Wednesday night we committed an unforgiveable sin and I’m responsible. Put simply, we managed to drop a rider – Jason – on his first official ride with us, which is none too polite is it?
So I feel the need to fess up since I was in charge of the ride and should have made more effort on shepherding duties. It wasn’t even as though Jason was slow, it’s just we put the hammer down hard in the first few miles. It broke me by the end too. Jason, I’m really, really sorry!
Meeting me at the garage were PaulM, Jason, Adam, Darren and Chris. After a winter riding big hills in New Zealand Darren was looking very well and Adam and Chris have lost none of their basic pace despite claims otherwise! I had a nice route in mind as we headed up Crabtree Lane and we were soon running quickly down toward Bockett’s Farm.
Ducking into the singletrack – well it is now after reading the latest rights of way article on Singletrack! – I immediately found a brisk rythmn through the trees, leaving dust behind me such is the condition of the trails lately. Back out onto the bridlepath, we soon ducked back right again to climb up Infestation toward Updown Wood.
I was consciously trying to keep the flow going, so despite starting to find the climb increasingly tiring we kept going for a brief breather at the top before pressing on to the Radio Mast climb in Norbury Park. I really enjoy the fast path that gives a great view down to Givons Grove and the Mole Valley at dusk but we didn’t get much time to look before we started on the short climb to the mast.
Not wanting to stop too long and with everyone basically together we shot down the hillside past a startled deer toward the A24 before turning sharp right (I’ll never get that turn right!) onto the run to the backend of Crabtree Lane, running parallel to the River Mole.
Another deer appeared along here making two in one ride which is quite unusual really. By the time we’d reached the next stop by Crabtree Lane the group was starting to spread out although still it felt like we were all in touch really. I knew we were going fast but didn’t stop to think about those all-important first impressions.
By the time we’d reached the A24 and crossed to the Box Hill side ready for my first climb up the flinty face for about 5 months I guess Jason had had enough. We disappeared up the hill with Darren, Adam and Chris disappearing far, far quicker than I managed. By the time I arrived at the top I’d clocked about 7:30 in my mind although my new Garmin thinks it was more like 9:00. I’ll admit I was pacing myself, and I didn’t pay close attention to my watch but it felt quicker than that.
So we waited. Then Paul arrived, having put in a good effort himself, and we waited a bit more. Finally, Paul headed down to find Jason who we thought had punctured, and after a few more minutes we followed him down. All the way down, with no sign of Jason at all! Either he’d had enough or he’d just not seen where we went but either way, we’d lost him. I really do blame myself because that’s not what we’re about at all. I owe you one Jason!
I didn’t really fancy the climb back up again but it must be said Paul came up with a plan even more dastardly by suggesting we try Happy Valley. So up we went, with me having no intention whatsoever of hammering it. Instead I let everyone get 50 or 100 yards on me and kept plodding. In the end I think I wasn’t so far behind but I could feel hunger and sugar pangs and had no gels with me. As I said Jason wasn’t the only one suffering from the pace.
We pushed onto the road and eventually turned downhill again onto Bat Out of Hell which was a riot. It’s so dry at the moment the chalk felt great and I led the way down with my sintered pads squealing my prescence to the others. Top stuff and after a brief pause we popped out at the bottom of Box, crossed the railway and were soon at Brockham. We traced our way along the edge of the A25 as Darren pointed out he was only a few minutes from his warm bed, before starting our third ascent of Box for the evening.
After an initial slog this turns out to be a lovely climb really with great views of Brockham far below, whether you’re riding during the day or night. The trail gradually eases off too, leaving you with a final few hundred yards of entertaining off-camber singletrack to try your best to tame before you finally spit out, gasping and panting, by the Best Western. Heaven knows what the patrons must think to see a bunch of nutters emerging from the trees!
Quickly crossing the road we headed for the highlight of the evening, China Pig and the long, long blast down the valley. I let the quicker guys go and warned Paul I’d be taking it easy as I was tiring. By the time I was three quarters down China Pig my legs were burning and my concentration going, but I held it together. It’s a real workout, one which experienced riders tend to rave about and a real hidden gem of the Hills.
Parting from Paul at Juniper Hall, the remaining four headed to Mickleham and then up through Norbury Park via the steep shortcut and then, mercifully for me, the old driveway up to the house. By now my legs had had enough and I was famished. Despite sensing that Darren and the others still had some beans left I opted for the easy way down from the sawmill and round the corner to Roaring House Farm.
The final tally from my Garmin was 18 miles (or 20 from my place) which is pretty decent for a mid-week night ride espcially after 31 miles on the road over Leith and Newdigate the night before. I’m still recovering from all that and to top it all, now have a very minor head cold. Grrr!
Once again, we don’t make a habit of dropping riders!