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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At 9:02 am, June 25, 2008, Blogger TCA said...

tca2006 is mentioned by an independant reader as "one of their favorite blogs"!

Click here to read the comment on TLATET


At 12:47 pm, June 25, 2008, Blogger Maalie said...

Nice to see the mole, I haven't seen one for years. it may have been flooded out of its burrow.

I wouldn't fancy all that mud myself.

At 4:57 pm, June 25, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd call that 'ADVERSE CONDITIONS'.... Hats off to the Hardcore bunch that you are!!!


At 5:53 pm, June 25, 2008, Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Yeah, the mole is lovely! Poor Jon and the nettles.

At 8:39 pm, June 25, 2008, Blogger TCA said...

Don't worry about Jon, he secretly enjoyed the adenaline rush of the nettle stings. He is intending to serve up nettle soup for our next encounter.


At 8:42 pm, June 25, 2008, Blogger TCA said...

P.S Top marks for the Pre-Ride mobile Camp Kitchen! Imagine a ride without pre ride liquid refreshment & pastry products!

At 11:40 am, June 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12:32 am, July 01, 2008, Blogger simon said...

what a fantastic ride guys!

What wree the new forks performance like? any better than the old ones??

At 9:36 pm, July 03, 2008, Blogger Merisi said...

What a ride, mamma mia!
Tea and scones would have to be spiked (and served with clotted cream) to get me on a ride like this. *g*


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