My colleagues’ reaction when I said I was going to meet some people I’d found on the internet in a car park after dark did nothing to dispel my reservations about Thursday night. I was reasonably confident in my technical skills not embarrassing me, but time on the bike has been all too limited by work, family and health over the last 6 months or so. Still the email from Ronnie assuring me that they take it easy and are finished by 9pm helped.
My friend who forgot the light he was going to lend to me didn’t.
So after flapping around the garage looking for my old lights with an intermittent fault and a probably charged battery it was down to the Uni. I’d roped in my friend Roger, partly for moral support and partly so that I knew that someone would definitely wait for me. We turned up later than intended but not too late. We said hello to the man with the orange (without a capital O) bike, set up and were all ready to go only a little after time, including one guy assembling his, brand new that day, bike in the car park.
The ride began with an easy warm up (apparently), and more of an up than warm, it was literally freezing. At this point I realised most of these guys are pretty fit, well fit anyway, it was dark I suspect they weren’t pretty. Fortunately they are also friendly and welcoming; they slowed down for the flabby newbie to keep up, cheers guys. Eventually we peaked somewhere near the Ditchling Road on the corner of Stanmer Park after finishing the climb with a good and twisty bit of singletrack. By now the light on my handlebars had even given up the dull orange glow, the only time they worked on Thursday was in the garage when I tried them. Fortunately I always use a helmet mounted light too, so no problem.
Now I had a chance to get my breath back and demonstrate I do have some of the basic skills required. We careered through some of Stanmer’s excellent single-track, not looking into the suspiciously steamed up Renault Espace it was time to crawl (at least for me) back up to the top for the final (I hoped) descent home. As I was chatting to the guy with a new bike (sorry can remember everyone’s bikes just not their names) we crested the climb to a metallic clatter. Oh dear, I hope that’s not expensive. It turned out just to be a saddle clamp bolt, Ronnie found the nut, but I think the trail pixies got the bolt. A quick zip tie bodge later and we were off again. Cruising down the main bridleway with the group I didn’t notice that by now my helmet light had failed too, not until everyone else had piled off down the singletrack that is.
“Er guys, no lights” I called.
Anyway after only a few hundred yards and one medium sized log to negotiate, I got someone’s attention and he graciously let me share his pool of light until we caught up with Roger who had by that time realised he’d lost me. Luckily Roger was a better boy scout than me and had a spare backup light with him (I’d left mine in the car!), whilst the light would get me home there was no way I was doing anything more technical than the direct bridleway back.
This was clearly not the way we were going though, with some of the best bits yet to come, I was not going to be allowed to bow out graciously. More zip ties and the kind loan of a Tesco’s Cree torch and we were going again. From what I saw, and felt, of it, it’s a great trail. I’m looking forward to seeing it next time, I’m afraid I may have straight-lined a couple of corners, but I think I rode most of it and clawed back a little credibility.
The rest of the ride was a blur around the Uni campus back to the car with one last and entirely gratuitous climb thrown in. Although I do recall riding along thinking I must have flatted but this seems to be a strange sensation you get from riding on frozen, unmown grass. The last cheeky bit to the end was fun, but I had to skip the very last section as even the Tesco torch had decided it had better things to do than light my way. It was down the road to the car park, considerably after 9pm.
Well what can I say? Great ride, great guys.
Will we be back? Oh yes we’ll be back, my new lights should be delivered on Tuesday (with a 6 hour battery).
To close I’m looking forward to that being an easy pace for me too and as for finishing at 9 o’clock I won’t tell my wife to wait for me for dinner again!