Last night saw our first night ride of 2012. We generally pride ourselves on getting out week in, week out for our night rides but every so often there’s a peak of tiredness/illness/apathy that results in the idea being quietly shelved for the week. It was pleasing then to get at least a few of us out last night.
The power of social riding kicked in and MarkyMark, Danny, JonH, Tony and myself managed to get ourselves to the garage for – just about – the normal start time. It was feeling surprisingly warm but there was rain in the air and some strong gusts of wind as we got underway, with the result we had a nice tailwind up Crabtree Lane.
Our pace was quite brisk and we threaded our way through Wiggly Wood. After initially thinking the mud wasn’t too bad it quickly became apparant that it was that typical greasy slime you find on this side of the North Downs – not deep, but it just slides and with it so does the front and back end of your bike. Which end depends on whether your trying to steer or put the power down at any particular time.
Even with plenty of recent miles to tune into the trails I didn’t feel terribly comfortable as you never knew what the bike would do next. The wind was howling through the trees and we came across our first tree-fall quite early on in Wiggly Wood. There would be a fair amount more seen during the evening as well. It’s not that the Downs have been devastated by the recent storms this week, it’s just that there’s quite a few trees down at once which block the trails until they get cleared. This means you can’t really trust what’s round the next corner.
The slither and slide continued on the trails over to Polesden, my Mud X tyres were working overtime and didn’t feel as grippy as normal. I find they are very sensitive to pressure and work best with around 28lbs of pressure in them but I’d just fixed a puncture on the rear and put in nearly 34lbs which seemed to limit my traction. If you run these tyres it might be worthwhile experimenting to see what works for you.
After a breather at the Youth Hostel we set off up the climb to Ranmore and pretty soon Danny just seemed to take off on his Kinesis hardtail which he seems to have tuned himself into really well. I quietly cranked up my turbo but in those first few yards Danny opened up a 30 metre gap while I was deciding whether to follow and I never closed it after that. He reached the top with 20 seconds on me and I’m not even sure he hadn’t backed off. Very impressive.
With just five riders, we didn’t need to wait too long for company and a brief discussion about where to go next (not LandRover! said MarkyMark) resulted in us heading off to do the longer Horsley loop. This meant a tramp along Collarbone which really was a mud fest, particularly the section just past the LandRover turnoff. Fortunately my legs felt quite strong and I was able to float the bike forwards without any dabbing to stay upright but shortly we started to encounter a few tree downs that needed up to carry the bikes over them.
We pressed on, catching front and back end slides as we went, but strangely I was quite enjoying just being out in the stormy weather. It was blustery, it was wet, it was very muddy but really that’s what we’re all about isn’t it? At least you had the knowledge that in the course of a winter it doesn’t get much worse than this. Colder? definitely but then the trails are nice and frozen. Snow? always good for a laugh. Muddy? once you’re wet, you’re wet. No really, it was a laugh to be out with the wind moaning through the trees.
Putting Trouble in Paradise and the reservoir behind us we hit the slipperiest section of the North Downs on the NDW to the Drovers Road which I think is about as bad as it can get up here, with plenty of reward for those who can pick a neat line round axle deep clay. It’s a laugh in slow motion really, just a case of getting the power down, picking your line and letting the bike find it’s own way.
Once on the Drovers ROad we made slightly better time before turning down toward the sawmill, taking the simpler track rather than the narrow singletrack further on. The heavy rain had managed to wash the trail clear and we made good time, on the lookout for storm debris which can easily be flicked into a wheel. At the end of that we had the Impossible Climb to look forward to.
Our collective attempt took us only so far with Jon making the best of it before we all needed to foot slog up the final two thirds. It’s really hard to walk/stand on and dragging the bike was an added encumbrance but eventually we got to the top and started the long winding trail down to Sheepleas.
I didn’t ride this well at all, there’s rhododenrons across the trail in places, lots of slippery gulleys, hidden steps and plenty of debris at this time of year but we got to the bottom in one piece and then climbed slowly up to the Sheepleas tops. The mud seemed to have increased over the course of the ride or maybe it was all just accumulating on us.
Finally reaching the top it was then down the open hillside before picking out the hidden trails that wind you through the trees to the A246. There’s loads of stuff to discover in here I reckon later in the year.
The return leg at least had the wind behind us for most of the way as we headed round the back of Horsley toward Effingham, taking in the swamp which is now the bumpy field at Effingham. It’s still bumpy, but now has the addition of some two or three inches of mud over the top of it and another inch of standing water in places. We made a decent fist of keeping going, no-one wanting to dab into what smelled suspiciously like effluent from over flowing cess-pits to be frank. Best to keep your mouth shut riding through there…
The last leg of the journey was across a very muddy Bookham Common. It’s all non-technical and manages to make you feel more ‘outdoors-y’ than is really the case as you battle through deep sludge.
Arriving back at Bookham just before our usual 10:00pm finish we had 17 miles registered and that priceless feeling that at least we’d got out on the bike when it would have been so easy to stay at home!