Considering yesterday was February 29 it’s hard not to resist making some reference to it in the title. If you’re expecting us to actually have been leaping around on our bikes during this ride though, think again. Instead we took a leap of the imagination to think that we’d be able to get all the way up to Summer Lightning and back in the few hours of riding available on a night ride.
Mind you, we got close…
I was expecting a few riders to be out; 9°C, no wind and no rain for days generally being an ideal combination for North Downs riding. As it happened, MarkyMark and Dan unusually turned up a few minutes later than normal having been delayed by the aftermath of a heavy road accident on the A24 near Givons Grove. Never mind, it gave time for JohnR to arrive and meet up with myself and Gordon, along with Lee riding an impossibly clean Trek EX-8. Really, I mean it, impossibly clean!
Anyhow, we all debated what we thought was achievable tonight as Dan had suggested some ambitious options during the day. We settled on Leith Hill again as it gave us options to cut things short if necessary and off we went.
Ranmore via Pamplona
Really, riding at the moment seems to be creeping up in pace. An example was tonight with an average rolling speed of 10.1mph while taking in some long climbs. A brisk pace along Admirals track brought us up to Polesdon and had me zipping off my sleeves at the first rest stop; I was already boiling.
Rather than heading down Yew Trees we opted for Hogden Lane, which was riding fantastically on the top sections and was so dry I couldn’t see a thing from the riders in front thanks to dust – yes dust in February – being kicked up by the leaders.
After that we turned left up Pamplona toward the Ranmore climb. Gordon and myself were slightly delayed but settled into a rythmn to gradually winch ourselves back to the others, only managing to catch Lee in the process of a fast tramp up to Ranmore. Pamplona itself was just fine with the mud at the bottom being almost completely dry.
Down LandRover to Westcott
A short rest later we continued to Badger Run and then with as little delay as possible we disappeared down LandRover. I had Dan close behind me which had me worrying I was holding him up, despite me tackling the descent faster than I had the other day but he was good enough to hang back a bit.
My extra speed meant pulling up smoothly enough to navigate the fallen tree was a bit tricky but if anything the trail here is riding even better than Sunday. With five out of six of us on ‘sofas’ (as Lee called his full-sus Trek) we didn’t have to wait too long before we were underway again across the railway and on to Westcott.
Since JohnR had reminded me the other day that he goes directly through the village and up past the church to get to the Rookery I made a point of us heading this way tonight.
Up the Rookery and farewell
The benefits of John’s route is the big sandstone steps on the trail down to the start of the Rookery, making it almost worth the pain of hauling yourself up the church climb. These steps are reasonably straight forward if you have enough speed (which I did tonight) as you basically fly quite smoothly off them but I’ve tried rolling them in the past which makes them much more of a handful as it makes the back end kick a bit.
Now, rightly or wrongly the dreaded phrase ‘Strava segment’ has crept into our vocabulary of late. If you’re not familiar with Strava, it uses a iPhone/Android app or Garmin data to plot your efforts on sections of trail and tarmac versus the efforts of everyone else. So you get a ranking in relation to people you’ve never even met which is quite addictive. It’s so addictive that if you whisper the phrase ‘Strava segment’ to people like JohnR and Dan they disappear in front of you at an alarming rate.
So it was on the Rookery climb as they both flew off in front of me while I ‘chose’ to sit behind Lee and save my energy with Gordon close behind.
Having reached the top both Gordon and Lee were getting worried about the time and decided it was a suitable point to turn round and head back as we were still hoping reach Summer Lightning.
Up Wolverns Lane
After saying our farewells the rest of us pushed on up Wolverns Lane, a favourite of mine but marginally disrupted tonight with riders coming down. It’s not a big problem, just one of those things, and it didn’t take any of the enjoyment away but by the time we reached the crossroads John and I were also looking at our watches.
Round the back to Westcott
I don’t think we’d have had a problem pushing on to Summer Lightning really but it would have required a fairly direct return so instead we opted to head down to Westcott via our alternative route off the Hill which brings you into the middle of the village after some great technical bits.
First off, the section of sand I’ll call Bournemouth Beach after a comment from Mark, then the narrow few yards though birch saplings that almost completely obscure the trail before a more obvious path leads you toward the narrow gulley descent. Before this I was momentarily distracted by my first badger sighting of the year and there’s a nice lip to yomp over prior to getting into the gulley. I don’t like it but look as far ahead as possible, avoid the low hanging branches and don’t ping off the side and it’s OK!
It certainly got us buzzing, the Five felt in its element.
Dan’s Five was playing up however, his derailleur being dragged forward when free-wheeling suggesting – possibly – seized freehub beings not allowing the cassette to turn. It wasn’t a big problem, just a distraction and it didn’t seem to hold Dan back, particularly on the climbs.
I can say that with confidence really as Dan took off on High Mediterranean as we winched ourselves back up from Westcott to Ranmore. While MarkyMark, JohnR and myself ‘weren’t trying to hard’ (while I managed to set a PB up there I wasn’t really, really trying), Dan took off. His eventual time was a clear minute ahead of the rest of us, an awesome display. Don’t let anyone tell you full-sus bikes are not efficient on fast climbs.
Our efforts back in the peloton were remarkably disciplined (I really didn’t want to push hard) until the final fifty yards when John, Mark and myself all predictably speed up. That’s vanity for you…
And Then There Were Three
We were now up on Ranmore and while John took Dearly Beloved back to Bookham the final three headed – appropriately enough – for And Then There Were Three. It’s matured slightly, with someone I know (but won’t name) having quietly built up the approach to the two log rolls on the top section. It now flows much better and feels more rideable really as the back end isn’t kicked so much.
In contrast to Leith Hill’s predictable surfaces, this was a different proposition, still dry but with much more inherrent slide to the meandering trail. The downside is a few braking bumps creeping in. Mark was leading and appeared blinded somewhat by Dan’s ultra bright Four4th light behind but we all made it down smoothly and with a decent flow, all the way to the end.
Norbury and home
The final part of the route was a drag along the A24 to Norbury and then the long climb to the house, again with us all riding pretty much together. The smaller the group, the fewer the stops and so we made good time, finished off with a slightly different return to civilisation.
I led Dan and Mark past the sawmill and then right, to do the short and sharp chalky drop to the main track and then back up toward Roaring House Farm, something we used to do all the time but not at the speed I did it on my Five last night! The final run down to the farm was a bit of an eye-opener as the drainage pipes have been left exposed from the winter weather and present quite a sharp step.
So, back home, 19.75 miles on my Garmin and only just past ten. Good effort everyone!