As daylight came, there was a short break in the worst of the rain….or maybe there wasn’t, I was so wet it was difficult to tell. but the terrain eased up a little. Despite yet more mud and bigger puddles, it was rideable, and so for a while I made better progress. I was several hours now behind plan, which meant that I reached the Reigate Hill picnic area after the cafe there had opened. But I was determined not to stop there other than to use the loos. The guys had somehow overtaken me and were enjoying hot drinks when I arrived. By the time I had freshened up again they had gone. But who should turn up as I was leaving but the girls. Curious as to how I had managed to overtake them, I found that it was their bikes in the Trosley Country park shelter, and they had attempted a short sleep out of the rain. They sensibly stopped for hot drinks and breakfast. I set off towards the Check Point knowing that the worst of the terrain was still to come.
As the morning went on, the rain got heavier. Roads & trails were beginning to flood, and the mud just got thicker, the puddles deeper. Every incline became a stream at best, and we were beyond trying to keep anything dry. The heat from the previous day did not return this day. It was simply cold and wet. Not an ideal combination. Even when I was moving well, my average speed was around 4 mph.
Eventually the rain eased off a little, which is possibly the only thing that stopped me from crying at this point. I knew what was coming up on the approach to Box Hill, and it filled me with dread.
Kevin (event organiser) I decided has an evil streak. On my test ride I had followed a path straight up a chalky and rutted bank, only to get stuck, partly due to slipping shoes and a fallen tree. I had figured it must be the wrong way. After all, who would suggest such an impossible route? I found a different way around, which had led me to miss the next path I should have been on. On returning home I double checked the route, and this was in fact the right way, so with new super grippy shoes, I attempted this climb again. My bike was a little lighter than last time which also helped, just a little. But it was dreadful. The fallen tree was obviously a ‘feature’ of this climb, on a steep bend, and I found myself trying to negotiate the bike over the tree, whilst not falling back down the slope. I had been reminded that when I found the going tough, I should swear at Coach Niel, but he got off lightly, it was Kevin that was getting my silent abuse. But I knew this wasn’t even the worst of the 2 ‘walls’ that I had to negotiate. There was a second one, that was wider, but possibly even harder. The only positive I could find was that from after that point it was a pretty easy ride to the checkpoint if I was careful.
I looked at this monster of a bank, straight up, with a mix of tree roots, and chalky ruts, that had thankfully been cleared of loose gravel by the rain. I tried to pick a path up where I could keep my feet planted firmly in the tree roots, but my bike on smoother ground. Easier said than done. I made it half way up to a tree which blocked my preferred path up. I soon found my bike on the wrong side of one of the ruts, and my feet precariously balanced on a super smooth bit of wet chalk. How I wasn’t just sliding back down the bank was a mystery. I didn’t dare lift one foot though to find more secure ground. I was stuck. I couldn’t get any higher as I would either lose the bike, or lose my footing. I had options…..
- I could cry….but I wasn’t quite at that point yet
- I could wait for someone to turn up and help me….this seemed like a good idea, but there wasn’t anyone around.
- So, I the only option left was to keep looking for some way of moving my feet onto a solid surface so that I could move forwards.
As I was weighing up my options, the two guys reached the bottom of the bank.
“Help!” I shouted. “I’m stuck”.
In my mind, one of them would leave their bike at the bottom, and then come up to help me over the hurdle…..but that wasn’t what happened. They both proceeded to push their own bikes up the bank, somehow getting past me, just leaving me still stuck. There was a little Karma though as one of them slipped over on the way up. Eventually as I finally managed to get myself free, a voice came from the top. “Do you need some help?” “A bit bloody late now!”, or words to that effect, was my reply. My cursing for Kevin was no longer silent as I let a stream of expletives flow, before finally getting to the top and riding to the checkpoint. My sense of humour had well and truly failed me.
I arrived at the checkpoint – Pilgrim Cycles at Westhumble staion, to find the two guys outside talking to the owner. I was cold, damp and needed warming up. The fire was lit and a cup of team produced. I stayed much longer than intended, but ate more of my food, and began to feel a little more human. The guys announced that they had decided to scratch from the race ages ago, but kept it quiet until then. I knew I would miss bumping into them along the route. I had no intention of finishing here.
A short while later the girls turned up. Like the rest of us, the rain and those last two mega climbs had taken their toll. They were also thinking of calling it a day, although they weren’t all sure at the time. I had a chat with Katie, but Kate and Angie remained mostly outside. I didn’t see them again.
Katie has managed to capture the true horror of our night through the storm, and the impact on progress. Here is their tale from the ride. She tells it in pictures much better than I ever could in words
It was lunchtime when we arrived there, but we were told that no one since 9:30 had continued, those that had turned up, were all scratching from the race. That actually fired me up, I knew I had to continue. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I hadn’t done the next section before. I would take each bit as it came, and the next milestone was to reach Newlands Corner – around 9 miles away. I knew there was a cafe, so I would eat a good meal there, then plan my next move.
After more pushing, more nettles, and more mud, I found some more favourable trails. Well, it’s all relative I guess. There was still lots of mud, and lots of puddles, but it was fairly rideable until I reached a cross roads. It was a lovely surprise that a work mate of mine, Tim, who is also an keen cyclist, came out to meet me and cheer me on. It meant a lot that he was still dot-watching and had found me. He told me that dots were disappearing all over the country where it looked like so many people had scratched. He could see there were some still moving, but not many. Then he warned me that there were some really deep machinery ruts in the next section so to be careful.
He wasn’t wrong, and the clips below show what I was up against.
There was no way I was going to try to ride through these puddles. And my decision was a good one. As I carefully attempted to keep my feet on the bank with the trees, the water reached way over my peddles on the bike. Coming off here, with maybe by feet clipped in could have had very serious consequences. I made my way between the trees to the other side of the floors, and got back on my bike.
I knew that food and shelter wasn’t too far away, but had decided at this point that I too would be scratching from the race. This was just too much for me. A second tumble in the mud again shortly after, sealed the deal. I was now just too cold and wet. There wasn’t a part of me or my bike that wasn’t gritty and if I stopped moving even for a moment, I would start shivering. It was clear that mild hypothermia was beginning to set in.
The staff at the cafe took sympathy on me and welcomed me in with open arms, and I drank copious amounts of tea, with the best soup I had ever tasted and a sandwich.
My race may be over, but….
I contacted race HQ to let them know that I had called it a day, and worked out what to do next. I still had a hotel room booked in Lewes, and my van was still in Canterbury. I was raising money for charity, and so I wasn’t done yet. I just needed to not ride the next bit in bad weather, and get clean, dry and warm.
I rode to Guildford where I then proceeded to catch 3 trains to get me back to Lewes in Sussex, the other side of the South Downs. I decided that I would ride back to the start then next day from there.
That night, after a bath. and a good meal, I set about trying to sort out my bike. I gave it a bath, and left it to dry overnight. I had tried to remove as much mud as I could before entering the hotel, but there was still a lot clogging up almost every part of it.
I slept very well that night and woke up much later than expected.
You can follow what I decided to do next on my Facebook page
Back to the start
After a lovely start and riding over the last bit of the South Downs, my mood was so different. The Downs had dried out nicely overnight, and I finally got to see the views that I had come for. But it didn’t last for long. My bike was suffering from the stress of the last 24 hours, and so was I. The mud in my pedals had set hard overnight, and I took a tumble when I couldn’t unclip. This time however it was not onto soft mud. I landed on rocks, and became aware of the bruise on my glute pretty quickly. My gears were slipping, and once back onto riding the roads, I was aware of saddle sores that had developed the day before. The sun never came out, and the day was so grey. By the time I got to the Cuckoo trail I was suffering. What was supposed to be a few nice easy miles, turned out to be my undoing. The constant peddling along the flat straight tarmac path was hurting. I couldn’t get comfortable on my saddles, and the perfect gear that I wanted could not be found. I had no back brake and was relying just on my front. The final straw was when I stopped to find sealant leaking out from my rear tyre, and it started to rain as I pumped it up again.
I couldn’t really work out what I was trying to achieve by carrying on riding, so I decided to find the nearest train station to get me back to Canterbury. I was done, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.
I arrived back at my van around 9:45 pm and went off in search of food, before going back to the finish to meet up with Kevin and the 2 evening finishers. There were just 3 more riders out there.
Of 59 entrants, 56 started and only 11 finished. Most scratched either at or before checkpoint 1, or at Haslemere.
The biggest issue encountered by riders was lack of brakes, as brake blocks were quickly worn down by the conditions.
I was the female that lasted the longest in terms of time, and second furthest in terms of distance. And so on that note I am very pleased with my performance. In hindsight I have wondered whether carrying on past my scratch point and then finding somewhere to stay near Haslemere before continuing in the morning would have had a different outcome. But the reality was, my bike needed some TLC and new brakepads. I wouldn’t have made checkpoint 2 on time anyway. Of course, this does mean there is some unfinished business. Maybe I’ll give it another go next year, but on my new gravel bike.
People often wonder how I can manage to be stubborn enough to continue way beyond the point when it stops being fun. And the honest answer is that without a suitable cause I can’t.
By adding my desire to raise funds for Solent Mind, it made the ride bigger than just my personal desire to succeed. People don’t sponsor me to fail, they sponsor me to give it my absolute best shot. Not all rides go to plan…..ok, NONE of my rides actually go to plan, but the fact that I leave nothing behind, and keep going despite the problems is how we succeed.
My fundraising link is open until the end of the year.