The View From Here - a blog

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  • +Greg_Kabulski try the Hemel one. It's easy to get to by train and the actual event is defunct. The Chinnor climb and descent through Wendover Woods are fab. The valley near Bledlow Ridge is special. Rest stop at the Hell Fire Caves in West Wycombe.

  • 28/02/2024 – Welcome to hell

    In 1993, when Manchester United played the away leg of their Champions League fixture with Turkish champions Galatasaray, they were greeted both at Istanbul airport and the Ali Sami Yen stadium with signs proclaiming “Welcome to Hell.” Hell it was. The Red Devils couldn’t assert themselves in the heated atmosphere, Eric Cantona was sent off and they lost the tie.

    Cantona has the proverbial "early bath" in Istanbul

    I found my own special place in hell – as Eddie Izzard would put it – at the Hell of the Ashdown sportive. This event has eluded me over the years, so I thought I’d check out HOTA, as it is known, and see what kind of a welcome it held.

    Feeling welcome

    As it turns out, it was a great welcome. Warm in fact. The turnout was impressive – something like 1,200 – who enjoyed a really well run event. HOTA started life as an inter club reliability ride and has developed into a seriously good challenge ride – 62 miles and 6,000 ft of elevation gain. Close to the golden ratio of 1,000 ft per 10 miles.

    When the HQ is a craft beer brewery in Westerley, you are certainly incentivised to get round the course. And you need every incentive. When I set off it was barely 1C and didn’t rise above 5C. It was foggy for the first 2 hrs, which lent an extra sense of mystery and menace to the forest. The route starts as it means to go on, hitting Toys Hill before you reach the 2-mile point. Ouch.

    The sun did poke through eventually, but only a little

    The climbs keep coming. We are provided with an ominous top tube sticker that flags the main ones, plus the two feed stops. These are very well appointed. The first is at a rustic forest recreation area and the second a village had. The sausage rolls and cake kept me going. Real food always helps my tummy. I can take only so many gels and energy bars before another kind of hell hits down below.

    Woodpiles and piles of snacks at the first rest stop

    I’ve been coming back from a period of illness and bereavement, so I am a long way from race fit. My plan is to ride this like a training ride and build up my endurance before looking to kicking out a bit more. Maybe I’ll do that in a few weeks, but not yet. To emphasise the point, it feels like everyone else riding is incredibly strong. I do have to consciously work to forget about being constantly passed and just ride my pace. I must have been passed by 1,000 of those riding on the climbs. I believe I overtook just one rider on a black Sonder gravel bike.

    Speaking of bikes, despite the rough and filthy nature of the roads, the vast majority of riders are on their Sunday best summer bikes. Very few winter trainers or mudguards are in evidence. There a healthy smattering of gravel bikes doing service. They all went passed me. There was group of four Kent Velo Girls in pink stripy kit riding in a tight group f four that seemed to be going my pace. I rode with or near them a few times, but not long. I was pretty much on my own most of the time.

    The Kent Velo Girls at one of the two fords on the course

    All the climbs, long or short, are steep. The steepest grade is 11%, but most seem to be 6-11% and they keep coming. It really is a great test of resilience. You are rewarded for or resilience with a splendid welcome at the HQ. Your given one of the locally brewed beers and rather excellent-looking burgers and fries are available. There’s a few stall with bikes kits and other cycling paraphernalia that adds some more interest.

    I had driven down with +RichardM, who borrowed my driving gloves. He cunningly left his on the roof of the car. Anyway, he’s ridden a blinder, just over 4hrs and had come 140th overall, 24th in his age group. I am actually impressed. He’s had a long wait for me and looks half frozen, as I am 1hr 39mins slower than both him and my gloves. Even my gloves were faster than me, I reflect, but I’m not bothered by that. It was a thoroughly entertaining day out, well worth the effort to get out there, if you fancy it next year.

  • Nice blog, +Shannonball. I have just about warmed up.

    As for the gloves, if only there was a category for riders wearing tweed...

  • 24/04/2024 - Anniversary present

    ICC had created a pot of money to spend on members to celebrate our 10th anniversary. One of the things chosen to support with our cash surplus was a subsidised weekend away in the New Forest. With an entire youth hostel booked, more than 70 of us rolled up to the Burley YHA with the prospect of two days of, arguably, the best gravel tracks in the south and/or some very pretty road riding through the forest and moors of this incredible beauty spot.

    Some arrived early on Friday and got an extra ride in, but I couldn’t get away before 3pm and arrived around 5.45pm. Actually 6pm. It should have been 5.45, but using Google maps for directions it took me down a hideous track which turned out to be a dead end with pedestrian access only to the YHA. Hideous for cars, but after a 3-point turn, I reflected that it would be superb for a gravel bike and that tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

    Here's a little walk the YHA around on Friday night:­¬-I9e1j8r

    All the dinners and breakfasts were laid on at the hostel, but I got tempted out to the pub for a couple of beers and an exceptionally tasty venison Bolognese. I spotted a dessert menu that included sticky toffee pudding, crumble and Nutella and brioche bread and butter pudding. Somehow I evaded this triple temptation, but considered the latter would be an excellent apres ride reward…

    I can resist everything but temptation, as they say

    The YHA was the perfect base

    Those doing a road ride set off at 9am and the gravel groups 30 mins later. I plumped for the 104km option, figuring go big day one and see what’s left on Sunday.

    One of the road groups setting off on Saturday

    After 3 or 4 road groups had gone off, the gravel ones clipped in and rolled out. The 104km group felt like it was about 20 or so strong. Throughout the day it ebbed and flowed and became two or three groups of varying composition. Gates seemed to bring us together. The chosen route was based on one from, but we had to ride a bit to join it. This seemed to involve a field, a bog, a river crossing, mud and more bog. So much for a gentle warm up.

    Craig made light of crossing this river/creek

    The weekend was marred by quite a few flats and one or two spectacular mechanicals. Richard was three hours out by himself on a long distance solo mission when his rear mech failed. Lucy had an issue with her big chain ring and made a plea for a spare 105 compatible replacement on WhatsApp.

    Zac’s colourful bike – those cool blue tyres misbehaved and both front and rear flatted

    Lucy’s unusual mechanical

    Once we’d cleared the early soggy challenges, we reached more typical New Forest gravel paths and it was simply heaven. 100km usually leaves me a little bit battered, but I finished somewhat unbattered.­¬3-jXXt3t

    I found watching Juan’s video oddly relaxing – yours truly in green with the orange bike

    The rest stops were well chosen First we had lunch at the Potting Shed in Hungerford, where there was loads of space for bikes, loads of calories on offer (the sandwiches were huge) and loads of time on our butts. Almost a full hour. Oops. But the weather was so pleasant and it was lovely sitting an d chatting. Why were we here again? Oh, yeah, to ride.

    I honestly could have stayed at the Potting Shed all day

    We swung on and enjoyed another super session on the trails to Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst, which is both a bike shop and café. There were mouth-watering cakes and some mouth-watering bikes and assorted cool components and accessories on offer.

    We came upon a couple of serious log piles and I insisted that the group stop and get some photos as it is the law of gravel riding to have a log pile pic or two.

    It is a legal requirement of all gravel rides to take a photo when you pass a log pile

    I’m sure you all know there are wild horses and donkeys wondering around the forest. Many. It always amazes me each time I’m in the forest how relaxed these creatures are with humans, cars and bikes. They act and move like they couldn’t give a stuff about us. Our group did have a moment with a non-wild horse. We did everything you’re meant to, but the rider was very nervous and this alarmed the poor horse who did a small circular charge and then calmed.

    Perhaps the sweetest moment of the ride for me was seeing a baby donkey lying on the grass and dozily looking up and blinking. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of it. Please post one below if you did.

    The kind of picture the internet was made for - thanks to +BiancaB for this image

    This was just after seeing the dozy donkey

    The terrain looks innocuous here, but Davide had just got through a very technical section

    Saturday night Grainne and Graham organised a quiz at the YHA and I took to opportunity, as founder, to tell a little of why and how the club was formed. Well, everyone I chatted to wanted to know, so it made sense to me. Worth repeating that welcome for all and openness to accommodating riders of every level is still strongly in evidence. Keep hold of this, my friends, it is very special.

    I had a second night in my “Land Pod” and after breakfast headed out for another gravel session. This was a bit of a comedy of errors. It seemed like everyone was doing the one route I hadn’t loaded. While I fiddled around trying to load it, they headed off. Steve H held back with me and we set off – at some pace – to catch up. Somehow we never did catch them until we reached the rest stop at Buckler’s Hard. It turns out they had been going the wrong way round the route.

    The route turned out to be 75% road, which initially peeved me. By the time we’d done half the ride my legs were feeling the pace of the day before and were completely happy with less gravel. I found myself back at the pub and sought out the dessert menu. Nutella and brioche bread and butter pudding – the best group of words in the English language. Well, they were that day.

    I had to eat a spoonful before I took the photo – sorry

    Taking a moment to capture the New Forest vibe in the run in of the last few miles on Sunday

    A big thank you to the organisers - especially +Grainne - your club email says special events and this was special. Where to next?

  • 22/05/2025 – Hidden treasures

    Riding 28 miles to and from the start of a long ride might seem a bit much. I thought nothing of it at 7.30am as I headed south towards the Herne Hill Velodrome for the 67-mile Southern Grit gravel event. I thought nothing of it because I was wrestling with a bigger challenge. I’d had little sleep after hosting a 12-person dinner party with after dinner karaoke which went on to the small hours. Oops.

    My set up - tool keg and burrito bag - the bike was better prepped than I was

    For the record, the ride was in my calendar long before the dinner party, but sometimes there’s only one day that all your mates are free and it’s the night before a big ride. I really wanted to ride some new trails and this seemed like a great opportunity.

    We were greeted at HHV with coffee and croissants and I was quickly befriended by a fellow Mason rider, Mark. We chatted about our different builds, as you do, and I found out that he was both local and knew the organiser, Charlie from Hidden Tracks. I decided to fall in with his small group, reckoning his local knowledge would be handy. I wasn’t confident my karaoked brain and body would keep pace, but Mark, Nick and Sunil were all friendly and riding at sensible speeds for me.

    Mason man Mark - who is a coach at HHV

    Instantly I could see why Charlie had named his company Hidden Tracks; many of the trails were hard to spot and easily missed. After 8 miles with our cheerful group, my aging prostate was nagging for release. Mark had what looked like a minor mechanical, so while he fettled, I found a handy bush. I got going, but never found this friendly group again. I assumed there were ahead of me, but I guess the mechanical was more serious that I’d thought. Oops.

    A strong group of Penge riders (I couldn't keep up with) featured someone with a single-speed MTB

    We came through two (maybe three) golf courses, an airfield and a racecourse. There were some challenging climbs as we headed south through the Epsom Downs. I wanted a good vista for all this effort and was finally rewarded with some truly stunning views near Margery Wood.

    Yours truly somewhat elated to have a view to enjoy

    Another form of elation!

    On we went and I freelanced through a variety of groups to the rest stop at Redhill Cycling Club, where a full table of snacks was laid on. This included fig rolls, water melon, blocks of cheese, “prawn” soft sweets and also “brain” sweets. The brains were apparently plentiful as prawn were the preferred choice. There was a kitchen doing some paid for cooked food, but I passed this up. Probably a mistake on reflection. Bars and gels and sweets and all that can start to get indigestible. Real food is needed at some point for me.

    The brains were just above the bananas

    For the remainder of the ride I kept catching up with or getting overtaken by two pairs of riders. Sometimes we even rode together. One pair were on well-appointed mountain bikes. I was a little jealous on a few of the sections that were a bit, shall I say, agricultural.

    Totally rideable... Not!

    Aside from a few muddy moments, the return leg started off pretty flat and mellow. This all changed after 10 miles as we hit several sharp climbs over the next 10 miles. Of course we needed to get back over the North Downs. I’d been trying to block that thought out.

    Inevitably my hankering for real food got the better of me. I found a small supermarket in Hamsey Green and picked up a chicken wrap and a Lucozade. It was eight hours since breakfast. Another oops. My body instantly felt a bit more appreciated and I ploughed on with another 25 miles to go - plus the 14 to home, but I blocked that out for now.

    I was wrung out, but managed to stay chilled out. It wasn’t a race, it wasn’t even timed. It was a ride and a ride through pretty trails. I tried to keep my focus on taking in my surroundings and that pretty much got me back to Herne Hill. But it did feel like my bike was getting a pound heavier with every passing mile.

    Coming back into London it didn’t feel very urban until the last two or three miles coming through Dulwich. Charlie’s course had kept us to hidden tracks for an impressively long time. We were welcomed back to the velodrome with some wood fire pizza and IPA and a women’s race warming up on the track to watch as riders chilled out and stretched out.

    I can't tell how good this tasted washed down by a brew

    And finally...

    My karaoke song list from Saturday:
    Saint in the City - Bruce Springsteen
    Peace Frog - The Doors
    The Piano Has Been Drinking - Tom Waits
    Don't You Want Me - Human League

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The View From Here - a blog

Posted by Avatar for Shannonball @Shannonball