It’s hard sometimes to know if complaining about the very conditions you’ve longed for all winter is just bad form. But we all know you can have too much of a good thing and last night it was quite clear that the super-dry weather we’ve had for weeks now is starting to have an adverse affect on our riding.
It’s not just that the land is dry. It’s parched. Grass is browning before it’s even got into it’s growing season and a lot of our trees are going to suffer if the dry spell we’ve had becomes a feature of this year. On the ground, the soil had turned to a fine talc, coating everyone and everything in a patina of dust. For several rides I’ve returned with the corners of my eyes streaked with runnels of tears from trying to peer through the clouds left by other riders. Welcome to the Surrey Dustbowl.
Last night was particularly bad with several descents becoming potentially dangerous simply because I for one couldn’t see where the hell I was going. Starting from the garage we had a big group out with Adam, Darren, Amanda, Big Al (on a new Ibis Tranny singlespeed), MarkyMark, James, JohnR, Lloyd, DannyP, Mike, Gordon and myself making 12 riders in all.
We headed toward the Admirals Track and were immediately left choking on the haze thrown up by the leading pack. It felt quickish to me whereas I was keen to keep everyone together. My plan was to try Pamplona as a way up to Ranmore rather than our usual Yew Trees or Tanners Climbs which meant the fun part of Hogden Lane first.
Well, it could have been fun, if you were the first rider down. I followed Darren and Amanda and cheerfully admit I couldn’t see anything. Riding on memory and the technical ability of my bike I just concentrated on keeping my weight slightly back ready for surprises.
After that the short Pamplona climb was an easy spin with – as expected – no mud to drag us back. Quickly dispatched, it was then on to the long easy climb to Ranmore for a brief regroup at the top. From here we headed off to the Land Rover descent.
I lead the way down here and frankly, I’ve ridden it far better. Having let the brakes off a touch at the top it was a case of pointing it over the big stuff without panic-ing. I’d normally prefer to choose a line though with a semblance of control but last night it was a case of letting the bike again do all the work. I’m beginning to suspect my front pads have glazed slightly as the bite wasn’t really there but it could just be the bite point or some other adjustment. We’ll find out this coming weekend in Wales!
We continued on to Westcott village with John showing us a cheeky footpath down to the Rookery entrance via the road climb to the church and then down a sandy, heavily stepped path. I found myself behind Gordon and realised the steps were quite large when I saw him drop off the first one at low speed. A bit more speed would have helped iron out the drops but I was too close to Gordon so it was bike to the rescue again!
The Rookery climb was next and after catching our breath at the top and listening to Mark’s tale of a head-on stag-style clash with a rider coming the other way on Wolverns we set off again only to meet another group of riders coming the other way!! Typical! Picking up the pace again I had a very enjoyable meander through the twisting paths to our usual resting point while we waited for others to catch up.
The whole Leith area seems to have turned into a giant sand-pit to be honest, with huge clouds of dust left hanging in the air from our passing as soon as we picked up any speed. We headed down toward the back of Wescott through what was in places deep, deep sand.
The thin ribbon of singletrack which takes you over to Pinball Alley nearly had me off as the birch saplings had almost completely obscured the path; elsewhere, nearer the deep narrow gulley the trails are knee deep in woodland plants, maybe the tail end of the bluebells. It meant a very sketchy descent down the gully which looked even narrower than usual, with me forced to unclip and kick off the top of it to keep my balance. At bottom, deep sand brought us almost to a complete halt.
Just along from here is the ‘brick corner’ which was also heavily overgrown, causing Adam to endo and the rest of us to peer through a deep cloud of dust left by those in front down toward the houses. Really, very hard to be sure what was ahead of you!
The final run into Westcott was just as bad as the narrow alleyways filled with choking dust. Once back in the village we crossed directly over the green and continued on to the High Mediterranean climb up to Ranmore, with more choking dust left hanging in the air. I was near the front but dropped back at the start of the climb make sure we were all there. It was a bad move as firstly the group was hanging together very well for such a large number and secondly, it left me at the back with the worst of the dust!
As we neared the top of Ranmore I was wondering how we were going to return. I fancied And Then There Were Three but time was getting on and som eof us needed a quicker return so we chose Dearly Beloved down from the Church to Chapel Farm.
Wow! More dust; loads in fact, especially at the top which nearly caught me out over a heavily rutted patch where there’s normally heavy mud for much of the year near the top. Al was behind me and got a ringside view of my Orange broadside momentarily as it kicked out under power from under me. Fortunately it snapped back into line just as smartly with me still on the bike and making forward progress.
As the trail picked up speed I needed to find a bit of clear air as the dust was making it difficult to see. Fortunately the old leaf fall and more flinty surface meant it dropped a lot on the main part of the trail but near the bottom again the chalky gulley was impenetrable in places, especially at the end with people braking.
Our return brought us over the Stone Bridge on the Polesdon estate via the old Polesdon driveway from where we dropped down and picked up the top section of the Stone Bridge descent to finally finish retracing our steps along the powdery Admirals Track.
A great ride of 17 miles with plenty of interest and a 10:00PM finish. But something to damp down the trails would be welcome or we’ll all end up with Baker’s Lung at this rate.