I’ve got a bit more into MTBing this year and had just started gearing up to doing my now usual winter training routine of singlespeed mountain biking at the weekend mixed with turbo training during the week and the usual commutes. It helps to keep fit and more importantly, keep safe and off the ice on the roads. Sadly a broken clavicle has killed all of that but it does mean that I now have time to catch up on some writing.
There’s usually one of two locations available for a little weekend jaunt either Surrey Hills or Swinley Forest both an hour away in the van or on the train. Surrey is more natural and varied with a load more lumps, Swinley is a bit flatter but rolling with a series of man made trails. Swinley is a bit more reliable in the wet and you’re not going to ruin the trails like you would be at Surrey. Having said that Swinley can get a bit boring as it’s the same loop each time. We’ve tried extending the loop out in a few different directions searching for the locals favourite trails but always felt like we barely scratched the surface and didn’t feel like we’d really found much.
A few weeks back Anna dropped me a message excitedly saying she’d found a few more along with a link to her ride on Strava to turn into a GPX to follow. Sure enough that Sat we headed out to have a look around.
We were treated to an incredible autumn day with shafts of light and mist in the trees. We didn’t really make amazing progress as there were so many photo opportunities and it was simply too beautiful. We did the first few bits of the trails before peeling off to find these new ones to the west of the red route.
The first bits of the new trails were really nice and natural. They appeared to be quite fresh and we just about followed the track through the trees with leaves covering lots of them. Nothing too technical but nice and twisty. Not too fast either as I was trying to follow the trail on the Wahoo.
After a while we rounded a corner and came upon this flowing little twisting section. Of course it needed riding a few times and then getting the phone out to take some photos.
Round the next corner were a few little roll ins. Of course Andy just sent it straight away, I rolled it a few times before doing a better plop. Bash rolled it without too much issue and then I spent some time with Agi talking about the best way to ride it. Setting your weight, where to be on the bike, speed, line choice and so on. It was great to see her roll through it and then do a few others with new found confidence.
After that it was out towards where we started again via a lovely steep gulley and steep roll into the path back.
There seems to be loads more scope for riding out there and would like to go back and explore some more (once fixed up). It was good to do this then go back onto the main trails and do the usual loop. As well as having more fun it’s also good to add a bit more distance to it.
Back again soon hopefully. I also think I spied a sweet little bivvy spot…
Also, those photos don’t look quite as good on a laptop screen than they did on the phone.
I had the pleasure of shooting some images of a city ride put on by Rapha and Herman Miller on Sunday. For some reason I was a little worried about shooting this.. People, no tripod, doing it on the move, no chance of a re-shoot and so on. I toyed with using the X100T but instead went for the Nikon D700 with an old 28mm AF-D lens. Ancient kit by anyones standard but I knew that the focus would be bang on the with Nikon and the 28 would be wide enough for most of the shots needed. I really should buy a 24-70 but there always seems to be better things to spend money on.
It was a scorching hot day and I really enjoyed shooting it. I’ve felt really constrained from the rules of architectural photography so it was lovely to shoot something a bit more free and journalistic as well as try and not worry about verticals being vertical. Super hard to do!
I’ve been following a number of interesting people of Strava for a while now and get to see some really tasty rides popping up in my feed along with the usual ‘Morning ride’ commutes (I wish you could mute these). Every now and then I’ll see some had an interesting little adventure and reach for the ‘export as GPX’ button and then pop the file in ridewithGPS for later use. One of those rides was by either Duncan or Lindsey a few years back where one (or both) cycled to the chapel of St Peter on the Wall on the Dengie nature reserve on the solstice and slept out on the beach before riding back the next day I think.
I have a list, both written down and in my head, of interesting rides to do and try and complete or do again. This was pretty high up there and I was really frustrated when I saw that I’d missed the solstice last year as would have loved to get out for a bit of camping and see the sunrise. I’m in no way spiritual but seemed like a good excuse to mark a point in the year and get out of London into the fresh air. This year I resolved to make sure I didn’t miss it and added it to the diary and made a loose plan to get out there and do something. The St Peter on the Wall ride and camp spot seemed the best choice and I managed to get a little group of people together to come along. With a bivvy trip you don’t really want too many people so kept it to just four of us, Michalea, Rhys, Janine and myself. I’m between jobs and have taken a week off so this seemed like the perfect way of celebrating that week off and the solstice as well as having a lovely (hopefully) sleep out somewhere new. We agreed that we’d cycle up in the afternoon, eat en-route and then have a beer on the beach before going to bed.
So we met in Rapha Soho at 2pm and I was late. I’d not planned my morning very well and ended up rushing to find all those little bits you seem to need for a little trip like this. They soon add up, especially if you’re doing it for pleasure and not roughing it during some bike race for instance. Get the route on the Garmin, charge things, warm hat, head torch, coffee stuff, filter papers, grind coffee etc, lighter? All of these little things I was hurriedly putting into a series of bags on the bike.
A bit more faffing in the cafe and then we managed to get going, out into the busy Friday traffic. It was super warm and although I was a little anxious from my faffing / packing disaster we were out and on the road to freedom / beach camping.
Of course what I hadn’t really looked at was the route out of London which takes you along the Lee Bridge road. I really hate this road and is one of the reasons I don’t really come this way much. It’s so busy with cars, goes on forever and then has this terrible surface. Ahh well we were on it and heading out of town. I’d left without a full charge in the Garmin or the power pack and stopped at a garage to plug it in to the dynamo charger and top it up. Whilst the lights were working for some reason the USB bit wasn’t. Battery anxiety high and a bit hot and bothered. Fortunately Rhys was able to top my power pack up from his set up but it still annoyed me mine wasn’t working and that I’d probably have to throw more money at the problem when home to get it working again.
Onwards up out of town and finally that right hand turn comes where you peel off the main road and head into the lanes. I think I’d ridden this lane a few times going to Cambridge and maybe the Great Escape Audax. It feels good to be off it and ticking along in the countryside.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the road bike loaded up with the bags and it feels super weird out of the saddle. I’ve balanced it up front and back but the narrower bars compared to the MTB I’ve been riding recently feel a bit odd at first.
Lanes turn less familiar and it’s a beautifully warm afternoon. There’s not that many cars around and the majority pass us with loads of room. We’re even able to sit in a little group of four in two up formation for quite a lot of it. I realise that I’ve just taken this route and not really looked at it. I’ve kind of taken it on trust that it’s going to be good and not going down farm tracks or on A roads. The people I’ve stolen it from always seem to have good routes and I kind of relax slightly as the route rewards us with absolutely beautiful scenery and lanes. Clearly the sun helps but it’s one of the nicest routes I’ve done.
There’s very little around us apart from the occasional cluster of houses and farms. The further we head out the more sparse it gets.
This feeling of remoteness is great until I realise how quickly I’m getting through my water and that the energy bar I bought tastes disgusting and I don’t want to eat it. I start wondering if the next village will actually have a shop that’s open where we can top up a bit. Again I didn’t really look at the route properly to check these things. Ahh well we cannot be far from something.
Eventually we get to Maldon (yes the salt) and ask someone where’s good for food who encourages us to go to the end of the town and peel left at the Chinese. We do this and end up at a brilliant pub on the quayside. I dump my bike and pretty much run in to order food, completely forgetting any sense of manners towards the others and whether they would like to go first. A few moments later a huge haddock and chips arrives to go with my pint of Guinness and scampi fries I’ve bought as a starter.
The temperature has started to drop a bit and being tired too doesn’t help. We start to wonder if we’ve brought enough layers having been fooled by the very warm day temperature. We set off again and get back on route and quickly warm up. I’m a bit disappointed we’re going to be there when it’s dark and not see the sunset before Janine quite rightly points out that it’s an east facing beach and we wouldn’t really see anything.
We’ve warmed up a bit and everyone’s mood seems to have lifted having eaten something. We seem to be ticking along at a nice pace and the area is becomes more sparsely populated. There’s hardly anyone here! The sun goes down behind us and we end up with one last garage stop to grab a few beers for the beach and then press on.
Whilst the first two thirds of the ride seemed to drag a bit this last bit has been a dream. A good feed and knowing that we’re almost there has made me a great deal better. I’d also been a bit apprehensive about doing the ride and I’m not sure why. Each time you sleep out it requires a little bit of a jolt to knock yourself over this ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’ or ‘this is stupid’ feeling to get out there. For me it doesn’t always come naturally and it takes a little bit of self confidence to convince yourself it’s actually a good idea.
There’s a pub 6km before we get to our destination which we are definitely having a pint in. Janine has checked and it’s open until midnight. We get there about 10.30 and I stroll in in lycra top to toe and my clippy cloppy cycling shoes and sure enough every single person in the room turns around to stare! Fortunately they’re all friendly and want to chat, where have we come from, going to?
You could have got a train from London mate
They’re all great fun and we end up having a chat with quite a few. Whilst I’m ordering at the bar a very drunk women it trying to fiddle with my camera slung over my shoulder to take a pic. She’s fumbling so badly I just offer to take her picture.
This reminds me of the 2014 Dunwich Dynamo with Andy where he ended up selling his Vicious Velo cap to some very pissed locals as well as joining them for a few drinks. We take our drinks outside and continue more conversations with some of the locals who are smoking. One of which is a nuclear engineer who works at the local plant, like Homer Simpson I say. We have a long and interesting conversation about the world of nuclear power and any little anecdotes we’re able to offer about Sellafield and so on. He’s off to Kent soon to work at Dungeness on the decommissioning there. Also noting that he’s moving from one marshland to another.
Sure enough we’ve got cold again sitting down and we jump on our bikes and sprint the last few kms to warm up. We’ve told the locals our plans which I can’t help bringing my London mindset to which says… don’t tell them, they’ll steal your bikes. But they’re super interested, tell us a bit more about the Chapel and that we can sleep in there but shouldn’t, as it’s haunted. They also tell us about the dogging site on the way which I mishear as dogs and almost blurt out “ooo I love dogs” but I’m glad I didn’t. I wasn’t clear on how much they’re winding us up with the whole dogging thing. There’s a lovely orange glow on the horizon from the remnants of the sunset as we continue to the end of the nature reserve.
The tarmac road stops and we continue down a little gravel road to a gate in front of the chapel. Sure enough we pass a car with lights on in the interior and I wonder what we’re going to see as we pass. It’s not quite dogging but it is a couple having a bit of a kiss and a cuddle. Maybe their friends are late.
We get to the Chapel and it’s pitch black. It’s much further inland that I had realised and can’t quite work out a path over the marsh to get to the beach. One option is to camp in front of the chapel but it’s not the romantic idea I had of sleeping on the beach as I’d done before at Minsmere near Dunwich. Again next to a nuclear power station.
We consulted some satellite maps to work out whats what and then fought our way through an overgrown path to get onto a little concrete causeway. As this ended and turned into natural dunes I found a little corner shaped plot which looked perfect. It took a few moments to convince the others and a quick check of the tide times was made to make sure we weren’t getting wet in the morning.
Rhys had brought the full kitchen sink type packing for the trip including a bigger tarp (could have left mine at home) as well as a carbon pole. We set up a little A frame affair with two bikes pegging out the rear with another two bikes at the front and a pole which was skilfully pegged into the sand by Rhys.
Fortunately it was really well sheltered and we were all really warm. We managed to blow up all the mats and squeeze four of us under the tarp before handing out some beers and whiskey, a bit more chat and then nodding off to sleep. As with most camping out trips I usually wake every few hours to shuffle about a bit and get comfy. I also awoke at around 3.30am to see the light creeping over the horizon and a little later to see that burning ball of fire pop up over the horizon fully.
It was lovely to just drift in and out of sleep until about 7am before getting the stove on for coffee and porridge as well as some chats. I’d hoped to go for a swim in the morning but the beach is pretty shallow so I resolve to just have a little paddle and cool my feet. It’s got really quite hot already and there’s little shelter from the sun. At some point we all just start packing up and then the camp is gone. Rubbish in a bag and there’s not evidence of us being there (apart from a plethora of social media posts as there was four bars of 4G on the beach). It was so wonderfully peaceful and quiet as you might expect. The only sound being the lapping of the waves and the local bird population.
We’d seen a few people in the morning before we got up, one runner who said hello and then another woman walking nine dogs. Five of the smaller ones came running towards us barking before running back off to join the rest of them.
Trying to get the sand out of everything was a complete pain, it had got everywhere. Making sure that none of it went in your chamois or shorts was also a must. I’d inadvertently put my chainset in it so sacrificed a toothbrush to clean that up a but before setting off also but was more concerned about my undercarriage.
At the other end of the concrete causeway on our way back to the Chapel I saw a mobility scooter and then a man swimming in the sea. I thought to myself how lovely it was that someone who might not be fully able in his day to day life was able to get out to here amongst the wildlife and have a swim. My thoughts were rudely interrupted when I saw him begin to emerge from the sea and without any swimming trunks on. Fortunately he clocked us just as I was about to get the big reveal and he sank back into the water looking shocked that anyone else was out here.
We had a quick poke around in the chapel before heading back on our way to Burnham-on-Crouch for a brilliant second breakfast. Lots of cyclists around and some stopping on their local loop and also popular with motorbike riders. This bike below looked of particular interest. No idea about motorbikes but looked lovely.
After that we rode down to the quay and called the mobile number for the ferry. 20 minutes later a blue rib arrived to transport us to the other side of the river. He managed to get all four of us in with the bikes and we had a great chat with him about the boat and the local area. Apparently lots of cyclists use the service as the start or end of their local loop exploring the dengie nature reserve.
Whilst waiting we just sat on the quay mucking about taking pics and enjoying the fresh air.
A short and relatively pleasant ride to Southend and then a train back to London. A final coffee and chat at Rapha Spitalfields before getting back home for a much needed bath. I’ll definitely be back for some more exploring around this area of Essex. I’m completely in love with he landscape and remoteness of it all, all within a quick train ride from London. Looking forward to another bivvy trip soon.
Edit: Interestingly this video popped up in my Twitter feed which shows the whole area in wonderful context. Some great drone footage in there.
Whilst I was a little late to the MTB tubeless party I’ve been more of an early adopter on the road scene. I’ve been running tubeless on my mountain bike for around six or so years on ever so unfashionable 26″ wheels (I’m on even less fashionable 29 now). I never had any problems with it and carried a spare tube all that time for nothing.
Now I’m more into the road world I’ve had a go at using tubeless here. Firstly with some 40mm gravel type tyres (WTB Nano 40c) and now on proper road tyres. The former was a bit of a ghetto conversion with only one of the wheels having a tubeless compatible rim but have now had a proper set on wheels built for my audax bike. So rather than explaining it a bunch of times in 20 or so tweets I’ve listed down my method.
So first things first. Wheels. Or more importantly rims. You need compatible rims. Tubeless, TCS or whatever the brand calls them. Essentially they have a deeper hook on the profile to get a good seal. I’ve recently had some road wheels built to go tubeless and new MTB wheels for a little winter bike project.
For the road wheels I went with a SP Dynamo PD8-X and a Hope Pro II Evo for the rear. These were then built with black bladed spokes to some really nice Light Bicycle 35mm deep carbon sections. I’m using 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones on these and have been brilliant. Lasted a good 3500km before needing to be changed.
On the mountain bike I went with the usual Hope Pro II (eBay bargains) and some WTB rims which were on offer at Planet-X (£9.99 each). I’m using Onza gumwall 2.25 tyres on these.
Before going too far I usually have the tyre on the rim the night before but with a normal tube in. I find this helps shape the tyre and gets the bead neatly seated on one side if you’re careful about how you take the tube out. I’ve found it to be less of an issue with road tyres but helps a bit with bigger volume MTB tyres and to take out the little nicks and folds from where they’ve been packaged up. Probably unnecessary but always like a little bit of extra prep.
In terms of bits you need at a minimum:
– Rim tape
– Compatible rims
– Compatible tyres
– Some patience
The first step is getting the rim nice and air tight. The wheel builder I use usually does two layers of tubeless rim tape around for me but have also done it myself. I’ve used the Stans tape which comes in a variety of widths. Apparently you can get unbranded stuff on eBay also but you want good coverage from edge to edge to form a good seal. Essentially it’s a thick plastic tape which creates an air tight seal and stops the sealant leaking out in that direction. I clean the surface of the rim first with alcohol swaps first to get the best adhesion possible. Don’t worry about the fact you’ve sealed over where the valve would normally go for now.
The alternative is to use a rubber rim strip with an integral valve which goes around and does the same thing. I haven’t had as much luck with these and didn’t get such a reliable seal. First time it worked ok but then subsequent times it was a mess and didn’t seal. I don’t recommend but your mileage may vary.
I now just use the rim tape and then the Stans valves. These obviously replace the valves you’d normally have with the tube in. These come in a couple of different sizes and you need to get ones that get through your rims but not too long ideally.
Once the rim tape is on you need to make a small hole at the valve hole in the rim. Then feed the valve through and wind it up tight so as to compress the rubber bung and form a good seal again. The latest top tip is to dip the rubber tip in sealant before winding it up. This further improves the seal as the sealant dries.
After that I get the tyre on, align the logo with the valve hole obviously, and then add some sealant to the system. There’s two ways of doing this. The first is to remove the valve core and use a syringe to add 30ml of sealant. The other way is to to just drop it in with the last bit of the tyre left off before carefully easing it back on. I’ve gone with the latter option recently and has worked well.
After that you need to get some air into it and at a fair old rate to force the bead onto the rim. This should be easier if you’ve had a tube in the night before. I’ve got most to work with a normal track pump and just going quickly but have also used a CO2 cartridge. I wasted the first one by not having the tyre fully over the valve. Now I just hold the tyre down over the valve hole to make sure the air is getting into the tyre. Other options are to use a special track pump that will build a volume of air and then dump it all in in one go or there’s an ‘airshot’ which is another type of the same thing.
If it’s successful you should hear the beads popping and sealing against the rim. I usually top it up with a track pump to make sure this process is completed.
After that I rotate the wheel and chuck it around a bit. Essentially throwing sealant all around the whole thing as far as possible. Wipe down any sealant and check for air leaking out. Leave overnight and hopefully it’s all good in the morning.
After that you should be good to go. In terms of repairing a tubeless tyre if you get a hole whilst riding… small ones should seal without too much fuss. You might need to top up with air a bit. Otherwise if it doesn’t seal then I put an ‘anchovy’. It’s a little rubber string which you push through the hole, pull out a bit and then trim the excess off. It’s much easier than it sounds! Kits are available and I also carry a tyre boot, a spare valve and a tube. I’ve not needed to use a tube so far though. This review of the kit I use on road.cc show exactly what you need to do!
On Friday night a few friends and I headed out to meet up on the Kennet and Avon canal after work with the intention of riding along for a bit and then finding a spot to bivvy before then heading on to Bath the following morning. We would then get coffee and do a loop around Cheddar Gorge then back in towards Weston-Super-Mare. Well that was the plan at least.
On the Thursday I set about getting my stuff together. Lots of faffing as usual and packing for all eventualities. Start out with having a bit of rough idea of what is needed and then completely change it all. Check weather, repack, squeeze it all in, find all the things you missed, give up in a huff and go to bed and resolve to pack the rest in in the morning.
I was going straight from work so commuted to work fully loaded with kit. A few intrigued and perplexed looks from a few of my fellow cycling commuters. The occasional knowing look about why I had all this stuff on my bike. Of course one decision to make was whether to take my CX bike with 40c tyres or the Pilgrims Disc with 28s. As it was going to be a mixed route there would be no best choice. Big 40c tyres for the canal to save getting beaten up but then slower on the road? Or go for a bit bumpy on the canal with 28s but then more speed and efficiency on the road bits of the route. I went with the latter mainly due to dynamo and wanting to enjoy the road sections. I’m still not sure if this was the right choice but then as it was almost 50/50 on canal vs road there wasn’t really a right or wrong.
Getting to work all I need to do was collect some tickets at lunch, purchase the usual porridge pot and breakfast bits before getting through work to escape on time at 6 and to jump on the train. Adam and Andy had a bit more flexibility with getting out of work so were going earlier to Reading with Robin and I following on and jumping off at Newbury. The intention being to get going along the canal for food just before 9 at a pub I had booked a table at. This soon unraveled due to Andy hitting some glass outside of Reading and slashing his tubeless tyre open. An anchovy wouldn’t fix it and it ended up with a tube going in. We had kept on going but then found a pub to wait for them to catch up.
By the time we managed to regroup is was 8.45 with food options rapidly disappearing. The pub we were in served food tim 9 unless you actually wanted to order food. So a quick sprint up the hill to another pub in the village and a round of pizzas and pints each. The bar woman said closed but her boss said open. So four pizzas and pints ordered. We all order garlic bread with our pizza but it was actually the size of the pizza so essentially we all had double pizza. Sadly they only had two tiny pizza ovens so it came out in dribs and drabs but it was food nonetheless and the beer was very welcome.
After that it was back onto the canal which by this time was pitch black. Andy’s tyre went awry again due to a thorn so mended that again and then headed off to find somewhere to sleep. There were so many bugs around the canal that we wanted to get up and off this area and ideally to slightly higher ground with a view.
This is obviously harder in the dark as you can’t just look up and see what’s around. A few quick checks on the phone for a satellite view and we headed up and off the trail. Over the A4 and up on a path around a field. By pure chance we found a lovely big oak tree with a bench underneath. It wasn’t as remote as some places I’ve slept but it was late and it was good enough.
Bags off, and kit out we set up an improvised camp using a tarp over the bench and then around the tree. It was likely to rain in the morning with a storm on its way. By this time we had sat down on the bench and started sipping whiskey from the hip flask I had brought. Vic was also meant to be joining us but had been delayed. We had sent her our location and Adam had given some instructions and remarkably we soon saw her light tracking up the hill towards us. She set up her bivvy although preferring to sleep out under the stars.
Whilst sitting on the bench I found a lump in my back and tried to see what it was. It turned out to be a little wooden handle to a compartment concealed in the bench. On opening it I found three little note books and a pen. Two of which had been completed and one with space to fill. Others had been and left notes about their day, what they’d seen or just random comments. My favourite being the page that simply said “ticking away the moments that moments that make up a dull day”. I found it strangely moving that all these people had left a note about their visit to the spot. I left a note about why we had been there but also thought about all the other people who were likely to visit in the future. A slightly sentimental moment but resonated with me in a number of ways.
It was really warm and I woke up a few times being far too hot in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag. In hindsight I could have probably ditched the bag and just had the sleeping bag under the tarp.
At 4am the sun started to rise. My body also woke me telling me it was time for the loo. It was incredible to be up at this time with the sun rising over the horizon to the east and then a huge storm starting to appear in the west. I could see heavy clouds with streaks of lightning running through with the surrounding clouds morphing into a variety of colour as it developed.
I sat on the bench admiring it all and then grabbed my sleeping bag to keep warm and let my eyes open and close a they wanted to. Others gradually woke and admired the view before rolling over and sleeping some more. I grabbed the bivvy bag and matt out from under the tarp and laid down with my head in the direction of the storm to keep watching it unfold. I drifted in and out of sleep and finally when I woke again a series of double rainbows were starting to appear.
The storm then got close enough to us and started to rain a bit. All five of us then got under the tarp and waited it out as well as allowing a bit more sleep time. A few comments were made about being on top of a hill under a large tree in a storm but it was too late really and it didn’t pass directly over us.
After that it was time to get up, pack everything down and get riding again. First coffee and some porridge to get us going. Instead of the 50-65km we had intended to on the Friday night we’d only done 20km which meant more to do to get out to Bath. Unfortunately it was also hard riding along the canal. Rough and bumpy in places and slower than the road. We were going to have to adapt or change our plans. The idea was to get to Bath, go for coffee and then make decisions on the best plan from there.
The canal was great although the air was a bit muggy and the sky was still a thick grey colour. I love riding along it and saying hello to everyone, admiring all the house boats, from the super well kept to the chaotic hippy type affairs, as well as all the dogs and wildlife around. We had a few swans who weren’t keen to let us pass as well as geese and their goslings.
A momentary lapse of concentration left me laying down and sliding on my left side whilst still clipped in along the grass. Slightly more awake I got back on and vowed to concentrate more on the wet grass with well inflated 28mm tyres.
We pushed on although needed to cover quite a lot of ground to get to Bath. We needed some proper breakfast and found a cafe at Devises just next to the canal. We were all quite tired from the first section of canal and food and tea was wolfed down before returning to the canal for the section into Bath. Adam spent an inordinate amount of time in the toilet as we were ready to leave and received a large round of applause when he finally emerged.
The surface got better as we got towards Bath and the speed picked up. One of the aims was to ride through the Two Tunnels again as Robin, Vic and Adam had not been through them yet. The first was was really cold with the second one being a warmer temperature. We went straight to Colonna and Smalls for more coffee and cake before heading back out towards the Mendips.
The idea was to do a loop around Cheddar and then back in towards Weston Super Mare where we would visit my Grandma and Adam would go to his parents place. We’d kind of planed in being in Bath around 10am but it was now 2.30 and we still wanted to do a bit of a loop before going to Weston. We ended up improvising a route to Cheddar Gorge and then picking our way over towards Locking and Grandma’s house. We continued on the Sutrans route out of Bath and ended up on some lovely country lanes with very little traffic. Vic wanted to do a more gentle route so went off via the Sustrans route via Bristol.
After a few stops and checking of our route we ended up along a beautiful road towards Priddy. Even with all the kit on we were ticking along at a fair old rate. A slight tailwind helped but felt so great to be moving at pace after the slow start to the day. Those fully loaded bikes really go when you get them up to speed. Having the kit all tied down well also means you don’t actually notice it too much when it comes to getting a move on. We then swung a left around a stunning outcrop of rocks and then up a picturesque climb towards the gorge. We’d decided to descend it rather than ascend due to having all the kit on our bikes and not having much time. It felt like the right choice as we emerged from the wooded section into the gorge. It was incredible to weave our way down it although there was a fair bit of gravel on the roads and a few cars stopped me going as fast as we would have liked towards the bottom.
Of course we stopped for an ice-cream and some more water and had a few moments before tracking our way over towards Locking via Axbridge which again is really beautiful. The last section was a rocky and muddy byway which was great fun. After that it was up the short steep hill from Hutton and then to see Grandma.
Adam had to dash so it was me, tall Andy Matthews and Robin for some tea, sandwiches and cake in Grandma’s garden. She was thrilled to have people to talk to and as on fine form with her stories. Apparently tall Andy’s beard was better than mine and that Robin looked very smart in his all black Rapha outfit. My colourful hat wasn’t as good as Andy’s black on. And so on!
After that Andy and Robin headed out towards Blagdon for a pub dinner and to find another spot to camp out. I got a lift back to Bath with Mum and just about managed to get a spot on the train back to London although £45 lighter for the pleasure. A beer and a kitkat from the buffet and I was as happy as larry. Sadly I caught a whiff of myself occasionally. The only thing that spoiled the adventure was the cycle back through London home with the a series of road closures and coach trying to use the cycle lane at Vauxhall.
Hoping to do some more of this but perhaps more local to avoid the ridiculous train fares.
A few weeks ago Neil and I had a lovely ride down to Whitstable along the Pilgrims Way which I wrote about at the time.
During our day Neil spent a great deal of time filming. I’d kind of got used to it by the end of the ride but at every opportunity he was there grabbing more footage or talking to the camera. The most amusing things is his little clip on furry directional mic. It looks like a little rat.
I remember when he suggested that they start doing these little video clips and have to say I was pretty sceptical. Having seen quite a few of them I have to say I was entirely wrong. Each one keeps getting better and better as Neil becomes more familiar with the tools and works out what works and what doesn’t. It’s also a really good way of communicating some of the things that go into running a small company and a lot of the thought processes behind things.
The below video, Episode 18, is primarily of our ride to Whitstable and records the day in a way in which I would be unable to describe as well through words and pictures, my chosen medium. Whilst it’s nice to be on camera in places I think it’s a great way of describing an enjoyable days riding and takes a lot of skill to get there.
I like keeping lists. I use a little app called Simplenote and have it synced across every PC / Mac / Phone I use and jot down anything that comes to mind. What I need to get done, things that might come in useful, snippets of thoughts or just things that need writing down, rides, films to watch and so on. There were many things in the “Rides” list for 2016 but one which kept on jumping out at me was to attempt to ride the South Downs Way. What I really wanted to do was ride it one way this year and then have an attempt at both ways the following year. I’d seen various people do it and it’s one of those things that looks like a challenge but somewhat achievable, one way that is. There and back looks ridiculous but had hoped to be able to work up some fitness towards that goal.
So I floated the idea of it with a few friends, some London, some Brighton based and all met up in Winchester to start the journey. All pretty excited for a nice day out on the hills. Apart from we (London lot) were waiting at the station larking around and they (Brighton lot) were waiting at the King Alfred statue in the centre of town. Cue faffing, missed phone calls and starting 45 mins late after obligatory photos at the statue and chatting about a beautiful retro Marin with a man.
So we’re off. Racing up hills, chatting, introducing ourselves to each other generally having a nice time. A few little wrong turns. Beep. Garmin check. Back on. More hills. Faffing. Gates. So many gates. Bash decides to come off in a puddle. We trundle along, generally enjoying things.
I’m only a few weeks back from my collarbone snap and I’m not as fit as the rest of the group. Jo is recovering from a chest infection and Bash didn’t sleep. Excuses mount. Matt takes a tumble at high speed on a descent slicing his elbow open and more worryingly scratching his frame at the same time. Adam is as fit as always and doesn’t complain.
We meet a variety of characters who we end up passing, stopping, passing, stopping and so on. One was an older gentleman who tells us that he comes out and does the SDW in little sections. He’d done routes all around the country, doing a little section then ending in a pub. From the sounds like it he had covered quite a lot of ground in the UK. He had an ancient bike and no fancy kit but the smile on his face was enormous. As we cycled away I thought that he was probably the only person I’d ever met entitled to use the hashtag #outsideisfree. What a way to spend your retirement!
Back on with more trails. Lots of cows. Some fun descents and a lot more chatting.
We stopped for lunch against the better advice of Jo. Ten pounds for a baguette and a coke each and we’d lost a lot of time. Back on out of the valley where we had stopped an on. Hills became tougher but I found some new strength after lunch. We stopped on a hill to help a man who was having trouble with a puncture. He’d got the wrong sized tube, the wrong type of valve and no pump and was on an immaculate £3500 bike. Sympathy faded a little more after each fact was revealed but we helped him get it sorted and wished him well. More time lost.
By the time we got to the YHA near Brighton we were flagging. Mentally mapping out the hours we’d need to get to Eastbourne seemed to more to dampen our spirits. I was of the opinion that we must and should complete it. But then by the time we’d made the climb to Devil’s Dyke I too had caved in. Arriving at 10pm in Eastbourne probably wasn’t going to be much fun. Sure we’d have done it but it would have been a bit of a schlep and then to get the train home without any social time or laughs with our friends. Hard to believe I’m writing this but we all caved in and went to the pub. It’s not a very good pub but it was what we all needed.
I spotted a great photo of everyone looking out to the low sun in the sky and the silhouette they were creating. As I raised my camera a kind woman literally forced me into the photo. How nice to actually be included in the photo to record the day when I’m usually the other side or there’s one person left out of the pic.
It’s probably one of my favourite cycling photos as it captures having had a great time as well as the characters involved. Four pints (each), six packets and crisps and two bowls of chips later (between us) we rolled down the hill into Brighton and got the train home. We didn’t achieve what we had hoped but the laughing and smiling in the pub til it hurt more than made up for it.
The following week Beth and James went out and completed it. They had horrific weather for it and ended up finishing in the dark. Congratulations to them both but I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret that we hadn’t pushed on. Especially as it was such a glorious day for it. But there’s really no point in regret, it’s just a waste of energy. Best just get on with it and do it again. I really did want to get it done in 2016 and not regret it. Even though regret is futile.
The trouble with this idea was that the evenings were drawing in and alarmingly so. The days were getting shorter and shorter which however you set it up means finishing in the dark. Being exhausted and tired mixed with the risk of bad weather is not my idea of fun, or a particularly safe ride. Wet chalk and tiredness – no thanks. So I came up with the stupid idea of starting in the dark. Why not get the dark bit out of the way before and then end in daylight? Adam and Bash were up for it. Matt had dislocated his collarbone and couldn’t. Jo was maybe and “I’ll see” on the day. Train times were pushed back and forth and a date agreed. I was coming from London, Adam from Brighton. How best to meet and not hang around in Winchester alone was discussed.
So a few weekends back we met at Clapham Junction at 11pm to get a train to Winchester to begin our silly little adventure. As expected the train was full of drunk people commuting home after an evening in the pub. What we hadn’t envisaged was it being completely rammed. Fuck. Not that door. Shit. Not this one. Run. ‘Scuze meeeee. And just about squeezed in both bikes around the drunk people. A man was lying slumped against the door clutching his phone who appeared to wake occasionally before grinning and then falling asleep again.
The train thinned out as we went further South which allowed a bit of repacking and faffing. I realised I hadn’t fitted my helmet light properly and was bobbing around. I fashioned a little support from a spare business card I had in my wallet and a train ticket – thanks Matt for the business card.
I’d set up my SPOT tracker for a few friends and family to follow our progress. Although this required a little faffing too. In addition we had some support from some of the Brighton lot and Vic was offering to pick us up if anything went wrong. I cheekily asked what counted as an emergency (asking for a friend). To which the response was…
Less than 999, more than a ‘bit tired’
I found this highly amusing and kept me going in some of the darker moments. The thought of others looking out for us also helped a great deal.
As we got off in Winchester we ended up having to explain ourselves to a group of guys coming home from a good night in the pub. Rather than the idiotic reaction expected they were thrilled at the idea and encouraged on our way before shaking our hands as they left to get in their taxi. Good luck lads they shouted as they drove off.
Whilst on the train I found myself becoming more and more nervous as I often do before big things like this. My mind thinking back to a stressful week at work and that the last sleep was last night and I wasn’t going to be getting any more until Sat evening.
This is silly.
This is stupid.
Both going round and round in my mind wanting for some reason to not do this.
We got on our bikes, flicked our lights on and headed down to the King Alfred statue for a quick picture. It’s the official start so only right we started there. After that it was onwards out of town and up onto the Downs. Immediately I thought of how I hadn’t ridden for about 7 days and had a bit of a holiday with too much food and booze. Adam was immediately stronger and doing a better pace. I’d said to myself that I would plod along to get it done and not race up or down things for fear or peaking too early and / or coming off on a descent. Normally I would prefer to ride with someone next to me and hate seeing someone up ahead. For some reason being completely pitch black it was actually good to follow someone and see their light ahead in the distance. We rode together for the wider sections and chatted about work / life / cycling adventures and so on for a few hours. At around 3am I think we both stopped talking and just got on with riding.
It was a cloudy night and really thick darkness with little light pollution. This meant it was completely and utterly dark. Pitch black. The tendency was to focus on your own light ahead to track where you’re going. Stopping allowed a broader view of the areas we were passing through and a bit more context – this is that bit or we’re near that bit. All felt completely remote and wonderfully still and silent. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought and felt pretty exciting to be out exploring when everyone else was safely in bed.
Occasionally we stopped and turned our lights off and just appreciated the silence and stillness of it all. You could hear your own breathing over anything else. Each of us was beaming from ear to ear just enjoying the isolation and silliness of it all. I tried to take a picture of the nothingness. With little light around this didn’t really happen. I wanted to record it somehow but will have to make do with the memories of it.
I was really pleased with this one of Adam though. My light off and just his lights illuminating the immediate foreground. Again I imagined people seeing these lights moving through the countryside and wondering what the hell we were doing.
Riding trails off road was so much fun in the dark after I got over my initial apprehension and soon picked up a bit more speed descending. Tuck in and trust your judgement and kind of just go with it. One descent I did slow down for was the Butser Hill descent. Adam didn’t seem so bothered and flew down it. Each time I caught up with him at a gate he was beaming from ear to ear. He was clearly loving every minute of it.
We surprised quite a lot of the nature around us. We saw a few owls, plenty of foxes, rats, young deer and a few badgers. I’m pretty sure we saw a few birds of prey too but couldn’t tell you what they were. Not forgetting the countless cows and sheep that we saw who all looked pretty surprised to see us. We also had spiders webs appearing on our handlebars as they had strung them across the various trails we were passing through.
Speaking of sheep, on one descent at the back of Queen Elizabeth Country Park I had taken my clear glasses off as they had been steaming up a bit and annoying me. Of course this meant that a massive lump of sheep shit went straight into my eye. Cue lots of washing my eye with water and generally trying to get it out. No I just made it worse and then for the rest of the day I spent wiping green muck out the side of my eye as well as having a bright red stink eye to show for it. Always wear eye protection!
We had been making good progress and areas that I recognised seemed to arrive quicker than expected. Having ridden the route before it really helped. I dread to think what it would be like navigating it in the complete darkness having not ridden it before. I was starting to tire a bit though, more mentally than physically although that was starting to fade too. We’d been in the darkness for so long and I was counting down to when I thought the sun would be rising. In addition it had started to rain a bit and a thick fog had set in. This made seeing even harder as the light just bounces off the moisture in the air, more lumens doesn’t help at all.
The darkness seemed to go on forever. 6am came. Still dark. I’d mentally been working to 6am and it threw me a bit that we were still surrounded by it all. 7am still kind of dark and then within minutes it seemed to lift and we had a little sunrise to watch. Sadly it was partially obscured by the clouds but it still felt like the hardest part had passed. This also coincided with a neatly timed descent where we stopped half way down to admire the view. This looks good so we stopped, unpacked and got on with breakfast.
I’d packed my little Alpkit stove, brew pot and two pre-measured bags of coffee (15g each). We’d both brought little coffee pots with integral plunger which are a brilliant bit of kit. We both had fresh coffee and enjoyed the view whilst I boiled another batch of water for porridge each. Not fancy by any stretch but it tasted damn good to have something substantial sat in the middle of no where. Like some kind of sanity in the mad thing we were doing. Of course it’s all a complete luxury and could have managed without but I find these little things help to keep you going. I got a bit cold sat down and took a while to warm up again in terms of my core temp and also the legs after a stop. Of course the next thing is another great big hill to climb. Super!
By now more people are starting to be up and about and of course we say good morning to everyone we see. Dog walkers, people out fishing and also farmers and so on. We met a lovely farmer who kindly pointed out the tap we had missed a few hundred metres back. Filled water bottles and a bit more energy in the tank from breakfast we kept on. The next thing to aim for was Bash coming to meet us with more food!
We got to the agreed spot and negotiated with Bash where we were and how his progress was. We had to wait a bit in the car park but were kept entertained by the coming and goings of a local running club made up of mainly retired folk out enjoying the paths. Black labradors seemed to be standard issue and one tried to steal a sandwich from Adam’s frame bag.
Bash arrived and was sporting a Sainsbury’s bag which had been fashioned into a rucksack with straps made from duct tape. I wish I’d taken a picture of it but was a bit broken by that point and damp and cold still. In the ghetto rucksack were pastries and bananas. Wolfed down we got on our way again.
Adam was still much faster than me and Bash and him soon disappeared which sent my mental state through the floor. I find it hard enough at the best of times being dropped but was not thinking very straight without sleep and in my tired state. Rather than chewing on it I just said something and they both dropped the pace accordingly. It’s amazing how those tiny little things get to you as well as how much I find I need the support of others to get through a tough event like this.
I was still being really slow on the hills and just grinding away. Even my 36t on the back wasn’t enough and found myself doing that stupid thing of clicking away for more gears even when you know there’s no more. A mixture of desperation and exhaustion I think.
Having Bash arrive with fresh legs and being a little bit more mentally able helped massively. We chatted away and I found this extra energy really helped get through the next bit. We ended up at the familiar spots we’d ridden before closer to Brighton. The pig farm on the top, the Youth Hostel (more water here) and then finally the top of Devil’s Dyke.
The next thing to aim for was George who had agreed to meet us with more supplies. I’d kind of shut down a bit mentally by this point and then I saw Adam ahead talking to someone a bit longer than you might expect for your average ‘good morning’ type chat. I got a bit closer and it was George. Brilliant, so good. I was so happy to see him (and the thought of more food). We didn’t actually need food there and then and he agreed to drive a bit further along to meet us. This was actually much better as it allowed us to cover a bit more distance before settling down for another stop.
The weather had improved and the temperature risen and most layers had been removed. We ended up meeting George and his lovely kids in a sunny spot by one of the taps next to Housedean Farm. He’d laid on an amazing spread although admitted that it wasn’t as plentiful as before due to the kids snaffling a few bits and bobs. Coke, crisps, Haribo, bananas, chocolate bars.. everything a hungry cyclist could dream of.
After this we’d got to the point (at least I had) of trying to work out how many hills were left. I could clearly see from the Garmin how many kms were left but this probably wasn’t the issue. FIVE lumps left. Ok, let’s do it. This is achievable. FOUR. Ok, entirely possible. THREE. Actually there’s a little extra lump Adam had forgotten. THREE again. We were getting there though. I was still super slow and my glutes were in a lot of pain. A few Ibuprofen and we’re good. We got a nice flash rain storm as we hit Alfriston and quickly sheltered and then it suddenly passed and we were on our way again. Counting down. Our next target was the end obviously but also the mussels and chips place that serves the Belgian beer. God that beer was in my mind for so long.
And then as if by magic we saw Eastbourne in the distance.
YES! We’ve almost done it. After this we traced the SDW as far as we could looking for some form of official finish. After we while we both gave up and then sped down into town to our reward of food and beer. The restaurant kindly let us bring our bikes into the lobby to avoid getting hypothermic outside. Three orders of bread, two mussels and chips and two strong beers later it was time to get the train home.
The only problem was trying to stay awake and not have my bike stolen. That and the stench of my kit and self. I couldn’t face the cycle back from Clapham Junction so got a connecting train to Denmark Hill. Even the short ride up the hill was painful.
The vital stats were 162km ridden, 3525m of elevation climbed, 10.5 hours moving time and another 4 hours for stops on top of that with an average moving speed of 15.5kph. We set off at around 12.15am and got to Eastbourne around 4.30pm the next day without any sleep.
I’m incredibly proud of having achieved it with Adam and so grateful for the support of so many people who helped us get through it all.
Edit: In my haste to post this I forgot to add this little video clip which is from a service called relive.cc. You connect it to your Strava account and then it sends you a little video of your ride through an aerial perspective overlaid on Google Earth type graphics. Nine times out of ten this is boring as hell, laps of Regents etc, but this is really interesting as it traces our path along the South Downs and shows the fascinating topography of the whole area. Whilst we go up and down a lot we do traverse a ridge for quite some time.
Another little post of a nice weekend ride. The clocks went back, the cat woke me up at 6am and then I met bash at Gails in Dulwich. Quick coffee and then out onto the lanes on a route other Andy Matthews had showed me before. 80km planned. Not too short, not too far and hopefully back in time to have a bit of the day left and lunch with Emma.
A quick peep out of the window and weather check before we go. It’s foggy! Yes. Autumn leaves and fog. It’s going to be beautiful out there.
After towing a few unwelcome wheel suckers along for a bit it was nice to make a turn off on our route east and into the proper countryside. We managed to get round a decent rate as it was just the two of us. We were in the Ice Hill cafe for 10.20 and had a quick coffee before jumping back on and heading back.
We saw a few others we knew as we went a long, including the Penge and Brixton club runs. Nice to also see Mac, Clare and Si all out too. We even managed to see them twice – out and back. We also bumped into Lindsey who I hadn’t seen for a while and rode the last 30km back together towards Dulwich before heading for coffee and cake at Fowlds cafe just off the Walworth Rd.
The pace wasn’t too shabby and not too ridiculous and managed to get back in good time without too much faff. I really do love riding at the time of year.
Another thing I used to do here was post inspiring videos or links to other people’s posts. Seems a shame not to record some of these as links shared on Twitter seem to be more and more transitory and fleeting in nature and soon forgotten. Google helps finding that thing where they went to the place that you know with the and on the…? Using obscure search terms to finally nail down what you’d been trying to recall but can’t bring back into current memory.
This one jumped out at me the other day and is just the kind of thing that appeals to me.
Watch the video and then read the full write up. There’s so many stunning images in that post. Riding with friends in remote places like this seems like an absolute dream although reasonably accessible. An overnight train from London and then off round the wilds of Scotland.
One of the nicest things about the Pannier write ups is their little bits of research and studying of mapping. I have a massive soft spot for these little sketches of the route too.
Blog posts are now few and far between. There’s a load of events I haven’t written up and experiences I’d like to record here. It usually takes longer than the actual event to compose thoughts, pop a few pictures in, fuss over it, edit and then post. I used to use this place to record interesting videos or links but now that’s all Twitter / Facebook and occasionally Instagram.
Rides, like blog posts, don’t necessarily have to be ‘epic’ (used ironically and with a wry smile) to require a post. So it was really nice to head out on Sunday with an old friend, Neil. A quick trip to Daily Goods for a coffee and then headed out towards Kent to find Pilgrims Way and follow it all the way to Whitstable. The route is called the Whitstable Winder and I thoroughly recommend it, it’s a personal favourite of mine. I can’t remember how I came across it but it’s described as:
Quite possibly the nicest cycle to the coast from London there is.
You quickly reach the countryside south of Dulwich, & then it’s just miles of lovely rolling South Downs cycling. The stretch on the Pilgrims Way Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty is simply divine.
A couple of lung busting hills: Hollingbourne Hill being the worst by a margin.
Last year I rode with Seb to complete my Festive 500 and was a stunning last ride for 2015.
We waved and smiled at everyone as we went out. Our average for waves / smiles back was really quite poor until we actually got to the countryside where everyone seemed to be a lot more friendly. Maybe the pollution is making everyone miserable in London.
We had a beautiful day for it. Sunny and autumnal and with the wind blowing in completely the wrong direction. Two out of three isn’t bad. Some chatting. A few photos. A bit of filming for Bowman and their new bikes and just pushing on. A bacon sandwich in the place that wasn’t very good last time but was really good this time and then onwards.
I love the rolling countryside and the way you traverse along the side of the ridge almost all the way there. There’s some really lovely open lanes as well as some nice tight closed in ones. It’s largely quiet and free of traffic. I bored Neil to tears with how much I loved my new Rapha Brevet jersey although I had a good laugh at the microphone adaptor he had on his phone for filming.
The wind got up just as Neil’s energy levels went down. I lied about how many hills were left and then got my head down and towed him in the last 20km or so. The last bit is particularly bleak as you turn the corner and all protection from trees is lost as you go along the coast to Whitstable. A dash for fish and chips followed by another dash for the train only to hear the dreaded words of “Bus replacement service“. Oh. Always check the trains are running! So we can still get back to London but the train goes via Dover and will take over two hours. Fine with me.
All that’s left to do is sit back, eat our fish and chip supper, gulp 7up and relax. Oh and then Neil gets cramp really really badly suddenly moving from his relaxed stance to half way under the table writhing in agony. A first I’m concerned and then I realise it’ll make a hilarious picture.