Another week, another variation on the weather – so far this year we’re being spoiled. This time, after a wash out at Deepcut Barracks, followed by a cold but sunny Frensham Ponds, we got snow on Ranmore.
I’m all for variety and we can’t say this year we’ve been short-changed. For the first time this year it actually felt like winter as I opened the curtains at Mole HQ to find a thin covering – perhaps an inch – of snow on the ground. For the first time this year we also had a Surrey Hills ride planned, with a departure from Bockett’s Farm to buck our recent trend of riding elsewhere.
A quick visit to the garage before I left confirmed a wet kind of sleetiness to the air and that the snow was also pretty soggy stuff. It also felt quite chill so I had to switch to my Intrepid Gravity jacket rather than my planned Freedom gilet. This meant for much of the ride, with an extra layer between me and the outside world I felt warm, if not downright hot!
Trousers and Defrosters worked beautifully today at keeping my legs clean and my feet warm and comfy. Elsewhere, fingers felt a little cold until the circulation kicked in and got the blood moving.
We had a loose plan to head up to Ranmore and then Holmbury. This morphed into a suggestion of Newlands Corner but rather than waste too much time trying to decide we (Tony, John R, James, Elliott, Karl, Gordon, Jem and myself) set off up Crabtree toward View to a Kill. Instead of circumnavigating the field to the start of VtaK we headed along to the descent toward Chapel Farm before dog-legging back to VtaK, having picked up a fast charging Mat S at Crabtree who had just missed us at the Bockett’s rendezvous.
View to a Kill was more enjoyable than I expected although I wasn’t pushing for pace. It was a case of picking lines and correcting slides in a relatively controlled fashion. If you can stay upright in these conditions it’s quite a good workout as all those numerous micro slides and weight corrections give you a reasonable core workout. I’m hoping this will pay off at some point but in the meantime it was a bit of a giggle.
There was no shortage of the notorious Bastard Glue Mud™ as we headed for Ranmore and even John – in what I think must be a first – expressed dis-satisfaction with the prospect of climbing up past Tanners Hatch. I knew Jem and Karl were feeling under the weather but this from John made me think he too was ill. He dis-proved this theory on just about every subsequent climb today. In contrast, I just felt old as I struggled to keep tabs on most of our riders. I just couldn’t seem to generate the power required to stay in close proximity.
On Ranmore, Karl paid the price for finishing the Tanners climb after the rest of us, with a snowball greeting. This wasn’t in the same league as our mass snowball fight on Walton Heath golf course many moons ago, largely because there just wasn’t enough snow.
At this point we hatched a plan to head along the Drovers Road and take Petrol Pump down to the A25 and then to Tillings for coffee, rather than head for Holmbury. The surface was slow going and after Wire in the Blood (which Jem, John, Karl and myself avoided) we entered the morass which is Collarbone.
Oh my god! What a drag that was, clawing our way forwards and sideways along a track which essentially had no grip at all! Again, a great workout, but exhausting. The ground was essentially thick wet mud, covered in slush and was to be our constant companion for most of today’s ride. Even once we’d dispatched Short and Sweet and picked up the Drovers Road, the surface was basically just liquid in one form or another!
Finally we reached the start of Petrol Pump, which has seen some logging activity but proved to be very entertaining. As with View to a Kill, the riding was more instinctive than anything else, picking careful lines and choosing braking points with care. Whereas in the dry you can flow quite smoothly, today – and at this time of year – it’s more a case of forgetting about ultimate speed and reading the trail carefully. So if it was slower than usual, it wasn’t any less fun.
From the end of Petrol Pump it’s only a short hop to Tillings. As usual their cakes and coffee were to a high standard but the service could have been better today. I think we all appreciate that 9 muddy mountain bikers can be a bit of a problem once they step inside the cafe but I couldn’t help thinking they could have organised the order taking a bit better than just suggesting ‘have filter coffee or tea, it’s quicker’. Maybe just take a collective order to drinks and get started on that while letting us all pay individually? I hung out for cappuccino which was fine, accompanied by a large fresh, hot rock cake. Lovely!
After Tillings I just couldn’t find any energy. Once we got going I felt like my legs had been replaced with two strings of spaghetti and the short road section to Hackhurst Lane was a struggle to keep up with everyone. Once the ground turned uphill I just fell off the back of the group as everyone else seemed turbo-charged in comparison! So from there it was a case of digging in and keeping moving. At the foot of White Down John had me resigned to the long climb when he had Westcott and High Med in mind all along and while I would have given it a go, it would have been at a very sedate pace!
So as usual we resorted to High Med to get us back to Ranmore top and once again, the main group disappeared into the distance. I don’t even think they were particularly trying! Still, I got there in the end and from there we decided that Dearly Beloved would be just fine to get us back to the Polesden estate.
Dearly Beloved has a fallen tree half way down which put John on the deck, then Jem had a wild moment on the mud when he realised his brakes were sub-optimal in terms of actual braking ability, then at the very end Mat S managed a kind of tricky running dismount/pogo but somehow we all got to the bottom unscathed.
From there it was a case of hauling ourselves up through Polesden and along the heavily mudded Connicut Lane which just about finished me off. What a drag those final few miles were.
By the time I reached home the snow had all melted and the air was warm enough to encourage me to clean the bike immediately. Even after turning the hose on the lower legs of my trousers and boots, my feet emerged basically dry and had felt warm all ride, so the Defrosters passed yet another test today. All in, just under 24 miles of making it up as we went along in the snow.
More pictures of the ride are on Flickr.