Roaming the hills at night tends to turn up all sorts of odd sights, especially during the dark depths of the year. Who can forget the time we startled a young woman into an ‘active dismount’ when we found her and her boyfriend trying to keep warm near Tyrells Wood? Well, so I’m told, I was at the back of the group (but definitely not ‘bringing up the rear’) and missed everything… such is life.
Last night, we found a 20 foot fire of lumber burning away in desultory fashion in the sawmill yard and providing a significant amount of heat (the back of my legs were toasty in that picture!). Shortly after, a Land Rover rolled out from the adjacent field with a friendly but rather Wild-Man-Of-The-Woods looking gentleman driving, sporting a large lamp, professing an interest in foxes, and a wish for us not to stray off the trail for fear of wandering in front of his and his passengers’ guns! We assured him there was no fear of that!
But who is this ‘we’ I’m referring to? Well, last night it was myself, JohnR, James and Gordon (although Gordo was on his ‘commute’ home and had accompanied James up from Dorking via Box Hill and China Pig). Gordo soon left us to warm himself at home which left just the three of us shivering in the -6° temperatures. Sadly D’Andy, our great champion of night riding by his own description was paying penance for a summer of slacking and found himself dealing with what must surely have been unreasonable work demands by his employer.
We had a plan in mind to ride over toward the Sheepleas area but things ultimately drifted as the ride wore on. Initially following the same route as last week we headed over to do View To A Kill via a Wiggly Wood warm up, then headed up past the end of Golden Nugget and took the bridlepath climb up to Ranmore Church. As John and James gently pulled away from me on the initial slopes I was struck by the fact that I was watching two skinny men riding very fat bikes make it all look rather easy.
Up on Ranmore we confused ourselves somewhat. James and John wanted to take the road all the way to the start of Bingo Bongo Dave (I think) but I felt there were more interesting ways to get there and given the greater risk of ice on the road, probably safer ways too. So we agreed to pick up Badger Run and Collarbone over to White Down and go from there. However, with James in the lead, the start of Badger Run was missed and he promptly shot off down Scouting For Boys. John and I knew he’d gone wrong but couldn’t do anything about it, so after a brief debate we decided to follow him down, only to find him grinding back up!
In for a penny, in for a pound, we headed down to the bottom and proceeded past the bottom of LandRover toward White Down and my second ascent of this climb this week. In retrospect I don’t think we lost too much time, but certainly expended extra calories (about half a bowl of porridge by John’s estimation). Everything around us was frosted white, with the mud frozen solid for the most part and ice crystals reflecting back at us.
Once up on the ridge again, we took Trouble In Paradise through to Short ‘n’ Sweet and then picked up the tarmac towards Bingo Bongo Dave. I still don’t think this was especially necessary, but it saved some time I guess in trade for entertainment.
Bingo Bongo proved that James could catch me up quite easily but I found it quite hard to even see the trail with masses of leaf fall obscuring the path. Away from the tree cover deep frost could be seen, alternating with the swish, crunch and crackle of the leaves as we plunged back into the wood. At the bottom, a quick reassessment of options versus time available meant a switch from heading over to Sheepleas to a climb up past the sawmill, and the odd sites I mentioned at the beginning. All that after sampling Wonderland of course.
Up we climbed, across a frosted slope so cold and crunchy it seemed even the ice crystals had ice crystals on them. I found myself at the front, determined to stick to my grinding pace despite John and James clearly being able to go faster, with a large shadow of myself before me as their powerful lights overwhelmed my own lighting solution. At the top, John announced he’d exhausted his porridge bowl of endurance and resorted to a gel, then off we headed into Wonderland.
It’s quite odd riding Wonderland at night, no more challenging than during daylight but odd because it’s harder to read the drops and lips that I’d normally ping off. It’s slower and less flowy but still better than most trails around here and we had a blast.
From the bottom, we climbed through the lumber yard, warmed our backsides by the fire, then continued once again up to the ridge. With John and James, it was starting to feel like a climby sort of ride but what goes down must come up. And sideways for us, as we set out along the North Downs Way toward Ranmore.
After a lengthy spell of spinning along the Drovers Road and a few soft patches of mud and water along the Green lane, we popped back out onto the Ranmore Road and headed for Ricin Beans. At John’s behest, we stopped and turned off our lights just before the start of Ricin Beans and suddenly had a great view of a crystal clear night sky and a multitude of stars that our lights had been obscuring. It was quite a sight but my star gazing couldn’t extend much beyond identifying Orion low on the horizon.
Back moving again, Ricin Beans was an enjoyable drift of leaves which led James astray at exactly the same spot that it did to me last week! After that, it was past the Youth Hostel, a slow wobble along Ronnie Pickering (which I sense I will never truly master) and a bit of sheep chasing across the field to the Old Dorking Road where James left us for Westhumble and we turned up through the Polesden estate and Connicut Lane toward home.
Sadly, without the impish urging of D’Andy we gave the pub a miss which was probably for the best. The time was 9:45, it was very cold and I’d already ridden 19.5 miles! My bed was very welcoming and warm, so it was disappointing to be woken at 1am by the sound of the garage door motor kicking into action. Guess who’d left the garage remote key in their jacket when he shoved it in the washing machine?? After stumbling downstairs, going outside in freezing temperatures, closing the garage door and putting two and two together, the battery and printed circuit were dismantled and drying out nicely by the time I fell back into bed!