The plan was quite simple. Drive to Surrey on a Friday. Take on two hills in the afternoon and then a further three on the Saturday bringing my tally of climbs up to 35 and getting my 2013 campaign off to a positive start.
On the 22nd February I packed my bike into the car and headed off to that there Surrey. North Devon to York’s Hill is a bloody long way and by the time I reached the climb I had been in the car for about 4 ½ hours. The weather forecasts all week had been saying how much colder it was going to be in the South East of England compared to the South West but, even with that knowledge, the first blast of icy air as I got our of the car was a nasty shock to the system. It was about 2.30pm when I got to the car park at the top of York’s Hill and as I set the bike up I was informed by a pair of cheery walkers that I had just missed a sideways snow shower. They were of the opinion I had the best weather of the day for my ride. Lucky me, that just left the freezing wind, greasy tarmac, potholes and patches of snow and mud to deal with.
In the little black book of pain Simon Warren mentions the poor state of the road surface on the hill and I suspect it has deteriorated a bit since he wrote about the it in 2010. I quickly realised on the way down that I had a nice grippy mountain bike at home with disc brakes and fat tyres and that I would have been better off sticking that in the car rather than my Uncle John. Slithering down a 20% gradient on rock hard tyres whilst trying to dodge wheel eating potholes wasn’t a pleasant way to try and warm up.
Of course the descent from hell did at least mean that I arrived at the bottom full of adrenaline for the journey back to the top. This helped initially but as I have learnt in the past, long hours in the car followed by a short steep climb is never going to end well and as I climbed further up what is actually a very short climb my cold legs had a hard time turning a decent gear. Lets just say it was a struggle, a short one, but a struggle nonetheless. It is always the shorter climbs that give me problems. I’m just not punchy enough in my riding style, preferring instead to ride my way into a climb. York’s Hill is short and very steep and so you either have to attack it head on at full speed or accept that you are facing a slow grind up in a low gear.
Reaching the top of the climb was a blessed relief as it meant I could get back into a warm car and enjoy some comfort before the next climb of the day which was meant to be White Lane. After spending rather too much time sticking my bike back in the car I then managed to get slightly lost on the way to Titsey were the next climb is located. I think my long day of travelling was taking its toll on me and by the time I found White Lane I really didn’t feel up to riding it. It isn’t much longer than York’s Hill but is used as a bit of a rat run by locals and in cold overcast conditions I didn’t fancy taking the climb on feeling as fatigued as I did. I decided it was best to come back the following day and take on the climb in a fresher state before finally heading home. Hopefully there would also be fewer impatient drivers charging up and down the hill.
With that decision made I headed to my overnight stop in Guildford. Yet another Travelodge beckoned and what turned out to be an awful nights sleep. The Travelodge in Guildford is on a busy main road and all through the night badly driven chav chariots with drain pipe exhausts cruised up and down relentlessly. To add to the noise created by cretins in cheap hatchbacks there was a particularly noisy party of lads who were in Guildford for a night out. With the bright lights of London so close I can only imagine they set their standards very low when they decided on Guildford for an evenings amusement. I think they managed to wake the entire hotel up when they arrived back at their room at 2.30 in the morning. I managed to get my own back when I left for Box Hill at 7am. Their room was next to the door which lead to the lifts and stairs and it is amazing how much noise you can make with a bike as you wheel it out to the lifts;anybody trying to sleep off a night of excess would have thought I was wheeling a mobile set of tubular bells through the corridor.
The Saturday morning started off feeling colder than it had been the day before and when I got to the top of Box Hill there were snow flakes drifting about on the air. The temperature in the wind was meant to be about -2 but as I descended to the bottom of the hill the windchill got considerably worse as my speed increased. I was hoping to really nail the descent at high speed but for the first time ever I had to slow down because my face was hurting so much with the cold. It wasn’t a very pleasant start to my day and I was only too happy to get to the bottom and start generating some heat as I climbed back up. Well, I say happy, once again I had failed to properly warm up and the lower part of Box Hill, which is by far the easiest section, was proving to be more of a challenge than it should be. The first climb of the day is always a bit of a leg stretcher but I do really need to work out a better warm up strategy than just plunging to the bottom of a hill in top gear. As it was I found myself pushing a very low gear around and having trouble getting on top of it. I also had the annoying rasp of a rubbing rear brake to distract me and just before the first uphill corner I stopped briefly to disconnect the brake. I wasn’t going to need it when riding uphill and couldn‘t be bothered to adjust it properly at the road side.
A sign you have arrived in cycling Mecca
As I cursed and faffed at the side of the road a chap out for his morning run got in front of me. My brief pit stop had seemingly allowed my legs to finally catch up with what the rest of me was trying to achieve and I was pedalling more smoothly when I got back on the bike but was still down on power. As a result the guy out for his morning run acted as a slow speed pace setter for me until I decided it was time to start riding with a bit more purpose and finally passed him. As I rode further up the hill I did start to warm up but it doesn’t rank as one of the fastest or most stylish ascents of Box Hill.
I was hoping to really gun it up Box Hill but it was starting to dawn on me that spinning up it and conserving energy for the other three rides was probably the best policy. Tackling multiple hills in one day does lead to a bit of a dilemma; even if you feel that you have good form you have to balance the desire to ride hard with the physical requirements of loading and unloading the bike several times in one day, navigating and driving to multiple locations and riding up several other hills. Throw in a rubbish warm up and freezing cold conditions and the need to conserve energy and not blow up completely becomes all important. I was also aware that I had the fearsome White Downs climb with an 8/10 ranking to follow. More of that in my next blog update…