Doorstep Epic Plus

A few years my friends Jo, George, and Oli, joined Le Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux. Their stories from that day led me to attempt the feat last year. Their rides that day also inspired the idea of the Doorstep Epic. I’ve toyed with the idea of having a bash at George’s particular Doorstep Epic ride – that joins all the South East climbs in the 100 Climbs books into a 285km ride – for a while. I saw that our friend Vic had ridden it last week whilst I was off riding to Wales and back, prompting me into a last minute decision to try it at the weekend. The choice to ride it a week after completing the 400km London-Wales-London struck me a tad daft, but I was feeling pretty good after LWL. I wouldn’t normally consider another big ride so quickly but with the Transcontinental Race coming I’ll have to do this day in day out so I thought “Sod it, let’s see what happens.” I also decided that it needed 20km added and an extra couple of hills to make it up to a 300km AAA audax for this season’s Super Randonneur attempt. In for a penny, in for a pound. George’s route was tweaked, a virtual brevet purchased, and route submitted for a DIY by GPS perm.

Just after 4am on Saturday morning I shut the front door behind me and pedalled off up the hill towards Devil’s Dyke. The streets were quiet except for foxes scampering down twittens and a few clubbers crawling home. Up at the Dyke skylark song mixed with the dawn chorus filled the dark sky above my head. Brighton glowed orange behind and below me. As I turned for the descent to the weald the grey blue haze to the west was diluted by the approaching day.

By the time I hit the top of Steyning Bostal a thin grey sky was temporarily stained orange and pink by strengthening sunlight. The first of the Sussex hills were done. The rest of them would have to wait until the return leg later in the day, for now I had to head north to the Surrey Hills. Fifty kilometres of rolling weald and stiff headwind through a trilogy of Greens – Dragons, Barns, Bucks – to Cranleigh to start the suite of Surrey climbs; Barhatch Lane, Coombe Lane, Coldharbour Lane, Leith Hill, White Down, Box Hill. At least two of these I don’t particularly like. On the plus side all the lanes in the Surrey hills are literally that, in the hills, sunken holloways that would protect me from the wind. It was still early, about half 7, so hopefully I could loop around them all before all the other cyclists came out to play and clogged up the lanes.

First up was Barhatch Lane. I’ve only ridden this once and to be honest I walked a fair chunk of it (I was having a particularly miserable time that afternoon). However it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it, I sat in a low gear and worked my way up it steadily, out of the saddle for the steep bits, but not going deep as I knew there were a long way to go after this and a lot more climbing. The descent from the top into Shere was lovely, speeding through a tunnel of trees and exposed roots. Coombe Lane next, a hill I’ve had a hate/hate relationship ever since I first made it’s acquaintance. Steady away again, and out of the saddle for the sharp left-hander. Annoyingly there was a car on my arse so I couldn’t swing wide and had to take the steeper inside line but second Surrey climb dealt with without fuss.

From here there was a long fast descent before throwing myself around a tight right hand junction and dumping most of the gears for a short rise onto the Ranmore Common road. The decent into Dorking was great fun on an empty road where I could use all the tarmac and chose my line. I followed the one-way system out of town onto the bottom of Coldharbour Lane. I really like this climb, my favourite of the North Downs climbs. A nice even gradient, a couple of short ramps but nothing serious, and you can big ring the top section around to Leith Hill. Darting across the cross roads on Leith I dropped down Tanhurst Lane through the bluebells and rhododendrons and around Leith Hill Wood to start the proper Leith Hill climb. Over the top and half way down the other side I cut left to double back around to Peaslake via Radnor Road. A quick stop at Peaslake Stores for a late breakfast sausage roll and to stuff a cheese straw (they’re infamous, ask a mountain biker) in a rear pocket and then headed for White Down via a twisting burrow of lanes.

Out of the second hairpin and I instantly remembered the grind that is White Down. Not only is it steep but it always goes on for longer than I ever remember. However again my legs didn’t feel too bad and there wasn’t the usual swearing through gritted teeth. On the rapid descend down the other side towards Great Bookham I check the distance and time. I was still on a 15 hour schedule which was good. Turning for Westhumble and Box Hill I came across another sneaky little climb. That’s the problem in the Surrey Hills, there are a lot of hidden climbs between the ones everyone knows. I was starting to realise that it was these draggy stealth hills between the big ones that were going to be trouble. I knew where the big ones were and knew a few minutes of effort and they were over. The little dinks and lumps in between were the things to be worried about, these were sapping the energy.

Next up was the one everyone knows – Box Hill. I don’t get the popularity of Box Hill. It’s a bit boring and the café at the top is rubbish, yet cyclists flock here. I know it was for the Olympic road race, but so was the Kingston one way system and that’s not rammed with cyclists every weekend. It’s also wide open to the wind. Over the top and my legs were complaining a bit and it felt like I was slowing. A glance at the time and some quick mental arithmetic and no, I was still on schedule. Crack on.

George had warned me that the section joining the Surrey climbs to the Kent ones was a bit dull and he wasn’t wrong. The roads themselves are pleasant enough (except the bit around Salfords) but I was back into the wind and everything seemed to be an annoying false flat. However it was the perfect section to get some food inside me ready to tackle Kent. I completely squandered this opportunity. I eat the cheese straw from my back pocket, a packet of crisps bought from a corner shop, and a handful of Jelly Babies for dessert. Not really a sensible lunch, and an error for which I would later pay.

The first Kent climb wasn’t actually in Kent but still in Surrey, and it was shit. I will happily never ride Chalkpit Lane again. It reminded me of Boxley Road further along the North Downs ridge out of Maidstone. Basically a steep hairpin bend followed by a straight steep ramp to the top. This isn’t actually dissimilar to White Down and in itself is bearable, but White Down is a quiet narrow lane buried into woodland. Chalkpit Lane is a lane in name only and clearly a popular road over the ridge for car drivers. It also carried me into the hinterland between the Downs and London. It’s all just a bit scruffy and trafficky up there for my liking. I was much happier once I’d dropped off the ridge and back outside the M25.

Next up was the back and forth and back again over the greensand ridge. Hosey Hill is a gentle introduction, nothing extreme, a gentle spin. At the top I’ve hit the 200km mark and realise I’m a bit behind schedule but not by much, fifteen minutes at most. Down the other side and around to Four Elms I started the climb of Toy’s Hill. About half way up I rapidly regret not having bothered to stop for food in the previous 80km. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the hollow faint feeling of the pre-bonk. Shit. I pulled into someone’s driveway and stared at my feet for a minute or two. Probably three. I stuffed a few Jelly Babies in my face and had a swear. I just needed to get to the top as it would then be a (very) rapid descent into Brasted where I knew there was a café. I clipped back in, swore at my stupidity again, and pedaled. Slowly.

After inhaling a panini, double espresso, and can of fizzy pop I’m back on the road. Transcon team mate Jo had been riding out to meet me and accompany me for the final part of my ride. He was just the other side of Chiddingstone in a pub waiting. By my reckoning this was about 20km away. Less than an hour on a good day. Maybe not in the state I was in. Ide Hill next, final ascent of the greensand ridge and a climb I’ve done enough times to know is nothing to be afraid of. It’s what lay beyond it that I was scared of. A short loop to take in Yorkshill.

Halfway up Yorkshill and I was looking at my feet and an inner monologue of “Pedal. You’re not fucking walking!” echoed around my head. A hundred metres later this was repeated. At the junction at the top I stopped for a few deep breaths and a word with myself. There was only about 85km to go. Just a normal ride. Plus I should have a tailwind all the way back now. Easy. I ignored the fact I had to get over the Ashdown Forest and South Downs, there was some respite before I would hit all that. I checked my phone, Jo had moved from the pub to watch the village cricket game down the road.

I flew down the Bough Beech side of Ide Hill and kept spinning as big a gear as possible, out of the saddle for the little rises. I was flying, or that’s what I told myself but was under no illusion. I knew I was being flattered by the overall downward trajectory of the landscape, I was being tipped off the Downs back into the Weald. Oh, and I had a tailwind. I passed the village sign for Wellers Town and then waited what felt like miles to pass the pub and reach the cricket green. I turned through the gate and collapsed on the grass. Jo handed me a scotch egg.

After fifteen minutes had passed and an unlucky batsman had been caught out (actually to be fair he gifted it to the fielder) it was time to get moving again. The fifteen hour schedule was lost by then, but sixteen was still possible. The hills of the Ashdown loomed to the south and this would be next. Being a stupid route catching all the 100 Climbs hills there would be a short pointless going the wrong way just to come back to where you were already bit to take in Kidd’s Hill. Before I got that far though I had to get over Black Hill. Well, the summit is Black Hill but it’s about three climbs that gently and not so gently undulate from the floor of the Weald up to the roof of Sussex. The last two times I’d ridden this had been respectively on 100 and 200km AAA audaxes. In winter. In the dark. It was nice to ride it in warm daylight for a change, and despite being further into a longer ride it felt easier than the last two times. Not fast but not painful. It was good to have Jo as a rabbit to chase and his wheel to tuck in behind over the top of the forest towards Chuck Hatch and Kidd’s Hill. Known locally as The Wall Kidd’s Hill is one I generally try to avoid. In fact I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ridden it. Straight into the lowest gear at the bottom (no point pretending I was going to use any of the others) and slowly twiddled the pedals to the top. That was the second last hill. Just the Beacon to go.

A quick stop at the petrol station in Nutley was required to refuel one last time. Going #fullaudax I sat on the forecourt with a can of coke, wrapping chicken bites in cheese slices. Dinner of champions! I was back on familiar territory so knew the route from here was predominantly downhill until we hit the South Downs. Having Jo to talk to also helped as I suspect if I had still been soloing my thoughts would have been slumping into the realms of ‘this is stupid’ and ‘where’s the nearest train station?’.

Slugwash. Hundred Acre. Streat. Home lanes. Autopilot. The South Downs reared up in front of us. Deep breath, last hill. Done it loads of times. Like all of the day’s hills it wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever got up it but nor was it the slowest ascent. I’ve had some horrors on the Beacon in the past and this didn’t get filed in that particular back catalogue. The sixteen hours mark was hit as I crested the summit. Not quite home but near enough. I could almost see my house from up here and it was downhill all the way home (well, mainly downhill). Given that I’d ridden London to Wales and back again the weekend before, and this ride had accumulated almost 5000 metres of climbing, I’ll take over sixteen hours.

Thanks George for dreaming up such a stupid ride. I’m not sure who is the bigger idiot, you for thinking it up in the first place, or me for deciding what it really needed was extra distance and hills. Also thanks Jo for riding out to Kent to keep me company and shepherd me home.

Ride numbers and stuff: https://www.strava.com/activities/973985997

February TCR Prep

1030km. 12000 metres of climbing.

Started with a rest week and a pilates class.

An aborted 200km audax in the snow.

Some longer and faster road commutes.

Some indirect wiggling about cyclocross commutes on beautiful mornings.

A loaded ride to Kent and back for a family birthday party.

Weekly swims and a short pilates routine every couple of days.

A damp and windy 200km audax a couple of counties away.

Reilly frame ready for the sprayers.

Template sent off to Wildcat Gear for made to measure frame bag.

A few more bits and pieces bought – silk sleeping bag liner, head torch, an extra dry bag.

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Winter Wonderland

snowsurrey-134654We can’t feel our fingers or toes but we are surrounded by the whiteness of an overwhelming silence. Mist and snow have muted the woodland around us. Last night messages bounced back and forth discussing whether to attempt the planned 200 kilometre DIY audax or not. The decision to set off from Brighton and see what confronted us when we got over the South Downs has turned out to be the correct one. Fortunately for us it seems everyone else looked at the same forecast and decided to stay at home. The lanes are damp but not icy and for the last few hours we’ve had the North Downs to ourselves. Riding into the hills was like climbing into a snow dome. Every now and again someone gives it a shake and fat fluffy snowflakes flurry around us. Swooping through and around the hills snowflakes dart past, and stingingly into, our faces, buffs are pulled up, peaks tugged down. Our route loops back and forth to catch classic and favoured climbs, diving into darkened holloways to navigate between them, retracing wheel tracks now and again. We bag Ansty Lane, Leith Hill, Whitedown, and Coldharbour Lane before deciding, due to the cold and likelyhood of daylight running out before we can get home, to miss out the loops that take in Combe and Barhatch lanes. We clamber over the Greensand Ridge one last time and drop back into the damp green of West Sussex and head back to the coast.

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https://www.strava.com/activities/862881701

Here to There to Here

“Spoke to Andrew at TiC who wants to know when we’re going up to say hello?”

Within a few minutes we’ve planned to ride to Cambridge and back in a weekend. Two hundred and twenty odd kilometres each way. The idea to enter the 2017 Transcontinental race as a team means it doesn’t take much for talk of a ride to rapidly (instantaneously) escalate into talk of a stupid ride these days.

Routes are plotted, tweaked, replotted, a weekend chosen, and then routes submitted as DIY by GPS audaxes for the points and this season’s SR attempt. Jo isn’t bothered about the audax stuff, this is #transcontraining. The points mean badges though and I like badges.

We realise that the weekend chosen is a year on from when a friend passed away. A 450km round trip in two days seems as good a way as any to remember.

Saturday

East Sussex

Over the familiar hills and along friendly lanes as far as Pooh Corner before entering that lesser known corner of the county, the bit up in the north-east that borders Kent, not quite close enough to ride regularly.

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Kent

A pretty triangle enclosed by motorways and those in a rush, a quiet slow space surrounded by noise and speed. Trying not to get caught up in the garish club runs and failing. Looking to Essex across the river. Raspberries and sticky buns on the ferry.

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Essex

Running out of tarmac across the scruffy hinterland of the Thames estuary, past the fruit pickers under the pylons and tower blocks and a Constable sky, a clunking shuffle in the metal shed and the glowering eyes of the security guard. We might be in the right county for Constable but The Haywain this isn’t. A while later an emergency tea stop at a pick your own fruit farm. A glance at the map to work out where we might be and how far is left.

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Cambridgeshire

Landmarks and views start make sense, a familiarity embedded from previous rides. However darkness falls quickly and then does the rain. The red lights of Addenbrooke’s cranes shine red in the sky visible from miles away guiding us to our quarry. Except I routed us hither and dither so the target keeps moving. Past the airfield in the pitch black and the rain gets heavier, senses of humour are starting to be lost. We just want to get there now. DNA and railway lines.

We arrive dripping and bedraggled at This Is Cambridge HQ. We are handed tea and red wine and food and our kit is cleaned and dried. Wine and chat lasts into the night. Thank you Andrew and Daf.

Sunday

Cambridgeshire

A damp dullness hangs low over the flatlands and we grind into the drizzle laden headwind – flashbacks to this road and that audax when 25 kilometres was done in silent through and off with the fixie riders, heads low trying to avoid the wind. Big skies and vast fields, a dissolving horizon, washed out browns and greys, muted tones flattening that which is already flat.

Hertfordshire

A fried breakfast as early lunch is utilised to avoid an impending very dark very grey cloudbank. It’s well timed as rain starts to fall heavily outside as mugs of tea are placed in front of us. Back out under blue skies and we cheer. Then we turn back into the headwind.

An American Airlines plane skims overhead with wheels down, indicating that we must be near Luton. The hills get bigger and steeper, lanes get more enclosed, some respite from the wind. A few miles on a big fast road are endured before we escape back into the narrow lanes.

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Buckinghamshire

Into the unknown. Is this the Chilterns? Where is this? Are we still in Hertfordshire? Routing a ride on the smallest roads you can find means county boundaries are unmarked and blurred, back into the realm of the places between places. The rain must have fallen heavily here because we often find ourselves riding through floods, unclipping shoes to hold then above splash and wake. We are grateful to have missed this deluge.

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Berkshire

“Oh hang on, isn’t this bit from the St Crispin’s Night Ride?”

Big houses and royal residencies, greenbelt and the fancier suburbs. Roads known to my teenage self but only faint recollections now.

Surrey

Roads better known to my teenage self and bits of the audaxes that run out of south London. Darkness falls as a full moon rises. Canary Wharf is visible over the hedges from the ridge but then suddenly we drop into the narrow lanes and droveways of the downland. Mist lies low in the fields and we feel the chill when we drop into the dips between hills. Barthatch Lane is way more fun going down than up.

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West Sussex

Crossing this border always feels like being home again no matter how far is left. Autopilot can be switched on, or it would be if a dense fatigue wasn’t starting to envelop me. Onto the disused railway and the legs instantly feel heavier as the drag on the tyres increases. Scrambling past back fences and a dog’s bark carried on the wind. After what seems an eternity (sorry Jo) we end up on the same flood plain as the end of the ride to and from Wales, the last big ride that finished in the dark – this time fewer kilometres but the tiredness is the same.

Home

Lie down.

Get up and eat.

Lie down again.

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Tourist Trophy 2013 // Stage 12 // December // The same, but different

For the final official Tourist Trophy ride of the year I came up with the idea to go “home” to Frimley and ride the hometown streets I bombed around on rattly-can sprayed single speeds, ‘racers’, and BMXs as a kid, and then the local Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire roads that were my playground when I first got into road cycling. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’ve already bagged Surrey and Hampshire, but Berkshire means I’m still within the Tourist Trophy rules.

IMG_20131214_190740Jumping off the train at North Camp I start off along the dirt track of the Blackwater River Path to Frimley, skinny tyres skidding around a bit, and having to pull leaves out of mudguards every now and again. After stopping on the high street to grab some well needed breakfast I was off to explore streets I’ve not ridden for about 20 years. Across the roundabout by Ye Olde White Hart [when did it acquire Ye Olde? Sure it was just The White Hart back then], up towards the church past Apex Drive [where Dad taught me to ride a bike without stabilisers], and off down Field Lane.

IMG_20131214_192457Then it was past Lakeside Primary and Middle schools, Tomlins Pond [where did those houses on the far bank come from!?], and Tomlinscote School [never looked like that when I went there]. Past the Catholic School [where the hell did that come from!?] and turning right at the end of the road [road? that used to be a path] I headed off up towards Heatherside past the woods, Frimley Fuel Allotments, where there used to be a BMX track. Actually there were two, one down near the school field, and another at the top of the hill near the junction of Old Bisley Rd and Edgemoor Rd. In the late 80s I rode up the Old Bisley Road most weekends to my friend Alex’s house, before heading off for a training ride [he raced for Woking CC and then VC Meudon]. I spun through Heatherside and down to the roundabout over the M3 and towards Camberley, before turning back towards Frimley via the footbridge over the M3 again [the quickest way over the bridge is to pull massive skids around the 180 degree switchbacks. How none of us fell off this bridge and died is beyond me]. Past the house where the fella from Bros lived [think it was the drummer one] and up Longmeadow past another old house, through the Warren estate, and then darted down the alleyway [who put that fence there?] behind Latham Avenue and the back of another old house. Past Alphington Pond back on to Field Lane, round the back of the old primary school and out towards Frimley Green on St Catherines Rd [I remember when that was all fields down there]

IMG_20131214_193241IMG_20131214_193528From here we’re into roads further afield and parts of old training rides. From Frimley Green it’s through Deepcut and along to Pirbright bends [still a lovely stretch of road to ride]. Under the railway bridge I turn right for the long climb [well, it felt like a big climb when I was 15] over towards Mytchett [there used to be a tiny magical bike shop here where an old man built wheels, shiny Campag parts glinted in the window, and where I bought my first cycling jersey – a black Castelli wool one with red and yellow striped side panels. It itched like hell]. At Mytchett lake I skip down the steps to the Basingstoke Canal towpath back towards Frimley Green. Rejoining the road I pass the Kings Head [when did it become a Harvester!?] and head for the Hatches, a bridleway past the old gravel pits and over the A331 [I remember when that was fields as well] and across the railway line at Farnborough North.

IMG_20131214_193704I head out towards Berkshire through Hawley, across the A30, and through Frogmore and Darby Green. I bought a map for this ride as I thought I might need one, after all it’s been a long, long time since I’ve ridden out this way, but as I head out through Yately it all comes flooding back. I’m chasing my teenage self down the Reading Road, head down and pushing hard, sprinting for the village signs. Past the cricket green at Eversley Cross and onto Eversley I turn up Fleet Hill towards Finchampstead. Somewhere on this hill must be the border with Berkshire but it’s unmarked. Over the top of The Ridges I turn for Crowthorne and down Wellington Avenue, which isn’t as steep or as long a descent as I remember it. At the roundabout I turn north towards Wokingham to pick up Nine Mile Ride west towards Aborfield Garrison, Aborfield Cross and Swallowfield. To try and ride as many roads that I used regularly way back I loop back to Fleet Hill, but this time I turn off before the top down to Eversley Cross to retrace my wheel tracks for a mile or so. Forking left at Eversley I head for Bramshill for a few miles around the Forest of Eversley. Once out on a Sunday morning a young squaddie from Aldershot we passed near Fleet on a fixie asked if he could join us on our ride. We ended up out this way. I remember he thrashed us on every village road sign sprint, and then it would take us half a mile to catch him up as he wound down his pedalling [it ended up a long ride and he missed his lunch back at barracks].

IMG_20131214_194148At the end of the Bramshill Road I aim for Hartley Wintney. The other way leads to Heckfield and I’m sure there used to be a 10 mile TT course down that way somewhere. I remember riding out that way one weekend and sitting on a grass verge by a roundabout watching low profile bikes with disk wheels one weekend. Also that way somewhere was the Happy Eater where we’d get toasted tea cakes in the winter. The road back to the A30 drops, rises, and then drops again, and today my legs were starting to feel a bit battered [I’d been out the night before, had less than 5 hours sleep, and eaten nothing more than a sausage roll and a biscuit all day. The younger version of me coped with this level of preparation far better than the current me]. I headed over the A30 towards Fleet but then turned back towards the A30 up a narrow lane. This was so I could get onto the road through Yateley Heath Wood, another road I’ve ridden hundreds of times in the past. In the old days we just rode the hill up the A30 out of Hartley Wintney towards Blackbushe airport. The A30 was much quieter in those days! The road through the woods is lined with rhododendrun and bracken. It summer it was an incredible, intense shade of green. In winter it’s deep green mixed with the orange-brown of the ferns. It stills smells the same as it did back then, but again the descent down to Fleet isn’t as long or as steep as I remember it.

I’m now on the final stretch now, back towards the train. The roads round this part have changed a lot and I get lost round the back of Farnborough. Eventually I find my way into town past the leisure centre and library [there used to be a half pipe and ramps just here], and spin over the hill towards Farnborough North station. For two years I rode from Frimley across the Hatches, or along the Blackwater River, to this station, locked my bike up, and got the train to art school in Reigate [there’s a shoebox under the bed with sketchbooks that were filled on this trainline]. I sit on the platform and wait for the deisel train like I did all those years ago.

Strava link: http://www.strava.com/activities/100141300

Ride Stats
Miles ridden: 65
Feet climbed: 2200 (told you those hills were smaller than I remembered)
Average speed: 15mph (the first 2 hours were done at average of 8mph so I must have caned it somewhere along the way)
Old houses passed: 3
Old schools passed: 3
Things that are the same: Everything
Things that have changed: Everything

img423Thanks to Mum for the photo above