Monday, 26 November 2012

South East Adventures

Finally an update. I’m still sorting out the video for my climb up Toys Hill but as it will be my final climb of 2012 it is probably fitting that it has it’s own blog update.

Never ride up steep hills after skipping lunch

On the 16th November I used a day off work to travel to West Sussex. After a couple of less than satisfactory attempts to tackle the climbs of South Wales I had the target of ticking off another 4 climbs and bringing my end of year total to 30.

I had a few things to do in the morning and as a result it was late morning before I was able to set off for the climb at Steyning Bostal. By the time I had navigated my way to the top of the climb it was getting quite late in the afternoon and the light was starting to fade. The visibility wasn’t helped by an autumnal fog that had started to settle on higher ground.

I was really hungry by the time I got parked up at the top of Steyning Bostal. I had a flask of soup with me and I knew from past experience that the contents of the flask would be on the verge of turning from luke warm to tepid. With the fading light being a real issue, I had stupidly taken small LED flashing lights with me, I decided it was best to crack on with the climb and at least do it with some light. Besides riding up a climb with a full stomach is probably worse than riding up with an empty one.

The top of Steyning Bostal is quite flat and I had a chance to warm up nicely before reaching the bottom, setting up the cameras and going for it.

The road up from Steyning has two stretches of 17% gradients but the rest of the hill is pretty easy going. You essentially ride up two big steps and there is even a pretty flat stretch in the middle of the hill. The first 17% step passed by without too much trouble and I decided to spin an easy gear on the flat section before the next in order to save energy. It is just as well that I did because as I started on the second step up in gradient my energy levels plummeted and I began to regret skipping lunch. Yep, the dreaded bonk hit me and it became a fight to maintain forward motion. I was reduced to gently pushing bottom gear around as I waited for my body to recover and find some energy from somewhere. Thankfully the second 17% section isn’t too long and before I knew it I was on the easier upper slopes, feeling slightly better, and able to push a bigger through the increasing gloom back to my car. By the time I reached the car my worst fears were confirmed as I found myself faced with a flask of tepid soup. Still, I was starving hungry at that point so it got eaten. There seems to be a fair bit of belching in the video footage of this ride. Not sure why but I blame it on being hungry.

The fading light was a bit of a concern on this hill

My overnight halt for the night was a Travelodge at Hickstead about 10 miles out of Brighton. I chose it mainly for the free parking and the close proximity to Ditchling Beacon which I would be riding first thing the next morning. Oh yes, it was also cheap.

Before settling into the joyless embrace of a Travelodge room I first had to deal with a receptionist who was apparently so bored with her job and life in general that I don’t think she could even be bothered to draw breath as she spoke to me. It was only later in the evening when I wheeled a bicycle past her in the hotel corridor that I managed to gain any kind of reaction from her and even then I suspect she couldn’t really be bothered to object.

Travelodge; not a great place to stay but at least it offered secure bike storage for the night

The Travelodge was a fairly grim example of the chain. Unloading stuff from the car was enlivened by a young Eastern European chap trying to stop his doped up girlfriend from wandering off into traffic and my nights sleep was disturbed first by numerous stag and hen do’s stopping to visit the onsite Burger King and then, much later in the evening at about 2am, by somebody doing slow laps of the car park in an ageing Renault Clio with a blown exhaust. Lets just say it was a relief when I left in the morning.

Time to revisit an old foe

November 17th saw me up early and loading the car as the sun was struggling to rise. West Sussex had turned foggy overnight and I wasn’t sure what sort of conditions I would have to face on Ditchling Beacon. As it turned out only the very top was affected by fog and strong winds. The lower part of the climb was nicely sheltered at and for the first time that day I found myself overheating in my cold weather gear. I needed plenty of warm layers at the top but on the way up I got decidedly warmer than I was expecting.

This wasn’t my first time up Ditchling Beacon. About 8 years ago I took part in the London to Brighton bike ride. I didn’t enjoy Ditchling the first time around; there were thousands of people wobbling all over the road and after being brought to a halt one to many times I eventually gave up trying to get any forward momentum going and pushed my bike up most of the climb. I was quite gutted at the time at having to walk up such an iconic  climb so it was good to see that first thing on a Saturday morning I could enjoy a cyclist free hill. Whilst I was a bit slower than I hoped to be it was quite an easy climb. OK, so I huffed and puffed my way up it but the pedals were going round easily enough.

As I’d driven up to the car park at the top before riding to the bottom I passed two mountain bikers making their way up. One was flailing away in bottom gear and the other had been reduced to pushing his bike up. I was satisfied that I wasn’t quite as slow as them.

Apparently the South Downs are lovely and offer impressive views...
Bring on The Wall

From Ditchling Beacon I headed over to Forest Row and the ride up Kidds Hill, also known by the more sinister name of The Wall. The fog that had spoilt the view nearer the coast wasn’t present at Kidds Hill but the views from the car park at the top weren’t much to write home about. The climb itself wasn’t too long but having the steepest part of it stretched out in a straight line with all of the gradient on display was a bit off putting. I settled into my usual rhythm of starting gently to get warmed up and then eventually clicking my way down through the gears. It wasn’t a spectacular performance although I did have the pleasure of holding up a tractor that was unable to get past me because of the traffic going down the hill. I live in a rural area so I considered it payback for all the times I’ve been late for meetings.

Just as on Ditchling the cold conditions at the top of the climb were countered by milder conditions on the way up. The Wall is quite a sheltered climb and at the half way point my shades steamed up completely. As I was on the dead straight section of the climb at this point I considered it a bonus as it hid the gradient from me.

Once back at the car park at the top of the climb it was time to stick the bike back in the car, reset the sat nav and head over to the final climb I would be riding for 2012, Toys Hill. It transpired that Toys Hill wasn’t going to be childs play and I was rather glad after completing it that it was the 30th and final climb of the year. That story can wait for another update. To be continued...

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