Sneaky snatched Miles

Its not often in cycling that you can get something for free, there is always something to pay, to rebalance karma. I had resigned myself to not being able to ride at the weekend, as a recent change to my duty rosters stipulate that I stay close to my laptop and landline. I had seditiously decided that I could sneak out for a few quick loops around the neighbourhood; if the call came I could quickly beeline home and save the day.
Something gnaws at me, the trapped steel siren calls me from the garage,
‘ If you ride me, nothing will happen..’
I succumb to the steel harpy and text Jack to extricate himself from his Sunday slumbers to join me for a ‘local’ loop.
A misty rain envelops me but soon passes as I wait at the bus stop for Jack. As a red clad figure approaches, I call the direction, swing my leg over the top tube and we are off along Purbrook Heath. Nattering, catching up. Putting the world to rights.
Neither of us particularly wanted to ride today, but the unspoken bond of previous suffering means that neither voices it. The camaraderie of rolling, the cleansing nature of that two wheels provides trumps all but the warmest bed.
A ford and a lung-opening hill rewards us with an early morning panorama of Portsmouth. A large group of motorbikes pass us on the descent to Southwick, each one passing closer that the one before. We meander east and then west again searching for easy lanes, continuing the conversation, Hambledon, Soberton pass before we find ourselves at the top of Teglease down.
A pair of targets appear on the skyline, so we through and off to pass them and reinforce our superiority. These tourists…tut….
I let the brakes off completely and hammer down to West Meon. Jack takes it decidedly easier, my track-stand skills don’t permit me to wait that long..
As we pass through the village an unexplored left hander piques my interest.
“Why not?” I am conscious of ever drifting further from home, like a ASBO ankle monitor , afraid to stray too far..
A sharp hill greets our inquisitiveness, each at our own pace it isn’t too bad.
The lane leads us to the A32 where we have no option but to take a deep breath brave the traffic and careen down to the Meon Hut lights. Agoraphobia soon sends me scurrying towards west Tistead and Filmore hill.
As we climb we pass a large tyre and seriously contemplate unleashing it back down the hill, Jack, ever the professional decides against it, despite my offers to go to the bottom and check traffic.
We turn off right and a gritty descent to the 272 opens up before us. I know this one well and let rip down it. We regroup and after more yapping on a gentle ascent I point out a hidden tree root on yet another claustrophobic descent, which brings us out opposite the Westbury house in West Meon (burnt down in 1904, now a nursing home) ( only half a mile along from where we went off piste.
The valley takes us across to East Meon, and soon we are rolling through frogmore towards Buriton, more yammering than hammering.
The pond by in Buriton has a few people milling around as we pass, feeding the sickly looking ducks, the snot like waters swollen by the recent rain. The B2156 and Nursted beckon. A small hill must first tackled. The air here is still and silent, the banks are high broken by twisted, knarled roots that give you the impression that you have ridden into a Tolkien book, we share the atmosphere between us.
The road flattens and Jack pulls through and builds a little gap, a silver Volvo pushes in and I can draft back up.
As we turn right to Ditcham school I make a decision. Since the 2005 Giro when the unpaved roads were put of the Mortirolo were used I have been inspired and have been looking for suitable Strada Blanca ( White roads) those who may have seen the Eroica in Tuscany will know what I mean.
http://italiancyclingjournal.blogspot.com/2007/10/monte-paschi-eroica.html
Now I have a few ideas, but have never incorporated them into a ride.
I swing left and direct Jack to meet me on the other side.. ( You may remember the clubs reaction to ‘my type of lanes ‘ in my piece “Off the back”)
The third of a mile lane is flat with swathes of gravel punctuated by ruts and puddles but its not too bad.
I meet Jack with a smile, eager for more, Jack, inspired by the fact that my bike and I are still in one piece, agrees to follow me on my next sector.
Ditcham hair-pin is almost a mile of steady climbing behind us as we swing right onto more uncharted territory, We nod a greeting to a pair of ladies walking their Labrador and hammer down a rise, unsure of what lies ahead.
A gentle left turn and ahead I see the tarmac end a smooth gravelled track arcs off westbound, this is the Southdown’s way usually traversed by our fat wheeled brethren.
A gravel hill, followed by a flinted sharp descent. Nervously at first, but soon I am hammering down it, the big ring, picking my line and quite blasé to the fact that I am riding a radial spoked front wheel. I love it, even the three Lakes that appear at the bottom corner. I wait for a rather more cautions Jack.
Another climb followed by a less steep drop and soon we are greeted by the familiar silence of friendly tarmac. The lane leads us to the top that nasty little climb out of Buriton.
We are both grinning from ear to ear., slightly taken aback by the audacity of the route. Fired up, we cane it southwards through the woods, the trees still bare but already the woodland floor green and bursting with new growth.
I am unnerved as Jack overtakes me very closely on the right, too close for comfort as I remember the cause of my crash back in January.
We take a hard right and the climb to Chalton takes the sting out of the legs. We slow to walking pace and spin up, Jack leads us over and through the sign.
A few cars are ironically parked outside the ancient village as we press passed on that dreadful rise to the A3. rough roads take us over the bridge and soon we are climbing the long very straight incline to Butser. I have another sector in mind.
For a long time I have considered taking my road bike and joining Butser up with Mercury via the Southdowns Way. Today was to be that day… tarmac became broken tarmac, which became gravel, which became, rutted, broken gravel patches, interspersed with roots, and sharp flint embedded in compacted soil, we are forced to slow, any idea of sticking it in the big ring and hammering is forgotten as the route is too technical for such a cavalier Belgian attitude. I am a fair way ahead, doing around 20 when my rear tyre blows loudly.
By the time Jack has caught up and just sat down, I am already prising the frozen CO2 cartridge from my gloved hand. About three minutes have passed.
Two hundred metres later, just as I am regaining my pace, a second bang, followed by a millisecond of ‘hiss’ . At least it isnt hard to find the culprit, this repair takes a bit longer, we have time to greet a pair of young walkers and admire the stunning view.
The ¾ mile section is over, and we regroup at the saddle by Mercury. A quick check for embedded flints ( I didn’t want to blow out on the descent) and soon we are getting cold at 40 mph approaching Clanfield.
Through and off along the valley. I had ride Jack off my wheel into the headwind, I smugly claim the Lovedean sign. No sprinting, my promise is intact. We pull up outside my house, ready for tea, a fat boy English breakfast ( thanks Ana) and the paltry 30 minutes that Euro-sport showed of Paris-Roubaix.

Who says you can’t take a road bike off road? Just get good tyres. (For the record Maxxis Hors categories came with the wheels. They have now been retired for a new set of Conti’s)
I intend to search out more of these compacted gravel roads, if you see any during your wanderings, let me know.
.

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