Saturday the 23rd February had gotten off to a slightly stuttering start with Box Hill but after packing up the bike it was off to White Downs Lane for the second climb of the day. The hill isn’t all that far from Box Hill so I was still feeling pretty switched on when I got to the car park at the top after a very short drive. White Downs didn’t strike me as a particularly pleasant climb.
The only bit of colour on White Downs Lane. Even this seemed slightly creepy
For sure the low temperatures didn’t help but with it’s high banks and bare trees it seemed a very stark place. I was looking forward to getting it out of the way and moving onto the next climb before I even got out of the car.
Not a very cheerful car park to start a ride from
After another sub zero descent to the start I found I got into a decent rhythm (well, for me anyway) quite quickly. I obviously hadn’t cooled down too much from Box Hill and the initial part of the climb is a fairly easy gradient and even has a brief bit of down hill thrown in. The climb starts in earnest with a couple of sharp steep bends and then you have a nasty looking 18% grind to the top facing you. This was the point at which my pace slowed and I started selecting lower and lower gears. Like all of the climbs in Surrey this proved to be a busy bit of road, the traffic no doubt helped by a fat biffer slowly winching his way up to the top on a bicycle. My low gear grind wasn’t helped by the banks on either side of the road which made it difficult to figure out how far the top of the climb was. It was with some relief I noticed that the gradient started to ease slightly and I could shift into a higher gear before rolling back to the car.
That’s about all I can say about White Downs. It was a bit like going to the dentist; necessary, painful but thankfully over fairly quickly and forgotten about almost as fast. It wasn’t even as if there was a nice view from the top to take pictures of.
Leith Hill proved to be only a short drive away and it didn’t take me long to get to the car park at the top. Once there I finished off my breakfast and rolled down to the start. Because I has planned an early getaway from the Travelhovel in Guildford and didn’t want to take on any climbs with a big meal sitting heavily in my stomach I decided to try a breakfast cereal bar. I can’t remember what brand it was but this marvel of modern food processing was purchased from that well known purveyor of all fine foods; a petrol station. I reasoned it would be quick to eat, light, and still full of calories. I sadly discovered that it was also so dry it was like eating a cork ceiling tile and utterly devoid of any flavours you would normally associate with breakfast. Ah well, I’ll know better for next time.
Riding down to the start of the climb was typically bone chilling but it was at least a more open bit of road with nice sweeping bends and more fun to get up to speed on. Like White Downs Leith Hill starts off at a more gentle gradient before getting steeper nearer the top. I’m not sure if it was the cold, tiredness or my strangely synthetic breakfast, but I was feeling a bit down on energy at the start of the climb. Where I should have been pushing a decent gear around I just felt a bit flat. By the time I reached the final section of the climb, which can’t be any more than about 10%, I had resigned myself to the ‘seemingly endless grind’ to the car park at the top as Simon Warren describes it. However, whilst my speed didn’t go up I did feel the pedals start to go round a little bit easier as the climb continued. I had managed to ride (albeit slowly) through the rough patch at the base of the hill and start riding with a bit more purpose. It wasn’t the most graceful ascent of Leith Hill but I managed to arrive in the car park at the top feeling slightly more with it that I was expecting.
A much needed pitstop at the top of Leith Hill. Shame the food wasn't up to much
After a quick breather in the car park checking out the many exotic looking mountain bikes being ridden to the local trails it was off to my final climb of the day at White Lane.
On my way to Titsey where White Lane is located I was struck by how many people were out jogging, power walking and cycling. Because it was a bit of a trek back to Titsey (the one problem with not doing the climb the day before was the time and travelling it would add onto my day on the Saturday) I think I realised why so many people in Surrey are so keen on healthy outdoor activities. The driving I had witnessed during my time in Surrey was some of the most aggressive and ignorant I have ever seen. With so much stress and anger evident on the faces of Surrey’s motorists I can only assume it is the heart attack and hypertension capital of the UK and everybody is exercising on doctors orders. Now, I drive a lot for work so have seen pretty much all manner of stupidity on the roads but I can safely say I will only return to Surrey under duress. Lovely place and very pretty to look at, just a shame it is seemingly full of arseholes.
Right, back to the cycling. White Lane is a short, fairly steep and narrow climb. The only place to park up and set up the bike was in a layby across the road from the top of the climb. The layby was quite exposed and the wind was blowing a little harder and I can honestly say that as I started the descent to the start I was the coldest I have ever felt on a bike. It was a relief to be turning around to ride back up as at least I would be generating some heat.
I was hoping that White Lane would be a little quieter on a Saturday but sadly that didn’t turn out to be the case. It is clearly a cut through for locals and on such a narrow bit of road the cars did get in my way a bit, especially going up. My main problem however seemed to be a complete lack of pace. I couldn’t figure out was wrong as I was out of the saddle trying as hard as I could to get some forward momentum up. It was only as I reached the halfway point of the climb that I realised that I was in too high a gear. My morning was starting to catch up with my and I hadn’t been thinking straight at the bottom of the climb. Once I saw what the problem was I was able to make smoother and easier progress up the remainder of the hill. I didn’t get any quicker but I didn’t think I was going to blow up.
The view from what felt like the coldest spot in England to get changed. I can only apologise to the bus load of people who had to witness a fat man turning blue as he changed in the layby.
Once I’d reached the top of the climb it was time to change and start heading home. After stopping to buy something decent for breakfast of course. And yes I did make the mistake of stopping to buy it from a petrol station.
So, that’s Surrey done. I now only have three climbs to complete in the South East and a total of 65 remaining. It almost sounds a manageable number although I’ll be happier when I’ve got that down to below 50. I’ll feel I’m making real progress then.
One of the things I wanted to check over the course of the weekend was my level of fitness and to see how much work I have to put in before tackling some of the truly nasty looking rides in the North of England and beyond. I’m not quite where I want to be just yet but I can feel fairly happy with my efforts; in the space of four hours I managed to tick off four climbs and deal with all of the associated driving, fiddling with bikes, and setting up of cameras that goes with it without feeling too tired. In many ways it is all of the faffing and work involved with getting to the climbs that presents the biggest challenge and in that respect I seem to have my approach pretty much sorted these days. I just need to get a bit better on the whole riding bikes uphill thing that goes in the middle.
I’m also pleased to say that after several months of just not getting on with the Uncle John I now have it set up pretty much how I want it to be. I’m also finding it a fun bike to ride. For some reason I didn’t gel with it at first but since getting back from Surrey its been the bike I’ve ridden the most. Something has obviously clicked.
My next lot of climbs will be coming to you from the Midlands and Yorkshire and I’ve thankfully got a few weeks in which to prepare. Some of this preparation will be on my new fixed gear bike which is proving to be a very good training tool. Its just a shame it is so terrifying on the descents!