The Bug and the Windscreen

We all have to find a balance, partners, children, work life, social life; We all have a juggling act to play. The balance between overdoing it, burning out or staying crisp, snappy and race fit. So with every one elsewhere racing, I had a Sunday to myself, selfishly sorting any DIY duties and household chores the previous day, enough riding credits and thus leaving myself free, smug and ready for a grand day out.
Rain was promised so I geared up for the eventuality, worried at how cold my hands had gotten just a few weeks ago, I spent ages finding my heavy winter gloves and peaked winter cap, both at the bottom of the drawer since my crash in January. I carefully roll my waterproof shell tightly and, like Zapata (Mexican Bandit) I adorn myself with tubes, bananas, Go bars, pumps, levers, mobile and my bag of emergency jelly babies.

Now I know that it is stating the obvious but embarking on a solo century is quite an undertaking. The commitment to be out there, alone, self supported for seven hours, is not to be taken lightly. Even a round trip to collect you in the car could be two hours. It starts by eating right for a few days before, plus a good nights sleep (well that’s my advice), though as you will learn if you read on, despite preparation, carrying everything to support yourself, unexpected things can go ‘ping’ and you can enter a whole world of discomfort, with a loooooong way to go.
I leave early, gently easing out of the driveway under disgruntled skies. No wind as I head out east, legs spinning to loosening any tightness warming up in the cold morning air.
No one is around, but a strong whiff of bacon wafts over me, someone is in for a hearty breakfast. I pass through the Horndean, the brewery towering like a belfry. Dark and condemned to be turned into yet more apartments. Brewing since 1847 (http://www.gales.co.uk/history.php) Mr Gale had his head screwed on right, offering escape to Hampshire males for all those years.( and helping all those Portsmouth uglies get lucky, long before the Guildhall Walk was popular)
Idsworth Down rolls smoothly, the turn up to Compton down is liberally dowsed in debris from the weeks rainfall.
A steady climb like Compton gives me a chance to take stock, Spring is almost upon us, the clocks may have changed but nature is oblivious, a buzzard lazily pivots over head, perfect hunting time of day ( if Mia, my cat, is a reliable source) I pass a herd of goats (!) they all look up at me and track my steady progress, I wonder how many more unseen eyes are on me, Hunters, or hunted up in the tree line, like the baby rabbits that scuttle for cover as I pass, anyone of which would make a pleasant breakfast for the raptor overhead.
I jump on the descent, enjoying the cool air and the feeling of speed, I feel smooth and comfortable, only stalling to allow a hesitant Mercedes pass. A left by Littlegreen school ( which specialises in educating highly intelligent tearaways) takes me up towards to the Southdowns. A colourful pheasant doesn’t even acknowledge me as I pass, It must be spring. I am sure that these birds are the most pathetic know to mankind. All they ever do is run away from you, zig zagging in a John Cleese, chest puffed out ‘ministry of silly walks’ manner, desperate to get away but only able to keep you directly behind. Eventually scrabbling and finding safety in the hedge. In a few weeks this same one will be strutting his stuff with his harem of dusky ladies, proud and confident, his girls clamouring around him as they forage at the field edges. Either that or he will meet an ignominious end under a cars wheels. When the late spring rain comes the smell of his purpley grey innards shared by passing riders and foxes alike, ( if you put the miles in you will know what I mean)
I don’t touch my brakes as I come down the 1 in 10 towards East Marden. I am stunned to see a martin flash in front of me. I have never seen one, too big for a stoat or weasel, and too brown to be a mink; getting out early has its advantages.. He was obviously in a hurry to get himself one of those baby rabbits for breakfast.
The drag out of East Marden is disconcerting I feel quite good on the flat, but as soon as the contours close in, my legs feel hollow, it is early days yet. I hammer down into Chilgrove, careful on the slick road eyes watering as I hit 40, only to sit up to bleed speed before turning into West Dean Estate. (Those of you whole regularly read my posts may notice that this route covers the same ground as last week, which it does, but I was keen to get back and take a few pictures, and add a few new lanes to the North-East of Petworth.)
My legs on the climbs don’t improve but the descent into West Dean is glorious, familiar bends, tightening and demanding concentration, I am enjoying myself as the valley opens up just before meeting the main road, more pheasants, and a few squirrels.
I have a theory that squirrels hang around in pairs.. When they see a cyclist, they nudge each other and play chicken.
“ Goon its your turn….1….2….3….GO!!!…”
Why else would they flash as close as they can to your wheels? Steve Ferguson had one take a ride on his overshoe during a club ride, I have clipped the tail of another and I am sure that most of us know someone who has had a close call with one of the suicidal little buggers.
I discard the idea of climbing to the racecourse and traversing the ridge and I settle into a rhythm through East Dean, a herd of deer graze peacefully up on Haredown. No dirt boarding today.
On the drag to Duncton I munch one of my bananas, peeling it with my teeth before guiltily launching its yellow wrapper into the hedge, only for it to find a branch and lazily announce my passing. I push on.
Mile 24: The top of Duncton greets me. I catch a quick glance to the left as I rocket past the viewpoint. Stood up on horizontal pedals, the top tube gripped between my knees, chin a few centimetres away from the stem with my mud splattered rump in the air as my speedo creeps past 44 . I snick in between the ‘L’ and the ‘O’ of the white painted ‘SLOW’… I am sure that they don’t mean me…
I have to ease up a bit as there are oncoming cars, but I negotiate the white line and careen of the apex of the bend. Ejected like a piece of Lego disappearing up the hoover, my momentum carries me for about half a mile before I have to pedal. I prepare myself for the next climb,
Bignor.. I scrunch across the broken road at its base, it’s a cul-de- sac, there and back, a waste of time, just 1.3 miles and only 163m of ascent. I am determined to try capture its severity in a photo on the descent.
I find it surprisingly well surfaced, certainly better traction than last time. I have to get out the saddle and can feel my handlebars creaking as I pull hard on them.
The exodus of worms is still in effect. Out of all of them on the move,I only spot one of them heading uphill.. I shall call him Earthworm Jim (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111948/)
I climb steadily. No pressure today, and the sky is opening out a bit. I am disappointed at the top as I am met with a glimpse of sun. No atmosphere, no soul…. I descend, stopping three times to take pictures, none of which give the viewer any impression of how steep the climb really is. I advise any reader to go and try it, test their legs, or simply munch on their handlebars for a mile and a bit…
I don’t even slow as I chose a line and big ring through the gravel .. just point the front end and be confident.. a wide puddle soaks my feet, the warm water a surprise. I take another picture, this smooth road passes a superbly preserved roman villa. (http://www.pyrrha.demon.co.uk/mbignor1.html )
A passing Southdown Velo rider barely nods as I pass on the opposite side. To my left lies Bignor house. In the second world war the manor acted as a forwarding base for secret agents before they flew from the nearby Tangmere airfield into France. Those that returned were debriefed here.
A straight avenue lined by silver birch has me nodding in agreement, more untapped gold starred roads, smooth and rolling. If these are Southdown Velos stomping grounds they are spoiled. A sharp right cornering open heath-land spoils the roll but I pass a farm with families of tiny piglets running loose… I feel guilty about the mouth watering bacon smell as I was leaving home…
I turn left , rolling down into Fittleworth. Half of the village looks like it could soon be under water as it is only a meter or so above sea level. The Swan Inn on the left is where the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers (“to foster the noble Art and gentle and healthy Pastime of froth blowing amongst Gentlemen of-leisure and ex-Soldiers”. A wooden Arch marking the millennium passes overhead, the wood silvering, awkward and out of proportion. A gentle climb out of the village and I swing right, up a one way street by the church. I make eye contact with a passing local, feeling a bit sheepish as I know I am in the wrong.. The junction the other end proves to be difficult to exit from. A sharp, blind corner, with cars that barely slow. I drift left when offered. Straight on is quite a drag, my route skips this to explore some more new lanes. The lane snakes away disappearing into two glowing green buttocks  . New stuff, narrow, but with good surfaces, punctuated by two sharp corners, with the Rother valley keeping you company of your left shoulder. The road is dry and for the first time this year, my shadow keeps me company. I dart across the A272 like one of my furtive squirrels.
A small lake blocks my descent, a traffic cone warning the unwary, I fight the urge to just cane it through and ease the brakes to take it at a steady 15 or so, once through, regretting my caution. Out of the saddle again to build speed before anyone sees me.
Mile 37: Kirdford passes, its cottages quiet, an air of cosy contentedness, perfect lawns, postcard images, only spoilt by the BMWs and Mercedes in drive ways. A van idles into my path as I leave the village, but it doesn’t bother me, a friendly wave and I even draft him for a few yards. A right turn at the top of Staples hill and more new lanes. Smooth and only tainted by the gentle headwind acting as an invisible hill. A hidden Iron age hill fort secreted away in a copse to my left then I see a strange structure in a field ahead and spend the new few miles musing over its purpose. A circular metal ring, like a 15m diameter silver trampoline, a crown of yellow lights on top. It looks like something for talking to aliens or a similar purpose. This is NorthChapel beacon: check it out http://gravelroots.net/nchap/7.html
I dip through Northcapel, feeling unwelcome on the main road. A car hovering on my right shoulder as I scan for my exit. More new lanes, the quality of these worthy of any rider, smooth and through some achingly good terrain. A native says hello as I crawl past him of another open hairpin. I am starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. The sun has come out and dry roads greet me topping out over Navant Hill.
A mile descent of superb roads, curving and engaging, even with a ford throw in to keep the rider on his toes. The recent rains swelling its volume so I slow down to negotiate it.
I see the first Bluebell of the year. A scouting party for the massing armies soon to be gracing every shady spot in the next few weeks. The daffodils already wilting, conceding defeat. Primroses adding patches of yellow under the still bare trees.
If you ride along here you cant help but notice the wall.. it becomes a dominant feature as this ribbon of tarmac unfurls, ever present on the left covered in moss, buttressed or falling in places, it must have taken a lifetime to build, and probably outlived its creator. This pens in the conservation areas of Pheasant Copse (those crap birds again) and Petworth deer park. A nasty hill stings my legs, I strain in my lowest gear as a tall castle like structure appears ahead of me. This is the Upperton monument, one of the few follies that is actually lived in, a picture of it hangs in the Tate gallery.
Don’t mess with the villagers around here, in the sixteenth century the Earl of Northumberland (lord of Petworth Manor ) fenced in some common land. The bereft locals raised a fighting ‘purse’ to fund legal action in the Chancery court, the landowner lost and was press-ganged into the army.
As the valley opens in front of me so does my grin. A long near perfect straight road lies before me, so I do the right thing , my bacskside rises from the saddle and I sprint to build speed and hammer down it.. Only to miss my right hand turn half way down. I dive into dark, disappointed lanes. The mossy and gravel strewn surface an unwelcome diversion from the sunny descent so cruelly robbed.
The descent to the 272 passes, but its not memorable and a pang of loss at not being able to enjoy that open stretch.( I actually had planned it to reduce the length of riding on the 272).
Mile 54: The A272. A mile of this appalling road, sharp gravel thrown onto a bed of tar, roughly scrounging any momentumn before I turn off towards Selham, passing a timber yard and sawmill next to the green lushness of the river. A very glamorous golden duck with a red face and a quiff stares at me. A moss covered abandoned land-rover marks my turn west bound again.
Another smooth road and the low hedge opens out into a panorama of perfect lawns, this is Selham polo club, at the height of the summer this will be inundated with the well off, and rich types. Their Jaguars and Bentleys clogging the lanes like metallic turds bumping their way to the coast.
I purposefully planned this southerly loop to take a picture of the green ‘tunnel’ at Amersham. Again, none of these pictures do any justice to its moss covered earthen walls, for some reason any picture lacks the atmosphere.
Lodsworth comes and goes and a picture opportunity at the Lickfold sign . For the past few hours the mast at the top of Bexley Hill has been passing in and out of the cross hairs as I have meandered over the surrounding countryside. Now I fix it firmly in my sights.
The sun soon disappears still not high enough to cast light on the north side. The babbling water, streaming down its edges, occasionally decides to change sides as the contours (or squirrels) allow. It’s hard. I suffer.., my right knee has started hurting ….a lot …..my mobile rings. Work… I spend a few minutes talking to a colleague over three thousand miles away. A pair of tourist riders fly past, their panniers and heavy frames creating a vortex that can be felt after they have gone.
I stop to water the plants at the top. Riding alone, no one else to talk to, no waiting for a team-mate to catch up, so no breathers or let up. Every time you stop to take a second, you can have the impalpable feel of letting that hard earned time slip away from you. Your sweat trickling away for nothing, ticking away…Even though my legs were hurting, still the drive to push on, keep rolling.
Mile 62: the grin is back, squeezing forty out of the narrow carving downhill, no cars, the sun is out. West ward bound at last.
Despite my grumbling knee I was still determined to crack a century, I haul myself up the mile and a bit drag up to Woolbedding common. Stuffing a congealed Go bar in as I rasp for breath. The constant climbing and changes in pitch are definitely taking their toll and I am grateful as the road hesitantly starts to go down again, I dip onto the drops, eager to squeeze as many meters as I can for my efforts. A roller coaster through the cluttered cars collected at Redford, dropping into the Milland Valley.
The contemporary shape of Millands leaning bus stop greets me as I enter the village, a left by the Rising Sun and I am soon heading south again. My knee has now become a limiting factor and I have decided to cut my ride short before I do any permanent damage. A short sharp hill tests me as I crawl up, worried, gritted teeth. The howling downhill brings some relief, I manage to enjoy the muddy rutted ascent to Chithurst, punctuated by a hidden glade, complete with weir and bright sun streaming between the trees. I pass over another humpback bridge, the waters below, swollen and heavy with silt washed from the fields. A solitary mallard wandering aimlessly, I don’t blame him for not wanting to dip a toe.
Dumpford follows Trotton as I continue west, pausing to take a picture of the burnt out Southdowns hotel. The road has a light dusting of sand in places. I turn left towards through Nyewood and heading towards South Harting. Even the gentle rise before village hurts, the gradient forces needle like pains in the tendon on the side of my knee, making me grit my teeth.
Relief as I soft pedal down into Harting. The main street congested by busy walkers enjoying the Sunday sun. The gentle breeze bites hard as the last major climb up to Ditcham school comes into view, my mind working overtime, worrying about my nagging knee, the lasting damage that I could be doing to it. A pair of very clean looking mountain bikers approach me as I turn into Ditcham. I look down smugly at the greying layer of road grime matted on my calves and overshoes. Its been a hard ride, just one last big hill, I grit my teeth, try turning the 53 for a few revolutions to build speed before hitting the lower ramp. It doesn’t work. My legs give way almost as soon as it starts and I reluctantly drop to the small ring and resign to spin my way up. Limit the damage, don’t look at the average speed dropping away. Its not too bad once in a rhythm and the hill is certainly one of the easier of the day (2 miles 127m). I gather my composure, as I pass a pair of walkers enjoying the view to the east. The aggressive speed bumps are negotiated.

Mile 82: The long descent starts. I am careful at the top, this is where I left a significant chunk of my right arm back in the summer of 2005. The yellow warning paint almost worn off the guilty lump that skittled me.
The roll off is enjoyable, sun breaking through the trees as I weave between the litter of small stones and discarded sticks.
A tractor slows me at the bottom, and I crank to gather some momentum as I join the Buriton road. White Hill in Finchdean becomes my nemesis again, as I slowly scrape my way up it, I can barely use my right leg, my left also starting to grumble after picking up the slack. The top can’t come soon enough, I am barely making headway but one last dig takes me past the brewery again. just a half mile short of home I feel a tiny mist of rain, out of a blue sky it doesn’t last, but if that what the weather man predicted I think he should be looking for work elsewhere. Relief after 89 miles and 2270m of ascent..
Last week I was the pigeon feeling strong and rolling reasonably well. But without a foundation, it can only be momentary, a false taper, kidding myself, the statue… It just proves that there is no substitute to hours in the saddle,

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