Never had a good bike ride been more needed, with Wednesday turning out to be one of those manic days, where I found myself doing my own work and several other peoples too, in order to deliver a set of quarterly reports within an infeasible timescale. To add a bit more pressure I also had to be home early to assume childcare duties. However, against all odds, I arrived at Bookham in time for the 7:30 meet, if slightly flustered from the day.
A few people had indicated that they wouldn’t be coming, so I wasn’t expecting a large showing, but I was determined to go whatever, despite the ominous weather conditions of the afternoon and early evening. As it turned out the rain had cleared away and the sky had lightened, so I was beginning to feel more positive about the weather. It was warm enough for a soaking to not really matter anyway.
James arrived with his geared Inbred in time to catch me eating my dinner of a lemon curd muffin and a bottle of energy drink, before getting the Orange 5 off the roofrack and then D’Andy turned up on his 456. We were just about to leave when Andy realised he’d left his Camelback in his car and whilst he went to get it James’ mate Jack turned up on a nice classic v-braked Cindercone, in regular shorts, t-shirt and trainers, late after being directed to the wrong garage several miles away. I suspected he might not be a regular rider these days due to the lack of bike specific clothing, but he had no problems with fitness during the ride.
D’Andy and I had been discussing route options and we decided to head towards Headley and depending on how we were doing, consider doing a loop through Betchworth, so we set off down bridle-paths to Bocketts farm and then over to and up Alsation, where we passed DaveC, Jem and MarkT coming the other way. Disappointingly they stopped to let us past, so I didn’t get the opportunity for a rest! The evening was hot and humid and James in particular seemed to be struggling with the conditions, although it didn’t seem to be slowing him down at all.
Properly warmed up and sweaty at the top, we turned right on Stane Street and headed up to Mickelham Gallops, past the top of Chainbreaker and through the woods on some cheeky singletrack (thanks to Rob for showing me this a year or so ago). I’ve been along here a few times since and found it quite hard to follow, but I think there must have been more traffic lately as the trail was easier to spot and flowed nicely. A little bit of singletrack was just what I needed to exorcise the stresses of the day and I was feeling much happier and more relaxed as we headed past the bottom of Secret Singletrack and up to the play area. We messed around a little here, going over the jumps and then headed across Headley Heath via an alternative route to normal (also shown to me by Rob) and over to Box Hill, with the sky now clearing of cloud and a lovely sunset forming over the hills.
I had a bit of confusion at Box Hill looking for the trail down to Betchworth and we nearly had a desertion, if not mutiny as we passed the pub twice, with D’Andy muttering that he’d be quite happy to go in for a few beers and then roll back along the road, but we stayed focused, found the trail and shot down the fast chalky descent to the quarry (I don’t think you need to guess who showed me this one – thanks Rob), famous for it’s role as a set in the 70’s for Blakes 7 I think and various other sci-fi series (Davebus?).
It was still quite light at the top, so I didn’t bother turning my lights on as I advised the others to take it easy due to the chalky surface and recent rain and then shot off at top speed (do as I say, not as I do), but riding under tree cover part way down it got very dark and with some sketchy one handed riding in the next open section, whilst fiddling with my light I managed to see a bit more in the next wooded bit.
I waited by the quarry for the others – just as well as they weren’t sure which way I’d gone – then we all sped down the last bit to Betchworth and then up the killer climb to Pfizer. This is the third time I’ve ridden up there, but I think the first time on a full suss and I was determined to make it to the top in one go, but the demon root just after the off camber section 2/3rds of the way up got me yet again. One day…
At the top we recharged with cereal bars and gels, before heading off along the track past Pfizer. I heard a shout from behind and looked back to see James had taken a spill. I think he got tramlined in a wet rut and got dumped off his bike into a big clump of nettles! He manfully climbed back on the bike and carried on riding in the hope that the endorphins would overwhelm the effect of the nettle stings.
At Headley we headed down Secret Singletrack, trying to stay in sight of each other as Jack only had an LED headlight, which might do for walking or camping, but didn’t quite do the job for riding singletrack fast in the dark. As commented by DaveC who had passed this way earlier in the evening, the ferns are beginning to take over now.
We had made good time and covered a lot of ground and I think Jack was beginning to tire now, as well as struggling with not enough lumens, but he kept spinning through Nower Wood and over to Alsation, which is also beginning to get a bit overgrown, with the nettles giving my legs a bit of a whipping and James leaving the track at one point, but recovering okay.
After a gentle spin past Bocketts and over to Bookham, James pulled an amazing sprint out of the bag on the final climb, leaving me for dust and we rolled down to Bookham, where D’Andy stopped to investigate some strange drivetrain noises and discovered that his chainstay was resting on the rear wheel axle, which had rolled a good inch forward from the dropouts. How far he had ridden without the back wheel attached to the bike I don’t know, but I think that the beer he had been dreaming about was all the more needed after that narrow escape from injury to self or bike!
All in all a really enjoyable ride, which saw us take in a few trails not normally frequented by Moles (courtesy of Rob’s route finding services to the mountain biking community) and covering 19+ miles. It gave me the therapy I needed to work off the work stress, time with friends and the opportunity to meet a new rider. Welcome Jack – I hope you can join us again before you head off to Aus.