Ride Report: It’s Our Birthday and We’ll Ride If We Want To!

1 11 2009

Happy Birthday to Us!

3rd birthday group

Well, believe it or not, three whole years have passed since the inaugural Muddy@rse ride – nobody had any idea just how muddy an @rse could get!

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, we returned to the scene of the crime (Or should that be ‘grime’?) and prepared to relive the experience. The weather seemed to be unseasonably co-operative, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it was really tricky to decide how many layers to wear.

Gathered in the usual haphazard manner – cars, bikes, backpacks etc; scattered across the University of Sussex car park – banter was exchanged, last minute fettling took place and forgotten items were fretted over. Gradually, the riders gravitated into something resembling an orderly group and a head count ensued. Unfortunately, our intrepid leader, Lisa, was not able to join us on the ride, as she was still recovering from a nasty spill that took place a few weeks ago – but she was there to wave us off (And guard the cake!)

3rd birthday cake

So it was that 23 riders set off into a late October day, for a spin around the South Downs. The temptation to negotiate a few steps of stairs, as we wound our way through the University campus, was too much for some – but it gave others (me included) the opportunity to shed a layer or two as the realisation that we’d overdone the clothing set in. Half way across the campus, a car pulled up next to us and two embarrassed faces stared out of the lowered window – they were friends of Sally, who were here to join a Muddy@rse ride for the first time. A quick set of instructions from Rick and they sped off to the car park, hoping to catch us up shortly.

The University is often chosen as a starting point for rides, as it is nestled into a small natural bowl and offers easy access to the South Downs, in various directions. This meant that we were soon crossing the A27 and heading off road and up our first climb. Being the last one through the gate (I was acting as the ride ‘sweeper’ for the day, OK?) I was greeted with the familiar sight of a long line of riders, plodding their way up the hill, into what was turning out to be a glorious day.

As I reached the top, and rejoined the waiting group, I glanced over my shoulder to see if the latecomers were in sight. Despite being able to see for quite a way back down the hill, they were nowhere in sight, so Rick decide to set out on the next stage. One by one, the rest of the group fell into place behind him and, just as I was about to follow suit, I noticed a couple of heads above the hedge – the latecomers had decided to climb the hill via the road, and had managed to make up ground. I opened the gate for them, did some quick introductions then shooed them off in the direction of the quickly disappearing convoy.

About a half mile later, the others were waiting, and upon confirming that there were now 25 of us, we hurtled down the hill towards the A27 again (Passing the wonderfully named ‘Loose Bottom’ as we went). It was starting to get good – only a few miles in and we’d already had steps, a long steady climb and a fast grassy descent. Spoke too soon – after crossing the A27, a sudden left turn up a tricky flight of steps brought us to the bottom of the ominously named ‘Long Hill’ – this was not made any easier by having to do a ‘hill start’ on steep ground, after passing through a gate. What a slog – glad I took my raincoat off!

Once over the hill, a short hillside traverse brought the group back together again, and this spot was chosen as an opportunity for a food stop – sitting on dry grass in the sunshine, with views stretching in most directions, it was difficult to believe that we were only one week away from November.

It turned out that refuelling was a good idea, as we now faced a further climb of over 100 metres, to reach the South Downs way. This was a reasonably steady climb – not as steep as Long Hill – but was made tricky by the fierce sideways wind that we suddenly encountered, causing us to steer left just to keep in a straight line. Finally, we reached the South Downs, relieved that we were just about done with the climbing for today. Time to relax and enjoy an amble along the ridge, towards Ditchling Beacon, and to enjoy the simple pleasure of riding through puddles of chalky water (Somehow ‘Sussex Chalky@rse MTB’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

After negotiating a short, sharp climb that somebody had slipped in, whilst I wasn’t looking, we regrouped in the corner of a field that was occupied by a herd of shaggy cows – it’s a good job we’d eaten, or Ming and Hobbz would have been firing up the barbeque. Stretching out in front of us was one of those sections of field where the grass had been treated (Mown?) is such a way to highlight a well defined corridor to pass through. It was just screaming out ‘Ride down here – real fast’ – so we did. This was one of those occasions where you don’t mind being at the back, as this means that somebody is holding the gate open and you can just zip through without slowing down (Unless, like Chadders, the person hold the gate loses their grip – and then your tyres follow suit, under heavy braking)

With the open downs out of the way, we entered single-track territory. This consisted of distinctly individual sections, some of them meandering gently uphill, some winding crazily through the woods – seeking out every tree root known to man – whilst others were fairly fast blasts through not very dense trees. This was the tricky part of the day, with something new around every corner – roots, logs, mini-berms, holly bushes (Almost ended up in one of those!) and trails that simply disappeared under a layer of leaves to reminded us that Autumn (Winter?) was finally here.

As the end of the ride approached, we reached a point where we had the option to either take the straightforward single-track or, for the more adventurous, to tackle some ‘Trickier’ obstacles. As I was last to arrive at the fork in the road (I was sweeping, remember?) and didn’t really know my way around, I decided to stick with the group that had not yet ventured off. As luck would have it, they were taking the tricky option!

3rd birthday rick

Flipping heck – it was hard enough riding the narrow trail that led to the obstacles, never mind anything else, and the trees were so closely packed, I started to hear Banjos! A queue started to form ahead of me, and I realised that we’d reached the main attraction. A quick word from Neil (Otherwise known as ‘Mr dayglo bike’) appraised us of the obstacle and assured us that it was alright if we didn’t want to attempt it. I sat and watched as, one by one, most riders tackled two large fallen tree trunks with a short flat section between each. Although the trunks were about 2-3 feet thick, there were smaller logs piled up on either side of them, to make ramps. AS each rider negotiated the hazard, the queue shuffled forward, giving me several different angles to observe from. When it finally came to my turn, I did the usual thing – rolled up to the log, then slammed the anchors on. Being this close, I had a better view of what was involved, gave it some consideration, then rode back up the trail a bit to start my second run. Needless to say, I didn’t carry enough speed and stalled with my front wheel on top of the first tree trunk, realised how slippery things were and called it a day (I’ll give it another go when things are a bit drier).

Once through this section, we made a relatively short off-camber traverse of a slope that consisted mostly of leaf litter and required a bit of speedway style riding, then a quick blast down a fire road style path and out into the bright sunlight of Stanmer Park. It was quite surreal, going from a fairly wild woodland landscape to a normal ‘Sunday afternoon in the park with the family’ scenario, in the space of about 20 yards. This left us with a simple freewheel along the access road and back to the car park.

There were relatively few mechanicals – a slow puncture and bent rear mech, as far as I know – and no injuries, despite a few minor tumbles. As the bikes were returned to the roof racks and sweaty helmets were consigned to car boots, everybody gravitated towards Rick & Lisa’s car – could this be something to do with the cakes and coffee? We even had a birthday cake – to add to the usual type – to mark the special occasion. As you can see from the picture, this was based upon the picture that forms the banner of our online forum, but was modified slightly, to avoid having to put candles on it. The cake was skilfully cut in a way that meant each person in the picture was able to eat their own heads – although the unluckier people had to eat their feet! As is usual at the end of a ride, tales were told and legs pulled, as we all reflected on another fun day on our bikes – bring on the next 3 years!…Bob

(ED:  Big thanks to Bob for doing the write up, providing the special birthday cake and sweeping the ride.  Also to Rick for leading the ride in my absence and to everyone else for their cake contributions (of which there were many yum!), to my MuddyBoots ladies who joined me for a walk in the woods and to the many faces old (naming no names lol) and new for just turning up and enjoying getting out on yer bikes.  It was a great party.  Lisa x)






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