It is still summer isn’t it? I guess it must be since it has rained all summer and when I finally got my act in order to ride a mountain bike for a change it rained again. Heavily, and just at the start of the best descent of the evening.
So it must be summer and therefore we definitely had summer rain.
The phrase summer rain always reminds of the song Painkiller by the Turin Brakes which includes the lyric ‘cycle on your bicycle, leave all this misery behind’. How apt, even if the song is a lot darker than that simple observation.
Anyway, I had it swirling round my head as we plunged down toward Sheepleas this evening from the top of the Impossible Climb. What should have been a swooping, exhilarating descent ended up with us drenched to the skin within about thirty seconds as the heavens opened. Warm, fat raindrops quickly turned into a deluge that had us struggling to see the trail in front of us as it turned into a protracted five minute shower.
By the end of the shower, the trails had been transformed from dusty hardpack to a greasy menace which equally spoiled out next bit of fun, the singletrack from Sheepleas out to the Guildford Road.
It all started out so well; or at least, fast. Our riding group was made up of myself plus MarkyMark, DannyP, Darren, Lee and DaveC so turned out to be quite brisk with our tarmac trampers showing the benefits of sustained dark side riding. In fact, our overall pace for the evening was a moving speed of 10.9mph which was pretty impressive.
We headed through Wiggly Wood with me holding the Lantern Rouge position and finding the experience of riding the Five quite alien after my own recent spell on the road bike. It was so squidgy! Which might suggest soft fork and shock pressures now I think about it… whatever, keeping up with Dave and Lee required me to put a bit of effort in as I adjusted my riding style.
With such a nicely balanced group we kept stoppages to a minimum and soon we were on the Polesden estate, climbing up past Tanners Hatch to Ranmore. By now I was starting to get into a groove and managed to set a PB up to Ranmore but I could tell I wasn’t ‘match fit’ on the Five as Danny, Mark and Darren pulled easily away from me.
From Ranmore we headed – I’m sure you can guess – toward White Down and along Collarbone. The trails were fast and dusty as riders ahead of me kicked up dust, with familiar trails helping us know when to push and when to save a bit of energy. By the time we reached White Down it was basically time for full lights on under the trees, so much have the evenings drawn in.
In a groove, we cruised over toward Abba Zabba and picked up the North Downs Way heading West toward Guildford. Pretty soon leader Lee found his own groove, or rather his bike did, stopping abruptly as it met a deep, soft rut that pitched Lee off the bike at speed and into the bushes. Perhaps he found the bushes distracting as seconds before he’d got up close to a hairy badger… which had scampered quickly away from Lee’s charging bike.
Anyway, all this talk of grooves and ruts and bushes and badgers really helps show what Surrey has to offer doesn’t it? Not letting ourselves get put off our stroke we pushed on, steaming along the NDW with little time to pick optimum lines from the churned up and dried out doubletrack, eventually spitting out onto the Drovers Road which led us in turn to Crocknorth Road.
After a half mile on tarmac it was back into the woods for the fast and furious – if slightly wayward – descent to Honeysuckle Bottom. It was a mad thrash down the narrow ribbon of singletrack, under narrow stones bridges with wheels drifting on the loose, dry surface. I couldn’t help thinking the mud tyres on my Five were a little out of depth at the time, although I was mighty glad just a few minutes later.
First we had to scale the Impossible Climb which for a brief moment I thought we’d have to rename as I reached a new PB for me up there, finally spinning out at the last step out of the gulley with me perched right on the nose of the saddle. I was pleased with the effort and looking forward to the descent to come when the heavens opened.
Despite getting soaked to the skin, blinded by water and finding the trails had been swiftly re-loaded in their summer default ‘mud’ setting we were all in good spirits as we headed out onto the A246 at Horsley and rumbled down to Conisbee butchers to start the run back across Effingham and Bookham Commons.
With all the technical challenges behind us we settled into a brisk cross country pace with Lee spinning frantically to keep up on his singlespeed. As we rounded out the ride in Bookham with an early finish of 9:30 or so we had 18 miles notched for the evening. I really enjoyed the ride and am looking forward to some more regular mtb mileage in the next few weeks.