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The Longest Day

I have places names and road numbers scribbled on bits of paper in my pocket. Today is going to be the longest ride of the year so far. Looking at the forecast it’s probably the warmest too. Gilet and arm warmers are stripped off by the time I get to Lewes. It’s a long steady climb from here all the way to Blackboys, at first barely noticeable but steepening as I cross the A22 and into the woodland of the High Weald.

IMG_20140517_123425I turn into a dark tunnel of trees, a narrow lane that cuts across to Mayfield. After a mile of so of dropping and twisting through woodland I sharply round a tight corner and I’m climbing again, between hedges and fields out of the woods. Popping out on to the main road I’m soon in the medieval village of Mayfield sitting atop the High Weald. From here I plummet into the weald on sunken lanes only to have to clamber back out again. Then I have to do it all over again only this time climbing higher. Then I’m freewheeling down again. I’ve ridden across the whole of East Sussex. The six martlets on village signs are replaced by a single white horse, the White Horse Rampant of Kent.

IMG_20140517_123553A gentle flowing downhill section lasts a good few miles and I find myself on a flat grasslands nestling between the High Weald and the North Downs. I know I’ve still got one more hill to go but for now though I relish the level landscape and the ease with which I can push the pedals around. Turning onto Hunton Hill it’s like the bostal climbs near home; twisting, short, hard. I click through the gears, get out of the saddle, breath heavily. Over the top I push the chain back onto the big ring for a long, long winding downhill section into Maidstone sitting in the valley of the Medway. Sat in the park with family I hungrily munch on a pork pie. And then another.

A few hours later I clip back in to follow the sun back towards the Sussex coast. After fighting traffic around the one way system I’m glad to be back on the road over Hunton Hill. After an initial steep couple of hundred metres it turns into a long shallow big ring climb. Across the top I drop fast back to the flat lands on my way to the High Weald and county border. The smell of barbecues and bonfires drift across my path every now and then, sunbeams made visible in smoke. It’s warm and still and humid. I’ve emptied a bidon before I’ve hit the border again. I stop at a village shop and fill the empty bidon with a cold bottle of coke. It’s flat and warm within a couple of miles.

IMG_20140517_210810As I cross the border back into Sussex I sense riders behind me. Glancing over my shoulder I see a couple of riders. I recognise Lewes Wanderer jerseys as they pass me. The response to “You’ve been a long way today” is that they started out in Norfolk that morning. That’s five counties and a ferry ride away!* They are thumping out a hard rhythm in a big gear. They dangle ahead of me for a couple of miles slowly extending the gap between us. Then they are gone.

Back at the highest point of the day I miss a turning. By the time I realise I have sped down a steep hill. I look at the map** and back up the hill. I decide not to turn around. If I continue to Bells Yew Green and Frant I can pick up at the main road back to Mayfield. Everyone must be in their gardens drinking beer and burning sausages over coal because the A267 is empty, barely any traffic. Unlike the steep rise and fall of badly surfaced lanes I should be on the road is smooth and gently undulates along a ridge across the High Weald. Despite adding a good few miles to the route home I can push a big gear for the next few miles. Kent spreads out to my left and the dark hills of the weald to my right. I feel the mild heat of the evening sun on my legs.

IMG_20140517_211513Out of Mayfield I pick up the right route again picking up a shaded lane. Hedge tops and tips of branches catch early evening sunshine as birdsong accompanies the whirr of chain on block. Rejoining the Blackboys road I click down a couple of gogs and tuck in for the long swoop down from the weald. I crest a little lump out of Halland and I can see the silhouette of hills I know so well ahead of me. I’m nearly home. The Broyle undulates gently downwards to Ringmer where I pull in to a petrol station for a bag of Jelly Babies.  I check my phone, I’ve ridden 103 miles. There are about 13 left to go. My legs feel good for another 20 miles but I can feel the parcours of the day in my lower back and arms. I need to replace my cheap aluminum frame with something more forgiving.

IMG_20140517_195616The sun drops behind the downs as I leave Lewes. Pink and orange light leaks over the hills. Nearly home. Just the last little rise to get to Falmer then it’s flat all the way back into Brighton. I’ve not quite timed it right to get home before sundown. The city is bathed in the blue grey hue of dusk. At the lights at Elm Grove I  rummage in my bag and clip my lights in for the last mile or so home. On the sea front the hot smell of salt & vinegar on chips hits me. I’ve decided what’s for dinner.

IMG_20140518_082533*I discover later that they were training for the National 24hr timetrial.
**I always carry a map. A proper paper OS map. Just in case.

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