Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Trifling Matter

Tonight we were on a mission: Al had arranged to meet Ian at Buriton to finalise arrangements for the 2009 Boy's Weekend reservation. Sadly Ian was hamstrung by a lighting deficiency and commitments at work and had got his excuses in early - he would take the car and meet us at the Five Bells in Buriton. Meanwhile we would head for the Five Bells from Hambledon using a route we've used a couple of times before via the QE Park and back up the Meon valley stopping off in East Meon.

Knowing that this was a rather longer ride than usual Jon arrived early in order that he might enjoy a customary cup of tea before the 'off'. This evening was also a little out-of-the-ordinary in that Billy-Bob was making his full-time return to the fold; he arrived home from his Antipodean sabbatical the weekend before. Keen to get back in the saddle, but anxious that his two-year pastry binge may have dented his form, Billy-Bob would borrow Al's spare bike for the evening.

Blotting his copy book the first night back, Billy-Bob's late arrival, and subsequent insistence that he still be included in the round of tea and biscuits, meant we left a little behind schedule at around 6.30pm. It was clear our old friend, resplendent in a pair of tracksuit bottoms he had procured for £3.50 from Asda, was suffering some sort of climate shock; complaining as he was about the temperature on a relatively mild, still night. In addition it was apparent that I had perhaps not emphasised strongly enough how much pressure of time we were under as Jon and Billy-Bob conducted their own impromptu Women's Institute meeting on the ride out of the village.

The climb out of Hambledon up to the Bat & Ball pub was largely uneventful although it was clear that Billy-Bob's fears would be realised - those kiwi pies were taking their toll - as he inquired rather desperately whether we would be stopping for a pint. Even if we had had the time a beer stop after only 3 miles would have been totally unprecedented - Jon and Al insisted we press on. The long climb up to Hyden Hill continued to punish Billy-Bob as he struggled with the ill-maintained gears on Al's spare bike; at one stage he even had to dismount and manually engage the lower gear on the front mech. Eventually we had broken the back of the climb and we could ease back for the ridge-ride to Butser Hill along a bridle path.

This easing back was cue for Jon and Billy-Bob to resume their nattering. At one point Al, who was now becoming perhaps a bit overbearing, was at pains to point out that we had 12 minutes to complete a descent of Butser Hill, ride through QE Park and tackle the steep climb and subsequent descent into Buriton. Eventually we reached Butser hill and were separated for a brief time as we hurtled down the hill. Al reached the bottom first and held the gate open for Jon and then Billy-Bob (carrying the imposition of a rigid bike) who arrived in quick succession. In a bizarre incident of disorientation Jon managed to get lost in the car park to the west of the main visitor's entrance - he reported later that he only realised something had gone awry when he was faced with two lanes of traffic coming towards him at high speed along the A3. It only took a matter of minutes for the trio to get reunited and Jon was sent as an advance party over the hill to Buriton.

Billy-Bob and Al caught up with Jon just in time to see a barn owl fly from a post just a few meters away from him. Jon had stopped to enjoy this spectacular encounter but was pressed into action once the owl had flown off. Al and Billy-Bob made their way more slowly up the hill and enjoyed the descent into the village; by the time they got to the pub Jon had located Ian, disrobed and was ready to get the beers in.

Suited and booted Ian had managed to secure the comfiest chairs in the pub (left) and the four sat down to enjoy their beer and discuss the administrative business in hand. However, it was not long before conversation inevitably turned to 'planning' (Jon, Ian and Billy-Bob are all planners by profession) and Al was keen to escape. We downed our beers, packed away papers, donned our gear and headed out into the night once more. Jon and Al reassured Billy-Bob that the back of the ride was broken and all that remained was a dawdle up the Meon Valley road.

Al looked nervously at his watch and already knew deep down that is was going to be a late one. Our relaxed, sociable riding pace and protracted discussions in the Five Bells had set us back. He tried to coax some urgency out of the other two as best he could but eventually decided it was a lost cause - he certainly wasn't about to forfeit another pub stop for an early night!

Jon and Al pulled up sharply in front of the Izaak Walton, the first pub encountered as one approaches East Meon from the east, as this was the first time either of them had seen this free house open. More typically the lights are off and the curtains drawn. Even with the lights on it did not look the most inviting pub, and competition in the village is strong with the outstanding Olde George round the corner. Billy-Bob had the casting vote and propped his bike purposely up against the wall. Al was first to the bar and ordered three pints of Ringwood's superb Seventy Eight, a spring beer "...brewed to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the founding of Ringwood Brewery in March 1978". We also treated ourselves to a packet of pork scratchings, since it was a special occasion. The Izaak' is a proper traditional boozer, it took a while to get used to but it has that 'industrial' feel valued by all at the TCA.

Jon and Billy-Bob enjoy a 78 an' scratchings

Pints downed it was back in the saddle for the 'up-and-over' to Hambledon. Al estimated that it would be an hour back to base; an hour until dinnertime. This concept finally seemed to galvanize the other two into action and the pace picked up a bit. The final accent back onto the South Downs almost finished a decidedly out-of-shape Billy-Bob but soon the three riders were gliding downhill into the village.

Bikes safely stowed it was 10pm but the time we got in. Beef stew was dish-of-the-day but the pièce de résistance was the trifle (below) that Al had concocted (complete with hundreds-and-thousands!) to mark the auspicious occasion of Billy-Bob's return.

Welcome Home!


Route Map (cick to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:
(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mr Grumpy

John arrived very early. It was clear that all was not well as he descended on Hambledon for this week's ride. Once through the door he marched, long-faced into the kitchen without even a 'hiya' for Jimmy who was sitting up waiting for bath time. Trudy was first to suffer his wrath as Al stuck the kettle on - John launched into an incomprehensible diatribe "Tiles... plasterboard... cost a fortune... do you know how much they want for the en suite...? Hole in the ground... bloody council!". Even a cup of tea made perfectly, according to John's very particular specifications, did not seem to placate him. Al was next in the firing line as he sterilised bottles, prepared formula and ran Jimmy's bath. "Really..? Oh dear!... Never..! You don't say..! Bloody Council!" were all he could say as he managed to punctuate John's ranting.

John brooded in the living room nursing his cup of tea as Al and Tee bathed Jimmy, exchanged curious glances and shrugged their shoulders. Soon enough Jon arrived - his mild manners would surely settle John's consternation. Al just caught part of the conversation as he put Jimmy's pyjamas on... "Tiles... plasterboard... cost a fortune... do you know how much they want for the en suite...? Hole in the ground... bloody council!". If anything his ranting had become more vociferous, being as it is that Jon happens to work for the council, since he now had a focal point and someone who was listening.

Eventually talk turned to the evening's ride... "Let's not go up that bloody bridle path. Last week was really muddy and it's sure to be really rutted. I can't stand that bit of the ride..." John mumbled. Perhaps to diffuse the situation Jon suggested we forgo our customary tea and biscuits; apparently he was virtually ready to go. If he had meant to be helpful he had failed. John and Al were fully prepared and ready in a matter of minutes. They waited in the cold night air as Jon reconstructed his bike, attached the various essentials and put on his ride wear. John shuffled from foot to foot, fiddled with his gear levers, adjusted his lights and muttered under his breath as he waited... and waited patiently. Finally Jon was ready and the trio were off to tackle Hambledon #1 Route.

Although cold it was a perfect evening for a ride - a still night with a near full moon lighting the way. Talk soon turned to the Boys Weekend planned in April which John had recently got the OK to attend; this has quickly become one of the highlights of the TCA calender and John was already chomping at the bit to take part in his first one. The prolonged dry weather had made the trails unusually hard-packed for this time of year. Both Al and John, who led the way down the first descent, got a bit of a surprise as they hit a sticky patch of mud at full speed which catapulted them into the side of the natural alleyway. Jon was a little more cautious and pulled up short of the mud and picked his way through it deliberately.

The short ride to the While Lion was relatively uneventful and the three were soon enjoying their beers in the the busy public bar. John was keen to resurrect discussion of the Boys Weekend. "But where are we sleeping..? How are we getting from the airport..? What do I need to take..? You haven't copied me on that..! How do you expect me to read all the e-mails..?".

Jon tried to keep John relaxed at the White Lion

"Tiles... plasterboard... cost a fortune... do you know how much they want for the en suite...? Hole in the ground... bloody council!": It was time to leave. With pints finished we headed for the disused railway line. Thankfully John's mood seemed to lighten as we took a relatively leisurely spin down the track. Not for long though - the Railway Embankment Challenge was beckoning! John barely paused for breath and attacked the incline with real aggresion. "These BLOODY tyres!" were all that Al and Jon could hear from underneath the bridge; the assumption was that John had failed in his first attempt and it was clear he wasn't coming back for a second. Also using 'Panaracer Fire XC' tyres Al reached the top on his first attempt with little fuss and waited for Jon to have his turn. Sadly Jon could only reach the first bend before he moaned "I'm never going to make it tonight, I'm just not feeling right". Maybe this grouchiness was catching?

Crossing the A32 and using familiar tracks the riders made their way through the Forest of Bere, Jon leading the way. John was some way ahead when Al and Jon realised he was going in the wrong direction. The best they could do was to stay on the correct track and hope that John would realise and see the other's lights through the woods. Puffing and panting John soon realised the error of his ways and caught up - "Did you two go a different way to usual?" - but would not accept that it was he who had been at fault.

Surely another quiet beer would settle John down; what could possibly go wrong? As we entered through the usual side door of the Traveler's we were greeted by an unworldly din - the worst cover version of the Pogues 'Fairytale of New York' that one could possibly imagine. We moved quickly into the lounge bar, ordered our beers and sat as far away from the public bar as possible. Unfortunately a blocked chimney meant that we had to endure another form of pollution in the furthest bar so we decided to sit somewhere mid-point between death by carbon monoxide and death by terrible folk music.

video
If Carlsberg made folk bands... they would sound nothing like this

John grimaced his way through his beer, arguing stridently that the beer we were drinking (Charles Wells Bombardier) was 'bom-bar-de-air' as opposed to Al's assertion that is was 'bom-ba-deer'. [Subsequently Al was proved right by this link: bom'ber-dir which includes an audio clip! Ed.].

John begins to cheer up

Thankfully the short ride home was uneventful and John found nothing much to moan about. John also had the good grace not to complain about the curry or the Vienetta that was served back at the ranch. Finally it was time for Jon and John to load their bikes back into their vehicles and make their way home. "Mud... Sleeping arrangements... Directions... Folk music... blocked chimneys... bom-bar-de-air... Bloody tyres...!" John muttered as he turned the key in the ignition.

Route Map (Click to enlarge):
(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Déjà Vu?

Having decided to take on the familiar 'Goodwood Circuit to the Fox at Chalton' route a minor disagreement ensued since John was sure that he had not done this route before, while Jon was equally convinced that he had [Records later confirmed that John had indeed ridden a similar route on June 7th 2007, Ed.]. The arguement was diffused over the now customary cups of tea and the pair set off towards the off-road bridleway known as Stocks Lane adjacent to the racing circuit. It was a challenge to avoid the ruts, mud and puddles normal at this time of year.

Both riders were looking forward to Chalkpit Lane and the steep ascent to the Trundle. It soon became evident that our fitness levels have suffered from the excesses and inactivity of winter. Normally we get to the half way point of this track where it levels out for a spin on our middle cogs, but this time we were struggling and had to revert to the granny gears rather sooner than we expected. Apparently John had had too many good business meals, especially curries in India, whereas Jon was still recuperation after his "Delhi Belly" problems. John managed to get to top first and we enjoyed some views with the lights of Chichester in the distance(below). Past the car park we decided to traverse the Trundle itself and then proceed downhill to the Goodwood horse racing course.


Past rides had been a bit of a calamity on the punctured tyres front - indeed, like a taboo, the word 'puncture' had not been raised that evening. Meeting two other mountain bikers on the downhill it was reassuring to see that we are are not alone in suffering from these afflictions. Ever the salesman John cunningly managed to sell one of his spare inner tubes for £3 to one of the bikers who had gone out without spares and expceted to travel back to Barnham.

After cutting the corner across the grounds by the main stand we cycled along the road parallel to one of the main stretches of the course and then down the Chalk Road track through Chalton Park. By now John was well in front on his new full suspension Scott but we both made it down fairly quickly to the Chalton and the regular stop at the Fox Goes Free. It was obviously a night for mountain bikers as we met two more riders inside and couple more on our way out after a pint. Thankfully we just escaped the band which were setting up as we enjoyed our beer.

A Toast to Absent Friends at The Fox Goes Free

As usual we warmed our cockles fairly quickly on the uphill part of road on Knights Hill before crossing the field to the top of Chalkpit Lane where we had been previously that evening. Again John sped swiftly down over the ruts and bumps to the bottom and onto the Royal Oak. Unfortunately a car had parked at the bottom of the steps so no special skills this week, and with time pressing we actually decided to ride straight back to mine for a hot chilli while watching Torchwood (and the gorgeous Gwen) on John's old TV (which has now replaced the inferior Billy Bob TV).

(Posted by: Jon)

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Last Ride of Freedom

According to the finest traditions of the land a motley TCA crew assembled to provide long-time associate, Ad with a send off ahead of his wedding in March to fellow associate Julie. Chichester was chosen as the venue for this auspicious occasion on account of the dossing space afforded by Jon's house. The route was debated as the riders trickled in and put together the familiar kit; With an air of resignation Ad did up the fastenings on his helmet for the last time as a free man and by 19:00 we hit the road bound for the route which proved such a festive treat on last year's Christmas ride. The conditions could not have been kinder - although cold (the temperature would drop below freezing before the night was out) it was a clear, still evening. We retraced our festive tracks through the city centre and on towards the cycle path leading north.

There was a curious atmosphere in the Earl of March, our first stop after some half an hour. A Friday night ride is a highly irregular occurence for the TCA; we are used to deserted pubs, maybe with the odd loner propping up the bar but the Earl was liberally sprinkled with diners, couples out for a drink and groups of friends. We felt decidedly out of place as we attracted strange looks from the other clientèle. Choosing a discrete table for five we ordered our pints of Ringwood Best - I daresay we should have shared laddish jokes and discussed the worthiness of the various barmaids according to the true spirit of the evening but it had been some time since we'd seen each other and we took the first stop to catch up with each other's news.

Our first pints dispatched we headed through Lavant towards the familiar ascent of the trundle. Only a few hundred yards into the climb John, who was bringing up the rear shouted 'stop!' and we all congregated around the stricken bike as last week's form continued - yet another puncture for the new Bontrager Mud X tyres. With much cursing of his new 'tweak' John worked steadily with help from Ad to replace yet another inner tube, the other riders illuminated the scene (all except Al that is, who took the opportunity to try out his new camera).

Bontrager Mud Wrestling:
Jon repairs his puncture


Having fixed John's problem the group were off again led by Al: Soon an unassailable lead opened up and Al, experiencing some respiratory difficulties it has to be said, pronounced himself 'King of the Trundle' for the first time in many-a-week! Ad and Charlie arrived next, closely followed by John (Delhi Belly) and Jon (hampered by some mystery complaint that had rendered him uncharacteristically sluggish). Having re-grouped Al got his excuses in early to Ad as he seemed to have lost the ability to engage the highest gears on his front chain ring - there would be no repeat of the famous Christmas race to the Partridge. Predictably the Stag shot off at warp speed down the crazy gradient leading towards West Dean leaving the others in his wake.

Cue more strangle looks from the regular punters as we marched in to our next pub in all our various apparel. Fuggle-Dee-Dum from Goddards Brewery on the Isle of Wight was the beer of choice in the Partridge. Initially there was a collective sense that there might be something strange in the beer as we all started to feel a little light headed. However our control, Charlie who was on lemonade, also felt a bit strange. We put it down to the 40mph descent in temperatures close to zero and continued drinking.

The distance between the Partridge and the Fox Goes Free is dangerously only a matter of a few hundred yard, such is the quality of this route for a good session on the beer. With the couple of ales inside us on an empty stomach the usual tom-foolery began - jostling and running each other off the road... until Charlie (the only rider unfamiliar with the area) shot off on a solo effort in the traditional sprint-style race to the pub - Ad had to chase him down as he screamed past the Fox at full speed! Having retrieved Charlie from West Sussex somewhere we stopped outside the pub to get our breath back and capture the obligatory group photo.

Like the previous hostelries the Fox was packed to the rafters; it was standing room only while we enjoyed our pints of - Ad's favorite - Ballards Best. Approximately 3/4 of the way down our Beers John commented that his pint smelled of cheese. There was some debate as to who had the pint that most smelled of cheese, and which particular variety of cheese it smelled of. The final conclusion though was that the beer was fine and that rather we had undergone some sort of sensory displacement on account of the cold.

The Stag Party:
(Left to Right: Charlie; Ad; Jon; Ali G; Al)

Leaving the warmth of the Fox we braced ourselves for the slog back up the hill towards the Goodwood racing complex. As we left the car park we had a brief exchange with a couple of smokers who apparently could not believe we had chosen to use our well earned leisure time in this matter - half way up the hill in the freezing wind we were also questioning the wisdom of our decision; wouldn't it just have been easier to hole-up in Jon's local for the evening? In any event Ad narrowly beat Al on this particular King of the Mountains section and the others soon caught up for the long sweeping down-hill back towards Lavant. There were reports of a near-miss with a white van for Jon on the way down, and Ad and Al had an encounter with some Vauxhall Nova driving chavs at the bottom of the hill, but we remained largely unscathed. We were soon propping up the bar in the Royal Oak.

With some stroke of genius Jon had thought to pack the menu from his local curry house in his hydration pack - knowing that we were only a 20-minute ride from home Al phoned through the unfeasibly large order at about 22:00, requesting delivery at 23:00. This should give us enough time to take a leisurely ride home, grab a shower, crack open a bottle of beer, select some dirge on the telly befitting the occasion and wait for the doorbell signaling the arrival of our gastronomic delights... well that was the plan anyway.

Fueled by 4 pints of lemonade Charlie suggested a mandatory imposition that everyone should leave the pub on their bikes via the short set of steep steps leading from the patio area. Some rides were less nervous/more drunk than others and launched themselves at the steps while others were more tentative. Finally however all were assembled, unscathed at the bottom of the steps and headed home at full steam.

Charlie (above) and Jon (below)
tackle the

'Royal Oak Steps of Death Challenge'

It was not clear which rider towards the front of the peleton took the fateful decision to part from the prescribed route and use the Goodwood perimeter track rather than the road route past the Rolls Royce factory. However, three-quarters of the way down the track Ad pulled up with our second puncture of the evening, with curry delivery imminent! Jon and Al continued alone while the others helped Ad patch up his bike. The advance party arrived just in time to greet the driver and by the time the others had caught up, plates, cutlery and beers were readied, and most of the various dishes identified. A perfect end to a splendid evening.

All that remains to be said is good luck to Ad and Ju for the forthcoming nuptials from all at the TCA - may you have a long and happy future together, and many a filthy ride!

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

(Posted by: Al)

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