Donna’s Coast-to-Coast Blog – St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay – 200 Miles on a Mountain Bike – September 2019

10 12 2019

INTRODUCTION
This is the blog of the coast-to-coast trip my brother and I (Donna) mountain-biked in September 2019 in celebration of his imminent fiftieth birthday. We roughly followed Tim Woodcock’s route from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire, averaging about 30 miles a day. The blog was written as and when I got the chance each day and records our highs and lows along the way.

We chose to bike-pack to be self-sufficient on our journey. This meant that we had dry bags full of our bivvy, sleeping and cooking gear attached to the front and rear of ours bikes which gave us ultimate flexibility. We did not book any accommodation before setting off, safe in the knowledge that we could camp whenever and wherever we liked. This did however make for a really tough time in the Lake District. Woodcock’s Cumbrian section would have been much easier without the large dry bags making the bikes very heavy and unwieldy, and to be fair on Tim, he does lay it out as a trek to be done using youth hostels, not bike-packing.

It did however get easier after the Lakes and I wonder why in Woodcock’s guide notes he suggests several very long days at the beginning. I found the going significantly easier after Shap and could have happily done 45+ mile days after that point as the hills got smaller and my fitness improved.
Notwithstanding these critiques, there is no better way to piece together the majestic Northern English countryside than this coast-to-coast expedition whether on bicycle or foot. No matter what the weather throws at you, the scenery, nature and people along the way make it all worthwhile, as I hope this blog lays testament. 

PRE-TRIP
23:00 – THURSDAY 19th – MUM & DAD’s HOUSE, MARSDEN, W YORKS
Arrived at Mum and Dad’s tired and excited. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep before the week’s exploits. Anxious that I might have forgotten something. We would be bike-packing with all our gear for bivvying. Would the loaded bike be manageable? Reminding myself to focus on the moment: enjoy the highs and solve the problems when they arise.

DAY ONE – 200 MILES TO GO
21:00 – FRIDAY 20th – BLACK SAIL YOUTH HOSTEL, ENNERDALE, CUMBRIA
Struggled a bit with my desire to get going this morning. Wanted to leave at 9am but it was closer to 11. Focussed on the positive and acknowledged that any miles we did today were a bonus.

At 3pm we arrived at St Bees, a small, unassuming town with a pretty beach framed by low cliffs. Most notable as the start of Wainwright’s famous Coast-to-Coast walking route to Robin Hoods Bay. It is also the start of Tim Woodcock’s less well known mountain bike tour following roughly the same course and ending at the same destination. This was to be my brother John’s and my mission for the next eight days.

The café on the front was a bit chintzy but served tasty food and had a well-stocked shop. Bought wet wipes, a bivvying essential. After lunch we dipped our feet in the sea on England’s West coast, said farewell to John’s girlfriend, and set-off.

The sun shone all afternoon. The first 10 miles were easy sailing along roads and NCN71, an old railway line. This gave us time to get into the groove and settle our nerves. As the day turned into evening, we left the NCN71 and headed to the Ennerdale valley. The views were simply stunning. As we got closer and closer to the fells the colours were breathtaking. It fell big, wild and present!

We were soon at Ennerdale youth hostel but decided to press on to Black Sail. The track gradually climbed and was quite easy going, but of course we could see the peaks encircling us as we headed further up the valley.
Finally we arrived at Black Sail youth hostel and it was busy. I hadn’t expected that! They also had beer, a dorm bed for me and lots of friendly banter in the common room. Instead of a dorm, John chose to pitch his bivvy and tarp higher up in the valley and wild camp. He joined me for dinner. We had noodles and beer.

And now all the guests are chatting, playing board games and relaxing. There’s a nice convivial vibe. John’s gone to his bed and it is getting very windy outside. I am chilling out and contemplating a shower.  It feels like unexpected luxury. Tomorrow’s climb/bike carry out of the valley looks daunting. No supporting Rich and Catherine here. It is all down to me. But for now, let’s celebrate a great first day. John has been lovely and the countryside super.

DAY TWO – 180 MILES TO GO
09:00– SATURDAY 21st – BLACK SAIL YOUTH HOSTEL, ENNERDALE, CUMBRIA
At 5am this morning a massive gust of wind lifted John’s tarp and threw his bike 10m down the valley. It has torn the tarp, punctured his air bed and, most importantly, sheared his rear mech hanger bolt! Fixed first two with gaffer tape and the rear mech is held in place with a cable tie! Let’s hope it holds. John is clearly a bit shaken despite his brave face.

12:00 – SATURDAY 21st – WASDALE HEAD INN, CUMBRIA
This morning we started the day with strapping our bags onto our backs and pushing the bikes up onto Black Sail pass. It was soooo steep with rocky outcrops. It took us nearly two hours to cover 1km (and 300m up). But made it we did (I had some kind Belgians from the hostel carry my bags for the last 100m ascent 😁).

Then it was down the other side and whilst it was still too steep to cycle, at least it was much easier going. As we approached Wasdale we were finally able to ride our bikes before a well-earned pint and lunch at the pub. Knackered and we’ve only down a few km!

 

 

 

 

21:00 – SATURDAY 21st – BAYS BROWN FARM CAMPSITE, CHAPEL STILE, CUMBRIA
It was a push onto Burnmoor Fell. We missed our turning so frustratingly went up higher than needed. Found a link path and scooted our way over to the right one. Bog, bit of riding, bog, bit of riding, bog. Not having fun.

Descent was tricky. I got frustrated at my inability to ride the rocky stuff. Finished having walked most of the route from Wasdale. Covered in bruises from just manhandling the heavily-ladened bike. Grrrhhh!!! Ice cream in Eskdale to cheer me up from John.

We decided to take a ‘short-cut’ over Hardknott and Wrynose pass. The official Woodcock route takes an extra 10 miles via Harter Fell and the lower slopes of the Old Man of Coniston. We felt this was a ‘frivolous’ detour on Woodcock’s behalf. So took the road instead.

Bloody hell it was hard. Steep, steep and steeper than steep. We rode little, pushed much and stopped often. And to cap it all there was a gruelling head wind, so even the slight downhill between the two passes was a hard slog. Thankfully we had wall-to-wall sunshine, but I was physically broken. Legs ached; arms ached; covered in sweat.

Eventually we made it to the top of Wrynose. Only a swift downhill to the campsite from here. Until we realised it was Little Langdale and not Great Langdale. Not a campsite in sight! Thankfully there was a pub. We got a pint and time to think.

Found ourselves a campsite for the night in Chapel Stile. All good if very knackered especially my arms. John was a trooper, putting up with my need for a campsite or hostel, not content to wild camp. Worried about tomorrow when good weather breaks and we are due thunderstorms.

‘Twas nice getting connectivity tonight and getting the love from family at home.

 

 

 

 

 

DAY THREE – 155 MILES TO GO
09:00 – SUNDAY 22nd – BAYS BROWN FARM CAMPSITE, CHAPEL STILE, CUMBRIA
Woken at 1am. John’s airbed had deflated. Valve has broken. He ended up sleeping on the ground with just his bivvy bag and down jacket for warmth. He did not get much sleep.

It is now 9am. We have light rain, turning to heavy rain later. Arghhhh!

13:00 – SUNDAY 22nd – CAFÉ AMBIO, INGS, CUMBRIA
Quick spin and splash down the road into Ambleside, remembering cycling to Hawkshead with Rich, and Catherine in a trailer, five years ago. Straight to the Alpkit shop to buy new bed for John.

What a welcome! “Bring your bikes in”, they said, “do you want coffee and cake?” They listened compassionately to our tales of woe; found John his bed and more camp food; and gave good trail advice. I also took the opportunity whilst sheltered to book a guest house in Shap for the night. John needs a good night’s sleep and I want the assurance of a dry bed at the end of today.

We then bimbled off to a bike shop to find John his mech hanger bolt and whilst we were realising they cannot help us, the Alpkit guy comes running in. We had left our camp food behind and he had tracked us down in the heavy rain to return it. What a star!

The bridleway up and over to Troutbeck wound us through the verdant Skelghyll woods, with slate under tyre and a rare sighting of a red squirrel. From there we took C roads over to Ings and bike shop number two to find the elusive mech hanger bolt.

Now having lunch in the café next door before a road schlep to Shap; our alternative to Woodcock’s boggy trek over the moors given the persistent heavy rain.
21:00 – SUNDAY 22nd – NEW ING LODGE, SHAP, CUMBRIA
Here we are in a great guest house for coast-to-coasters with all essentials catered for: evening meals, cooked breakfasts, a bar and even a small selection of socks to purchase. Our large twin room is now covered with all our kit laid out to dry.
Our yomp over to Shap was helped by a distracting conversation about mindfulness and John’s ‘cross-hairs’ mental model. In short it is about aiming to keep yourself in the middle of the cross-hairs: in the present between past and future; in self-confidence instead of worrying about what others think of you or what you think of yourself.

Dinner tonight was tasty but best of all was the company. Four chaps from Sevenoaks who were hilarious fun and Richard from Vancouver who they had adopted on route. Much wine was quaffed. John was on jovial form and the evening has been most merry. Time now for bed.

 

DAY FOUR – 125 MILES TO GO
12:30 – MONDAY 23rd – CO-OP, KIRKBY STEPHEN, CUMBRIA
Hearty breakfast to start the day. Lakes now behind us (literally and figuratively). Rain clouds coming over from the West but so far dry.

Back on track with Woodcock route. Cruising lanes and open moorland. Bit of bridleway through farms which were poorly marked and boggy in places. Saw a stoat. Having a ‘deli’ lunch of wraps and cheese from the Co-op in Kirkby Stephen.

And three cheers for northern hospitality. The Co-op manager has just come outside and asked if there was anything we needed. So I got to use the staff toilets. Result!

21:00 – MONDAY 23rd – RUKIN’S CAMPSITE,KELD, N YORKS
Took road option up to the watershed which was a steady grind on quiet lanes, and up to the Tan House Inn pub. A well-deserved pint there before taking the bridleway down into Keld. A few boggy patches here and there but some fun steeper stuff too. Finished descent with John which felt good especially compared to my frustrations from the last major off-road descent from Burnmoor.

Found a campsite home in Keld. New tarp set-up ready for rain tonight and tomorrow morning that allows us to sit inside whilst it is raining out.

I have been a bit snappy with John tonight. I have been trying to get the last four stages sorted in my head that allows for a rainy day tomorrow and a smaller day up onto Urra Moor later in the trip. I need to concentrate. So have taken myself off to the washing-up area to get it clear. All sorted now plus I have done the washing up and had a shower. Time for the bivvy.   No connectivity here, so no chance to connect with family. It makes me a bit sad.


DAY FIVE – 95 MILES TO GO
12:00 – TUESDAY 24th – DALES CYCLE CENTRE, GRINTON, N YORKS
Lulled in our slumbers last night by the sound of the rain and the cascades in Keld. Woke to a ‘pregnant’ tarp bulging with collected rainfall. Pushed that off to a satisfying “splosh”.

The morning was a lovely spin down Swaledale on a variety of bridleways: cinder, stony, grassy. We are now in Grinton having a super (souper!) lunch at the Dales Cycle Centre. UCI World Championships on the telly and lots of groups coming in to shelter from the increasing precipitation.

The café provides a warm welcome. Everyone on this trip has been soooo friendly. Struck up a conversation with a punter in the café who spontaneously offers a B&B for tonight. Amazing!

It was spitting outside, now it is properly raining, so we have elected to road it over to Richmond. The Woodcock route takes in a couple of climbs and precipitous drops, but it is not the afternoon for playing around, plus John’s bum is hurting!

 

22:00 – TUESDAY 24th – WENDY’S HOUSE, RICHMOND, N YORKS
Had a quick spin around Richmond. We deemed it a bit ‘Hebden’. Saw the castle and posted a card home, then found our B&B for the night. Our host, Wendy, has been very accommodating in her white, spotless home of all our wet and dirty gear. We have managed to get some stuff washed and a lift into town for dinner (curry and beer). Clothes are now drying and they should see us through for the last three days adventuring. Three days is that all? Eek, it is almost over!

 

DAY SIX – 75 MILES TO GO
07:30 – WEDNESDAY 25th – WENDY’S HOUSE, RICHMOND, N YORKS
Over to Chop Gate today to a pub that does camping in their garden. Roads for first two-thirds then off-road for the last ten miles. Whilst it is not raining at the moment (pre-breakfast), it is very misty.

16:00 – WEDNESDAY 25th – THE BUCK INN, CHOP GATE, N YORKS
The weather threatened all day but never really got beyond a little drizzle for twenty minutes. The morning was spent spinning along quiet country lanes then a short stretch on the A684 to Osmotherly. Surprisingly I quite liked Osmotherly. It has a small, remote, oldy-worldy charm that I had not expected given its proximity to the busy A19.

Lunch was had on the ridge above the village; cooked on our stove and washed down with rum from the hip flask. Great views out to the coast, although we could not quite see the sea. We had picked a popular spot for walkers and there was plenty of banter with those who came by.

The afternoon’s riding was good fun. Off-road for the most part with fast downhills. There was one push uphill but that did not dominate the ride.

Arrived at Chop Gate 3pm. Pub closed but Wolfgang, the German-Oz-UK landlord, spotted us and let us in round the back. One of the holiday chalets is available and we have taken that. More rain is forecast, so a solid roof is a bonus. Dinner was a rehydrated spag bol in our room followed by cheesecake-bakewell tart-custard mash-up in the pub. Delicious!

 

DAY SEVEN – 45 MILES TO GO
13:00 – THURSDAY 26th – ABOVE WESTERDALE, N YORKS
I had been stressing about today since we left the Lakes. The Woodcock notes advise there is another bike carry onto Urra Moor. So anticipating another physical endurance test like Black Sail Pass, I had steeled myself for the day ahead. However it never happened. Note to self: never base expectations on written accounts of routes (readers of this blog also take heed)!! Sure it was a push, but not a carry, and soon we were whizzing along double-track across the moor.

Great wide open views in all directions. The tops are covered in heather, and down in the valleys we can see green grass and trees. There are lots of grouse today whereas yesterday was more pheasants; no doubt to provide the local shoots with a variety of targets.

The weather has been kind: blue skies to start, then clouds. We have just had a shower and more grey clouds are lurking but overall very pleasant as we sit here overlooking Westerdale, boiling up water for lunch and supping on rum.

16:00 – THURSDAY 26th – THE ARNCLIFFE ARMS, GLAISDALE, N YORKS
The afternoon saw us dipping in and out of Westerdale by road and then a quick, fun spin down Glaisdale Rigg. Could have wished for something a bit more technical and engaging though instead of double track. I know there are plenty of good mountain bike trails in the area.
We have talked about carrying on to Grosmont this afternoon but after two pints of ‘Flying Circus’, we have decided that this pub in Glaisdale is just the ticket. Lots of silly banter with ‘Balderick Junior’ the barman and a clutch of Canadian women walking the coast-to-coast. Plus there is music from the nineties playing on the jukebox. Cue dreadful singing!

 

 

 

DAY EIGHT – 25 MILES TO GO
13:00 – FRIDAY 27th – BRAMBLEWICK FISH & GRILL, ROBIN HOODS BAY, N YORKS
We have made it!!!!

After an early start (just after 8am) we picked our way over to Grosmont and then ground up the ridiculously steep hill that is the ‘Gross’ ‘Mount’ and out of the valley. The bridleway over the tops was horrendous. Chewed up by 4x4s and making the going far tougher than it looked. But bit by bit we crossed it and were soon having fun wriggling down a clay-rock chute to farmland bridleways and back onto roads. After another little section of bridleway we were zooming down NCN1 to the sea and then down into Robin Hoods Bay. And here you find us. Very happy to have reached our goal. What an achievement!! We dipped our toes, hands, bikes in the sea. Took photos and are now celebrating with a bouillabaisse lunch and a glass of sauvignon blanc. Cheers!!

And what a trip! From the high fells and extreme adventures of the Lakes, to the wonderful unfolding of the countryside into the Dales and North Yorkshire Moors. It has been an endurance challenge, an exercise in mindfulness and a heart-warming celebration of human kindness.

Despite having been a mountain biker for well over twenty years, I really was not sure if I would be able to cope with the physical toughness of this trip. Especially as work and family commitments mean I only ride about 40-50 miles per week and most of that is on road. Looking back I would say that as long as you pace yourself in the Lakes, the miles beyond Shap are relatively easy going. John and I both found we got fitter as the week progressed. Our speed, strength, balance and reflexes all improved after only a few days on the bike.

It is easy to get obsessed about getting to the end of each day’s cycling, or to worry about what the next day has in store. John and I regularly talked about this and made a conscious effort to enjoy the here and now. It was great cycling with someone who knows you very well and with whom you do not put on many pretences. This made it easier to be ourselves and not worry about what the other person thought of you. But this trip has re-emphasised that it is important to be happy in one’s self and enjoy what is happening right now. The journey will come to an end all too soon.

And for those times when things did not go to plan, we were bowled over by the generosity of the great people we met on route. My humble thanks to: The Belgians who carried my packs up Black Sail Pass; Issac and his Dad at Chapel Stile campsite who brought us back to familial normality after the most gruelling day on the bike I have ever had; The Alpkit team in Ambleside for accepting us in our muddy, weary state and feeding us cake; The hosts at New Ing Guest House for having a room that they never pre-book so that they can offer it to people like us; The Co-op manager who asked if she could help and let me use the loo; Jacqueline in the Dales Cycle Centre whose empathy led her to instinctively offer a bed for the night; and to the countless people we met on the trails with whom we struck up conversation and who wished us well on our journey.

It has been great to share it with my brother and take the mickey out of his impending fifty years milestone. We had our highs and lows along the way, but in supporting each other we have re-connected in a really profound way which will see us through for the next half century.

And best of all was to learn how England fits together from one coast to the other with all the hills, valleys, and now memories, in between.

USEFUL INFO

  1. The Coast-to-Coast Mountain Bike Route Pack (Mountain bike route companion packs) by Tim Woodcock – Our route and guide book.
  2. There are numerous videos and downloadable routes for Woodcock’s coast-to-coast available on-line.
  3. There are so many options for accommodation on the coast-to-coast route that you can take your pick from a quick internet search. That said, we did find a lot of places were fully booked, so either reserve in advance or be prepared to do some ringing around.
  4. Alpkit.com – Most awesome store for bike-packing and other outdoor adventures.
  5. Kit list:
  • Full suspension mountain-bike with front Kanga harness & rear Exo-rail
  • Helmet, gloves, shoes, glasses, water bottle
  • 20l dry bag with loops containing:
    o Sleeping bag & bivvi bag
    o Mug, spork & hip flask
    o ‘Washbag’: toothbrush, paste, soap, deo, tick spray, Ibuprofen, sun cream
    o Phone charger & battery
    o Maps
    o Waterproof jacket
    o Wet wipes
  • Big Papa seat pack containing:
    o Down mattress
    o Tool kit: pump, slugs, shock pump, inner tube, brake pads, rear mech hangar, gaffer tape, cable ties
    o Bike lock
    o Clothes: 3 shorts, leg warmers, jersey, 2 tops, bra, 2 socks, 2 buffs, down gilet
  • Small day rucksack containing:
    o Bike lights & head torch
    o Compass
    o Food – we liked: Expedition Foods, Firepot & Torq Explore flapjacks.
  • Tri-bag containing:
    o Phone
    o Pad & paper
  • In addition to the above, John also carried:
    o Tarp
    o Stove & fuel
    o First aid kit
    o All sorts of other gubbins!




11th Birthday Ride -October 2017

2 11 2017

It’s become a tradition that celebrating the date Sussex Muddy@rse was started, October 2006, sees the club returning to the place of its first outing: Stanmer Park, Brighton. This year was no different.

We like tradition at Sussex Muddy@rse. Another one we all love is sharing cake and tea at the end the rides. This year was no exception. Spoilt for choice from bakewell sponge, halloween cupcakes, paniata (sp?) Cupcakes with crafty treats inside them, pumpkin pie, just to name a few. We all went home on a high from riding and the sugar.  We love birthday parties.

We also love riding our bikes. This year Stanmer treated us with glorious sunshine and dry singletrack trails. The happy posse of riders were led through the trees trail after trail by ride leader Jim, aka Captain, who knows this area like the back of his hand. With no waymarking, local knowledge is a must to get around these hills.

But a trip onto the Downs’ rolling hills was also up his sleeve and we topped up vitamin d levels. Ditchling Beacon round to Black Cap, and back. The nemesis that is the chalky South Downs Way near Black Cap only collecting one victim this year as tyres lost grip on puddle edge. Whoosh! No warning with wet chalk on the off camber as usual.

Back into Stanmer to finish off with a Pear Drop. No, no one was handing round these 1970s sweetie favourites, they’ve been overtaken by Tangfastics; this was the swoopy, droppy, tight, trail that finished off the ride. All the way back down to the car park. 19 glorious miles consumed. Smiling, happy faces delivered.

Happy 11th birthday Sussex Muddy@rse. You deserve to still be here for the joy you bring to so many. But that wouldn’t be possible without the regular volunteers and helpers who help RichF run it, so riders can turn up every last Sunday of every month and ride some excellent trails, without worrying about getting lost on unfamiliar hills. And not getting bored riding the same trails on their own.

So, here’s to all of you for helping out, chipping in, baking, gate holding, sweeping, leading, organising, tea making. The club wouldn’t be the fantastic place it is without your input. It was great to ride with you all again after so long away. And great to see the Muddy@rse friendly vibe is still going strong.  Long may it continue…hopefully see you on the trails again soon.

Lisa

Headcam footage of the ride is here…https://www.facebook.com/1057607940/videos/vb.1057607940/10213432010528848/?type=2&video_source=user_video_tab

 

 





Muddy @ngels for Macmillan, Fundraising in 2016

7 03 2016
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Inspired by Jenn Hill (nee Hopkins), desirous of a new challenge for 2016, we three Muddy @rse regulars: Jo, Sally and Donna, have decided to dedicate this year’s riding to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

We’d love it if you’d join in whether by sponsoring us, taking part or hosting other events in aid of Macmillan.

Macmillan are an amazing charity supporting people and their families with cancer. Jenn Hill was the Deputy Editor of Singletrack magazine as well as a super-endurance mountain bike athlete and all-round lovely person. Very sadly Jenn died from cancer last year, aged 38, leaving an irreplaceable void in the mountain biking scene.

Many people, including Muddy @rse riders, supported Jenn in her last few weeks by posting pictures of their cycling adventures with the hashtag #ForJenn and bought Singletrack mugs, prints and t-shirts to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK. We’d like to build on this support by raising £1000 for Macmillan with our mountain biking-related exploits.

The ideas to raise money so far are:

1) Being sponsored to ride the Gorrick TrailTrax events – the more points we win, the more money for Macmillan;
For more info go to: TrailTrax Tastic

2) Holding a cake sale for the general public in the car park whilst the Muddy @rse ride take place (on the alternate months when it’s Rich’s turn to ride and Donna has time to give);
For more info go to: M@ Cake Sales

3) Holding a Macmillan afternoon tea somewhere suitably mountain-bike-random, e.g. inbetween the switchbacks on BKB.
For more info go to: M@d Hatters Tea Party

4) Hosting a Silent Disco on the South Downs Way.
For more info go to: The Hills Are Alive With The Silence of Music

If you are a like-minded @ngel (male or female) and have other ideas that you’d like to host in aid of Macmillan, that would be great! Please start a new thread with your idea and mention Macmillan in the Topic Title or Description. I can then link it from here.

EVENT #1 – 28th FEBRUARY 2016 – M@ Cake Sales – Raised £49.72. Excellent start and thank you to all who supported.





Muddy@rse Girls do the South Downs way – in a Day!

14 09 2014

Some of the Muddy@rse girls tell a tale of a crazy idea, training and one amazing long day on the hills….

“I’m just going out for a bit of a bike ride.” That’s what I told myself one sunny morning in Winchester. It was just going to go on for a little longer than usual; one hundred miles and sixteen hours to be precise. That “bit of a bike ride” was of course The South Downs Way which Sally, Jo and I tackled this summer.

Motivation is a curious thing. Some people ride the South Downs Way (in a day, or two, or three) to enjoy the countryside; others to beast themselves or to set a new personal best. My motivation was simple – to get fit. It was borne from an idle chat with Sally at the Friston BBQ last year to get us back in training on our bikes. A couple of months later Jo joined our group, and the idle chat had turned into reality. We were going to ride the South Downs Way on the Summer Solstice 2014.

So we set ourselves training targets: Jan 20 miles, Feb 30 miles, Mar 40 miles etc. We set up our own Facebook group to share our training, and maybe just a little competitive encouragement . Each week in my diary I gave myself a different challenge: start using Strava, add in some more hills, go on a detox. And some nice ones too like have a back massage. And the training was underway!

We had our highs: trips to QE2 park and Afan, dinners together to do some “planning”, and our lows: almost dying after only riding 40 miles in March, being pelted by a gruesome headwind as we summited Itford hill on Ming’s “Upgraded Triple S”. But by far our biggest setback came in the form of Jo’s knee injury which wouldn’t go away and meant she had to curtail her SDW challenge to just the second half of the ride.

The start…

Eventually our big day came and Sally and I set out from Winchester under the watchful gaze of King Alfred at 6 am. Still somewhat apprehensive and keen to preserve our energy, the first 25 miles, in the less well known westerly section, were ridden in almost silence. Ollie provided re-fuelling at QE2 park with bacon butties which were absolute heaven.

On route we met a pair of fellow SDW riders. Whilst they were much faster than us, they stopped for more frequent food breaks and at one point lost their way, which meant we kept leap-frogging each other. As a result a healthy bit of banter set in between us as our paths kept crossing. Ah the things you do to pass the time!
Jo joined us at Amberley and she was *Mrs Motivator*. What a welcome boost to our flagging spirits as she geed us along the second half. I will never forget her line, “You Girls Are Machines!” as we plodded our way up Truleigh Hill. Guy also joined us for ten miles from Amberley and Michael and Ollie kept popping up on route to ply us with more food and words of encouragement.
The miles to Ditchling flew by as a result. There we were met by Rich, Catherine, Ollie and a lovely afternoon tea. I have to confess to almost crying when I saw my family. They were just so full of love and laughter and I was feeling a tad weary by that point.
The last leg to Eastbourne was the toughest: the biggest hills, the most tired legs, so it was time to dig in. But one by one the big hills were conquered: Newmarket, Itford, Windover. We started to believe we were going to make it and a sort of giddiness set in.

Cue the second unforgettable line of the day, somewhat uncharacteristically from Sally, “Let’s smash this thing!”, and this silly Charlie’s Angels shot.

Charlies Angels – courtesy of fatigue and giddiness brought on by the thought of actually making it…

As we descended Windover, the sun began to set and the whole hilltop was bathed in a pink, transcendental light. It was my favourite moment.

We tried valiantly not to use our lights up Eastbourne Mile but eventually common sense took over and we switched them on for alongside the golf course and down the new finish to Eastbourne. There we were met by our lovely friends: Lisa, Rick, Ollie, Michael and a bottle of bubbly. High from what we had achieved, the wine was quaffed and stories were shared, before we headed home to for a well-earned rest.
Looking back three months later, we definitely met our goal to get fitter. But the day itself was just a means to an end. It was the six months leading up to it that mattered and, as a result, I can now ride to work twice a week without causing total exhaustion.
It is the incidental benefits that I probably gained most from though. I learned that you need the support of your family to undertake the amount of training we did and that I owe them my time now to say thank you. I learned that, even when you are really tired, you can keep going. Do not demoralise yourself by thinking about the enormity of what lies ahead, just tackle what is in front of you, one pedal stroke at a time. And finally I gained some awesome friends: from my brilliant co-riders to the unsung heroes – the support crew. Thanks and love to you all.
Donna x xx





2014 Cystic Fibrosis Charity Ride/Race from Ditchling Beacon to Seaford

29 04 2014

Ming reports from a world of a timed ride in the name of a good cause

 

2014 Cystic Fibrosis Charity Ride/Race from Ditchling Beacon to Seaford

 

PAIN, not enough oxygen, leg muscles protesting, heart pounding like a jack hammer, must keep pedalling, keep the bike upright, bloody hell this is hard work and we’ve not even got to New Market Hill yet!

 

Fifteen minutes earlier Team Muddy@rse was standing on a bleak and windswept Ditchling Beacon ready to start the third Cystic Fibrosis Charity Ride.  It was the usual eclectic mix of teams out for a nice ride on B.S.O.’s too some very fit people on some serious race spec machinery looking to take the title off team Muddy@rse (not sure looking at Strava the night before checking competitors weekly ride totals was a good thing for my nerves).

 

Lining up for team Muddy@rse was Tez, Timmyb, Steve62, Baby Gixxer (aka Little Rick) and I.  Last team to roll as we won last year, no pressure then!  We got the go to start and off we went, the pace from the off was relentless, flying across the tops of the Downs trying vainly to hide from a cross/headwind that plagued every team and made you feel so slow.  Halfway to the turn down towards the A27 the team got split by of all things and articulated lorry!  It trundled slowly along the SDW stirring up all the puddles which then stank.  Finally the truck turned into a field and we accelerated again before turning down hill.

 

Again the cursed head wind struck seemingly robbing all speed.  We began overtaking teams leap frogging them at gates before a short nasty muddy climb that saw everybody jump off and push.  No chance to rest, lungs still heaving, Steve and I really struggled with the fast pace as we pushed up the hill but egging each other on, if we could swear that meant we weren’t pushing hard enough!

 

A quick blast down to the A27 and across the bridge to the horror that is New Market Hill!  Steve nearly had a comedy clipped in pedal moment at the first turn but luckily humiliation was averted and up we went, another short muddy push and we were out onto exposed downland.  Here we met Team Yellow T-Shirt who were taking things at a more laid back pace and had stopped for a cigarette break!  A quick stop to lose a layer and the climbing began.  Up ahead Tez and Timmyb looked like they were on a Sunday bimble, apart from the rate at which they were overhauling people up the hill!  We slogged up the hill cursing the wind and the hill, getting stretched out with Tez and Timmyb in front with Little Rick bridging the gap back to myself and Steve.

 

Once at the top and after a bit of heckling Steve and I began to recover from the start and we shot across to the concrete road passing another team fixing a puncture, again the wind sapped our speed, being nearly a full minute slower this time compared to last year.  A bit of gate management and we were all back together for the Mill Farm DH, roaring down the hill determined to be first, passing a cyclo cross bike I missed him going over the bars as he tried stopping for the gate (no injuries apart from pride).

 

We whizzed along the farm access road and climbed up to cross the Kingston Road when disaster struck!  PUNCTURE!  Timmyb had a flat rear, Tez dragged Steve on and Rick went to hold a gate.  Wheel off, tubleless wasn’t sealing so tyre popped off and checked very carefully to make sure we weren’t going to puncture the new tube.  It seemed like every team we had passed was overtaking us!  Nothing found so we double checked, fitted the tube, some brisk pumping, refitting and off we went.

 

 

Collecting Rick just before Itford Hill, sucking on a gel and painfully warming up now cold legs and lungs the pain began anew.  Timmyb shot off to catch the lead two leaving Little Rick to haul the Old Dog (me) up his most hated and windswept hill.  Every time I got on his back wheel he’d look over his shoulder and with wicked grin accelerate a bit so I’d have to keep up.  On this went to the Radio Masts with that thrice cursed headwind making itself felt again as we descended to Bo-Peep passing people all the way with the sun beginning to break through the torn clouds.

 

My heart was saying we’d lost due to the puncture but this is a race so never give up, set a new target, this time sub 2hrs and aim for that.  Some slightly deranged calculations from what my Garmin was telling me said that this was possible….just.  So with renewed vigour and hitting the vaguely downhill bridleway to Seaford we span as hard as possible, passing more teams and collecting Timmyb before another bout of headwind on the last few exposed fields before picking up the road back to Seaford.

 

Here the evil grin appeared again with a “latch onto me” comment Little Rick was off in Team Time Trial mode.  Leading the three of us along the road, head down, lungs heaving, lactic acid coursing through our legs we pedalled for all our worth to the finish where Steve and Tez were waiting. Two hours dead!

 

After a coffee and rest we awaited the results….2nd place.  A bit disappointed but vowing to be back on top next year we left to drop Steve back at Ditchling, driving home from there I got a text from Little Rick saying we’d won.  After a few more hurried texts it turned out that after checking Strava times and start and finish sheets there’d been a maths error and we were first by 5 minutes!

 

Back again next year, no pressure……………..

 

Many thanks to Clint and all his helpers for organising a superb event, all the sponsors for prizes and food etc and finally to all the teams from the very fast One Speeders and the other fit teams for keeping us honest to those just out to do a sponsored charity event.

 

Special mention to Mrs Ming for ferrying duties.

 

…….and Team Yellow T-Shirts, three of which were last seen on the Alfriston Road pushing towards Seaford!

 





Blockbuster! A trip to Afan

26 02 2014

Guy reports from an eventful trip to Afan – a January trip that is becoming a tradition – this was Guy’s first time joining the adventure…

“Never bring a knife to a gunfight”

This is the phrase that popped into my head as I was driving to Wales in late January.

After foolishly deciding to take up a challenge from Robin I found myself heading westward towards some proper mountains with the wrong bike packed in the car. A hardtail bike, with only one gear, that tends to only get used to go to the shops or the pub: according to Strava, this bike was ridden for approximately 56km in 2013, 18kms of those were off road.

As I drove on towards wales the sky started to blacken. It started to rain somewhere around Swindon it started to rain and by the time I had reached Newport the weather had become a “traditional Welsh winter” of torrential rain and wind.

I started to question my sanity but comforted myself in the knowledge that Afan Lodge is dry, has a bar, the food is always good, it has a bar and the company for the weekend would be excellent. Did I mention the bar? It’s got a bar. With Beer. Beer and Whiskey.

I drove on. South Wales was somewhere outside the car, hiding in the mist, rain, spray, and wind.

24hrs later I had revised my initial saying to:

“Never bring a knife to a gunfight especially if you can’t throw straight”…

Here’s why:

Having missed (by luck or judgement) the chance to ride The Wall on a very wet Friday afternoon with the rest of the Muddy@rsers I instead headed up the valley on my trusty On-One Inbred in search of a mobile phone signal. I rode on a cycleway. I got wet. Very, very wet. Signal finally found and home phoned I headed back to the lodge for a change of clothes, a pint of Guinness and a wait in a nice warm bar for the rest of the club riders to return: Singlespeeding is obviously a state of mind and my mind state was soon to be made slightly fuzzy.

Beer was drunk, food was consumed.

Alex played a banjo.

warm, dry, beer, dinner on the way

I think the rain stopped at about 10pm.

I do remember Robin mentioning that we would be riding W2 on Saturday.

30+miles.

1500m+ of climbing.

Lots of Technical ups and downs and a few rock gardens

On singlespeeds.

Oh, and the weather forecast said it might rain and be a bit windy at some point mid-afternoon.

Obviously this would all be a challenge but I felt that if I paced myself I would have a tough, but fun ride with a group of like-minded souls all showing the rest of the mountain bikers with their trick full-sussers and 30 gears just what we could do.

Easy.

Fast forward to halfway through Saturday.

A slow climb up the Wall through low cloud and mist, onto the link route past the wind turbines, a fun descent on the Energy Trail and then downhill via the redesigned “Darkside” trail to our lunch stop at Glyncorrwyg had left us all tired but happy. The riding was tough, the climbs were long and I was in no real mood to try and overdo things as we were still in for a serious amount of mountain miles. The first spots of rain had started to fall as we completed the descent and it was starting to get windy too.

Guy getting into the swing of things

During the lunch stop, Bob decided to call it a day and started back for the hotel via the railway cycle trail. A few hardy souls had headed off early to try and get up the long climb to the top of Whites Level, leaving the rest of us to play catch-up,

Having been to Afan previously I have climbed this trail a few times, usually in the summer and I have always enjoyed the way it zig-zags up the mountain through the forest.  Unfortunately it now looks totally different, there’s been a lot of tree felling so what was a nice sheltered climb through the tree plantations is now a long, technical,  rocky slog up a hill that seems to be exposed at all point to the elements. It was raining hard, the wind was now blowing a full on gale and I was struggling to keep up speed and pace as my front wheel seemed to find every ditch, hole and rock to slow down my progress. The climb became the following : stamp on the pedals, get the bike moving, try and go over a few boulders, try and find a rhythm, the climb steepens, I slow down, stamp on the pedals some more, gasp for breath, scream, hit a water bar/rock, log, etc. come to a sudden, stop, gasp for breath, start again. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat. My love/hate relationship with my singlespeed had started to re-balance itself firmly in the hate camp.

I also realised that I had managed to lose my cycling glasses somewhere on the trail behind me and had also left my sense of humour back in the Skyline café.

Then it started to hail.

Hail and a gale force winds on an exposed mountainside in wales is very painful

horrendous

Ok, a few points now. Big thanks to Ricky for picking up my glasses (I was so happy that I did propose marriage) and there was a lot of encouragement on the climb from other riders: Rich especially but also a lot of complete strangers too. I ended up riding/stopping to breath/ pushing the bike up the hill. Things didn’t improve once we finally got into the plantation, it was still wet and windy and rocky and there was no chance to actually enjoy the trail as I was just trying to keep the bike moving all the while looking at every fireroad that headed back down the hill and thinking “go-on, you might as well turn around, follow Bob’s good example and take the most direct route to a warm dry bar”

Finally the trail started to flatten out and I met up with the rest of the group at the start of the Windy Point trail. I was last up the hill and feeling worn out, wet and miserable. Haribo, a few words of encouragement, a very shot stop to catch my breath and everyone headed off for the next trail: Windy Point.

The thing about mountain biking is that every now and again you see something truly amazing that completely changes your mood. Ahead of me, Rick called out something like “bloody hell look at that!”. I hadn’t realised that the sky had cleared a bit and the sun was shining low in the sky and suddenly I was threading my way along a perfect, sinuous, narrow trail of forest singletrack with the huge, bright, winter late-afternoon sun shining rays through the mist and trees ahead of me. The forest looked truly, heartbreakingly, beautiful.  I had to stop for a moment to take this in. A perfect photo opportunity presented itself. For a moment all the pain of the climb was forgotten.

Wow

The rest of “The Wall” was ridden, the long technical descent back into the valley made more sketchy by wet trails, fading daylight, a rarely ridden, short-travel hardtail bike piloted by a very tired, aching rider who was looking forwards to a shower, dry clothes,  a good meal and a well-stocked bar.

I promised myself that I would not ride on the Sunday and instead head home early. Sunday morning came and I joined the most of the rest of the group for another wet and windy ride on the newly reopened “Penhydd” trail. Another long slow grind climb up a welsh hillside in high winds, mist and rain ensued, but this time I wisely left the group early and rode the cracking good “Blue Scar” trail instead with Nick (and I whooped and hollered through every berm and switchback all the way down too)

Over the last month I’ve looked at the 3 photos that I took of that view at on Windy point, they are pretty good (If I say so myself), hell, I think they are some of the best photos I have taken, but they are also proof that you need to be in the right place at the right time to get that kind of experience and frankly it doesn’t matter if you can’t throw straight.

And that’s why I love mountain biking (but I’m still not sure about singlespeeds though 🙂





2013 in review

31 12 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.





“Guy to the Forum please”

24 10 2013

The immortal words used whenever there’s a mention of either an imminent  tyre discussion or a suggestion of a  delayed arrival at any Muddy@rse ride or event. Its a gentle mickey take, and one of the unique themes that pop up on our very used forum (link over there on the right if you’ve not been here before).

There’s also a growing number of silly nicknames (Margaret and GPS are the first examples spotted in the field), repetitive photoshopped pictures (Donna ewok anyone?) and references to oh-so-memorable rides (often, it has to be said, involving riding bikes in sideways rain across an exposed South Down).

The everlasting Word Association thread.  The ever present Tilgate Wednesday night ride thread. The pretty much constant addition of new subject threads, including new names that keep appearing to join the old (and not so old) school.

It struck me tonight what a great place our club is right now.  A big thank you from me for making it what it is  and here’s to many more years of sillines, bikes and muddy@rses.

Happy 7th birthday Sussex Muddy@rse 😀

Going up – “glorious sunshine” on our first anniversary ride in 2007

Rich F

 

 

 

 

 





Forum back!

18 09 2013

Update – we are back up and running 😉

Quick post to let you know that our forum is a bit sick right now. Not much we can do other than be patient. How about going for a bike ride? 🙂

Latest info here http://if.invisionfree.com/topic/5175627/1/ if you are interested

Rich f





Bike Packing – An Adventurer’s Tale

20 08 2013

A subject quietly popped up on the Muddy@rse forum over the summer – ”  Darth’s Night Under the Stars”. The premise was simple – Eastbourne local and long-time Muddy@rser Darth had dreamt up a 24 hour bikepacking adventure, where the challenge was visit a number of predetermined grid refs in 24 hours, staying out in the great outdoors in the process. Rules were minimal and based on trust. Prizes only pride and the fun of riding bikes in the hills for a day and night (and day again). A select group of adventurers took up the challenge, and here Muddy@rser Buzzard recounts his tale, which turned out to be a heady mix of low flying aircraft, foul “summer” weather and mistaken identity…

 

GO TIME.  It had finally arrived.  Sat at the Ram in Firle at 11am ready for my briefing from Darth.  Only problem was that I was the only person there.  Impatience of youth (although youth in this sense is a relative term)? Something that would be a feature of the day for me unfortunately.

Darth duly arrived about 10min later only to inform me that his bike was “knackered” and he couldn’t take part.  At this point alarm bells should have been sounding.  If the organiser and route planner is pulling out then surely I was in over my head.  A little banter with Darth ensued (including some invaluable route suggestions) and in no time at all Ray and Bob had appeared.  We discussed gear choices and routes but Bob was playing his cards very close to his chest (I would soon find out why) leaving the rest of us to wonder if he knew something we didn’t (he did).  Ray was the dark horse though manfully explaining that he would use his warm bed as his “bivvy” for the night and his local knowledge may just prove useful.

And then finally we were off.  Ray graciously showing me to the start of the coach road to Alfriston where we parted.  Bob had left after us clearly not wanting to divulge any of his top secret route choices.  Now it’s embarrassing to admit and anyone who has cycled the coach road will know why but I didn’t even make it to Alfriston before making my first Nav error.  Missing the “turn-off” by which I mean actually just getting off the clearly designated road, I ended up having to back track my way back to Alfriston.  Mildly irritated with myself already, I impatiently took my photo in Alfriston and pushed off up the SDW without taking a moment to ponder the next point (you remember I told you about the impatience).  I would later find out that Bob would see me leave and chuckle to himself knowing that I had once again made a costly error.  So I pushed off and attacked “Old Man Hill??” like a man possessed.  Topping out I realised my mistake, I had to descend back into the valley to pick up the point at the pond – the clue really should have been in the name – since when is the pond at the top of a climb.  Now having not learned my lesson I decided to take the first route down to my right – which was nothing more than a sheep track.  Had I carried on along the ridge for another 50m I would have seen the wide bridleway down but instead I spent the next 30 min fighting down the sheep track and through the thicket of thorns and brambles at the bottom of the sheep track.  Emerging scarred for life I found the pound and then made my way back up the bridleway cursing my shocking map skills.  By the time I crested and found the next trig point up top I would find a smiling Bob at the trig waiting for me, barely sweating whilst I was already a bloody, dripping with sweat, mess of a man.

Famous cliffs, “summer” sky

It was an easy decision at that point for me to tag along with Bob and hopefully gleam something from his clearly superior skills.  Unfortunately coming off the ridgeline into Jevington I seemed to lose Bob.  Gutted but sure in my mind that he had taken another one of his top secret routes I was convinced that he would once again make a fool of me and be waiting for me at the next point, but onward I pushed climbing out of Jevington like my life depended on it (something my legs would ultimately regret).  Bombing down to Beachy Head and the next point I was sure that I would find Bob tucking into lunch at the pub when I got there, but to my surprise Bob was nowhere to be found.  Deciding I was ok on bars for the moment I decided to get to Seaford (the next point) for some solid food.  So far the dark and brooding clouds had failed to materialise into rain but the wind was blowing an absolute gale and from this point on I knew I was going to be cycling into its teeth until the turn around point at the Jack&Jill Windmills.  A thought that didn’t exactly fill me with glee.  I bombed down the hill to the Beachy Head visitor’s centre where I was going to take a sneaky trip along the footpath to Seaford, but upon arrival I was told in no uncertain terms by a group of ramblers that my bike was not allowed on the footpath.  Fair dues I guess and I decided to take the road to East Dean and pick up what looked like a bridleway to Seaford.  Unfortunately when I got there it was another footpath.  I asked at the local newsagent but they didn’t think there was a bridleway that lead from East Dean to Seaford.  So I made the decision to take the road around.  Frustrated at having to resort to the road I put my head down and time trialled my way to Seaford.  Dropping off the road to pick up the navigation beacon as Seaford. There was a slight climb up to it from the car park.   As I was climbing up wondering where my nemesis Bob was when I was suddenly rattled to my core by a deep rumble and as I looked up to my left a majestic Spitfire sped up the coastline beside me close enough to touch (the Eastbourne air show? was on hence the Spitfire).  Definitely a highlight of the day, I was buoyed by the sighting and quickly picked up the nav beacon point and started on my way back.  By this stage my hunger was kicking in and I elected to head straight back to Alfriston for some real food.

Picked up the most amazing sandwich at the Alfriston deli (for £2 which was an absolutely bargain) my enthusiasm was quickly drenched when I came out of the deli to find the rain well and truly pounding the market square.  Rather than sitting in the rain I elected to get straight back on the bike and took the easier coach road back to Firle whilst I ate lunch.  At Firle I climbed back up to Firle beacon but in my post lunch daze it felt like it took forever and my already 25kg bike setup felt more like 100kg.  Once at the top I knew I was on my way to Brighton which is the area I was convinced I knew better and that Nav would no longer be my lingering problem.  Over confidence and impatience would once again come back to bite me.

I picked up the point up top at Firle beacon and although easily found the hard won trig point above Southease where the climb took me around 40min.  After dropping back down off the ridge to pick up the SDW and climb back up again to the ridgeline (Surely there must have been a better option? I’m guessing Bob found one) the real torment began.  Cycling directly into the wind and the driving rain the trip from there to the University Sports Hall at Stanmer was unbearable.  Originally intending to tag the windmills first (as the furthest point to the west on the route) and then dropping down through the Stammer singletrack,  the rain and wind (I was blown off my bike twice along here as my frame bag acted like a sail in the wind) drove me off the ridge line sooner and down to the sports hall first.  Another decision I would soon come to regret.  Once at the sports hall I took my obligatory camera pic and stood under the bus shelter finishing off the rest of my sandwich knowing that a quick climb up through Stanmer would take me to the Jack&Jill windmills and that would only leave me the long slog back to Firle having collected all the points on the intended route.

Checking in at Sussex Uni sports centre – onwards!

Now at this stage I’d been on the bike for around 6hrs and my legs did not feel as snappy as they should.  However having been forced to take the road to Seaford I didn’t want to climb up onto the Ditchling Beacon Road (the route I knew) and I elected to rather try find the path (as it appeared on my GPS) leading from the back of the university up through the Stammer forest and depositing me out on the SDW about a mile to the east of Ditchling Beacon.  This moment of madness would cost me.  I spent the next 1hr climbing through barbwire fencing, crossing fields, running (yes that’s right I couldn’t get back on my bike quick enough – need to work on my CX mount) away from dogs, staring down crazy cows and walking through what seemed like a field of brambles before finally with much thrashing and gnashing finding myself back on the SDW (although closer to three miles east of Ditchling beacon).  Mustering up the strength to get back on the bike I started heading towards the windmills.  As I crested the first small roller I could believe my eyes.  There about a mile in front of me was Bob.  I will admit it, I was completely gobsmacked.  I was shattered after my fight with the English countryside and here was Bob in front AGAIN just cruising.  I decided to get my head down and catch up to at least try to ascertain how in the hell he had managed to come across the downs so quickly.  That turned out to be harder than I imagined as he seemed to stay tantalising out of reach as I powered up the climbs and hit the descents with fervour.  I was trying to convince myself that there was no way he could have already picked up the sports hall point and that as consolation he would at least have to drop down and collect that on the way back whereas I wouldn’t.  I also knew that he would stop at the windmills and I would be able to catch him up there but for some reason I didn’t want him to get there before me (I know crazy thinking after 7 odd hrs on the bike).  So I pushed the big ring and finally started catching him up the last few little rollers before the descent to the windmills.  I was making progress which spurred me on and I got my head down and lit it up (as much as you can with a 25kg bike underneath you) but as I raised my head and the wind and rain abated for me long enough to get a clear view it became obvious that it was not Bob at all but instead Bob’s twin (Bob – sending your twin out on route to freak your fellow competitor out was in my opinion a truly ingenious plan).  Catching up to Bob’s twin I grunted a “hello”.  Bob’s twin responded by saying he saw me break out of the bushes about 4 miles earlier and was doing everything he could not to let me catch him.  Hence the full on pace and he now felt like he had blown himself trying to stay away from me (he said all this with a laugh and a smile but all I could muster was a grunt and a grimace).  In my red mist haze I proceeded to fly off down the descent and drop him immediately.  The fun was over within a minute though as I had to break clumsily to dive into the windmills car park – Bobs twin flying past me shaking his head.  To be fair,  Bob’s twin cannot have a particularly high regard for me and I wouldn’t blame him.

So having picked up the last point I was in a bit of a quandary. I wasn’t sure if I should make my way back or try to find a spot to camp.  My decision was made for me when I realized I was out of water.  I knew I would need water either way so figured I would make my way back along the SDW and try to pick up one of the taps along route before finding a sheltered spot for the night.  It was at this point that the weather conspired against me.  The wind I had been fighting all day seemed to swirl around and rather than being behind me as I expected it was bearing its teeth right at my face.  The rain stinging my arms and knees as I pushed forward.  Thirsty and tired each climb took an eternity but I was determined not to get off and push.  Once again my naivety would prove my downfall and for those of you that know clearing the two climbs through the small forestry sections (Just before and just after crossing the A27?) are brutal without the 25kg bike and the tired legs but with them would just prove silly.  I suddenly felt the dreaded twinge of cramp coming on and I was forced to hold off a little and recover.  I had managed to fill the camelback up at a tap but the rain was still coming down and the thought of trying to pitch camp in the wet was very unappealing so instead I just kept plodding along the SDW.  I knew that once I reached Southease I was virtually back at Firle and that became my goal.  That short section from the road crossing to Southease seemed to take an eternity and as darkness started to fall I wondered if I would ever get there but sure enough I was soon standing at Southese station.

Another checkpoint in the (frame) bag

By this stage I had decided to head back to Firle and get a warm meal at the Ram.  This thought alone drove me along over the last few miles.  The climb out of Southease is painful at the best of times but after 8hrs on the bike it seemed like Everest would have been the easier option.  Knowing it was the last real climb of the ride I manfully tried to clear it without dabbing and I got to virtually the crest of the grassy top when a loss of concentration meant I slid out on the slick grass and fell into the wet grass.  Tempted to just lie there I must have stayed on the ground for 10min before the wind and rain raised me to my feet.  In no time at all I was back at Firle beacon and I took the road back down to Firle standing outside the Ram drenched, sweaty and happy.  At this point I sent a text to Darth to let him know I had finished (around 8h45min or so after leaving) and I wouldn’t be around for the 12pm meet the next day.  The thought of a beer and burger prompted me into the pub with my plan to be to wait out the rain and then pitch up just outside of Firle somewhere in a sheltered spot.  Once inside I realised that my wet stinking lycra did not exactly fit particularly well in the Saturday ambiance of the local gastro pub and I felt so uncomfortable that I was prompted straight back outside with my pint into the rain.  Standing outside with no prospect of warm food and the allure of my car close by and with that my warm bed would eventually prove just too inviting.

I packed up the bike and bits and headed home happy in the knowledge that I had ridden hard, made mistakes, tested my resolve but ultimately just had a damn good adventure.

Thanks must go to Darth for setting it all up, to Bob and Ray for coming along, to Bob’s twin for pushing me along to the windmills and finally to English countryside and the brilliant summer weather without which it surely would have been far too easy??