I’ve been a busy bee these past few weeks as the real world has interupted my writing. Not riding you understand, I’ve managed a fair bit of that, but finding time to write up the experience has been a bit of a struggle.
It’s time to change that.
This week has been a balmy one (or barmey, depending on your viewpoint), with lots of site related stuff going on that our readers fortunately don’t have to see. So with 25° weather on Wednesday it was always likely there would be a crowd of riders eager to get on the trails.
A few requests on the forum soon threw up a likely route, with High Alpine, Bat Out of Hell and China Pig featuring; the question was how to fit it in. At the garage we had Tony, Darren, Amanda, D’Andy, DaveC, Adam, JohnR, Tommo, Ray, MattHS, Big Al, MarkyMark, Danny and myself making a 14-strong group. The surprising thing was how few were actually from Bookham.
After a bit of route planning we set off, with Darren and Amanda steaming up the road on their tandem. DaveC was in sprightly form as we skirted the big Roaring House field which led us down toward Denbies where we picked up the singletrack alongside the bridlepath. Dave’s Kona Big Unit led the way at a good old lick down to the start of the Infestation climb.
I’ve been having shifting grief with my bike for ages, not helped by loads of creaking from the frame despite having changed the pivot bearings, crankset, BB bearings and having serviced the Fox air shock too. Nothing seems to be working but the upshot is a bit of mechanical distraction on the climbs.
I rode a good third of the way up in the big ring without realising before adjusting myself to a more suitable gear as the warm evening – rapidly darkening – made itself felt. We charged on with a few of us wondering about the pace I think round the Updown Wood loop and then down to the A24 via the radio mast descent. MarkyMark pulled up, needing to fettle his Stumpjumper’s Brain shock but it wasn’t too long before we all managed to regroup by the road.
The brisk pace continued through Mickleham village to the start of the climb up from Juniper Hall. I felt hot but reasonably comfortable chasing a chatty Darren and Amanda up the hill at a fine pace before we grouped for the turning to High Alpine.
Adam’s curse had returned with a puncture to his Racing Ralph rear tyre which he’s now got in tubeless guise. The latex wasn’t sealing even with the help of D’Andy’s Big Boy pumpage but Tony was soon demonstrating is ever-ready state by whipping out his worm to repair the poor tyre. It’s actually quicker to repair a puncture on a tubeless tyre than a tubed one I think.
We got underway again, the short climb in front of us proving quite an effort before we picked up High Alpine. I find this trail one of those that spooks you with the sharp drop to the right which is the side I tend to fall off. It’s my favoured side! You can amble along the narrow path without too much difficulty but to really attack it is another matter and Tony, Darren, Adam and co. disappeared away from my.
It’s probably the stumpy S-bend round the tree roots at the end the puts me off too, given the major stack I had down there on Dave’s Spider 29er last year. I realise now I was going far too fast but taking the bend at a sensible speed seemed really easy; perhaps the route has bedded down a bit or been tweaked?
Tony managed to break his chain for at least the second time this year, once again on a downhill, which meant a further short period of fettling was called for. Facing us after that was the notorious C1-rated High Ashurst climb, one of my least favourite round here. It’s just one of those I don’t think you can expect to clean every time and so it proved with a litter of riders left pushing up the trail.
My approach was not too bad and with DaveC fortunately getting out of my way over the first rooty step I started to think I’d do it, only to come up against Matt and Tommo struggling through the final – and bigger – step round the corner. Maybe if I’d wound my forks down instead of leaving them at 150mm I might have had a chance of picking an avoiding line but as it was a brief dab was required…
Next on the agenda was Bat Out of Hell down to Brockham, another bit of trail that needs a bit of respect (just ask DaveS). Adam’s curse struck for the second time as he turned onto the North Downs Way, with his front tyre rolling off the rim momentarily and burping sealant out, requiring a stop for air while the rest of us pressed.
I had Danny behind me all the way down which I felt I was doing pretty well on but it was clear Danny could have picked up the pace. I had a hoot, discovering the combo of a MudX on the front and an Aspen on the rear worked quite well, apart from the odd time when the back end briefly broke traction. Getting the chance to string the whole descent together into one long run was fantastic though.
Soon it was time to climb back up, passing through the cow-pat littered Minefield which was so massively strewn with mess that I was reminded of the SDW again. It was unavoidable that all our bikes picked up a stinking reminder of the ride.
Eventually we all reached the top and started down China Pig. I waited a while at the top to let some of the other riders head off before starting myself. It’s such a tricky top section with all those off-camber turns that I was quite cautious, not wanting to run out of brakes or front end grip but once pas that I soon got into the groove, hauling first Tommo, then D’Andy and finally catching Matt in the final section. A superb run where I had a benefit of a bit more familiarity with the trail than some of the others I caught.
From the bottom of China Pig it was quite straightforward for us to retrace our tracks from earlier, up to Norbury House and then on round the Givons Grove loop to pick up Infestation, this time taken in the ‘correct’ direction.
It was a good chance to remind myself why my Five gets used so much with all those roots to contend with, as well as a branch in the face at the point I hit the gnarliest section.
Back at the cars it was just 15 miles on the clock (17.5 for me door-to-door) but what an intense evening of riding it was.