Day 3 – A tale of two rides
As is tradition it’s time for the Boxing Day Century (imperial, not metric). I say tradition, but what I mean is I did it last year and I’m doing it again this year. Except last year I don’t think I quite managed 100 miles. Anyway, I’m up at the crack o’ sparrows and heading west as the moon is still suspended over the sea. As I ride into Steyning past the bottom of Bostal Road (not today thanks) the sun is rising over the South Downs, and on Spithandle Lane the low sun starts to catch the trees lining the lane. As I pull out of the end of the lane my back wheel whips about 2ft sideways and the front wheel slips too! Fortunately they both grip again and I stay upright. Somehow. A few metres later I realise that the back wheel is squirming around on black ice and I’m not convinced I have any control over the front wheel. Shit.
The next few miles through Ashington to Dragons Green are a bit dodge; I see tarmac twinkling in the low sun, and hear crackling below my wheels. I ride on whatever looks like the rougest bit of tarmac hoping for some grip. To make matters worse it’s also misty and I can’t feel my toes anymore. Fortunately it’s just the low weald that is icy and as I climb towards Southwater the roads defrost, and water starts to flow along gutters, and puddles splash rather than crack. Somehow I end up in Horsham, think I should have turned right at the end of that last lane. For the last few miles the sun has been filtering through mist and bare trees, and on Winterpick Lane sunlight is beautifully draped across the road.
At Slaugham I ignore my route notes and start to head north again to Handcross and Turners Hill. From here it’s through Balcombe (past the tea rooms, a Sussex cyclists’ favourite) and towards Ardingly Reservoir, which has flowed across the road. From here I consider heading towards the Ashdown Forest seeing as I hadn’t intended coming this way in the first place anyway. Then some sense kicks in. The hills in the forest are hard work and a midwinter century is not the time to tackle them. I turn south towards Lindfield so I can pick up my initial route again. From here it’s towards Lewes so I can get some flat kilometres out through Ripe to the Long Man of Wilmington. However I notice that my phone battery is draining fast in the cold, so decide to head back to Brighton via Ditchling Beacon (ouch) to re-charge it.
The plan is to then get back out and complete the century, however I am fully aware than once I’m back in a warm house it may be a struggle to leave again. Kettle on, cinnamon bagel in the toaster, Nutella out of the cupboard. It’s looking bad…
An hour later I’m on Brighton seafront heading east towards Cuckmere Haven. This way I can still get to the Long Man and complete the route I originally planned, even if the latter part is backwards. As I crest the hill out of Seaford I can see Cuckmere Haven and Seven Sisters to the south, but to the north something doesn’t look right. Aren’t those fields down there?
All I can see is the valley floor covered with water with ducks, swans and geese swimming around. It turns out that the valley road to Wilmington is impassable so I have no choice to turn around.
I consider riding over High and Over into Alfriston but I’m guessing that will be submerged too, so I retrace my tracks along the coast chasing the setting sun. After a quick stop on Seaford seafront for some Christmas cake, I spin back past the tide mills and over the swingbridge at Newhaven. At Saltdean I decided I can’t be bothered with the cliffs again so drop onto the undercliff path back to Brighton and home. Again. One hundred miles completed, even if not quite how I planned.
162km ridden. Total so far 272km.