With steady rain over the past week, our ride on Wednesday showed us just how bad the Ranmore side of the Hills have become. With clay and chalk everywhere, there are always times during the year when Leith and Holmbury are a better bet. This was one of those times.
Not that it wasn’t fun. It was plenty of fun as four of us headed out in a warm, dry evening. It was just the riding surface was wet but boy, was it wet! D’Andy, Ray, Jez and myself headed up Crabtree Lane and through Wiggly Wood which was taken slowly with plenty of sideways rear wheel action. It was a job to move forward but relatively easy compared to later on.
We slithered through the wood and on down toward the Polesdon estate, with both ends of my bike flapping. Or maybe it was the rider? I couldn’t tell if it was just my shock pressures needed some attention but the bike certainly didn’t want to go in the right direction.
Picking up the Tanners climb we found more sapping mud where normally you’d expect a reasonably hard flinty surface. I was trying to keep the heart rate and speed in check given a week of high activity for me so climbing up from Tanners was a slowly taken crawl. As the gradient lessened I could gradually start to catch the others in front, but Ray was ahead almost to the end.
After Jez had ‘adjusted’ his Lupine battery – and we felt cool again! – we started down Badger Run and onto Collarbone. It was a swamp! Actually I quite enjoyed myself, slipping and sliding along the wheel tracks and over high roots, trying to take the bends in straight lines. But there was no question it was brutal effort.
Once we’d reached White Down we turned toward the Abba Zabba area, splashing through a never ending stream of puddles and mud. You just had to relax and let the bike do its thing, keeping plenty in hand as it wasn’t the night for 10/10ths riding.
Passing the reservoir, the North Downs Way to the Drovers Road beckoned, but you really had to know where the grip was likely to be and pick lines around the main path, floating over sections that were particularly bad with a burst of speed and a lot of luck. By now I was finding my rythmn and starting to get that feeling of satisfaction from just being out on a night when it was easy to stay at home.
The Drovers Road offered a mile or so of respite and I upped the pace here, finding the firm surface made spinning along almost effortless in comparison to the quagmire earlier. But it wasn’t long before it was back into the mud as we tortuously hauled ourselves up to the start of the descent to Horsley.
This is known for being bad in the winter thanks to the horses (it’s a bridleway after all) but tonight we were nearly at a standstill trying to make headway along the level top section round the field.
As the trail started downward I resigned myself to pedalling all the way and really that was pretty much the case. Speed gradually built up, only to be scrubbed off again by sudden and unpredictable patches of root and mud. It was hilarious really and I was feeling a bit manic at what we were doing. By the time we reached the A246 we were all of us pretty excited at what had been a rapid descent for the conditions.
We crossed onto Dirtham Lane thinking our troubles were over but the final third was to be more arduous than expected. The lane was quite draggy with yet more mud but when we turned toward Effingham (on what is usually a fast track) another problem presented itself. None of us had eye protection and all of us were getting a face full of mud thanks to our increased speed.
I had to back off heavily just to clear my vision and I was leading. At least the water would have softened the bumpy field though, right? Wrong! This unique surface – a half mile washboard – had also acquired the unusual combination of being both bumpy and underwater at the same time. The result was another painful pedal mash in clay that threatened to suck you down forever into the depths if you stopped even briefly. We kept going, but only by a miracle.
So by now we were both very wet and very muddy. Picking up the trail across Bookham Common had more delights for us, a slurry of mud from recent woodland management was augmented by some epic puddles. At one point I had to stop behind Jez and got attacked by the swamp monster as my front wheel was simply stuck in the mud. I think the bike could have stood up on its own.
Eventually the trail improved as we found higher ground, only to encounter a plague of frogs near the ponds. Hundreds of them, all frisked up and ready for spring time action. We were forced to carefully pick our way round them. I couldn’t help thinking this would make a great mobile app called Randy Frogs who, for an unexplained reason, had to block the progress of track-standing bike riders!
Returning home, it was a hose me and the bike evening. My poor Orange Five was in a sorry state and by the time I’d sorted that out I was quite surprised to see my face appeared to have been shot by a blunderbus of mud from the evening’s ride.
It was brilliant!