Thursday, July 26, 2007

Burying the Buriton Hatchet

With the Tour de France in crisis yet again over drug-taking allegations the TCA considered a silent protest ahead of their ride but time was pressing: We were behind schedule for the latest stage of our own adventure, this week from Hambledon to Buriton. In light of the weather forecast a contingency plan was in place in the event of 'rain of biblical proportions' but this was dismissed as the afternoon's heavy rain passed. Those who remember the account of our last visit to Buriton will no doubt recall the ensuing farce as the Sloppy Porridge Maker arrived in his 4x4 against the very ethos of the TCA's constitution: The TCA delegation set off to provide a one and only chance for the shamed rider to redeem himself.

Michael Rasmussen says "Stuff 'Le Tour' -
I'm off to join the TCA where I can take what I like"!

Jon exclaimed as we left that he always had a feeling that Rasmussen was cheating on account of him bring "extremely tall, thin and spotty". In any event he had obviously immersed himself in Le Tour as he set off, like the King of the Mountains, at a frantic pass out of Hambledon on the gradual ascent to The Bat and Ball. Al could handle the pace no more as the gradient increased towards the summit at Hyden Hill but Jon waited for Al before our route went off road for a short distance over Tegdown Hill. On towards the mighty Butser Hill and Jon conceded that, with his off-road tires and suspension, he had the more capable bike for the imminent descent to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Al, using his rigid bike fitted with road slicks, was keen to wager than he would make up for his lousy climbing ability and beat Jon to the bottom of the hill. He started to regret this decision as wheels, both rear and front, started locking up on the wet grass at the slightest touch on the brakes. He just about hung on to the bike and finally got away from Jon to win his pint of beer as the hill leveled out.

Still a little behind schedule we pressed on up and over the hill through the QE park before the steep descent into Buriton. Rolling into the car park at exactly 19.30, our predetermined rendezvous time, the Sloppy Porridge Maker (or Ian as he may now be known) did not let us down. Regaled in a magnificent fluorescent cycling jacket and hailing us with the immortal greeting "Two pints of bitter?", he instantly absolved any previous disagreement we might have had. In addition Jon and Al had recently failed their TCA dope test - their blood streams were found to have prohibitively low blood alcohol concentrations so the beers were long overdue.

Doped up: Al, Ian and Jon toast absent friends
at the Five Bells, Buriton

With our pints of River Cottage Stinger downed we mounted our bikes again and headed out of Buriton towards East Meon. Although the wind was gusty it was at least dry and occasionally the sun briefly made an appearance as we cycled steadily down the country lanes. Chat mainly revolved around logistics for next years 'boys weekend' scheduled for April in Scotland and other significant news since the fateful evening back in April when we last met.

Jon and Ian form the TCA peloton
on the way to East Meon

Arriving at Ye Olde George Inn at East Meon Jon got the riders a pint of Tanglefoot which was enjoyed on the quiet patio area at the rear of the pub. Ian, bound for a return to Petersfield, split from Jon and Al who headed over the South Downs ridge again for a return to Hambledon, and a traditional dinner of chilli con carne. The controversy-free future of the TCA seems back on track with any outstanding allegations of 'inappropriate vehicular application' lifted... if only it was this easy for all cycling institutions.

Route Map
(click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:
(Posted by: Al)

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Rolling Hills of... Norfolk

Day One: A gentle ride along the national cycle route into King Lynn and back. A total of sixteen miles. Very pleasant route along good signposted, flat, well kept cycle paths through a few pretty villages. We double backed along same route on return journey to base camp.

Day two: After much studying of the local O/S map John picked a ‘great’ route for thee and Mrs John (hereafter refereed to as J and Mrs). J advised it would be a fairly flat route along a Roman road, mostly free of traffic, approx 20 miles round trip. Mrs was still getting used to her feet being cleated to her peddles so was glad of another easy day (typical girl)! J and Mrs had brought their hybrid bikes with them for this trip since mountain bikes would not be needed on these flat roads... or so they thought!

Starting by turning off the main road along Kings Avenue, a beautiful peaceful road lined with trees (we should probably know what kind of trees, but for the purpose of this let's just say they were wooden ones with sticky out bits with green stuff attached). Passing farms and wonderful countryside views of rolling fields in the distance - the sun was shining too - this was going to a perfect and pleasant cycle. Mrs should have realised when they stopped for a photo opportunity in the quiet village of Anmer that all wasn’t what it seemed. J (above, left) posed next to a wooden carving sporting the legend “ESTE PARATI” (“Be prepared”)!

Without taking note of the wording at the time J and Mrs cycled on, soon coming upon the roman road called Peddars Way & Norfolk Coast Path: It did look slightly overgrown, but maybe just this section wasn’t used so much? Funny things always look different on O/S maps J and Mrs are sure the passing scenery was wonderful, but keeping upright and not heading into yet another pot hole (Ooh! What was that smell?) distracted from any nice views they might otherwise have been admired. Mile after mile and the track didn’t improve - J by this time way ahead of Mrs - so on Mrs struggled to try and keep up while stopping to collect the O/S map that J hadn’t realised he’d dropped. Eventually J waited for Mrs to catch up; not just to see whether she’d picked up the O/S map of course, but also to check the level of her sense of humour. J could see that it was fading rapidly so suggested they head along to the east via the village of Sedgeford along the country roads rather than to try and keep pushing up this so called 'cycle route'.

I don't think we're in Kansas Anymore Toto...

In agreement J and Mrs turned off towards the west, picking up speed now they were back on the flat and level tarmac road, soon arriving in a pretty village and civilisation once more. Heading down the hill out of the village, head down and peddling as fast as possible, Mrs noticed that she was up to 32 mph. The road was a max of 30 mph here and they’d both just passed a Policeman with his ‘safety’ camera in hand. Shame he was pointing it in the opposite direction really! Just outside of Ringstead J and Mrs came to a curious sign (above). One mile of this - but worth it at the end as there was a wonderful barn conversion at Choseley Farm. Here J checks the O/S map and his new GPS gadget (above, right) to confirm that we were indeed…heading in the wrong direction.

The barn conversion was wonderful… but not that good, so back we went along the mile of Norfolk in hills and picked up the correct route towards Old Hunstanton. Here J and Mrs got lovely views out to sea, with the undulating sandunes in the foreground. Along the coast for about half a mile and yes a café selling cream teas (below), Perfect! Very civilised and well needed. A quick stop for the evening's BBQ supplies and then J and Mrs popped in to Fat Birds Don’t Fly cycle shop; here they were given a recommended route through some good tracks.

Who ate all the pies?

With bellies full of cream teas and the prospect of an easier route back to camp J and Mrs’s sprits’ were high. A quick short-cut took them off the main road to the disused quarry. J and Mrs commented that this wasn’t quite what they were expecting, with having had so much rain in previous weeks the grass had had a growth spurt, as had the overhanging trees, shrubs and bushes. After much negotiating J was soon speeding off, Mrs was struggling to keep up with the pace. Suddenly the path split - which way had J taken? - Mrs wasn’t sure, by the time she took the fork to the left the overhanging tree caught her off guard, the bramble bush jumped out and pulled her down to the ground, feet still cleated to the peddles! Though J was a fair distance ahead he still heard the commotion and cries of ‘help get me out please!’. Back to the rescue to find Mrs sprawled, bike on top of her, in the only bramble bush they’d passed that day. Scratches and scrapes, J hesitated; should he take a photo now or wait until she’s free of the thorns? Sense prevailed and he carefully pulled first the bike, then the ‘bleeding’ Mrs out of the brambles. Not until much later would the two them note that this place was aptly called ‘Lousy Bush Wood’.

The rest of the journey back to the campsite was fairly uneventful and gave them both time to take in the views out to sea, through idyllically English villages and the fields of poppies they passed along the way. Back at base camp… in need of a shower and pair of tweezers to remove the remaining thorns and wash away pain of the stinging legs! With the BBQ fired up both J and Mrs had a well deserved beverage of the alcoholic kind and sat chatting about the day’s events: Distance: 36 miles; Max speed 30.2 mph; Gradient flat... and yes, hills in parts!

(Posted by: Em)

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer Sun and Modern Morals

We were back to two again this week as Jon H took an evening out to put the final touches to his fancy dress outfit for the weekend's Harley Davidson rally. Jon P and Al fancied a gentler ride after the rigors of the weekend - legs were still aching from the Chichester Challenge - as we set off on a bumble up to a favorite focal point for the TCA; Old Winchester Hill, a site of special archaeological and natural interest. We took the gentle ascent to the ridge of the South Downs by country lane and farm track; the pace was gentle and sociable on a glorious summer evening.

Jon and Al take a shady break in Chidden

We followed the road towards the nature reserve keeping a bird list as we went, although we also admired the flora which we could identify - for example rose bay willow herb in full bloom within the overgrown hedgerows.

Jon rides into the sunset

We turned off the road and onto the track which leads to the summit of the hill. There were a number of other couples enjoying the rare glimpse of the sun this summer (we suspected however that they had different motives to the TCA duo). We hung around to admire the view (that is the vista, not the other couples) and for the customary photos before descended the hill to the west.

On top of Old Winchester Hill

The bridle path off the hill is part of the South Downs way and is an excellent fast descent. The other bonus is that it leads directly to the Shoe Inn at Exton which has arguably the best beer garden of any of our regular haunts. Jon headed for the bar and came back with two pints of the excellent Wadworth's Summersault. We sat in the garden overlooking the mill stream enjoying the essence of a good summer's ride.

Jon gets the beers in: The Shoe Inn (above)
and it's picturesque beer garden (below)

From Exton we had a few hundred yards to do along the main A32 to Meonstoke where one can join the disused railway line. Once on this well-ridden track we cranked the pace up a little for the 3-mile dash to Soberton. We commented on the dark clouds gathering to the east when we were on the hill but the skies had darkened even more all of a sudden. Sure enough, as we emerged from the railway line onto the road at Soberton, there were the characteristic occasional large droplets of rain preeminent of a thunder storm. We did what any man would do: hammered the last couple of hundred yards as if our lives depended on it - up the hill and over the village green - for the shelter of the White Lion's covered patio.

Sure enough by the time we'd ordered our regular pints of Palmers 200 the rain was lashing down as thunder rumbled in the distance - summer 2007 had obviously suffered another relapse. We sat in the shelter of the pub and counted our blessings as we had for once avoided a soaking. By the time we had downed our beer and set of over the hill back to Hambledon the rain had stopped completely and we knew a home made curry waiting at home would complete a near-perfect summer ride.

As we sat in the White Lion with our pints of ale we considered a problem of modern morals that we now canvas our readership to solve: The previous week Al had asked Jon P's permission to take a promotional insert from inside his mountain biking magazine. The flier advertised a special offer for a bike computer that Al thought might appeal to John H. Having passed the details on to John H Al subsequently realised that there was a unique number on the reverse of the flier that could be used to enter a competition for a £4500 mountain bike. Here's the dilemma: Would Al be entitled to keep the bike if he won? Should he give the bike to Jon, or should some compromise be reached? Your suggestions are invited in the comments; how we resolved the problem over a pint will be explained before our next posting...

Route Map
(click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:
(Posted By: Al)

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Chichester Challenge 2007

Understanding that endurance sport is all about preparation Al was woken by his alarm at 05:45 this Sunday morning: After weeks of hard training and a strict diet he had only to complete the essential last-minute 'carbo load' before the event. A customary breakfast of Poweraid sports drink, cereal and the all important banana were consumed to provide energy and hydration for the day ahead. A few miles away John H was going through a similar routine: making up his favoured SIS performance drink to replace lost electrolytes and fluid on the course, and packing his precious GO Gel into his back pack. Final tweaks were made to equipment, essential tools and spares were checked (and re-checked) and performance clothing and lucky socks (set aside some days before) were donned with anticipation, before bikes were loaded into cars for the journey to the long-awaited City of Chichester International Challenge.

It was with with some surprise that Al found Jon P still asleep when he arrived at his house at 07.30. Hurriedly getting up and throwing on some clothes to answer the door, Jon gulped back half a cup of tea while trying to locate the various basics required for the days ride. He was almost ready as John H and then Jerry swung into his drive looking tense. We all mumbled our hellos and nervously readied for the off under the thick grey clouds - the weather forecast was foreboding - cool, overcast conditions were predicted with the threat of thundery showers looming, in total contrast to the searing heat of the previous year's event.

We made the short, familiar trip through the city centre to the start of the course in Oaklands Park (Map 1, SU862054). Shortly after registering our entries and picking up route maps we were joined by established Associates Ad and Ju who arrived with Ed and Charlie, veterans of a previous campaign. The reunion and the prospect of the highest TCA turnout in history lightened the mood. Ad showed off the latest tweaks on the ex-Billy-Bob machine - shiny new hydraulic disc brakes would get their first run-in today! After some neglect though Ad's forks were running quite flat so Al commandeered a fork pump from one of the gear stands to adjust the pressure [For future reference: 50 psi in each leg]. Charlie showed off his new GPS unit and was nominated as Route Calibration Officer by Al, who realised that his was still at Jon P's house. Debates about whether or not to wear waterproofs were the topic of conversation, although the weather was still holding out.

Team TCA '07 (from left):
John; Al; Jon; Ju; Ad; Ed; Jerry; Charlie

Before long we were lined up by the officials and set off to the sound of the air-horn. 300+ cyclist on machines - ranging from top-of-the range models with carbon composite frames, to basic Halfords mountain bikes (and all points in between) - crossed the start line. Al took off first, slipstreaming a couple of hardcore off-roaders, followed by Jon, then Jerry, then John, all adopting a maverick approach. The peloton of Ad, Ju, Ed and Charlie brought up the rear, commendably bringing a team ethos to the event, but never to be seen again by the mavericks that day.

Heading due north and climbing gently out of Chichester Jon P finally caught Al just before the first checkpoint (SU858122). The sharp descent approaching West Dean and Jon's Fumbling to find his checkpoint card meant Al was away from the checkpoint first. His lead was short-lived however as, first Jerry and then Jon caught and overtook him on the punishingly steep ascent out of the village (Map 2). Al managed to hold onto Jon until the next serious ascent through Westdean Woods towards the South Down Way, as the sun came out and the temperature rose contrary to the forecast. The Mavericks were again separated for a time; Jerry would stay out in front for the rest of the day.

Approaching the second checkpoint (SU849171) a speeding, lycra-clad elite rider abruptly announced his intention to overtake Jon on a fast downhill section. Jon allowed himself a wry smile as the rider got past but then hit a rut and was catapulted over the handlebars and head-long into a barbed-wire fence. Only his pride was dented thought Jon, but Al caught up with (who he presumed was) the same rider a few minutes later at the first checkpoint trying to beat a huge buckle out of his front wheel; the day was over for this competitor.

Towards South Harting from the Downs

Al eventually caught Jon again on the ascent to Harting Down. Al figured that he was now in his stride since Jon is usually stronger going up hill. It was only later that Jon explained he had paused to take a few snaps with his new camera. Nevertheless the pair stayed together (primarily due to gremlins in Jon's rear mech.) all the way through to the third checkpoint at the QE park above Buriton. The pair seemed to settle into a more relaxed pace and even stopped for a snack (below), sitting on their customary log (SU765192). This year Al's snack of choice was the highly ethical Chocolate and Raisin GeoBar while Jon favoured an Alpen Nutty Chocolate 'Groove' Bar, for two years in a row Jon again seemed to have selected the more palatable choice of sustenance.

Having remounted it was only a short spin to the next checkpoint (SU733198) where they got the cards stamped for the third time and took on board some water. The pair were closely followed by John H who looked grateful for the refreshment. The three set off together to start the pleasant down-hill road-based section of the route towards Huckswood Lane. It was around this point, as we headed off-road again, when Jon P started paying for his scant regard to basic nutritional requirements earlier in the day; he was complaining of cramp in one leg as the sun beat down on the sweating competitors. Jon took time out to nurse his muscles while John H and Al continued without him bound for the forth checkpoint at Stoughton (SU801115). Jon P caught up briefly while the other two chatted to a collection of riders gathered at the checkpoint, one being patched up by another after a nasty-looking leg injury. However, after a brief flat road section out of the checkpoint, Jon P was suffering again on the long ascent towards Kingley Vale. John H seemed to be experiencing the complete opposite - fueled on by his SIS energy products - he produced a reserve of energy and strength for the climb. John and Al stayed together for the remainder of the ride: the descent towards Chichester; through the fifth and final checkpoint (SU834083); down the winding country lanes to the outskirts of town and over the finish line back at Oaklands Park, where we could finally catch up of the progress of others and tales of crashes we had collectively witnessed on our way round.

Thankfully we had all avoided major incident although Ed (the only one of us with un-padded shorts) was apparently complaining of severe saddle-soreness towards the end of the ride. This was exacerbated by the fact that his legs tired and he had no choice but to remain seated. His companions in the peloton reported that he seemed to be grimacing with pain for a large part of the ride and was particularly grateful for any opportunity to dismount along the way. Top TCA marks to Ed though who traveled from Bristol, leaving at 05:00 having had too much sun the day before and too little sleep that night, to make our pre-event meeting at 08:00. Commendation too to Ad who demostrated the TCA's generous spirit by saved an ailing Canadian rider from impending doom; the loan of a tyre lever enabled him to fix a puncture and continue the ride. (On hearing about this after the ride it was with a faint tinge of guilt that Al recalled someone with a North American accent explaining to him that he though he had a 'slow' as they climbed away from the Royal Oak at Hooksway together; "good luck mate!" hailed Al as they reached the subsequent descent, assuming that his new friend had all the necessary equipment to ameliorate the situation).

Jerry, also sailing past other stricken riders on the course without a thought, finished first in approximately 3h 40min; John H and Al coming in together about 30 minutes later at approximately 12:40; Jon P was 10 minutes behind hampered by cramp and technical difficulties in the final section on the course. We congregated around Jerry who was reclining on the grass in the sun with a welcome can of coke. Having finally crossing the line, notching up close to 37 miles in the process, it was a relief to dismount our sore behinds from saddles. We immediately began looking to refuel our depleted energy resources. It was at that point when, to our horror, we realised that there was no WI home made cake stand this year - the highlight of previous year's outings. We thought of the trauma counseling that would have had to be employed for Billy-Bob if he was amongst our number! Turning to the Scouts burger stand (invited in place of the WI on account of it being their centenary year) we were relieved to see that amongst the hot dogs and bacon butties were (albeit a smaller selection) home-made cakes too. The horrific revelations were not over however when, as we turned with burgers and cake in hand to find refreshment, it became apparent that there was no beer tent this year either! All that way, and for what? Home and hosed the mavericks sought solace in a cup of tea as they sheltered from the light rain which had begun to fall as Jon crossed the line.

John, Al, Jerry and Jon returned to base feeling a little cheated. Their day's wasted John and Jerry packed bikes into their cars and headed home. Al and Jon reflected on the day's events over another cup of tea as thunder crashed, lightening flashed and the heaven's opened releasing torrential rain. Cake or no cake, beer or no beer - at least they were indoors unlike Ade, Ju, Charlie and Ed - the peloton were still suffering somewhere out there on the course, eventually coming in at about 13:45.

Route - Map 1 - South
(click to enlarge)
Checkpoints shown as red spots:

Route - Map 2 - North (click to enlarge)
Checkpoints shown as red spots:

Elevation Profile:
(Posted by Al; Pictures by Jon; Maps courtesy of Charlie)

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fuel Tank Fun

Al was on holiday this week therefore a TCA duo left Jon's house at 19.00 on a rather gloomy, grey night. Unfortunately this was after a somewhat delayed start as John was late - complaining of a dodgy fuel gauge on his new van - running out of petrol on the A27. After a mercy dash from Mrs. John, jerry can in hand, the pair decided to acquaint themselves further with Downs terrain - in readiness for the impending Chichester Challenge - by using parts of last week's epic ride. Sections described previously as phases 1, 8 and 9 with a cross country bit in between were order of the day: The poofs equivalent of the 'long Chichester ride', and an excellent opportunity for Jon to try out his spanking brand new camera!

Jon told tall tales of flooding and knee-deep mud on the track approaching East Lavant but this week the Goodwood perimeter was as dry as a bone; it was amazing how quickly the water had disappeared after some dry weather. Consequently the Jo(h)ns got to East Lavant and Chalk Pit Lane (leading to the Trundle) a little less wet and muddy. In fact by this time the sun had even began to come out and they had good views of Chichester, in contrast to the previous TCA outing. Turning west and, departing from previously established routes, the pair cycled alongside a cornfield in the direction of Kingley Vale. The descent generated a lot of speed but this was curtailed midway down at a stile. Once through the stile though the steep grassy slope continued until a stop for... another stile. Yet another stile - why put stiles in the middle of a decent downhills?

Towards Kingley Vale - John disappearing ahead at the stile

Up and over a bridge traversing a disused railway line, they dropped down into a valley and a stream where John disturbed a Little Egret as the pair headed up to the A286. They crossed the main road and cycled up-hill joining the bridleway leading off Bidderton Lane. On first appearances the downhill ahead looked easy but the overgrown grass camouflaged ruts below which occasionally took the riders by surprise. The track joined South Harting Road where some urgent maintenance of derailers and associated jockey wheels was required, tightly entangled with long strands of grass.

Kingley Vale

Once on the road the boys toddled along past various farmsteads looking for a bridleway sign but had to refer to the map to find the exit hidden away in the vegetation. The bridleway was similarly overgrown but the last descent was soon completed, again miraculously dry compared to last week's ride. The final slog home was completed in super-quick time spurred on by thoughts of Jon's 'spag bog' [Sic.? Ed.] and quality TV in the form of 'Supersize Kids - Britains Tallest Teens' (involving a 7ft 3 inch kid called Paul, with huge feet and still growing - any relation of the Bowman clan? - we wondered). We have to report that we committed the TCA cardinal sin of omitting a pub visit; are we getting too serious? [No, you just didn't have adequate supervision! Ed.]

John, posing astride his magnificent machine

(Posted by: Jon)

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Restaurant with Rooms?! The Selsey Lobster Disappoints (Again)

With John (with an 'h') enjoying a cosy night with the missus in their new camper van at the forest of Dean, it was left to the old guard to keep the dream alive: Arriving early at Jon (without a 'h')'s for customary 'cuppas' and chocolate shortcake [Jon has recently been in the habit of buying a pack of three cakes from Sainsbury's to provide essential pre-ride carbohydrate; I'm sure 'John's slice', shared equally between the pair, tasted best on this occasion, Ed.] it was with a sense of shame that Jon and Al realised that it had been over a year since The Association last tackled the 'Long Chichester Route'. This is one of our classic rides, responsible for numerous TCA epic adventures and mishaps, for a lengthy period the mainstay of our pre-blog activities.

For the record the route can be categorised in several distinct phases:
  1. The Approach to East Lavant - by road and Goodwood perimeter track
  2. East Lavant to West Dean - up and over the trundle on solid rocky terrain
  3. West Dean to West Dean Woods - gentle ascent followed by sharp descent on road
  4. The climb to the South Downs Way - wooded section on often boggy bridle paths
  5. Along the South Downs Way - exposed ridge-ride followed by break-neck descent on well worn track
  6. Hooksway to Chilgrove - often very boggy badly rutted bridal path
  7. Chilgrove to Kingley Vale - endless ascent on woodland track and bridle path
  8. Kingley Vale to West Stoke - Fast long and windy descent on smooth track
  9. The long slog home by road
It was with a sense of foreboding that we fettled our machines in the murk; miserable weather was probably to be expected, it was the second week of Wimbledon after all. It had been raining solidly since about 16:00 but had eased off to leave low cloud and drizzle coupled with a stiff breeze from the south west: Perfect weather to test out TCA bikes, equipment and of course our unquestionable abilities ahead of the following week's marathon Chichester Challenge. At the back of our minds however, we also knew that warm, welcoming refreshment stops at established local hostelries were on the route so it wasn't all that bad. We made an unusually early start at around 18:15 and soon encountered the sodden and rutted Stocks Lane that skirts around Goodwood motor circuit (phase 1). It became obvious this was going to be a wet ride as it was impossible to avoid riding through some of the deep puddles along the track; we wondered momentarily whether a cosy night of sudoku (or whatever one does of an evening) in a camper van might have been the wise choice.

Jon bulleted up the Chalk Pit Lane to the base of the Trundle (phase 2) again putting allegations of drug taking at the top of the agenda. The view from the unusually deserted car park was of mist; the weather reminiscent of autumn rather than the first week of July. Dogging weather it was not Jon assured Al. We both hypothesised that we must be getting weather normally bound for Shetland and the Artic as the jet stream had either stopped, slowed down or changed course. Our way down a muddy, skiddy downhill through Calhourns Plantation and towards West Dean was tougher than usual, maximum concentration required to ensure the front wheel was in a straight line as it skidded randomly on the slick surface.

Guerrillas in the Mist

Crossing the A286 at West dean (phase 3), we picked up a minor road that gradually meandered up towards Colworth Down. It is deceptively steep towards the end before a good straight downhill. Al made up for lagging behind Jon on the ascent by screaming past him as we made our way back down towards West Dean Woods.

The track through Colworth Down (phase 4) is flinty to start with and normally has a great view across the rolling Sussex Countryside. It's also good for sightings of Turtle Dove and Warblers, but not today. The track entered Westdean Woods proper and we went past the familiar charcoal burning stoves and then up to Venus Wood on a steep ascent. We briefly stopped at the top, both well on the way to getting absolutely soaked. However the uninitiated might question our sanity, for umpteenth time in TCA history, we agreed with the old TCA addage that "it was much better then watching Eastenders" (or playing Sudoku in a camper van for that matter). The evocative smell of wet vegetation was powerful [Thanks Tortoiseshell, Ed.]; everything was overgrown, dripping with water and some of the tracks appeared not to have been used for centuries such was the lushness of the undergrowth. No doubt we would have been distracted by all this and got lost had Billy-Bob been in tow we thought. No chance these days though and we enjoyed a great bit of technical riding and “bumping” over fallen trunks of trees. It was around this point that Al even complemented Jon on how his technical ability had improved beyond measure since the early days, at which point Jon got too cocky, sprawling in a heap of bike and legs at the next obstacle.

The highest point of this ride is the South Downs Way proper (phase 5) which we found was more challenging than usual with a vicious, buffeting cross-wind and heavy rain; the exposed sections comprised ruts interspersed by high tufts of overgrown grass so that cycling in a straight line was difficult. We battled across Cocking Down, following it until we got to Phillis Wood where we leave the long-distance path for the descent to the Royal Oak at Hooksway, where the wooded section of the route provide welcome respite. Even the normally noisy guinea fowl were quiet in this inclement weather. We finally entered 'Bone-Shaker Alley'and reached the bottom of the descent looking for the welcoming lights of The Royal Oak. Of course there were none since the Free House was all closed up as usual; this is an excellent watering hole but the opening hours are somewhat erratic.

However, we knew that we could go to the alternative White Horse (or Selsey Lobster, as it is known in TCA circles) at Chilgrove instead after cycling down Philliswood Lane (phase 6). This lane is muddy with deep watery ruts at the best of times, but normally passable nevertheless by riding along the edge next to the higher hedgerowed bank at a steady speed. One can thus generally avoid slipping down into the abyss of deep mud and water. Jon however soon found a moment's hesitation is fatal, leading to a calamitous slide into mud, sludge and water up to his knees (compounding the damage by falling backwards off his bike). This was worse than Glastonbury and very ungainly for such a lanky rider (below). Still there was a pint waiting at the 'Lobster, eh?

We raced at top speed into the car park at the White Horse where we were met by a toffee-nosed snob of a landlord who, after asking what we were after, proudly announced the pub was no more: “We are a restaurant with rooms". After no hesitation at all we got back in the saddle and went straight up the track towards Kingly Vale (phase 7). A ride without pubs seemed a distinct possibility but our falling spirits were soon revived by some Tunnocks Caramel bars produced from Jon's back pack at the pinnacle of the energy-sapping climb. One could say that the ascent along the grassy track was a bit easier than it had been in the depths of winter, but the downhill section through the saddle between the two highest point of this section was treacherous: The rain had changed the clay into thick sludge, caking up tyres which meant we were sliding all over the place; both riders took heavy falls into the hedgerow undergrowth before curbing their speed.

Official Sports Snack of the TCA

Eventually we reached the peak which usually offers excellent views of Chichester and back along the spent route behind us. Although the rain was easing there were no such views today. At least we could enjoy the rapid descent back to the road (phase 8) where we paused for thought to consider where to have our customary, and this evening certainly well-deserved, refreshment. We rode on towards East Lavant and a pint at an old stalwart of previous rides, the Royal Oak. This time there was no 4WD to crash into Jon at the roundabout at the main road, as happened about a month ago on a training ride. We thought the first pints were a little flat and this evening only the best was going to suffice - we rejected pints of River Cottage Stinger that Al was so keen to see for the second time this 'summer' - opting for our more traditional, and the more local, Ballards Best.

With lights blazing for the first time in a good while we hit the road again for home (phase 9). The pair were back at house for about 22:00 and soon tucking into a spaghetti bolognese while watching top-quality TV, “My Big Breasts and I”, part of a 'medical' series on the BBC. With some relief (as it was never very good anyway) The White Horse is henceforth struck from the TCA list of recommended pubs.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:
Speed Profile:

(Posted by: Jon)

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