With May fast approaching, the first proper off-road ride of the year was somewhat overdue. Thus far I’ve been almost completely riding on the road in preparation for next month’s trip, but I needed a change of scenery. If familiarity alone hadn’t bred contempt, the last ride I did was with other people who seemed to be a complete liability on the road. I honestly can’t recall ever being hooted at by cars (no, really) but as a group we attracted about a dozen hornings in a single ride. I winced at least twice as accidents nearly unfolded in front of me, and didn’t enjoy the perfectly understandable “what the fuck?” signals from drivers when the rest of the group thought that the best place to stand when stopping to fix a bike or read a map was the road rather than the verge. So, I figured staying clear of traffic would make a nice change this week.
The chosen route turned out to be the South Downs Way from Brighton to home. A fairly simple hour-and-a-half train journey to get there, no-brainer navigation, and a route which came up at just over 50 miles and 2000m of climbing. Which would have been a nice milestone had I not accidentally chopped of a few miles of a dog-leg by taking the wrong road out of Brighton and shortcutting straight up to Devil’s Dyke. Hey ho – this was, after all, almost twice as far as I can recall having ridden off-road in about 15 years, and I wasn’t feeling confident. Mistakes happen, and besides, I was secretly glad.
Now, it must be noted that things were not normal. As you might notice from that picture, I’m kitted out with lycra, nancy pedals, gears and suspension. All thoroughly wrong for riding off-road, of course, but thanks to my lack of confidence in even completing the ride I’d tried to make my life as easy as possible. All of the above concessions to easing my progress were thoroughly welcomed, other than the suspension which really didn’t seem at all worthwhile – though didn’t detract from the handling as much as I’d remembered, either.
I made it to Amberley in surprisingly good shape, and in good time (thanks to losing that dog-leg) for lunch (and a fine pint of Sharp’s) at the Bridge Inn, accompanied by some reading matter which had plopped out of my newspaper that morning: a guide to quantum theory. If the distance wasn’t novelty enough, certainly the levels of erudition on this bike ride were wholly unprecedented.
Setting off again I was on home turf – the stretch from Amberley to home is all pretty familiar – but the Downs have a way of sneaking climbs at you. It’s tempting to navigate by the larger hills and forget the little ones in between, and they all add up and eat your legs. Still, nursing a twinge at the back of my knee that’s clearly down to its injury from five years ago, I was being careful to use those gears, and things were going pretty well. Not fast, but steady.
And eventually, after merrily middle-ringing the last few climbs (and even finding out at the top of one of the smaller ones that I’d big-ringed it by mistake) I arrived at the Five Bells in Buriton for a couple of pints of Hopping Hare before sprinting the couple of extra miles home in the hope of making up for the dog-leg and tipping the needle over the 50 mile mark.
I didn’t: 49.2 was the total at the final reckoning, and I was clearly a couple of climbs short of the 2000m mark as well. But, all went surprisingly well. In fact I quite fancy doing it again sometime soon.
I’ll still think carefully before giving up the gears though.