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??




2 responses

21 08 2013

Top blogging, still owe you a pint, I felt had to buy all participants a pint to ease my guilt , Bike sadly still in hospital:(

22 08 2013

great blog, great adventure, rubbish weather, and GO BOB (and his Twin) 🙂 I think this is such a good adventure it should become a regular on the Muddy@rse calendar….Darth?

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