Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ridgeway 2007

I hadn’t really noticed but apparently summer is here and we should all be out enjoying the splendid weather and our new rigs. Indeed, those were my very thoughts as it suddenly dawned on me that June 23rd was approaching fast and come what may it was time to stick to last years pledge and try and complete the Ridgeway in a day. On paper it appears to be very achievable. However, last years 2 day Ridgeway ride taught me that a number of factors including weather conditions, navigation time and re-fuel/R&R add a considerable amount of time to the journey. Consequently, those making the attempt this year agreed to start early and allow plenty of time. Six am was the agreed start from Ivinghoe Beacon and there were four in total. That’s myself (R2), Rob#1 and two of my pals Nick and Mark. In general we were looking forward to the ride but as the 23rd grew closer and Mother Nature continued to conspire against us with rainy day followed by rainy day our optimism began to slowly ‘drain away’. Eventually we agreed to give it a go and made provision to bail out should we succumb to the conditions. Here’s how the day panned out:

By 6.15am we were all ready and assembled on top of Ivinghoe Beacon. The weather was very overcast, a little misty with a slight but chilling wind. Wind direction from the west, into our faces. We set of slowly and almost immediately began to encounter mud and slippery chalk more reminiscent of winter than June. Nevertheless, we worked our way through it and set about scratching off Pitstone, Tring, Wiggington and Wendover.
By 8.30 we had reached the top of Combe Hill in Wendover. Trail and weather conditions had improved and we were all really enjoying the ride. Onwards to Chequers (no sign of Gordon) and Princes Risborough using the official Ridgeway riders route.

By 10.30 we were clear of Risborough and heading for Chinnor. We lost some time on route because we used the official Ridgeway rider route for the first time. A few ‘wrong turns’ and the odd tumble in thick mud delayed us somewhat. However, I’ve noted that in real summer condition this is a worthwhile trail to revisit.

As soon as we hit Chinnor we were greeted by clear sightings of the magnificent Chiltern Kites impressively soaring overhead with their huge wingspans. Unfortunately the trial conditions were not nearly as impressive and we struggled for some considerable time through thick mud and some very deep and wet 4x4 tracks. Not for the last time during the ride we were soon to resemble something akin to a Glastonbury mud bath reveller!

We eventually made Watlington and took 45 minute out for an essential fuel break and some of us shared a tube of Sudo cream (it’s a story for another day!)

From Watlington to Goring on the riders route looks relatively straightforward. However, through fatigue or possibly stupidity we struggled to stay ‘on route’ and a few tired leg hours later reached Goring (the mid point) at around 1.30pm!!
We were very aware that the conditions had delayed us considerably and that if we were to give ourselves any chance of completing the course then we only had time for a water stop and energy bar break. Morale was generally good but there was an undertone that perhaps, given the conditions, it just might not be possible. I was most concerned about the next climb. From Goring back onto the Ridgeway after approx 44 miles is a hurtful slog.

We made the slog and were almost jubilant as we observed the condition of the trail ahead. Hard packed clay, stone and so fast. Rejuvenated by this development we cracked on and made good time for mile after mile. Our new targets were water points where we could fill up and move on.

Rob#1 had decided that as this was his first attempt he would bail out at around 60 miles. This meant his pickup would be approx. 5 miles outside Wantage. He was focussed on this and we tucked in behind him (any slip steam will do!) and he dragged us along. Once again the trail deteriorated into thick mud and when we parted with Rob#1 at around 5.00pm, he was whacked and we were once again wondering if we had enough time to finish.
We struggled on and just as the trail improved again we were greeted with 2 very heavy rain episodes. I’ve never ridden in a chalk river before but one thing is for sure, my Nobby Nics don’t do traction on wet chalk. Soaking wet and bruised from falling off we soldered on at an increasingly slow pace.

We eventually reached Liddington at 8.00pm. 15 miles to go and darkness at around 9.30pm. Only 5mph required I here you say. Well yes, but Mark was in a bad way and the conditions ahead were unknown.

Well the best I can say is that the next 15 miles were character building! The track was crap. We either had to push or swim through deep water filed ruts. Mark was hanging in and all but broken by the 3 mile climb up to Barbury Castle but somehow we managed to keep going and eventually finished in half light at 9.40pm! Surreally we were greeted by Helen (my wife and driver for the day) and a Rastafarian hippy celebrating summer solstice by dancing around a campfire playing a saxophone against a background of blearing reggae music!!! What a day.
Thanks to:
Helen for driving, food, beer and a warm welcoming smile at the end!
Rob#1for great company and reciting war and peace on everything bike for 10 hours!
Nick for inspiring motivational drive!
Mark for hanging in there!

Weather/Conditions: 86 miles of water, mud, clay, saturated chalk, rain, rivers, giant puddles, stones and grass. Great views though!


Farqui said...

Bravo fella's, I take's off my hat to ya's. It's a tough ol'ride at the best of times and I simply cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been given the conditions. I suspect that I'd have been in casualty if I'd had to endure the wet, cold and slippery conditions. But I'm defo fired up for some kinda of endurance event next time around.