So it was Hallowe’en. A night with witches abroad and ghoulish happenings, at least in our household. But first, a daytime ride to Leith Hill in devilish conditions as the rain seemed to have settled in earnest, warning us of the winter to come.
It was busy at Bockett’s this morning, in contrast to last week’s tumbleweed. I think I have everyone when I say the group consisted of BiketechMark, Paul, Darren, Amanda, Adam, KevinS, Les, Tony, Rob, JohnR and DaveW. We also happened to see Darryl and his mates who passed as we left the car park.
I was riding my old skool Marin Muirwoods since my Orange and Inbred are both awaiting parts or need attention. The Muirwoods was obviously going to be a compromise with it’s V-brakes in this weather but I was keen to see how it behaved up against more modern machines.
Paul and Mark offered to show us a different route up to Leith Hill so we first headed round the big field and up the off-road Crabtree Lane before turning right toward the footpath over to the Chapel Farm descent.
There was plenty of mud everywhere as we slithered along the singletrack and I was happy to bring up the rear and give the descent on wet chalk plenty of respect. The problem with V-brakes in this weather of course is that they don’t grip until the rim has dried out from the friction, at which point they suddenly grab the wheel. Best not to get too carried away in the first place…
Crossing the road we climbed up Dearly Beloved, the narrow gulley causing several of us to grind to a halt searching for traction. After making the turn it was then a case of digging in to slowly winch your way to the top of the climb, with my legs suffering from covering 111 off-road miles from last Sunday to today.
From the Church we took the road to the top of Macpherson’s and headed down to the railway, embarrassingly causing another rider to abandon his climb up the top section as 12 of use barrelled down! Sorry about that.
I treated this descent with plenty of caution too, the top section features more wet chalk while the bottom section lures you into going too fast and pings you about quite a deal. On the whole though, I felt reasonably in control down there.
The lane took us along to the Unum building and then onto the A25 but after just a short section of tarmac we were back into the trees as we span along past the fishing lake and on up toward Leith via tortuous ‘short and sharp’ (according to Paul) climb up from the farm. We were all panting at the top.
By now the terrain was increasingly sandy, a big relief to us all except the path headed upward, ever upward. A brutal climb followed by a rest stop and another few hundred yards of climbing brought us out on the Wolvern’s Lane crossroads that we often take to return us to Westcott which was a mighty relief for my aching legs!
I have to say though that it was certainly fun to take an alternative route for a change, one that gave a bit of a workout too. We followed the lane up for a short way before a sharp right brought us down onto our usual path to Summer Lightning and the bombholes.
These conditions weren’t too bad for the Muirwoods since it was mainly climbing but from here things would get a bit more technical. The bombholes were a bit mad for me as I soon realised there was no point trying to slow down so the last one was taken at speed.
Passing Deliverance (which looked huge today) we headed to the cricket pitch with me picking a ginger line with the aim of keeping moving in the heavy terrain. Eventually, after much enjoyable meandering through the trees before and after the cricket ground we came out at the bottom of the Tower climb.
Mark and I managed to shadow each other all the way up, earning our tea break outside a Tower shrouded suitably in spooky mist today. The usual good natured conversation ended with Amanda and Darren deciding to head home via the Redlands woods while the rest of us took on a challenging Personal Hygiene. Well it was challenging for me at least as the lack of braking and rigid fork made things a bit tricky.
At the foot of the Tower climb John and Les headed home via the faster route while the rest of us looped back toward the cricket ground. At one point I was following Adam’s 5-Spot over washboard roots, having a bit of trouble controlling my bucking bronco of a bike; by now I decided that gripping the bars lightly and hoping for the best was the best option.
This came into play again on the run down to Waggledance from Deliverance. Here the steep trail, narrow line and glass-slick roots were OK once you’d accepted that any efforts to stop were futile. Best to just guide the bike down carefully dragging the brakes.
Once onto Waggledance I quite enjoyed myself as the carbon fork meant hopping the front over stuff was a piece of cake. I was happy with my pace and found Summer Lightning similarly enjoyable once I’d got the tricky top section out of the way. But it has to be said my arms and hands were getting battered.
Onto the run down toward Wolverns and then onward to the Rookery descent I had no way really of keeping up although mostly I kept everyone in sight. It was punishing, especially once on to the Rookery descent. The final third of this trail before you reach the tarmac was very, very physical for me over all the roots, rubble and bricks making me appreciate just how much work our modern suspension does.
The final few miles consisted of High Mediterranean, Ranmore and Yew Trees. All of these have plenty of gradient to climb at various stages so the workout continued. The run down toward Yew Trees from Ranmore (led by me) ended with a horse getting severely startled as I caned it over the drainage humps and before having to throw out the emergency badger for an emergency stop.
Fortunately I had enough braking left to pull up with plenty of space to spare and then warn the others and the rider took it well. Thankfully he was a decent rider – I felt quite bad about the scare and will have to slow down there in future as the trail tends to be busy and is pretty blind at that point.
Returning to the car park notched 24 miles for me in total (including to/from my house) and after notching 135 Sunday to Sunday inclusive in all this mud I certainly knew about it. Tired but not exhausted was a better result than I had expected really.
I hope everyone else enjoyed the ride as much as me. It seemed the mud was bringing out a positive attitude from everyone today.