A Bank Holiday ride and typically it seemed as though Bank Holiday weather would be served up after a damp Saturday. Fortunately, just for once we got the better of the weekend after the Femoles got soaked on Saturday.
It didn’t save me from the dog house though after a late return home, but that was just unfortunate. It’s just a shame that after a fast forty minutes or so in the breakaway group I got home to find that all I’d done was make the pain start earlier! Even a full apology and admission of wrong didn’t help me overmuch!
So why were we so late? Well, to be honest I don’t know since it felt like we were on the move pretty steadily all morning and I only had 25 miles notched by the time I got home. Hardly in the epic league but some of it was quite arduous I guess.
Starting from the Bockett’s car park we had ten riders in a group that included JamesH on a weekend pass, Andrew, BiketechMark, DaveC, Keith, Paul901, Andy661, MarkW, DaveS and myself. I was once more on the singlespeed, prompted partly by the damp the day before (the tyres on the Orange are now too much of a wet-weather liability) and partly by a dodgy trigger shifter that’s stopping me getting into the big ring. I figured I might as well stick to one gear.
Unlike Wednesday’s struggle, running the singlespeed turned out to be ideal. I’ve done so many miles on it now that it’s handling is pretty much second nature and I made as much of it as I could.
First off we headed off to Yew Trees followed by the sharp climb up to Ranmore. It’s a lung-buster or as I prefer to think of it, a lung-stretcher and so we were strung out along the Ranmore climb. I was quite happy to spin along and talk to whoever was in reach rather than put in too much early effort.
Our regroup at the top lead next on to the Land Rover descent down to Westcott, with a few of our group tackling it for the first time. Not for the faint hearted and despite my picking my way carefully over the rooty steps I found it surprisingly low on grip and ended up chucking the bike into the gulleys and riding them out.
Everyone made it down in one piece with some of us preferring to play the long game rather than crash and burn, a sensible choice. Just how tricky the damp chalk could be was soon demonstrated by DaveC’s over-the-bars dive as we headed down to the railway line as the over grown chalk gulley bit him back. Fortunately without significant injury but it was a useful reminder that rain on top of recent dust can make things quite unpredictable.
We were soon underway again though, and headed for the Rookery climb which despite it’s steepness is quite do-able even on a singlespeed. I prefer to take the early approach quite easy though! At the top I was pleased to see the group was holding together quite well, Andy661 in particular doing much better now he’s got a few miles under his belt and a shiny new Whyte E-120 XT.
Another (unrelated) group arriving gave us the prompt to push on up Wolverns Lane. It’s combination of singletrack, small technical sections and flowing speed is one that suits me rather well and I agree with BiketechMark that it’s one of the few trails that’s just as much fun up as well as down. Having the Inbred and an ideal gear for the trail helps hugely though.
PaulB took a bit of a tumble at one point, necessitating a brief bit of brake tinkering from Dave while we chatted to some guys who’d be on an all-nighter on the hills but after that we got back in the groove and headed up to the bombholes past Summer Lightning which brought us inevitably to the top of Deliverance.
Now, despite feeling comfortable on the Inbred I always give this one a lot of respect and was hesitating at the top when James decided to go for it. This was sufficient to tempt me into a cautious descent down what is one of the biggest and baddest descents on the Surrey Hills. I know there’s more technical stuff but this one’s a challenge requiring a careful approach speed followed by smooth braking. And when you’re on it, you have to commit, there’s no bailout option. I was pleased to get to the bottom without anyone seeing my contorted grimace!
The bike felt good.
We continued up to the Tower, I thoroughly enjoyed the approach trails and gulleys at speed, as well as the big—nameless so far—roll-in at the bottom of the climb but was disappointed not the clean the climb. Tiring legs, an increasingly wayward line and a misplaced root put paid to that. Even so, Keith and MarkW (amongst others I think) were able to make it look easier than I did.
A couple of medicinal Eccles cakes and and cup of coffee at the Tower and then it was off to do some exploring. Maybe this is where our time started to ebb away or maybe we’d been setting a slower pace than I thought. It didn’t feel it though.
MarkW took over to guide us toward Windy Willow and a side of Leith Hill we don’t often get to (I’ve no idea why). What a great complex of trails, some fast and flowing, others more technical in nature that had us testing our slow-speed balance and manouvering. The trails were in great nick, slightly damp from the previous day—meaning a bit of caution on roots—but overall the classic pine scented Leith loam you’d expect. Marvellous stuff!
After a lot of fun we arrived on the long drag to the Tower we sometimes take but rather than opt to head straight down, which would have given us a miserable climb anyway, we crossed over to climb back up toward the bombhole area along a tricky, rocky, nasty little climb.
The initial forty yards or so was probably the worst, accounting for several riders who were caught out by the unfamiliar terrain causing them to stall. JamesH suffered a broken chain but it sounded like a lot of other riders were putting their drivetrains through hell.
DaveC shot up at high speed on his Scandal and I was pleased to get the singlespeed up without mishap, a combination of luck, core strength and ‘bike shagging’ getting me over the steepest rock step. I’ve always thought of the technique, so difficult to describe, as being like rowing a bike up and over stuff so bike shagging was a new one to me!
This wasn’t the end of the climb though as with a good view of the Tower in the distance the rocky road seemed to surprise us with extra turns and calls for extra spurts of effort but the worst was over. I think this is more fun in the other direction and recall riding it in the past.
Soon we were back near the bombholes and Summer Lightning. I followed MarkW for much of this and despite me giving it a good go he promptly disappeared into the distance. Pausing for a few moments for everyone to catch up after the first section we then blasted down the second and final stages in quick succession, I could hear Dave having fun behind me but had no time to investigate.
Overall it was a fast run despite a few moments with my weight in the wrong place and I wasn’t too far behind MarkW without feeling I was holding anyone up. In fact it felt like I had the trail to myself. By the time I pulled alongside Mark though my pulse was saying 174 and I was knackered! In fact, I think we all were as with little rest we got underway again.
To be honest I think this is the only way to ride Summer Lightning and Wolverns that follows, just string it together for best effect. I grabbed an energy gel at one point but we all just cracked on, trying to keep the flow going, grabbing the small jumps as they came up.
At one point I thought I’d over done it as my bike landed very tail heavy off my favourite log but I’d rather than than nose-heavy! The final crescendo as we arrived at the top of the Rookery was a hoot. Rebas, Elixirs and an Inbred felt just great!
Retracing our earlier wheel tracks down the Rookery we decided the High Mediterranean trackway was our best bet for home with time getting on. I think we were all starting to flag as the surprisingly warm midday sun took it’s effect. A breakway group formed up with everyone’s agreement consisting of those who were definitely in trouble already while the others followed on, so it was time to start spinning.
What followed was a pretty intense workout as we put in a solid pace up the hill that continued unabated when up on Ranmore. The tarmac did me no favours on my single gear and it was all I could do to keep up but I was happy enough as the inclines had a shortening effect on the gap.
Even so, despite slowing for horses and walkers by the time we’d hit the Polesden road I was off the back of the group (a brief chat to one of my son’s school friends didn’t help) and the final run down Admiral’s track had me hanging in the saddle.
I think overall this was one of my best rides of recent weeks. It had some challenges, the bike felt hard-wired into my brain, I did Deliverance, Windy Willow was a blast and I had a decent workout at the end. It’s just a shame for my weekend that estimated arrival times can be a bit unreliable!