I think you need to go back to about 2011 for a Christmas ride before Christmas, back to a time when the majority of us rode round on tiny 26 inch wheels. How times have changed, as The Prof turned up today with an e-Yeti.
Today’s ride had pretty much everything – drying trails (or at least dry-ish), fine weather with even a little sunshine, pub stops, a very decent lunch and a variation of our familiar Reverse Newlands route that actually went to Newlands for a change.
Unfortunately, despite organising the whole of today (with the possible exception of the weather and trail conditions) our ride lacked a key ingredient – Lloyd!
Tubercular lungs finally managed to do what the trees on Friday’s night ride hadn’t, and Lloyd was off the morning start sheet, confined to his burrow. A bitter blow for all concerned.
That left 8 riders meeting at Bocketts Farm – MarkP (the Prof), Tony, MarkC, JR, Stuart, MarkJ, Gordon and myself. I was hoping to see Elliot, Karlos and a James or two but pre-Christmas is a busy time of year.
Riding to our traditional start point, I felt tired before we’d started. Too few miles in my legs this year is telling in my recovery times as my legs feel sore for days and my winter hardtail felt like heavy pedaling. I consoled myself with the expectation of steady progress throughout the day but it didn’t really feel that way.
I think the only person who felt they had the legs for today was the Prof – and he was on his e-bike! Excepting JR of course. The rest of us had either a lack of fitness, lack of miles or recent illness to contend with. But we all wanted beers and a decent lunch, so there was that.
Old skool route
Off we went, properly old-skool after recent logging work on the various Ranmore approaches. For now, no point to Alfred Pennyworth since the climb up Dearly Beloved is chalk porridge, similarly the Tanners Climb has been trashed and Connicut Lane. It left us with the old Yew Trees climb past Polesden Lacey.
Ever a rude awakening, it too is showing the effects of water run off with deep chalk gulleys before kicking mercilessly upward. A conversation stopper until Ranmore.
Along the way we passed a group of gravel riders (or did they pass us?!), notable for being a mixed group with a rider profile somewhat younger than us. Or at least it seemed to me. We saw them again as we headed to Badger Run which they eschewed for the alternate that was part of our original trail repertoire until we worked out how muddy it gets.
Novices have to start somewhere!
Our preference – to plug along Badger Run, then Collarbone wasn’t obviously a better choice but we still got to White Down about the same time as they did, despite their faster machines and Gordon wanting to stop to hug trees along the way.
We paused for breath while a large group of the gravelleurs passed us on a selection of desirable machinery, and added helpful suggestions on their technique. Then it was onward to Trouble in Paradise.
It’s not particularly utopian currently.
The log roll has long since been consumed by a fallen tree so we are back to routing around, then a bit further on is more windfall disrupting the original route. But it remains an enjoyable interlude before the swampy morass taking you toward the White Down road.
Crossing over, it was on to Secret Probation. It’s no easier to trail find in daylight than at night (this is all part of our regular weekday evening rides), with a carpet of coppery beech leaves everywhere. After some relatively level riding it eventually seques into a faster downhill and flowy race to the Drover’s Road.
These woods are so familiar to us after years of local riding but a favourite of the past couple of years has been Sauvage, despite a chequered reputation in my book. It rewards familiarity, flow and fitness before getting ‘quite lively’ toward the end.
Arriving near the sawmill, it was another climb back up to Ranmore, carefully calibrated by me to be ‘enough’ effort but not ‘too much’ effort as I struggled to keep pace. It was understandable, as we had a tight time schedule to stick to so when we reached the Drover’s Road again we had to choose to pass up the delights of El Duce and head straight to Petrol Pump.
Having not been out consistently on Sunday rides for a good chunk of this year I’ve managed to miss many occasions to ride Petrol Pump but it remains one of my favourite trails.
Long, fast in places, alternating between technical and flow sections and (usually) with an anticipated coffee stop at the bottom its a real treat. Today was no exception. Well, except we went to the pub instead!
Get the party started
Petrol Pump ends at the A25 close to Shere, from where it is only a few hundred yards to Gomshall Mill (or the Compasses next door if you prefer). We opted for the Mill, slightly lowering the tone for people enjoyable a morning brunch. I had a pint of the Tillingbourne Dormouse to start the days festivities.
But the clock was ticking. Our lunch booking at the Percy Arms in Chilworth was for 12 noon and it was gone 11 when we left. So it was back on the trail to Shere, then Albury and on toward Blackheath, with some tricky, technical gulley climbs to navigate along the way.
Our careful timekeeping saw us arrive just two minutes past the hour at the popular pub, for a South African themed meal of meat and few veg.
It’s almost as if our South African routeplanner had an objective in mind, which made it all the more disappointing on Lloyd’s behalf that he wasn’t able to join us.
We toasted his efforts with pints of Percy ale and in my case, a serving of Bobotie. Others opted for Bunny Chow or Trinchado but I don’t think there was a bad choice to be made.
Although its the first time I’ve seen someone order the soup of the day as a dessert…
A struggle back
The downside of a fine lunch was needing to get home. A few pints down, a large meal consumed and… St. Martha’s Hill right in front of us! Hmmmm…
Well, the only option was to start slow. And in my case, get slower!
The St. Martha’s climb is a technical challenge at the best of times. At least today we weren’t struggling with a blazing sun on our backs but I had no wish to see my Bobotie again. So I carefully metered my effort and actually made it up with just the one dab despite sharing the climb with descending walkers and fellow Moles.
I assumed at that point it would be just the usual grindy tarmac winch to the back of Newlands. But I assumed wrongly.
JR by now had assumed the mantle of group leader, a role I am ever-willing to forsake.
But with the proximity of climbs I was quickly reminded that at times my lack of input can cost dearly. Thus we found that instead of the tarmac climb – unpleasant in itself – we were gently guided over to Water Lane and the long slog up to Newlands Corner.
Climbing to Newlands
This climb is a long, unambiguous grind.
An extended approach leads to a road littered with debris and flotsam from further up the hill, invariably a steady stream of water, surprising potholes and, once you reach the kick of the middle third, a steep bottom gear slog round deep chalky rain gulleys. After that it is plain sailing so long as you are prepared to keep turning your legs at close to your maximum effort for another quarter of a mile.
Still feeling the effects of lunch and beer, I was in self preservation mode. Had I been close enough I suspect I’d have heard the Prof give a little chuckle to himself as he adjusted his e-bike’s output. He had the upside of simple physics, while I suffered the downside.
For the next few miles that self preservation continued. The return leg from Newlands is an upward trend all the way from Newlands to Beggars Lane and by then my neck was hurting, my legs were sore and I was in my own circle of pain. I decided on a strategic analgesic while we waited for us all to regroup, but at least we had largely broken the back of the climbs.
JR left us at Sheepwalk Lane to get back on time, and almost immediately we headed downhill. Coincidence? I think not (!)
Back to the future
Our final route was to the Crocknorth Road, then down the long descent to Dirtham Lane at high speed once I’d inspected my rear brake and determined I was out of pads. I haven’t ridden down here for ages so it was a fitting end to the ride’s efforts.
After that it was a case of hanging on to the Queens Stage pub at Effingham. I was completely wrung out and my legs were cramping but once in the warm and armed with another pint I started to perk up while my fellow Moles visibly wilted.
I assume my painkillers had kicked in because I felt great – until leaving. The final couple of miles were hell as I struggled to keep up until belatedly guessing I was actually chasing a group led by the Prof’s e-bike. Or Tony. Same difference!
By the end of the day I had 30 miles racked up and felt I’d earned a hot bath. Next year, with luck, I’ll be stronger.
We’ve had many Christmas rides over the years and its easy to get nostalgic looking back.
Riders come and riders go but are always missed for the contributions they make to the group. DaveC, Jem, Kev, Dandy, AndyK, Darren, Amanda and many more have all graced previous events but the spirit of the group – and a determination to enjoy riding bikes in each others company – remains strong.
Long may it continue.