Not the kind of sub-zero conditions you might think; more the kind of cold that gets into your bones after standing out in a cold wind for 40 minutes eating bacon and drinking coffee. The kind of damp chill that leeches the heat from your bones and seeps into your feet and hands. The kind of chill where you look out the window and congratulate yourself that you are indoors.
Unfortunately, Elliott, DDub, Lloyd, James, Karl and myself were very much outside and had little to congratulate ourselves over at that point. After a long slog up Water Lane, being beaten by a large number of very happy looking trail runners (I took it for an endorphin high rather than smugness), the heat we had generated quickly dissipated standing in the queue for food at Newlands Corner. As always, their most reliable customers had beaten us to it as well (hello again Graham and Nick!).
Just as we felt the need to start riding again as the cold started to bite, DDub discovered a loose rear wheel which, even after our collective bodging, refused to tighten. I think the axle wasn’t locating in the dropout, causing the wheel to rest on its skewer but it was hard to tell. Most odd and a problem our cold minds didn’t deal very well with, which meant a steady return. My head was particularly cold as I was riding sans helmet after forgetting to bring it with me.
This would not normally be a problem – a few yards up the road I would have realised and returned to the burrow to get it. This time though it was – we’d decided (perhaps too strong a word) to start the ride from Abinger Roughs to avoid the numbing boredom and sapping effect of the Bastard Glue Mud (BGM)™ that characterises the Hills at this time of year. Abinger is easy to get to, and marks the start of the sandy lands south of Ranmore, but the change of routine rather threw me out.
So I rather felt I was riding semi-naked. Not as naked as this guy, but certainly a little underdressed for the day. Even so, the basic idea seemed to work out quite well. We headed down to Paddington Farm and rode up pretty slowly, gradually loosening our legs as we went. James caught us on Dandys old Cannondale, having ridden over from Ashtead and missing us at Abinger.
I was on the Pine Mountain which I hope is my last ride on it – I’m selling it to free up some space as it doesn’t really suit me; too heavy for a spinner, and too rigid for a mincer, both of which descriptions apply to me!
We were soon on Holmbury and resolved to do Yoghurt Pots in the murky conditions. The days of yoghurt are long gone, these days it closer to houmous I think, reflecting our middle-class sensibilities. On the rigid Marin I found it pretty grim, in fact I can’t think of a time I’ve enjoyed it less! Admittedly my tyres were too hard – 14psi up front and 17 at the rear where I think the sweet spot is around 10 and 14 respectively, but it was a real bone shaking experience downhill coupled to no punch going up thanks to the weight. Momentum was hard to find.
Next up was Barrys and wisely I decided to be the tail gunner. Again, this wasn’t a riding experience I enjoyed; another rattle-fest with the bike slow to speed up, slow to slow down, and the front end giving me a battering – frustrating because the bike fits well enough and I remain certain that there is fun to be had on Plus size tyres. But not on this bike.
We swept – sadly – past Peaslake Stores as with our Abinger start we only had five miles on the clock. The plan was recalibrated to Newlands Corner so we had to rely on guru Elliott to lead the way. Our faith was amply rewarded with a drag up Walking Bottom on the road, followed by a meander through the trees to Secret Santa. This is quite a heavily engineered trail these days and has several gap jumps that we all wisely circumscribed given the slow conditions and our own abilities which tend to range from sensible to foolhardy but rarely include aviation.
Elliot navigated us down River Run which today was thankfully lacking in water, then toward Blackheath before we veered off for Water Lane and the long climb to the bacon. We were caught and ignominiously passed by a large group of runners but there was nothing we could do about it. I keep saying it, but trail running is a growing sport on the Hills – let’s hope they keep away from Barrys!
After the bacon and faffage of our stop we were frozen and it took a few miles on the long drag along the North Downs way to warm us again. Our return to Abinger car park came via the C1 climb (but going downhill) toward Hackhurst Lane, a descent we haven’t approached for a long time. Overall, we had around 18 miles of riding, a lot less mud than usual and the pleasure of being out so I think it all worked out well today. Next time I’ll take my helmet!