07 February 2013

Back in the Saddle: A winter's ride to Brighton

Astute readers (hi, Mom!) may have noticed that the blogging has been a bit one-sided lately, mainly focusing on Alberto's activities. I've been having a very quiet winter, cycling-wise. Riding a cold 200 in October taught me that I start to get miserable after about 5 or 6 hours of cold feet and hands, so I resolved to keep riding shorter distances in the winter, working on my speed instead.

However, after a 100km day in the North Downs a few weeks later, I had not ridden any rides of 100km or later until this past weekend. In fact, the Christmas holidays, combined with some weekends of illness, snow, and other obligations meant that I had not ridden at all (apart from my 8km round-trip commute to work, and a few laps of Regent's park) in 2013!

I tell myself that it is probably good I had an 'off season', that everyone needs a rest and that I've enjoyed my weekends off the bike. This is all true. But with spring audaxes looming on the horizon, and with me starting to crave the feel of rubber on road, it was time to get back out there.

Alberto and I planned a new route to Brighton from our house (98km) and invited Dan along, who in turn invited a friend, who invited another friend. Soon it turned out that there would be 6 of us headed to Brighton -- five guys ranging from very fit (audaxers) to extremely fit (ironmen) would be my company on my first ride of any length in three months. What could go wrong?!

Machacas in black
We departed from home at 7am and picked up the rest of the guys at King's Cross. Despite my intimidation they were all very nice and seemed up for a relaxed day out. Alberto and I had the only GPSs, so they couldn't go too much faster than us anyway!

We spent the first two hours or so getting out of London. Traffic was light at that time of the morning, but it still reminded me why it's better to take the train out of London. Riding through city streets just isn't the point!

We exited London via Farthing Downs, always a treat, and then out through the North Downs. I didn't feel my at strongest on the uphills, and of course wasn't as fast as the guys, but I felt ok and actually felt stronger as the day went on. At about 11am, after 50km or so, we started craving the warmth of a cafe and some hot food, but all we seemed to pass were pubs which of course were not open yet!

In the North Downs

We all had snacks so pressed on through nice lanes, coming out onto a B road for the ride up Turner's Hill, which was the pretty much the only unpleasant road of the route. Still, any road feels better when you're in a group of six.

Dan asked some passersby about a cafe so we decided to divert to Lindfield, where we heard there was a nice one. We were not disappointed, and everyone was much happier after a bit of a rest and a bacon sandwich. By that time we only had 25km to go, and the prospect of Ditchling Beacon was looming large. I hadn't been sure I would make it, being in such bad shape, but I think the cafe stop did me worlds of good and I felt pretty okay during the final run up.

We passed through Haywards Heath and again on a B road into the town of Ditchling, and then to the Beacon. We had spread out quite a bit by that point, meaning that the fastest guys had a long wait at the top, but I was pleased to take about 12 minutes for my own climb, and Alberto reported that I only finished about a minute behind the guy in front of me -- so my fears of being the weakest link (by far) were unfounded.

Warren summiting Ditchling Beacon
Across the top of the Beacon we got some of what we have started referring to as 'Iceland training' -- stiff winds -- which made the heavier traffic that always appears at that portion of the ride a bit too stressful. After one last little hill it was all downhill to Brighton, where we took some photos by the pier and then headed to the train station to make the quick journey home.

It was all in all a pretty good day out on the bike. I was not as out of shape as I thought I'd be, which proves that my running has been helping! It's always nice to spend a day out with fellow-minded cyclists, and all in all it was a great start to my 2013 season. I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle again.

Brighton Pier

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