SDW in a Day: Are we nearly there yet?

14 08 2007

The idea of riding the South Downs Way in a day had begun as idle conversation during one of the Muddy@rse rides. Slowly the idea developed a life of its own and became a regular discussion topic. The plan was hatched:

1) ride west to east to avoid prevailing headwind into our faces and finish much closer to home; 2) in keeping with Muddy@rse ethos we would stick together as a group and not leave anyone behind; 3) partners volunteered to meet us and carry food, water and spares; 4) it was an event not a race; 5) individual training plans were developed (although none of them were followed!) and finally 6) we could raise some money for Lisa’s disabled nephew Connor. Follow the link and dig deep!

The big day arrived. We met at 5am in Winchester town centre, Rick, Ollie, Alec and me – Lisa opted to ride from Queen Elizabeth Park to not hold us up – we anticipated that we would all arrive at Devils Dyke at the same time. We left Winchester at day break and were soon spinning across rural bridleways using a map and GPS to navigate our way. None of us were familiar with the SDW between Winchester and QE park and we all agreed that the signposting left a lot to be desired. We kept our speed down during this first stage and gently eased ourselves into the ride. It was very relaxing and calm as we felt the increasing warmth from the rising sun. At QE Park we found a ‘Go Muddy@rses’ sign tied to the fence by Muddy@rser HellsBels, a great pick-up and the cause of much laughter and merriment. A toilet break for all of us and on we went. At this stage the energy bars and high sugar foods we were eating tasted great, we had decided to eat a little but often to maintain our energy levels and hopefully prevent us from dropping into our bodily reserves too soon. Ollie began to mention that he had a slight ache in his knee…

The section from QE park to Cocking was completed and we were feeling great apart from Ollie’s knee. As we were riding we received a call from Lisa to say that Rob (from a couple of Muddy@rse rides) had met her and was going to do 20 miles with her. During this stage the rain came down and we were on and off with water proofs. To the merriment of the others particularly Alec I had an ‘off’ while tanking down a narrow chalky line after explaining how slippery wet chalk can be! We were really enjoying the ride and the miles were just disappearing behind us, in what seemed like a no time we were at Amberly. Ollie’s knee was now causing him significant discomfort. Amberly edge was next, we rode about 1/3 of the way and then pushed. We were determined to save our energy for the hills that we knew were in front of us. We were on a high blasting along above Storrington and had to reign in our enthusiasm to prevent burnout in the later stages. Gestures such as Rob riding with Lisa and HellsBelles’ sign helped keep the mood high as we talked about them as the going got a lot tougher.

We had a major rest for about 45 minutes at Washington taking on food and water, lubing the bike chains, adjusting gears to perfection and having a good stretch. The climb out of Washington is long with a real kick at the end and is always a pig. Ollie’s knee was a major cause of concern but he was determined to reach Devil Dyke. We caught up with Lisa just before the descent to the River Adur and from now on we were the Muddy@rse SDW riders. The next climb up to Truliegh Hill was very difficult because of a flock of ramblers who either kept walking, ignoring our request to let us past, or stood in the trail forcing us to go around them in the ploughed field – at one point they told us that we should use alternative routes not the main SDW! We could now see Devils Dyke and within minutes we were there. Coffee was brewed and we had a rest. We had to force food down our throats but none of us could take anything sweet, an energy bar would have caused major vomiting. We felt like we had broken the back of the ride: 65 miles done with 35 miles in front of us. We ride in this area a lot so we had no illusions about the difficulty of the hills in front of us but we all felt strong and were confident. Lisa was unsure if she should continue but decided to take the next sections one at a time. Ollie called it a day at Devils Dyke after riding 60 miles with a sore knee: he could barely walk. Respect to the guy.

During the section from Devils Dyke to Ditchling Beacon we became aware that we were fading. A local rider caught us up and asked where we had come from and where we were going, he kicked and left us for dead. We had strength and confidence but we had all lost any zip and zing in the legs. Across the A27 to the climb up Newmarket Hill above Lewes and Kingston was a slow slog. On the top of the hills we were still making good time and enjoying ourselves; however the hills were becoming more of a slog and taking longer and longer. We fitted lights at Rodmell and continued for the climb up Itford Hill. We all had sore knees and muscles and climbing onto the bike was like sitting on broken razor blades until the @rse regained a welcome numbness. Itford Hill was one of the worst hills of the ride it is long with increasing steepness. Ollie’s girlfriend and regular Muddy@rser Sally joined us and watching her ride and skip across the trail reminded us just how tired we were. We dropped into Alfriston at a stupidly fast speed just to get to the next meeting point. The climb out of Alfriston was the final ‘killer climb’ of the SDW and we slowly winched ourselves to the top.

Jevington was the scene of major light failures as the batteries began to run dry. We bunched together and shared 2 lights between 5 of us for the final ‘Eastbourne Mile’. As we went through the golf course we could see the ‘glow’ of the lights at Eastbourne, the glow became more intense as we approached and then we could see Eastbourne itself. We had a whoop of laughter and our legs collectively managed to supply their last ounces of energy for us to blast across the grassy top and then the descent to Eastbourne and regroup with Ollie and our partners at the finishing post. We had done it.

The aching knees and muscles were forgotten as we drank fizz and beer to celebrate. We had achieved what we set out to do we had ridden the SDW in a day and raised a chunk of money for Connor. (£1,250 at the last count which means we have enough to get Connor his trike so a very big, big thankyou to everyone who sponsored us).

We agreed it had been a great adventure and the easy camaraderie of the group had enabled each of us to keep going even when it became very tough for the last 15 miles. Many thanks to Kerry and Sally who drove the van and kept us supplied not least with smiling words of encouragement.

We did it – but we don’t want to it again!





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