Wednesday, July 08, 2009

South Downs Way June 2009

SDW June 18th -20th

Following on from my previous Ridgeway rides, I felt it was time to move on to a new challenge. SDW was an easy choice, relatively close to home and highly recommended. A quick review of the official SDW map and a conversion to Tracklogs confirmed that although the SDW was a similar length to the Ridgeway (99 miles compared to 87) there is significantly more hill climbing. As a result I decide that it was best to attempt the ride over 2 days to ensure that plenty of time was available to enjoy the MTB and scenery. An epic endurance ride was not on the agenda. My original plan was to Blog invite the ride and organise a posse adventure. This soon became an unrealistic target when it became apparent that my preferred dates clashed with the Morzine trip and furthermore the realisation that decent B&B accommodation is hard to come by unless booked 6 months in advance! As a result the final ride team consisted of Rob, Mark (Ridgeway veteran), Chas and I. The basic itinerary for the ride was as follows:
  • Drive to Winchester, B&B to enable a reasonable am start
  • Day 1 Winchester start….ride 50miles to Tillington B&B/pub about 5 miles from SDW.
  • Day 2 Tillington start… ride 55 miles to Alciston B&B/pub about ½ mile from SDW
  • Day 3 Alciston to Beachy Head around 11 miles to finish.
Rob kindly volunteered to drive us all to Winchester where I’d found a low cost B&B for the night. Our plan was, whilst on route, to drop off overnight bags at the B&B’s for day 1 and 2. Nice idea but the result was a 4 hours journey to Winchester. In addition to this Rob had decided to carry all necessary spare clothing in his camelback which the rest of us considered to be an unusual and challenging approach to maintaining personal hygiene! Anyway, we eventually arrived at around midnight and set about parking and the unloading the car. The events of that first evening set the humorous tone for the coming days. Rob was slightly fatigued by the long drive and between spontaneous bouts of Terrets syndrome, smashed a flower pot parking his car and then had us all close to tears pointing out the all too obvious shortcoming of our accommodation. These were best summarised by the comments Rob found in the guest book posted by a previous traveler “fine location for helmet wearing midgets…please add to the list of places to bang your head..!” In spite of the space constraints and the fact that the bath room was too small for Rob or Mark to be able to use the toilet effectively, we managed a goods nights sleep and awoke ready for Day1.

Day 1:

Bikes ready and Camelbaks fully loaded with hydration fluid, energy bars and in Rob’s case spare underpants! we set off at round 10.30 am. However, we had only been riding for around 10 minutes when Rob noticed that Mark’s rear wheel hub had about ½ inch play in the bearings! Urgent repair required! Fortunately we managed to find a friendly bike store in Winchester who provided a temporary repair and our SDW journey had official begun.

The first 20 miles, a mix or generally flat gravel track and country lanes were by any standards very easy.. So much so that I was beginning to think that I would be at the B&B by around 3.00pm accompanied by three fellow riders wondering why we had not ridden it in a day!

However, not long after passing the 20 mile mark we met a local rider who duly informed us that the SDW was just about to become much tougher! From that stage onwards all was revealed! Classic SDW terrain. Very dry hard chalk or flint gravel tracks. Long grinding ‘granny cog’ accents followed by fast exhilarating descents….In general it was the length of the climbs not the steepness of the gradient that presented the biggest challenge. However, they were always made easier by the knowledge that there would be a rewarding decent soon after. Well this was at least the motivation during the early stages. Towards the end of the day the descents because a cause of anxiety as the mind began to prepare for the pain of another long climb! The most memorable decent of the day was a fast grass descent to the SDW trail centre during which Rob managed to exceed 40mph. For the remainder of the day we churned out the mileage and eventually left the SDW trail for a road hack to our B&B. B&B, food and pub beer were of the highest quality. We were able to take a shower, change our clothes and relax our aching legs whilst Rob (fresh from a change of underpants) provided a demonstration on how not to chat up an over developed 17 year old waitress!

Day 2:

The morning of day two presented us all with some anxious moments. By the end of the first day we were all fatigued and ready for a rest. However, we new that the second day was longer and had an even higher concentration of ascents and descents. We made a slow and tentative start to the day at around 10.00am. The gentle B road route back to the SDW trail helped us considerably to warm up but the track back to the top of the SDW ridge was fierce and steep and we all eventually dismounted to push the final few yards. Thereafter and for the first 10 miles the going was very enjoyable.

Similar to the first day, the route suddenly changes and once again threw a continuous serious of ascents and descents.

The condition of the trail and terrain combined with the fantastic sea vista presented us with some fantastic MTB riding. Tough climbs and fantastic descents…we all loved it. As a result by mid afternoon we were a little perturbed to find that our progress had not been as fast as the riding felt. We still had 20 miles of tough riding to complete and fatigue was starting to set in. Rob and I decided to set the pace. Within an hour we had made some good progress and the groups moral was now focused on the next B&B and pub dinner. Once again the trail had a few tough climbs for us to contend with but we eventually made the B&B at 8.00pm. We were fortunate to have chosen another excellent B&B and pub combination. Entertainment for the evening was once again provided by Rob’s use of his Terrets syndrome, homophobia, sexism, extreme right wing politics and a generally creative use of discrimination in every form. Another highly entertaining evening!

Day 3:

The start of day three presented a general feeling of relief amongst the group. We had over 100 miles riding behind us and what appeared to be like a relatively short and gentle 12 miles to the finish. In keeping with the previous two days the weather was fantastic and group spirits were high. We were initially met by another tough climb back to the top to the SDW trail. Thereafter and quite unexpectedly the SDW presented us with its final challenge. Two tough and long assents each climbing over 600 feet. The final long climb resulted in a clear and impressive view of our finish…..Eastbourne and Beachy Head. Essentially all down hill from here we raced down the final long decent and short road section to complete a memorable and very enjoyable ride.
We all enjoyed what the SDW had to offer. Without hesitation I’d recommend the last 60 miles to anyone. I will ride it again and when I do it’s this final section that I’ll head for. Physically challenging, great downhill fun and very scenic!

Final Mileage: 116 miles

Total Ascent: 13,300 feet


Rob, R2, Chas, Mark

Rigs: Canyon Nerve XC6 (R2 & Chas), Turner Flux (Rob), Specialized S/jumper (Mark)

  • R2…worn shock bushes creaking, sticky Oro brake lever.
  • Chas…None….new machine!
  • Rob…Rear mech/cabling issues
  • Mark…Rear Hub close to collapse, Sheered stem cap nut, puncture…general bike neglect issues!
Weather: Warn, Sunny, dry…..Perfect.

Injuries: Plenty of saddle sore, back spasms from granny cog climbing, aching legs, wild uncontrollable flatulence from Mark! Stomach Ache as a result uncontrollable laughter.

Memorable Moments: Mark soiling his shorts from over confident flatulence, Rob upsetting everyone he met, R2 for being too happy and chirpy on relentless climbs, Chas for polishing his new bike every day!

Next Challenge: Coast to Coast? Pennine Way?....


Farqui said...

It sounds like you had a blast.

Quite an achievement too, well done.