Well, after over two years of preparation and waiting for the right weather-window, I got it done.
55 hours and 5 minutes of South Downs Way fun (four times over). I also clocked up 49,000′ of climbing.
The weather was the best we’ve had for a bank holiday for a year and the forecasters started calling it about a week away, giving loads of time for settling the nerves, the crew and the bike into tiptop condition. I even took a couple of leg massages to be sure of being as relaxed as possible for the start.
I rose at 0430, ate, dressed into cycling kit, stuck some udder cream on my backside and drove to Winchester. There was one spectator (Clyde) came to see me off at 0600. I was not planning to stop until I had ridden to Eastbourne and back a couple of times.
Kerry was support crew until QECP where Andy Stroud took over (Karen was meant to be there, but as her daughter was giving birth, we excused her). Andy crewed for me to Eastbourne and back to the A27 crossing – a committment of over 12 hours!
The first leg went according to plan, though maybe a little fast as I was done in 11 hours 34 minutes.
Riding down into Alfriston, I told Andy that I thoought the ride was going so well that it felt all downhill. Error.
The first night section went really well with the Diablo lights being swapped out at every pit. I could happily ride on full beam knowing there was another light ready to go (Exposure lights had kindly lent me four Diablo’s). At just before midnight, sitting on a gate at the top of Amberley Mount was a buddy from the club who had ridden out from Whiteways to stalk me – Alex rode with me and kept my mood light until Harting, when he left me and cycled back to Tangmere for a couple of hours sleep.
I rode into Winchester knowing that Carl (my wingman for leg three) had been there since six and was ready to ride. His job was to keep me focused and to sit on my wheel, giving me a clear view of the trail ahead as by now my reactions were slowing down and I needed maximum time to see the train ahead. He did ann amazing job and when I punctured, he was off his bike and spinning my wheel before I even dismounted properly. We plugged the slash (I had a tubeless repair kit threaded and ready for action in my pocket) and were riding inside 2 minutes. Another club member Daphne was along for the ride from QECP and she stuck with us until near Jack and Jill windmills – I didn’t know when she peeled off as Carl would not let me look behind or wait for her, but I did hear she safely caught a train home from Brighton as my final leg co-pilot bumped into her there, on his way to meet me at Eastbourne.
I got attacked by the Sleepmonster whilst wobbling up the tarmac towards the YHA at Truleigh hill and had to ask for 15 minutes sleep. Carl and Daphne both set alarms, but they were not needed – I just woke up and silently got on the bike and rode on up the hill to the radio masts before the fun rollers to Devils Dyke.
I know we met a lad who was involved with Richard Sterry’s triple whilst climbing the open fields after the A27. Simon rode with us to the top of that climb and somewhere beyond. Again Carl would not let me look behind to check on him when he flatted – that was the last we saw of him, but he did kindly abandon two energy bars on a gate for us.
Riding down to the kiosk turnaround, we saw Graham and met him whilst I was having a food/battery/drink change at the top of the golf course, by now Will Le Maitre (support crew since the QECP, and having taken over from Andy G who had crewed me through the night on my second leg) was starting to tell me what I was eating rather than me saying what I would like; it was a seemless transition and I’m so glad he had taken on the third leg duties. All I had to do was get back to the A27 in reasonable shape and I knew I could make it to Winchester.
Riding along the top of the open downs around Firle are the least familiar parts of the downs to me, and then the mist came in and we were having to use the red line on the GPS from earlier on in the day to navigate. We didn’t make any mistakes save for me thinking I was wearing a thin windproof jacket and when I asked the crew for a warmer jacket as the one I was wearing was not warm enough in the mist, I noticed I was not wearing it — it was still in Grahams back pack and I had been riding in a shirt and armwarmers thinking I had my Montane jacket on. Getting tired.
The lights gave us a few moments of interest during the night when they had not quite had long enought to charge fully using just the usb from the car cigarette lighter, but really, it added to the fun and we simply rode side by side and shared Graham’s light. He was riding a Diablo with booster pack and was good for the whole night section with no recharge needed.
There were no mishaps on the fourth leg apart from when the sleepmonster got me again. This time I was riding on a bit of doubletrack, not really bothering which side I fell off into – one side was a wire fence, the other a hedge. It was time for a snooze. Steve C and Martin S had taken over from Will Le Maitre at the A27 (though he lives in Wales, he stuck around to see me finish in Winchester),and were waiting for me near the chalk pit museum. They stuck me in the passengeer seat with a blanket over me, changed my socks, put on some shoe covers and gave me 20 minutes sleep. During the rest of their stint as pit crew, they fed me really well and when I refused food, Steve told me that he would have to tell Kerry and that he would be in trouble from her if I did not eat, so would I please just eat it?
I did get to the stage where one more gel or another cup of protein mix were not high on my list of desires, so they skillfully moved me onto mouthfulls of self heating pasta and meatball suppers and the hot food really hit the spot. Perfect timing guys.
Passing Cocking, the pace of the ride slowed as I started to meet fellow riders and runners and without Carl there to boss me about, I dallied and chatted to far too many people who had come out to see me finish. There was a good welcoming team at the QECP and it did give me a good rest before the Butser alp. Even after a breather I didn’t manage to ride it, even though in training six times up and down was simply a good workout. I was tired and the steeper hills saw me walking now. I still had a bit of energy for the steady climbs, but was really just faking it from Old Winchester hill to the finish.
The final gate of about 360, was at the top of Cheesefoot Head and all I had to do was spin downhill to the finish from here. There was a great crowd waiting to welcome meincluding two previous double record holders, Lydia Gould (first lady doubler) and Neil Newitt (single speeder) and of course Kerry was there with a nice hot flask of tea.
Loads of piccies taken, some prezzies, though why anybody thought more ges would be anice present was daft, and off in the van to home. I fell asleep twice on the journey home and didn’t take my helmet off until inside.
Time for a shower, a sleep and food. Its now 10 days after the event and I’m still hungry and not really focusing on tasks for very long. Maybe tomorrow I’ll clean the bike.