By now, coffee and cake were uppermost in our minds and Barrie was happy to oblige. I followed DaveW, DaveC and Elliott, with Karl behind me in a closely matched quintet. My own riding was a bit pants but Elliott was making things look impressively easy while DaveW was held up behind another rider. 26 inch wheels clearly are not dead but it did feel a bit frenetic chasing three 29ers down this awesome trail.
The cake stop was very much needed, giving us the chance to catch our breath and look at some of the other bike exotica on casual display, including arather nice Surly Krampus with it’s 29+ tyres on Rabbit rims. Strangely, on this they looked quite normal whereas on Dandy’s singlespeed the Knards look enormous.
Under way again, we’d peaked in terms of technical trails although the run down to the A25 via the bridlepath was impressively loose and wayward at the bottom. We might have been going a bit fast! Pretty soon we were onto Abinger Roughs again and planning a High Med/Golden Nugget return when we found ourselves swarmed by a huge gaggle of runners on the Bachus half and full Marathon. Rather irrelevantly, this appears to be how an awful lot of attractive, young, female athletes spend their time, as well as other runners both male and female for whom the glow of youth is a fading memory. None of them showed us even the slightest interest in acknowledging our presence or encouragement which seemed a bit mean spirited. I know it was hard work, but if you can talk among yourselves you can say hi to people passing you after all.
In the face of the tide of runners, we opted for the White Down climb instead of battling against the flow heading toward High Med. This meant a half mile of so of dodging round runners but it wasn’t too bad. Then it was on to the climb.
This is normally undertaken in the heat of a summer noon, with the south facing slope having soaked up the rays all morning. Today, it felt far more comfortable and I found myself in a nice groove as winched up the hill. As we neared the top we discovered Lloyd and Paul, returning from their own ride, catching the view from the top. I was surprised at how far they’d travelled given Lloyd’s convalescence but it was nice to have them join us for the final leg of the ride.
This include Little Endor, a piece of singletrack I enjoyed far more this time than last, again probably helped by familiarity and the conditions. It’s not exactly flowy as there’s much undergrowth to negotiate and the way is not always clear but it is a welcome bit of trail diversity for this late in to a ride.
All that was left was a run down Yew Trees, the slog up the other side and then back to Bockett’s Farm, shedding riders along the way. As usual, a great way to spend Sunday morning.