A Big Night Out

10 10 2011

Guy reports from a Big Night Out in the company of other Muddy@rsers:-

Due to various reasons (the main ones being work and a bit of lethargy) I don’t get to do as much night riding as I would really like. I also seem to have lost a lot of my previous passion for 12 or 24 hr enduro races. If I’m honest with myself I’m just not really that fast on a mountain bike. Furthermore my racing mojo seems to have deserted me this year. The whole idea of riding around the same course in forest all night doesn’t seem to have the attraction that it used to (this may of course be that the wet, windy, muddy hell that was the 2010 Dusk Till Dawn race at Thetford is still fresh in my memory…)

Guy on a previous night time adventure.

I’ve been meaning to have a go at the Exposure Maxx Enduro for, well, as long as it’s been going. I really like the whole idea of a non-competitive distance night enduro event, the fact that it’s across the South Downs and therefore on a lot of trails that I already know is a bonus. The only issue has been the whole idea of doing 80miles from Beachy Head to QECP at night, I’m still not sure my legs are up to that. Fortunately there is now a option of 2 shorter routes as part of the same event based out of QECP that looked on the face of it a good combination of a challenging night ride that was still do-able without committing myself to months of preparation.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday night, saw 6 intrepid Muddy@rsers: Jackie, Tez, Sally, Donna, Tim and I, lining up with about 40 others at Queen Elizabeth Country Park to do the “mid-distance” 40 miler Maxx Enduro. Our route would take us south of the Downs on bridleways and lanes for about 8 miles before heading north and onto the South Downs Way and across Harting Down, down to the Harting Inn (not stopping…Boo!), back onto the SDW and heading off towards the car park at Cocking where we would go to a route and timing checkpoint. From there we would head further east towards Charlton Forest, then off the SDW to Charlton (past another pub…not stopping…again…) itself, take a short road section to East Dean ( and another pub…) then back north towards to pick up the South Downs way back to the Cocking checkpoint again and then to QECP…sounds easy.

The mud, wind and rain of last years D2D race were a distant memory as we set out just after 8pm under clear starry skies. The route was marked out by reflective arrows that would easily show up with good bike lights (well, that’s the general theory) and after a little bit of directional confusion on the trails behind the QECP visitor centre and charging along the first bridleway a high speed I decided that trying to get in the lead group was not really going to be the order of the day, Fortunately Sally and Donna were riding at a pace that seemed to suit me so I decide to tag along with them. The first major turn was nearly missed due to a cunningly parked 4×4 hiding the marker sign and a mile further on some building works and a subsequent trail diversion meant we caught up with Jackie, Tez and Tim and several other riders who had missed a turn and were trying to find their way out of a field, They also had come a cropper due to the hidden sign earlier too and ended cycling half a mile up a dead end road. A few moments of head scratching and a bit of , “well, it should be somewhere around here” and we were back on the trail. The group spread out again and we were out into the dark trail south of West Harting Down. I saw another lost( and somewhat annoyed) rider a mile or so later who, once I told him that he was on the right trail, just going in the wrong direction, tore off into the dark at a sprint. We would see him again a bit later…

It's in here somewhere

So, onwards and onto the South Downs way proper towards Harting Down. This is a great area I rarely get to ride on in daylight and at night it’s a really fantastic place: rolling grassy trails and some steep fast, if somewhat slippery chalk descents. Cresting over the downs to the first fast chalk downhill we found three riders clustered around another lying next to the trail. The lost rider we had seen a few miles previously had crashed on the rutted and, even on a warm-ish September night, slippery chalk and was holding his left arm in a worrying way ;either a broken collarbone or a broken wrist, He was looking a bit shaken up. We all stopped to ask if any help was needed as the other riders called up an ambulance and we double checked our location on the route map. Sally and Donna rode on ahead while I rifled through my camelback for my emergency kit for some painkillers (not there…sorry) and a thermal emergency blanket which I always carry.

So, back on the bike and a fast run on the trails skirting around Beacon Hill and down towards Hooksway and after a couple of miles I picked up two tell-tale flashing red LED lights ahead: Sally and Donna. The Pub at Hooksway looked very inviting at 10pm on Saturday night but Donna (spoilsport) insisted we keep on riding up the hill past the Devils Jumps and on towards the first check point.

A 10 minute stop to check-in and refuel with food and water at the checkpoint and then the grind up the Southdowns Way towards Heyshot Down. We rode on for about 2miles after thinking that we had missed the marker sign, the turn point south finally appeared pointing us to a fast fun forest trail down into East Dean Village. Once again we passed a few inviting looking pubs without stopping and began the long drag north back up to the top of the Downs. A tough grass hill climb was dispatched slowly but surely and it was about 12:30am when we finally started on the return leg west back towards the checkpoint.

Out of the dark....

25miles into the ride and we were all starting to feel the effects of a long ride and a bit of sleep deprivation. My legs were starting to inform me that cramp was just around the corner so a few Shot blocks were chewed. All downhill back to the checkpoint so it was a chance to take it easy and freewheel for a bit, or so I thought. Leading the way down the hill I started to think that Sally and Donna were riding rather quickly behind me, obviously not wishing to get overtaken I started to speed up and ended up at a fast sprint all the way down to the gate at Hill Barn. I reached the gate first and found that I’d been trying to stay ahead of two riders doing the full distance who were delighted that I gone ahead and opened the gate for them…

Back to the checkpoint and another stop to regroup, catch our breath, take on some food (including a HUGE platter of Haribo, Cola cubes and Jelly Babies…woohoo) and water and chat to some of the riders doing the full 80 mile distance option (the nutters). So “only” 13 miles back to the start, it was about 1am and we just had the three steep climbs across Penn Hill, Beacon Hill and Harting Down to get over.

Chivalry was dispensed somewhere above Hooksway and I elected to try and pick up the pace ahead of Sally and Donna and I rode on ahead trying (unsuccessfully) to keep up with a group of five other riders doing the full distance. The chalk climbs on these sections of the route were steep and super slippery and with the added issue of tired legs I decided to walk these sections. I found out later that Tim had cleared them all without putting a foot down!

Coming off Harting Down I could see the lights of Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth giving me a psychological boost. The GPS was showing only about 5-6 miles back to the start. I hadn’t seen any riders for a while but the night sky was clear, stars were overhead, the trails were dry and fast and I was really enjoying the feeling of being out on my own with only the occasional hooting owl for company. Checking the GPS my elapsed time for the ride was looking a bit pathetic but I reckoned a sub-7 hour time was a definite possibility. Again prior knowledge of the trails was a big help as I was able to not worry about looking for the direction markers until just above Buriton and the turn into QECP. A final long drag gravel climb up to the top of the park and a lights-on-full-power and a fast big-ring sprint down the hill through the forest to the visitor centre was all that was left to do. After a brief “directionally challenged” moment due to following another rider who had managed to pick up the direction markers for the start of ride (I had no intention of doing another lap!) I got on the access road under the A3 and on to the finish point.

Timing chip tagged and my final time printed out I was directed to…Breakfast! I’ve never had a greasy cheeseburger for breakfast but it really was appreciated, according to the GPS I’d burned about 3400 calories so I reckoned it could do no harm. I caught up with Tez and Jax who, in spite of making a series of missed turns and doing 6miles more distance, had managed to arrive back over an hour ahead of me having kept a moving average of around 10mph…mighty. They had however lost Tim who was “somewhere” out on the trail riding with the aid of Google earth after taking a wrong turn on the return leg.

Donna and Sally arrived at the finish about 30 minutes after me, both were still smiling and Tim, finally found the correct route and finished 10 minutes after them. All had really enjoyed the riding albeit with a few reservations about missed marker signs. I even managed to get home and finally got to bed at about 5:15…AM…on a Sunday morning….

All in all, a good night out with a nicely chilled out atmosphere and some great trails to ride. I’m still not sure about doing the 80 mile full distance but I would love to do this at some point in the future. However for the Mid option I reckon that if I actually decided to push a bit harder and maybe train a little bit more I could get a time around 6hrs. But that’s for next year 🙂

Finished! Still happy at 3:45am...






2 responses

11 10 2011

Good effort guys (and Guy) – looks like a fixture for next uear’s calendar.
Dusk to Dawn without a hint of Suffolk/Norfolk 😉

13 10 2011

well done to you all, 40 miles at night is not to be sniffed at – irrelevant of your timings. I think you all did brilliantly. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us…lisa

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