Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fox Saves the Day

We had decided the week before to undertake the 'Long Chichester Ride', for the first time since July 2007. It was a fine summer evening and Jon arrived home from work to find Paul and John already checking over their bikes and kit - the omens looked good and conditions were perfect. After being let into the house cups of tea were served and everyone helped themselves to a French Fancy [For the benefit of our international readers this is a variety of fondant cream cake, not a lady of ill repute, Ed.]. Al was running late and had rang earlier suggesting that the three others ride ahead; he would catch up on account of his superior fitness. However, the other riders waited graciously for Al, who quickly gulped down a cup of tea and a French Fancy on arrival but grumbled that these particular cakes were not in keeping with the general image that the Association had worked hard to cultivate.

Al's late arrival meant that we set off with an amended plan - we now aimed to go beyond Chalton and then through West Dean, past the charcoal burners, then back down the Lavant valley. Steadily we went round the Goodwood motoring circuit, up Chalkpit Lane and on to the Trundle. John was King of the Trundle this week, the others were suspicious as to whether there was some surreptitious training going on.

John welcomes the stragglers
at the top of the trundle

At the top of the climb we turned right towards Goodwood horse circuit and Chalton. Jon casually mentioned that we might have to miss the pub at Chalton in order to travel a bit further, but immediately there were protestations from the ranks. Billy-Bob wanted his pint at Fox Goes Free! The route winds around the Trundle offering fantastic views of Chichester and it's hinterlands, and then incorporates a useful short downhill section towards the Goodwood Grandstand, where there was an eye-catching party going on. On the road now, we cycled past the horse racing circuit and then through Chalton Park on a bridleway along Chalk Lane to Chalton. While John and Al lead the ride together, John shot ahead on the steep drop into the village leaving Al to wonder about his form and/or suspension set-up.

There was no question of passing the Fox Goes Free - John and Al had quickly ordered 4 pints of Reg's Tipple, a pint that generated some debate: Some thought that it had a distinctive fruity taste with peaty overtones (John/Jon) but some thought it was just plain bland, with a slightly sickly backnote (Billy-Bob/Al); sadly there was no bearded CAMRA man on hand to settle the issue. However the choice of the next part of the route generated even more debate and discord;behind time for the original plan, we just could not decide where to go next. Eventually it was agreed that we would go back towards the top of Chalkpit Lane by the Trundle and take a right into the Lavant valley taking in a good downhill involving a steep grassy field.

Arguments rage at the Fox over the route ahead

We started the slog up Knights Hill with John well ahead again. Al immediately had technical difficulties and appeared to have got a large spanner out to adjust a jockey wheel. On closer inspection Paul and Jon saw it was a big stick that had got itself lodged in Al's rear derailier . Eventually we were off-road again and made our way through a meadow to the west of the trundle mound which was abundant with wild flowers, including pyramid orchids and yellow rattle. At the top of Chalkpit Lane, we turned right along the edge of a cornfield with Al uncharacteristically trailing due to further technical problems. We all raced down the grassy hill though, then followed the trail in the direction of East Lavant and the Royal Oak. This section was largely uneventful although John was berated for a minor departure from gate-opening protocol. Once at the pub there was no debate about the beer to have at the Royal Oak, as Skinners Betty Stogs was on tap, a brew from Cornwall that was the staple at Billy-Bob's wedding.

Rather than go back the way we came alongside the Goodwood circuit, we rode back through a bridleway leading to Summersdale, north Chichester for a change. It involves cycling past, and avoiding, a ford. Nevertheless Al took great pleasure in trying to barge Jon into it: Simple things please simple minds. Back at the house, spiced Moroccan lamb with couscous was served which went down very well with all concerned.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Jon)

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Selbourne Slog

Jon, Al and Billy-Bob arrived at the car park behind the Selbourne Arms within minutes of each other, and almost half an hour early. They were wired with the anticipation of tackling a route steeped in TCA folklore, but attempted only once in the modern era [Click this link for more background on the route, surrounding area and TCA lore, Ed.]. Jon and Paul quickly unpacked and put their bikes together as Al set up his camping stove and prepared tea and scones.

Jon shows off his new forks
at Al's mobile Cafe

Jon was particularly nervous - this would be the first time he would use his new suspension forks, and it perhaps would have been the last if Al hadn't spotted that they had been under-pressurised when they were fitted. Fortunately a fork pump was on hand and, with Billy-Bob calculating the load, Jon holding the bike and Al inflating, the job was done in a few minutes.

Tea, scones, last-minute tweaks out of the way and - just as the thoughts of the riders turned to the non-appearance of their forth Associate, John - Al's 'phone started ringing. The connection was bad but Al could clearly make out the words "...late... lost... back-roads... somewhere near Selbourne.. bloody GPS!..." . John arrived soon after at around 6.30pm and hastily put his bike together. For once he did not have nerve to complain about the tea.

Shortly we were heading out of the car-park on the brief drive out of the village on the country lanes to the northwest which lead to the first ascent, onto Selbourne Common. While we had had some rain in the previous few days we figured that the track would be in good condition. When we turned off the road though it was clear that this would be wishful thinking - the trail appeared as if a stampede of horses had passed through and the riders were soon pushing their bikes through the mud.

This would be the reoccurring theme of the riding in the wooded section - reasonable patches of riding punctuated by thick mud, exacerbated by heavily horse trodden sections. Both Al and John suffered minor 'offs' in the process of negotiating the quagmire, and Billy-Bob caught his calf rather badly as his foot slipped from his pedal. We stopped for a photo opportunity and a break when Billy-Bob spotted a young mole out in the middle of the trail - it was miraculous that Jon and Al avoided squashing the creature as they passed by earlier. John moved the mole to the undergrowth to save it from further close encounters. The ascent to the top of the nature reserve above Selbourne was a slog, but we were rewarded with a well-drained descent to the lane.

Descent through the Hangers
- a rare dry section of the ride

Following the road for a few hundred yards we soon turned off to pick up a farm track, and more punishing ascent. Al and John got their heads down and concentrated, but they could hear the two planners chatting away behind them. The nattering obviously took it's toll as the leading pair had got their breath back by the time the other two caught up. Bunched together again we followed the flatter section of the track until we emerged at another country lane, and the descent to Keyham Farm.

John and Al take a break....

...while Billy-Bob and Jon catch up.

The sharp descent by road joins a heavily worn single-track section and Al hit the intersection first. The track had been worn away since the last time the ride was attempted and Al nearly had another 'Nevis Range moment' when he got airborne as the path dropped away. The terrain here seemed a lot better drained but the path is obviously used to seeing high volumes of rain water run-off and is badly rutted in places.

Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man

However, this heavily rutted track past Vann farm was the perfect challenge for Jon's new suspension and he was grinning from ear-to-ear. About half-way down this section, and as ancient custom and practice dictate, we stopped to admire the view across Prior's Dead Vineyard, and lend our own specific brand of fertiliser to the terroir. We continued on our way but all bottled out of attempting the final, near vertical drop onto the road.

The moderate ascent of the road up towards Hawkley offered the first real opportunity for a chat and the riders settled down to a more casual approach. The Hawkley Inn is another firm TCA favorite, generally offering a fantastic variety of beer and good food. As usual the choice had Billy-Bob and Al in a quandary, but the Thai Me Up by local brewers Irving obviously caught the eye. Sadly it also caught the taste buds when we were offered a try - "like ginger beer shandy" pronounced Billy-Bob - and we eventually plumped for the Dark Star Sunburst instead.

Toast to Absent Friends, The Hawkley Inn

Having chatted to a couple of smokers with a kiwi background, who kindly offered to take our traditional photo, we left the pub in high spirits. The ride takes us back down the road where we eventually peel off to tackle the most notorious climb of the route, up onto Empshott Green. Al warned John that this was likely to start off a little boggy and then ease into a muddy slog but even the veterans were suprised!

The mud was so thick you could
stand your bike up in it... literally

Wading through the first section we eventually managed to re-mount but Jon added insult to injury by falling head-long into a ripe crop of nettles, which uncharacteristically would cause him to complain all the way home. Emerging from the mud and nettles the track turned into a killer ascent which no one could negotiate without resorting to jumping off the bikes. We re-grouped at the top, panting heavily. John did not look as though he was enjoying himself much but Al reassured him that this was the start of the famous descent christened 'Badger Alley'.

Billy-Bob and Jon demonstrate the
'get off and push' technique

As if to add credibility to Al's assertions, but perhaps in reality only for the second occasion in the history of the ride, John actually spotted a young badger in the track! Sure enough, after a bit more of a mud-strewn slog on the level, the track gradually turned downhill.

In it's infancy this ride was notable for wrong turns, lost riders and general disarray. Not for the first time we sailed past the left-hand fork early in the descent. The drop back down Empshott nature reserve was tricky - quite fast but with the odd patch of sticky mud thrown in. John had a spectacular off which landed him inches from the embankment and a drop into the forest below the trail. The path eventually ran out as it reached a field and a five bar gate... which neither Al or Billy-Bob had seen before. With no map at hand it was left to a squint at the GPS and a mental retracing of steps before it was concluded that we should have taken the left-hand turn at the start of our long descent [Deviation from the planned route - dashed line - is shown on the map below, Ed.] John was not a happy camper - he was certainly not prepared to climb back up to the top. He voted for a quick dash across the field to pick up the road that lay in the distance but was overruled as Billy-Bob and Al unconvincingly attempted to pretend they knew exactly where they were, and that a suitable off-road alternative was close at hand.

This was more like it, Billy-Bob announced, just like the old days! John longed for the sanity of a guided tour. We traced the sticky, undulating single-track path which followed the bottom of the wooded nature reserve. We climbed gradually until the veterans recognised the point at which they joined the bottom section of Badger Alley - a track leading to the Selbourne road.

Safely back in the Selbourne Arms, with bikes packed into cars we sought the shelter of the local hostelry. The Selbourne Arms had stopped serving food but, much to the horror of the other riders, Al made a wholesome supper of two pickled eggs, a giant gherkin and a packet of ready salted crisps. Finishing our post-ride refreshment it was back into the cars and off in separate directions for home.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Usual route is indicated by a dashed line

Elevation Profile (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Al)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dessert Storm takes on the London to Brighton

The London to Brighton British Heart Foundation 54 mile on-road race is the UK's largest charity bike ride with 27,000 riders cycling the scenic route between London and Brighton on the south coast.

Since 1980 when the BHF first became involved with the London to Brighton Bike Ride, over 650,000 riders have taken part in the event and more than £40 million has been raised to help fund pioneering research, patient care and vital information. (Please click on the picture above to donate). This year team Dessert Storm – catch phrase ‘Bring on the pudding!’ took up the challenge, made up of 5 ‘Dustbadgers’: AD Matthews, Charlie Gough, Jenny Moran, Charlie Sims, Ed Hazeldean and a coupla extras (and initial organisers) Jules (Prouting) Matthews and Gill Salisbury.

We met on mass in London on the Saturday night and so began a frantic attempt to prepare for the following day. Last minute bike repairs were made, race cards lost and found, team flags named and attached to bikes, tubes blown (way to go AD) and debates over the weather forecast (how can the BBC give three different forecasts in one day!??) and what to take by way of waterproofs were had before we all uploaded and headed for the pub for some quality English grub.

Rising bright and early on Sunday morning we made a good start from Jenny’s flat in Camberwell and commenced our 3.7 mile warm-up ride (courtesy of Charlie-man’s GPS) to Clapham Common. This took us through the surprisingly quiet streets of London picking up unknown competitors on route swelling the ranks of the relatively small peleton. Despite the knowledge of many miles ahead some play cycling was had to get to the grounds. Once at Clapham Common it became obvious that we, along with about 20,000 others were starting in staggered rows from 7.30am onwards which made the opportunity for a quick toilet stop in bushes as opposed to queuing for the portaloos an attractive option. Then time for a quick team photo before heading toward the start line.

Team Dessert Storm: bring on the pudding!

We stood in the 8.00am queue full of anticipation for the ride ahead, proving too much in some cases when more than half the group succumbed to the portaloos leaving AD, Jules and Jenny holding 7 bikes. Finally, the race started and it was all go. Or should have been but tens of thousands of people trying to get through the streets of London, on bikes, close together, with SPDs and lots of starts and stops meant that it took us around 1 and a half hours to cover the first 10 miles to the outskirts of the big city. Just like being stuck in stop start traffic on the M25 but worse as the danger of crashing is so much greater! Luckily the group emerged from the mass of cyclists together, frustrated but unscathed, expecting a freer ride now the city was left behind. Despite upholding the great English tradition of keeping to the left if going slowing (think motorway and London tube stations!) it was still frustratingly congested and hard to pass slower riders without cunning, aggressive (and sometimes, lets admit it, showy) riding (no names mentioned). We hit the first hill and as more and more people got off to walk so the congestion worsened and formed a bottleneck. Jules and Charlie took the lead, attacking the hill not at speed but with guile and gradually gained on the lead police car but despite their best efforts became stuck behind an impenetrable wall of riders. Not far behind Charlie-girl was pumping up the hill when a man in front of her stopped suddenly, with nowhere to go but down she fell with the bike, the first (but not the last) Dessert Storm casualty of the day. Bouncing back up she was at the top in no time and the team headed for hill no 2. This was reached at the 20 mile mark and once again the road became thick with riders. Once at the top Dessert Storm and the rest of the riders came to a grinding halt as an accident impeded any further progress for the next half hour.

‘Riders take a break whilst waiting for traffic to clear.’

Making the most of the sun, the team members (minus AD who was stuck somewhere up ahead) chatted, applied sunscreen, snacked and made friends with the random cyclists surrounding them. Stayed away from the old guy with the big sidies and the blow up doll though! AD eventually made his way to the team and the crowd started to move forward, passed the Dog and Duck pub. At around the 25 mile mark we flew passed the Burstow Scouts and on toward the second biggest hill of the ride, Turners Hill, at the top of which marked the half way point.

At the top of the hill we were met by Ed’s Mum, Dad and sister who had a spot on the green by the Lancing Brass Band with a prime time view of our fellow racers including punks, the pink panther, Fred Flintstone, Batman and the 118 118 men. We enjoyed a quick lunch in the rapidly fading sun and contemplated whether or not we’d get to Brighton before the forecast heavy showers set it in. Jules and Gill decided their KDC MBC luck would hold and rain would be avoided. So we took off with minds set on completing the last 24 miles and the giant obstacle that is Ditchling Beacon.

After an 8 mile blitz we passed the entrance to the Ardingly Showground and continued to push on stopping only for a water refill. Jules took on board another 2 litres after emptying her camelpack and whilst the other girls pushed on towards Ditchling, the boys waited (by accident only a few metres in front of 4 official photographers stationed on the gentle rise leaving Lindfield). After a few minutes we started to help the camera men and women out by making jokes to the traffic as they rose out of the picturesque village.

Once Jules rejoined the team, the remaining foursome took the chance to use their speed and try their overtaking skills on the hundreds of riders surrounding them. Ad & Jules tried slip streaming one another to save valuable energy for the last slog! Soon the group were up together again and closing in on their pre-arranged Ditchling break.

We pulled of the road and enjoyed a break from the saddle before planning our tactics for the ascent and descent before meeting the city limits. The Ditchling Village rest and refreshment stop had all the usual treats, portaloos, drinking water, bike mechanics and resting space in the gardens of a beautiful private dwelling opened up by the owner who welcomed everyone into the garden and was happy to have several hundred strangers spread out across his manicured lawns.

The time had come and the ascent had to be nailed, so we mounted up and started pumping those peddles, most of us chose to stay right and ride as fast as we could overtaking where possible. ‘The Beacon’ had been billed as ‘nothing we had ever summitted before’ due in the main to the sheer number of riders and more particularly walkers choking the narrow road. When the 400m rest stop sign was passed it spurred us on and when the PA system could be heard clearly enthusing the riders to keep going the ascent was basically over and gave us time to lower the heart rates, calm the breathing and take in the panorama. Not that this was a race, but the order was Ed, Ad, Charlie Man, Jules, Gill, Jen and Charlie Girl. We regrouped and started the long descent toward the finish, Charlie Man and Ed streaked away whilst AD was looking back the other way, leaving the local yokel in their wake. It took the next 10 minutes of flat out peddling by Mr. Matthews and good luck at the traffic lights for the 3 boys to be in convoy once again. The last section along the half open roads through Brighton was a little interesting as the group were more used to non-traffic routes, so the boys tried their hands at lane hoping and white-lining between the steady and stopped traffic on the busying roads.

In sight of the finish and Ad faked a sprint then sat back in the saddle, but it was too late and Charlie and Ed zoomed away once again crossing the finish before jamming the anchors to receive their medals in efficient BHF organised fashion.

The group re-gathered and beat their way through the thousands of finishers and on lookers between Madeira drive and the Beach towards the fish and chip stands for a well earned dinner, however the weather was turning sour and the group decided to head for the bus and get back to the big smoke! This seemed to be going well and with bikes carefully bubble wrapped and in the truck and tired bums on the coach seats we were happy… Then after being stationary in Streatham for 25 minutes, the driver announced that a tube station fire had caused the hold up and was unlikely to be cleared for an hour at least, so we took the option to off load 100 passengers and bikes and ride the remaining 5ish miles back to Jenny’s flat!

Charlie Man off-loading!

Ride Elevation (click to enlarge):

If you think Dessert storm have earnt their pudding
you can add to the value raised on behalf of
the British Heart Foundation by clicking

(Posted by: Ad)

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

To Exton and Beyond

The ride started well - Tee had popped down to Lotts to get some cake for the pre-ride afternoon tea to be advised that 1/2 a cake was cheaper than 3 slices - with all other riders crying off this week, it was left to Billy-Bob and Al to polish off the home made coffee & walnut cake on their own. Crippled by travel logistics and the early morning childcare routine Billy-Bob had not managed to pack his bike in the car that morning so, suitably loaded with carbohydrate, the fearless duo once again took the tandem out of it's pyjamas [I kid you not - click here, Ed.].

There had been heavy showers all day but the weather was finally clearing to leave a fresh, sunny evening. We pondered the itinerary for a while before deciding to take the well-worn route to Dundridge, dropping down to the Shoe Inn in Exton. We pushed off reasonably smoothly, although it took the pair a little while to both 'clip in'; Billy-Bob had found the shoes that were compatible with the Crank Brothers pedals fitted to the tandem. After only a few hundred meters we ground to a halt on the step ascent of Cams Hill. In the space of a couple of weeks Billy-Bob had forgotten one of the golden rules of tandeming - that both riders must agree on which foot to 'land' on when the bikes comes to a halt. Tee and Al favour the 'left foot down' rule and Al had done his best to instill the novice with this mantra. Billy-Bobs innate 'right foot down' approach was compounded by the fact that Al had already unclipped on the left, a rapid unclipping of the other foot was required to avert what would have been their first, and particularly embarrassing, off. Al had plenty of opportunity to once again provide a tutorial on the basics as they pushed the tandem up the remainder of the hill.

Mounting the tandem once again the pair enjoyed a pleasant ride which wound it's way through the country lanes of Soberton and Swanmore, and on up towards Dundridge. The ride was spiced up in places by sharp roller-coaster like dips which Billy-Bob skillfully guided the bike through. We were also treated to the sight of a juvenile fox on it's evening beat. Eventually Billy-Bob coaxed the tandem down the steep descent into Dundridge and pulled to smooth halt outside TCA favorite, The Hampshire Bowman. After considering their large selection of gravity-flow cask ales racked up behind the bar in their protective jackets we both plumped for a pint of Bowman's Swift One, enjoying what was left of the late evening sun as it dipped below the hedgeline.

Our very own Hampshire Bowman
enjoys a pint outside the eponymous pub

The beer was as superb as ever but sadly finished all too quickly. Even so, in the short time taken to sink our pints, several other people had arrived and taken up seats at the front of the pub. We fielded a couple of intelligent tandem queries from a chap who obviously had experience with this form of transport: The pressure was on to make our departure as smooth as our arrival since we knew our technique would be scrutinised. There was no need to worry - we are becoming familiar with the phenomenon that a pint or two seems to take the edge off the nerves and improves our coordination during the execution of such technicalities. We were on our way without a fuss, up Shepard's Down towards Sheep Pond Lane; our usual road route would have taken us down towards Soberton at this junction. We consulted the map, having a brief chat about how best to reach Exton; should we tackle Beacon Hill or drop down using the main road to Meonstoke and pick up the A32 for a few hundred meters? We had had our fill of climbing so we sat back and enjoyed the exhilarating descent to Meonstoke, touching 40mph on the steepest section, on our way to Exton.

Billy-Bob, Al and their fine steed
take a break in the Shoe's Garden

Exton is a delightful village and at it's centre is the picturesque Shoe Inn. The large beer garden is across the road from the pub and a crystal clear brook runs swiftly past the bottom of the garden. One might spot a kingfisher or grey wagtail in the overhanging vegetation and watch the trout lazing amongst the weeds in the stream while sipping a pint of real ale. Sadly the Wadworths beers, while perfectly acceptable, are never up to much and the pub has an air of 'prospective gastropub' to it rather than 'honest country boozer'. On this occasion there was an overwhelming smell of fish in the bar as we ordered our pints and we rapidly beat our retreat to the garden, which we had all to ourselves.

Pints out of the way it was time to pick our way back to Hambledon and the dinner that awaited. The tried and tested route follows the back roads through Meonstoke and Soberton returning via Cams Hill. Al was keen though to explore the untested direct route to the north of Meonstoke. While this was relatively pleasant for a couple of miles the road turned into a killer hill which took a concerted effort on the part of the two riders to reach the top without stopping. To make up for the exertion there followed a long descent back into the village which required very little effort... Al practiced his directorial skills.

On their return Tee prepared a delicious chilli while Al forced Billy-Bob to write up last week's ride. Dessert of clotted cream ice cream with home made strawberry coulis produced from home grown Hambledon strawberries was prepared by Al as Tee distracted Billy-Bob from his scribing commitments. Sadly there was only the latest series of Big Brother on the TV to entertain us but Billy-Bob still only managed a couple of paragraphs.

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

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Boggy Bikers of Blackdown

It had been a few years since Billy-Bob had tackled his local jaunt, although Jon and the TCA boys had ventured to the Surrey Hills more recently. The ride started uncharacteristically late, due to Billybob's longer commute, combined with additional pre-ride faff and fettling of Billy-Bob's Kiwi steed with Jons night-lights.

The intrepid duo set off just after 7pm, fortunatly it was still light and was turning out to be a barmy summers evening. Billy-Bob set off uphill leaving Jon trailing behind, complaining about his slippery saddle. When he caught up they deliberated whether to take the road route to Blackdown or the infamous Black Death Alley; there was no question it was down the slippery alley which was as rutted and sandy as ever and back up the the grassy western slope climb to Blackdown and highest point in W.Sussex, Temple of the Winds.

Billy-Bob wipes Elodie's wet nappy
on Jons saddle just before the off.

Billybob tackles the steep
western approach to Blackdown

John, taking in the Sussex countryside

John attempts to beat his 2 second timer,
the impressive green blanket of the
Sussex Weald in the background

A toast to absent friends
The Duke of Cumberland

(Posted by: Paul [4/10 - must try harder, Ed.], Pictures by: Jon)

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