Do moles hibernate? Well, this one certainly has over the past few weeks to my shame. With early December starting much as November had finished (in other words very, very wet) and a fair sized mileage racked up for the year I just lost all my enthusiasm for more punishment. Throw in a recent head cold which stubbornly refused to lift and the Christmas holiday saw me manage one ride. Today’s.
But what a great day to return to the saddle. Crisp, sub-zero but with blue skies overhead and frozen mud under wheels you couldn’t hope for a better winter’s day to be riding on.
Meeting at the Holmbury YHA car park at the slightly more sociable time of 9:00 for a change were 14 riders. DaveC, Jem, Colin, Tony, AndyC, Ellie, James, Keith, Tom, DaveW, Lee, Andy661, Lee and myself which is a pretty good turnout by my reckoning. It was particularly nice to see people who for one reason or another haven’t been out recently – AndyC (with mended hand but demolished bank balance judging by his new Pace), Tony (with mended collarbone), Colin (with a finally assembled Ti 456), Lee (actually on his bike). All great to be able to wish a Happy New Year to, as well as welcoming Andy661 and Ellie to their first rides with us.
First off is the long climb up toward Holmbury Hill, a steady slog which soon had us warmed up and getting acquainted with the permafrost conditions. Rather than carry on to the summit we turned off toward the Reservoir area which proved to quite tricky with the ice-slick roots – Jem at one point in front of me nearly high-siding himself as his back wheel snapped viciously out of line.
Soon we’d re-grouped at the top of Barry Knows Best which provided me with my first opportunity to try out the newly remodelled ending. What can I say, I thought the whole run was superb as the firm conditions let you pick a line quite late round roots that you knew would be slippery. At one point I managed to get full travel off one of the jumps before the trail turned sharp left onto the new section.
There’s definitely quite an improved flow along here now rather than the previous, increasingly rooty, crash and bash along to the Waterfall. Now you have smooth berms (with one monster sweep near the end) that allows the fun to continue to the end of the trail, even if I did get stuck behind someone riding extremely slowly toward the end. I hope I didn’t startle them too much.
It’s amazing what the semi-pro Redlands/Friends of Hurtwood group are achieving with the land owners across Holmbury and Leith these days, this running on from the work on Yoghurt Pots and repairs to Summer Lightning. Despite appearances to the contrary, this stuff isn’t building itself…
Back to the ride. Passing the chance of an early cake stop we headed round the corner to Car Park Number 2 and started on a climb up Pitch Hill. For a while it seemed it was all uphill but sometimes you just need to pay your dues. We were soon turning off through the trees for a nice technical run into Car Park Number 3 at Mill Plain.
Just after this we crossed over the road and climbed round past Caution! Steep Slope—my new Heart Rate Monitor was disconcertingly showing 189bpm at this point—and then after passing the Windmill we came to Two Headed Dog. We let the group in front of us go, then it was our turn, with some choosing the ‘chicken’ run (some chicken run) and the rest the easier left hand side.
I managed to completely screw things up after DaveW had climbed back up to impressively take on the suicide right hand run. I was first down the slope Dave had climbed and only found out too late he’d managed to drag the fallen sapling onto my preferred line. This might not have been too much of a problem if my weight was in the right place but unfortunately I was a bit forward and heading off into the bushes trying to avoid the displaced tree. A complete roll over the bars soon followed!
The benefit was I found myself looking at a nice Garmin GPS unit as I picked myself up, much to the relief of the rider from the group ahead of us who just then returned to look for his lost toy. Had I not fallen we might not have found it so there’s luck for you.
Rolling again we crossed the road into Car Park Number 4 at Horseblock Hollow and headed up to the Judges Seat through proper winter wonderland woods where we again caught the other group of riders. Despite some of them making it look very easy we all decided not to take on Judges Seat challenge. I’m sure with some speed it’s relatively easy but I’m also sure that for now I don’t have the bottle to try it. Instead we headed down the rollercoaster trail to Jellies Hollow and crossed back over the road toward the bombholes.
With that behind us it was on to the optimistically named Gone in Sixty Seconds a few times then back down a very steep and technical trail that switchbacked it’s way down to the fireroad. I managed to get down but it was proper arse off the saddle contortionism for me and I nearly had another off when my shorts snagged on the back of the saddle.
By now my sense of direction had faded somewhat as we picked up the fireroad toward Christmas Pudding. I knew where I was going but don’t ask me to find it on a map! James’s tyre decided at this point it didn’t want to be as closely associated with it’s bead as it had been, necessitating a Colgate tyre boot/gaffer tape solution from Lee and Andy which saved him for the rest of the ride – just!
We darted off down Christmas Pudding and slipped between the Ladies Legs (I can’t believe I write this tosh!) to join the others and then disappeared into the always amusing Ewok Run. After an agricultural interlude tramping through the mud we crossed back over the road somewhere before following the singletrack all the way back to Peaslake. We seemed to pop out improbably quickly back at the Walking Bottom (Number 2) car park so I really must have lost my bearings.
But Peaslake meant cheese straws, flapjack and tea from the Village Stores which was very welcome as Keith went to get some new brake pads from Pedal & Spoke, the new bike shop. They fitted them for him but given the cost I’d have expected them to come in a fur-lined pouch with their own limited edition certificate of authenticity.
They must be really special pads but more likely the shop is capitalising on the fact that riders shopping there are in desperate need. Understandable but a shame given that there’s a knowledgeable audience of bikers in Peaslake who would appreciate a few deals on everyday components. With some nice bikes stocked and available for hire it could work to the shop’s advantage in the longer term.
After we refueled we were left with a climb up Radnor Lane and an ultimate destination of the Holmbury Hill summit which caused my tired legs to protest but there was no alternative. By the time we’d reached the lookout we were at least warm again and as time was pressing on we were soon heading down Yoghurt Pots.
Anyone riding Yoghurt Pots at the moment needs to take great care though. The rain of the past weeks has not been easily absorbed by the sodden trail and the sandy surface now has a slick coating of ice over the top of it causing lots of slips and falls in our group, so beware. Fortunately there was no harm done but I had to take evasive action as Jem skidded in front of me and then James binned it on the last corner.
Telegraph Road too was in a state of permafrost but was at least more predictable as we made our way back to the car park, AndyC whooping it up behind me as he put the new bike to good use. Looking at the impressive kit he’s running he’ll be busy writing reviews for a while once he’s had the chance to put some miles on it…
Talking of which I think we just about scraped 13 miles today, as ever with Holmbury it’s surprising how it always feels like more. But the real news is that everyone had a great time I think which I hope sets us up well for the coming year. Remember, the days are getting longer…