Saturday morning saw me and the faithful singlespeed 'cross set about the South Downs Way, 73 miles off-road riding from Winchester to sunny Brighton through the green rolling hills of the newest National Park. Ok not the full SDW distance (it stretches to Eastbourne) but far enough to allow an evening train back to the smoke.
A clean new pair of Cinder X tyres, 38x18, were quickly caked in the bog that was the first hill out of town after 3 days of rain. In the mist ahead I could see 3 or 4guys walking - "I can't believe they're walking, its the first hill...eh? oh hang on". These were the worst conditions ever, the mud switched from the treacle-type that sucked the tyres into the thinly-spread-clay-type that acted like ice.
The first part of the downs is largely rolling, but with roots and rocks that meant I had to concentrate to avoid being flicked into a hedge. 3 hours in slipping sliding and lobbing handfuls of clay about and we reached the first and only cafe to contemplate mud and life over cakes. The SDW is a mean ride as there is almost no bailing out point unless you have some local knowledge, although this was the populated south east, no trains or taxis were on hand for miles. It was Brighton or bust. Or sleep in a bush.
Next 30k slipped by a bit easier as the trail moved into the chalk seam that makes up the white cliffs and so provided a bit more drainage. Less mud but the rocky trail is pretty tough (everyone else had suspension) - it's not quite Roubaix tough but the pounding is unrelenting all the same and there's no tarmac sections to recover.
In places there was no option but to porter, hoiked the bike across the shoulder and walk. By now, 60-70km my brakes were pretty worn and I started to have to descend on the drops just to get enough on the levers to keep me under 30kph and moderately in control as I bounced along the steeper sections towards the end. I was starting to be too tired to be too scared by this point and as the food started to run down we wanted gave it some on the descents to recover some average speed.
Then I had the biggest bonk at around 105km. The final 8km were the hardest I have ever experienced on a bike, overwhelmed by a need to sleep and nausea this was suddenly suffering of an epic scale. 9 hours in and I was shot through, absolutley no reserves, nothing. The final climb around 400m, maybe 15% is something I won't forget. At the crest of the hill all that was left was to drop on to the main road into Brighton fuel up on sugar at the first petrol station we saw and dodge the teenagers drinking Strongbow. Truly a hard ride.
[cheers Simon, however there is a apparently a certain cross race up north and the application opens tomorrow...keep ss'ing if that's the correct verb. CG.]