South Ghost 200k (aka The Hell of the South)- a wild and windy ride

A few days ago, a couple of the guys from the fast pace group in our club posted that they were going to do an overnight ride to Brighton and back – made up to a 200k distance, in the 2nd week in February. Would anyone like to come along for all or part of it they asked?

Now I love a ride to or from Brighton. I’ve been doing it for years, both through the day, but also in the early hours of the morning as the last part of longer rides. It’s also notoriously an easy flat ride, assuming calm weather.

Keen to see how my new strength and endurance kick has been working out, I was very interested. Now these guys are much faster than me normally, but I figured I’d see how far I could keep up with them – my plan was for the first 120k – ie to Brighton, and then I would meander home on my own at my own pace. I certainly knew there wasn’t much chance of making it the whole 200k with them.

Much of my recent training has been focused on improving my speed on the flats, but also maintaining the momentum over a longer distance. So with a nice flat ride ahead I decided I’d consider giving it a go.

February 2018 however, has been turning into a cold and icy month, so I waited until just a couple of days to the date, before confirming. My legs stiffen up when the temperature falls much before 2 degrees, so I wanted to ensure it wasn’t going to be another sub-zero ride.

Luckily, there looked to be a break in the freezing temperature, although there was some rain forecast. I should have looked at the forecast more closely though, as there was to be a real sting to the weather on the night.

We met up at the Gosport Ferry terminal, and after a quick coffee, set off into the night around 9pm. We rode along the sea front of Stokes Bay and Lee on Solent aware of a slight headwind, but in good spirits, happy that it wasn’t cold, and it was dry. There was a 5th member of our group to pick up at Lee on Solent, so we found him, and continued along. The first section was heading towards Southampton, as a loop was required to make up the necessary distance, but we were soon back heading in the right direction again, back towards Portsmouth and with the benefit of a tail wind now. The tail wind helped us make quick progress towards Chichester, which was to be our first stop. I had managed to keep up with the boys most of the way, although at around Bosham, and with a much needed promise of coffee, they picked up the speed a little, and I lost their tail lights in the distance. It was not problem though, as I knew the way, and was a little grateful to be able to drop off my pace slightly. I arrived at Chichester MacDonalds a few minutes after them around midnight, just as the first few small drops of rain appeared in the air.

After much needed refreshments, we wrapped up for the next section as the rain had started to get heavier while we were stopped. It seemed sensible to waterproof ourselves before setting off again. A couple of the guys had ‘rain legs’ which are waterproofs for the front of their legs only. These can be very effective for a quick shower, or drizzle. I had my full waterproof trousers and jacket with me, to avoid getting both cold and wet.

We stayed together again from Chichester, past Oving, Eastergate & Barnham and became separated again a little on the way to Littlehampton – although I caught up with them again, after some had stopped for a short comfort break. Since it was clear that I was slower, I continued on, with Rob so they could catch up with us a little further on. However, just as we went over the River at Littlehampton, Rob discovered he had a puncture. With a railway station just down the road, we made for there, so that he could have light and shelter (from the rain) to fix it.

With the puncture almost fixed, I set off ahead again for a head start- feeling a little more refreshed for a short break. I got a little lost on the route out of Littlehampton, but noted that the wind was starting to get much stronger as I headed for the sea front.

From Littlehampton we mostly follow the South Coast Cycle Route, which takes good roads around the Worthing are before heading back towards the coast at Ferring. The road back towards the sea showed just how strong the wind was getting, as it was hard to pedal and move forwards. But it was luckily a short road, and the sea front all through Worthing was a blast with by now a very strong tail wind pushing me along. The rain didn’t relent, and by now we were soaked through. Again, the tail wind separated us, and after Worthing I was on my own again.

Despite the weather, riding along the Shoreham road was great. It was the early hours of the morning, and there was no traffic – an impossibility when riding that busy route during the day. I picked up the seafront cycle path at Hove and rode on towards Brighton pier. Sadly at that time of night, all the pier lights are turned off, so it was in darkness. Well it was 3:30am by then. Being a Thursday night, Brighton was eerily quiet with nothing but the sound on the waves crashing on the shore.

Our meeting place was to be another 24/7 MacDonalds in Brighton Marina. However, I had never been there before, and the course directions because a little confused. After a little bit of riding around, I finally found my way down to the Marina and the MacDonalds. The others had also got a little lost and had therefore only just arrived a few minutes before me.

I was overjoyed to see them. My plan had been to ride to Brighton with them, and although we had separated a few times, I had pretty much arrived at the same time, which after 120km was a huge achievement for me.

So there we were, 5 of us, dripping all over the floor in MacDonalds at 3:45 am, desperate for some warming coffee or tea, and hot food. The staff were very welcoming too, although following us around with a mop and bucket!

We were of course putting off the inevitable. We were very aware that the wind was strengthening and would be mostly in our faces all the way back (another 90km). The forecast also suggested that the rain would die out, which was a little encouraging.

Despite the fact that I had said I was happy to return at my own speed, as I am not good against the wind, the group said that they would try to draft me so that I didn’t get the full force of the wind, thus saving a bit of energy. However, before we had cleared Hove, they started to pull away from me, and I was on my own once again. To be honest I was a little relieved. I had used up a lot of energy on the way out by trying to keep up, but as a result had plenty of time to get back. I now wanted to go at my own speed, finding my own stops and doing my own thing.

We had already agreed before we left that it was likely that we would find parallel roads to some of the seafront areas, to try to reduce the wind factor, however I was unprepared for just how strong it was as I attempted to cross the bridge over the River Arun and Shoreham, and was stopped dead in my tracks by the wind. The Shoreham to Worthing stretch is always a slog in the wind at the best of times. It’s a very flat bit of road, and at best I managed to achieve around 6 mph (10kph) often slower. It was going to be a long ride home!

At Worthing I took a small detour through the housing estates to get away from the seafront, and progress improved. The rain had almost stopped, and I felt better for a while. I was still very tired, but kept plodding on towards Littlehampton.

I became aware of the traffic beginning to increase after 6am. This was a Friday morning, so it looked likely that we would hit rush hour. The ride had been planned to be past areas that might cause a rush hour issue earlier – but the weather had other ideas.

The route went along the A259 between Littlehampton and Yapton and I hit it at 6:30am. It was just getting light, but although being very brightly lit, the traffic acted as if I wasn’t there. I was honked at by and impatient car, and had a very close pass by a skip lorry that was either doing a punishment pass, or just didn’t see me. I did note that a cycle path is being dug, but alas isn’t not ready yet, so I had to take my chances. In hindsight, I should have followed the South Coast Cycle Route which bypasses this road by going slightly further inland.

I did however survive, and decided to just try to get home as quickly as possible. I couldn’t delay anyway, since I was due to be on a cross channel ferry after lunch – and I hadn’t packed!

The remainder of the ride was mostly uneventful. The sun came out and the wind lost some of it’s strength, although it did get colder as a result, and I started to feel cold in my damp clothing, I had some spare dry gloves, so changes into these to get some much needed warmth in my fingers.

As I headed towards Portsmouth, it was a little frustrating that I had entered the finish point as being at the Hard (ie the Gosport Ferry terminal). This mean adding around another 8 miles to my journey and delaying my arrival at home by a bit more. I chose the most direct route through Portsmouth, rather than the planned seafront route. After hearing from the others later in the day, apparently this had been a wise decision. They said that Southsea seafront had the worst winds of all, and was the hardest part of the ride. I shall never know.

Apparently they only beat me back by about 30 minutes, although they had stopped for a break near Chichester, whilst I had ridden straight through from Brighton.

I had had to dig really deep to make it back home, but once I had made up my mind, I was pretty determined.

Once home I had left myself with just 3 hours to bath, pack & get on my ferry. Sleep would have to come later. We booked a cabin on the ferry, and the next thing I knew we were in France.

Was the ‘easy’ ride tough – Yes!

Was it fun – Definitely

Would I do it again – with a few tweaks, I think so.

Has my fitness kick been paying off – without a doubt.

What readers should take from this though, is no matter how tough you think a ride might be, nothing can beat the satisfaction you feel when you conquer it, and make it through despite the odds…..once you recover that is.

Much credit must be given to Phil Beed, Rob Norris, Auz Gray & Mickey Cooper for being such lovely companions and being encouraging a waiting for me from time to time. Some of the photos are also Phil’s.

3 thoughts on “South Ghost 200k (aka The Hell of the South)- a wild and windy ride

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  1. What a great ride! I love the fact you were happy to dip in and out of the group and they were OK with that too. Group riding can be fun and stressy in equal measure so to find a group you can be comfortable in (and not in!) is fabulous. I feel your pain with a headwind – my biggest foe, along with rubbish road surfaces.

  2. What a great read! Well done for showing such grit and determination. Puts us fair weather cyclists to shame.
    Beth x

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