Yesterday morning dawned cold, with a sharp frost on the ground – a foretaste of things to come that’s for sure. So it was back to the eternal confusion over what to wear. Summer gloves and shoes, a trusty Helly Hansen base layer and my Gore Phantom jacket covered most of the bases, plus I knew I could rely on my Kyle Strait knee pads to keep my legs warm!
Somewhat thrown by the frosty ground I donned my usual summer riding top as a mid-layer too. I didn’t need to do that.
Riding up to Bocketts I wasn’t expecting a huge turnout, with Lee, Colin, Tony, Barrie and Jem not around and Dave a doubtful. As it turned out, on arrival I was met with some 16 faces all looking toward me for a route plan. Gulp! In fact, DaveC and Jem were there after all, as were (in no particular order) Jez, Paul, Joe, PaulH, Mark, DorkingDave, Keith, Eric, Chris, Matt, Jamie, AndyC and Toby. An impressive turnout, matched only (it seemed) by the number of punctures we picked up during the course of the morning!
So, where to go? Well, I’d already been thinking about this. I fancied sticking reasonably local for a change and knew that Mark and DaveC both needed to be back at a reasonable time or have a bail out option – in Mark’s case he was playing himself in gently after a looong absence from Sunday riding, so was keen to arrive home early. Banking those brownie points and all that. That aside, we seem to have put in a lot of Leith Hill riding recently and it’s always good to have a change.
So we went round in circles instead.
Up to the saw mill we turned into Updown Wood for a quick blast along the hills above the river Mole before popping out a few hundreds yards from where we started for a sharp climb up to the radio mast. By then, puncture number one had struck PaulH which meant a short delay for the rest of us while repairs were made. We then headed down to the bridlepath that takes you across to Crabtree Lane at the Dorking end.
Despite me advising everyone not to overcook the run down past the radio mast I still managed to sail past the bridlepath leaning heavily on my front brake – brake, brake, brake! BRAKE!!; no, not going to make it. And neither did the others from what I saw! After that bit of confusion we pressed on, surfing through loads of dry leaves. This run always reminds me a bit of those New England highways in the autumn with swirls of leaves disturbed by our passing.
Puncture number two was not far away, this time Joe was the victim and spent a while sorting out whatever was wrong. The ride had already taken on a pattern of interval training punctuated by plenty of talk, not difficult with 16 riders around to chat to. Once we’d got going again it was to head back on ourselves, up the Crabtree Lane slog to the cottage and then on to pick up the footpath (sshh!) toward Polesdon. For a long time we’ve covered this in the opposite direction by it’s always more fun this way, dropping gently downward with plenty of twists and turns through the trees to pick up the steeper run down to Bagden Farm.
Out on the tarmac we turned on ourselves again, to Westhumble and the foot of Box Hill after a short delay while Matt bodged a front derailleur. At the A24 DorkingDave needed some time to sort out puncture number three (groan!) before we started on the Box Hill climb.
Having covered nearly 60 off-road miles since last Wednesday my legs were feeling it and with a mobile 16-rider traffic jam it was less easy to climb quickly. Even so I managed the climb in 7 minutes 52 seconds by my reckoning and am happy to walk away from that challenge! It hurts too much…
The reward was a date slice and large cuppa plus plenty more chatting which gave Paul time to fix puncture number four at his leisure. And very methodical he was about it too. I have to admit it’s faintly amusing to hear some of us talking about the Borden Enduro like seasoned racers, I just can’t see us ever being that keen. But, it’s another excuse for a trip somewhere different and there certainly seems to be enough interest to make it worthwhile ‘for the experience’.
Having refueled we needed to find a route back to Bockett’s and in keeping with the theme of the morning I made it as circuitous and hopefully as interesting as possible. First off we headed toward High Ashurst and took the ‘up and down’ route round the back of Headley, eventually turning up at the Headley car park where we picked up Secret Singletrack.
I led a long train through there, I hope I wasn’t holding everyone up but it’s pretty tricky finding the way as there’s still a lot of bracken around. As a kid I used to build tunnels and camps in there but I’m not so sure I’d fancy that these days with the potential for mountain bikers arriving at speed in the undergrowth! But overgrown or not, it’s becoming increasingly ridable as the season draws on.
We continued onward after de-foliaging our bikes and parted from DaveC, Mark, Jem and Jez at the Tyrells Wood ‘doggers car park’. Colin and Lee can attest to the appropriateness of that name. They headed for Alsation and a swift return to Leatherhead while our slightly more compact group headed toward Mickleham. Keith led us at speed across the gallops before we took the flinty and chalky descent down to Juniper Hall. For the first time in a long time I found my front Hope M4 pumping up at the foot of the descent so maybe I need to bleed them? Or I don’t normally work them hard enough?
Here we had the opportunity of another pause as Matt had punctured coming down the hill. DorkingDave headed for, er Dorking while the rest of us continued on to Norbury Park once Matt had fixed our fifth puncture of the ride. Faced with a mainly tarmac grind up the hill to Norbury House I got chatting to AndyC which helped pass the time. I hate this climb having bonked a good few times up here riding home from work.
Near home now, we retraced our route through Updown Wood to pick up the final rooty descent (Infestation) past Bockett’s Farm. I was starting to wonder if I had punctured too but think my tubeless front tyre was just a bit low on pressure as I hammered down there. Andy congratulated me on my gnarly line choice as he followed on his Inbred but to be honest I was just grateful for the Revelation forks and Orange Five combo!
A final run through the trees, up to the car park and it was a 12:00 finish, not bad for 22 miles which I had racked up by the time I’d ridden back to my house considering we’d sacrificed at least half an hour for punctures. I just hope that wasn’t the start of a trend with all those landowners due to start their hedge trimming over the next few months. Great ride and we probably only strayed five miles in any direction from our departure point. Just shows what you can cram in.