Today’s ride reminds me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Kev’s succinct appraisal of the day – as you can see in the title – pretty much says it all.
Forum discussions can be vague and wandering things. As a result, when we met up this morning some of us had one idea of where we were going and some of us had no idea. The night before, in amongst our collective commitment to get out and ride, was a suggestion from JohnR that we should head over to Holmbury after traversing the Ranmore ridge on the basis it would offer dryer conditions.
Eventually, 11 of us left the car park at Bocketts with the plan of heading to A View to a Kill with Holmbury our ultimate destination. Our ride group consisted of JohnR and JamesS (both on fat bikes), D’Andy and Karl (on various degrees of semi fat), Elliott and myself (singlespeeding 29er hardtails), DaveW, Mark and Kev on geared hardtails and finally MatS and Lloyd on full sus wagon wheelers. Quite a range of machinery then.
As I say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite a variety of ways to travel around the Surrey Hills there’s one crucial constant that comes as a prerequisite. Fitness. Not Iron Man fitness. Not even Triathlon fitness. Just the ability to crank out four hours or more of riding up and down sharp hills, occasionally heavy mud and dealing with some rough terrain along the way. It’s surprising how hard that actually is, and how easy it is to take it for granted.
I haven’t ridden on a four hour plus ride for several weeks, and certainly not since the trail conditions have become so ‘seasonal’. Nor has Kev after landing on his head a few weeks back, or Lloyd after working far too much. Some of the rest of us may have limited their riding to ‘less intense’ efforts as well. For whatever reason, today seemed to be a pretty tiring effort for most of us. There really is no substitute for saddle time.
Our first destination was View to a Kill as already mentioned which we reached by circumnavigating the big field and climbing up Crabtree Lane. We kept ourselves occupied on this notoriously gloopy section of bridleway by ducking into the parallel trail through the trees which is an enjoyable uphill weave through close standing trees. As we headed for the start of VtaK Mat managed a minor off by hitting the semi-concealed metal plate set in the ground on the corner of the field.
View to a Kill itself was a slippery beast today, and despite having sampled it on Wednesday night it proved tricky to get right today. I nearly brought disaster on myself on the final drop down to the bottom by losing my steering on the greasy downslope and narrowly avoiding a tree which leapt out at me. I had to take evasive action, necessitating passing it on my left rather than my right which meant an off-piste excursion to the bottom and a drop off to finish rather than a smooth roll. It’s possible my otherwise excellent Specialized Butcher front tyre had found it’s limits on the wet leaves and roots.
From the Polesden gatehouse lodge we crossed the wide field and dragged ourselves up the Tanners Hatch climb albeit with a pause at the Youth Hostel to catch our breath and note how warm it was. A strong wind was blowing from the West but went unnoticed in the trees with the temperature well over double figures.
Having the dubious privilege of running a singlespeed today I was forced to grind out the Tanners climb at a consistent speed no matter how tired my legs told me they were. I nearly caught Elliott on his singlespeed until he decided to put the hammer down, at which point I watched his orange/yellow Kona disappear.
After regrouping at the top, we decided to head along Collarbone toward Abba Zabba, via Wire in the Blood. First we had to get there and at this point, riding West into the wind on Ranmore Road we noticed the wind for the first time. James had a narrow escape from the ditch as a huge gust caught his fat bike wheels and moved him sideways toward the edge of the road while most of us just hunkered down and formed a peloton of slow moving MTBs.
Wire in the Blood was enjoyable, my Butcher-shod Kona able to provide a degree of security but its definitely a case at this time of year of keeping within your limits. We made good steady progress along Collarbone and even managed to bump into Lee and AndyW out on their own ride as we entered Trouble in Paradise.
So far then, it was mud and er, mud. By the time we reached Abba Zabba we were used to it and sufficiently circumspect not to attempt AZ itself. Instead, the preferred flowy line round the edge was taken and I managed to string it all together minus the Blind Terror roll in all the way down to the road. Being in possession of a Commencal Meta AM, Mat went for it in a blur of Enduro flouro and joined us at the bottom. Next, we crossed over and once again I found a smooth flow all the way to the bottom, despite traversing some rather wet and unreliable looking roots. I also discovered that my front Maxle was partially unwound at the bottom which explained the odd klunk I’d heard on the way down!
By the time we reached the Roughs, the mud was starting to give way to sand. It’s remarkable what a sudden change this is as you enter a completely different geological terrain. The Surrey Hills sit largely on the Greensand Ridge and as a result tend to drain well and stay in good riding condition whatever the weather. Of course they are heavily wooded, and all that leaf material can bog you down but generally by the time your’re on the Greensand Ridge, things are looking up. Up, too, was what was in store for us.
Another grindy singlespeed effort was required from me as we headed up to Holmbury past the farm. DaveW’s bike sounded suspiciously like it had an electric motor though if it did it appeared the batteries had run out as it whined up the climb.
After much more grinding, we finally summited Holmbury with just the stiff breeze and a lone walker there to greet us. He obliged by taking our pics surrounded by dead, dying or discarded bikes before we headed off down Yoghurt Pots. The work to make this all weather seems to have paid off and I found myself exploring the limits of travel on the Kona. It feels as though I’m a bit low on air pressure on the front fork as it bottomed with an obvious thump a couple of times.
As were anxious to find coffee and cake we headed next for Barrie Knows Best which was in awesome condition. Lovely and sandy and predictable. Unfortunately for me, my Garmin mount lost a rubber band and the subsequent flapping on the GPS meant a couple of stops to eventually remove it and put it in my pocket. Thankfully, my 510 has a retaining strap which I use but have never expected to need. It did it’s job perfectly so if you also have one, use it!
In a break from tradition I treated myself to a Pain au Raisin at Peaslake and we sat for an enjoyable 20 minutes or so in the bus stop comparing prices and shoe sizes for the Specialized Defroster boots that every sensible Mole is rocking this year.
Our return journey was just as predictable as the outward trip, along the road to Pursers Lane, getting buzzed by moronic car drivers, then down to the A25 via the long pedally cutting before riding up Hackhurst Lane and re-crossing the Roughs. I was starting to feel the effects of singlespeeding by now, despite that strong Westerly behind us. Kev eschewed the opportunity of White Down, which we had never seriously considered anyway and we headed for the long climb up High Mediterranean. At any other time, with a lively tailwind I would have put my head down and pushed myself for a PR but not today. I just focussed on a steady rhythm and got on with it.
Our final route was back in the mud, along the Ranmore Road to finish with Ricin Beans, a lovely slide-fest back to Tanners Hatch. As if to greet our return to civilisation(!) we were berated at Polesden by a self righteous walker that we largely ignored despite being sorely tempted to sympathise with a curt F&*! off!
Once back in Bookham the group elegantly dismantled itself as each of us turned off at our optimal points to get home as soon as possible. With 27 miles and 2900 feet of climbing I was happy to call it a day. My rear wheel bearings are now shot, and my crank continues to be a weakness so I need to give the bike a wipe with the Rag of Maintenance fairly soon. Shame it’s not so easy to fix myself!