Wow, things have been busy recently. At work I’ve been pretty much heads-down for a while and at home, well, I’ve been riding my bike!
Maybe it’s the thought of Mayhem in a few months, maybe it’s the dreaded Strava effect, maybe it’s the dry weather? I don’t know, but one way or another I’ve been a bit slow getting stuff up on the website.
At least the forums have been busy, keeping regular Moles in touch. Boy do we talk some crap sometimes! But back to the riding. Over the past two weeks I’ve managed to ride on nine of the fourteen days, mixing up road and mountain bike riding. Wednesday was no exception, with a frantic off-road ride over the Surrey Hills.
Meeting at the garage were Darren, MarkyMark and Danny, plus long-time-no-see JamesH who was out with us for the first time in a while since breaking his collarbone – nothing to do with us for change either! Dan and Mark had a plan and I was happy to go along with it rather than worry about route finding for a change. The only problem was it involved Alsation early on in the ride.
First though, we headed down through Bockett’s, via the Hazels which is a short piece of fun, downhill singletrack round the back of Roaring House Farm. Spitting us out near the crossroads we turned left and dived into the woods for the fast singletrack toward Bockett’s Farm.
I was riding the Inbred snglespeed 26er again and starting to enjoy myself after finding it twitchy last week. Trying to relax a bit and not put too much energy into the steering, the singletrack was a blast as I followed James.
Already the pace was brisk as we pushed on for Thorncroft Manor and the start of the climb up to Headley via Alsation. James admitted it was hard work as he found himself unfortunately in the role of slowest rider and I have to admit he had my sympathy.
Remarkably, I was feeling good. The night before had been a fast road ride with Keith and Tony, averaging 19.7mph for 30 miles so I wasn’t expecting to feel OK at all. Instead I had the unusual experience of being held up by Darren on the Alsation climb and I stood and ground the pedals up the long slog.
Now, Darren’s ‘off’ rides are few and far between and of course it’s all relative as he had enough in reserve to dig in when he needed to but after seeing my time on Strava later I couldn’t help thinking I had the legs for a PB and could have pushed JohnR down the leaderboard. I’m quite pleased considering I had only one gear and on this occasion, no 29er advantage.
Despite all that though, hats off to Danny who set a ludicrously quick time for the climb of 4:37. He had time to put the kettle on waiting for us I at the top I think. In contrast, poor James was struggling, clearly feeling the effects of lost miles over the winter and – to his disappointment – lagging on the climb. His head was game but his body just wouldn’t let him and as we turned right and headed along the Rollercoaster he gradually dropped off our tails.
I don’t think James should feel too bad though; he caught us on a fast night I think and let’s face it we’ve all spent time at the back for one reason or another. Unfortunately, we really did drop him as we headed for the start of Alpine and despite MarkyMark retracing our steps to look for him there was no sign.
I always feel really back leaving riders behind but at least I knew James was a) perfectly competent to make his own way back and b) was probably planning to cut it short anyway we decided to press on. Back to Alpine.
Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike this trail? Well, I do. I tried hard to let it come to me this week, trying to feel the trail a bit more but even so Dan, Mark and Darren disappeared into the darkness. My god they are quick! My time turned out to be quite reasonable despite moments of feeling totally spooked by the off-camber drop to the right but Dan was light years ahead and I know the others were with him all the way. Great riding guys!
The reward, as with last week, was the C1 climb up to High Ashurst. Once again I was singlespeeding but this week I gave it a better shot.
Unfortunately, I span the rear wheel on one of the big roots on the centre section and walked for no more than ten yards before remounting and carrying on well before the last root complex at the end of the middle third. I cleaned this and ground on, once again finding Darren to be a mobile road block in front of me. Well, he was until we hit the final turn at which point he put the hammer down. All along the tarmac I struggled to keep with him and the other two as I did my best hamster impression on my 32:18.
At the Box Hill road we turned… left, for a change, heading back to Headley. After snaking round the static caravan park down the road we ducked back onto some fast singletrack before picking up a fast flat spin trail across the Heath. We really were motoring along, as we had been for most of the evening.
A short pause while Darren fixed a punctured tubeless tyre, then it was into the Headley car park. I was invited to lead through Secret Singletrack and put the hammer down, getting some of the turns absolutely spot on as Dan chased me all the way. With bits of gorse and bracken in the way I could feel myself tiring and putting more and more energy into the turns, slightly missing some apexes and being forced to slow a little for the sharp upward kick up the bank near the end of the bracken section. So I lost a very few seconds yet still set a competent pace down there.
Which puts DaveC’s stealth, KOM-scoring run down there on Thursday all the more impressive.
Next on our agenda was to get to Life on Mars, once again passing the huge Redhill/Reigate tribe of mountain bikers who seem to ride this way on Wednesday nights – we’ve seen several times recently. Talk about a big group!
Anyway LoM beckoned and this time I followed Darren who, while definitely off-key, was still faster and better than most of us could hope to be. Actually, it was a pretty brisk run and with the dry surface I really felt I could have gone faster. The first log did for Darren who pulled aside as his bike got away for him while he tried to line up the hop over, which left me in front and equally startled by the next group of trees where there seems to be a new and highish log to get over. I made it and cranked up the speed again, but was tiring as the trail turned uphill but really enjoyed that one.
Without pausing at the end we set off for Alsation, and while I caught my breath Dan and Mark piled past. I went down Alsation pretty quick with Darren close behind, but was definitely holding him up as I hit maximum velocity due to the lack of gears while Dan and Mark disappeared up ahead. Near the bottom, a long stick got wedged into my drivetrain, scary at over 20mph. I immediately backed off once I realised what had happened but Darren was shouting behind ‘it’s gone!, it’s gone!’ so it was time to get back on the gas… but I had the leg tremors when I reached the road!
Our frantic ride had just a few more miles to go as we retraced our steps back to the garage. I really, really enjoyed it and couldn’t believe I had enough energy to dig in for another fast ride after the night before.
Back at the garage, after 17 miles of excellent riding we found a recovered James with Adam who’d turned up purposely to hand over another awesome looking cake to MarkyMark for his mother’s 70th, made by Adam’s girlfriend Barbara (who made our Christmas Mole cake). It looked just as superb and I thought Mark was really rude not to offer us a slice.
Only joking, Happy Birthday Mark’s Mum!