There’s something wrong with me. I have changed. Suddenly I am agreeing to mad long distance escapades; a recent email ‘GdS’ in one is a typical example – the basic premise being to ride 5 qualifying Grimpeurs du Sud rides back to back over 30 hours, for no other reason than the vainglory and the high risk of failure in the endeavour. 500km and over 9000m in climbing if you’re into statistics.
The last time I corresponded under this pseudonym I had spectacularly failed at completing The Reliable. I have recently picked up the audacious bug again thanks to my friend Gavin who invited me to join him on a DIY permanent audax that he had put together and submitted to Audax UK for validation – what was meant to be a 200km day out turned out to be over 240km thanks to the fantastic train service currently provided in our over-crowded pocket of South East England – Gavin wrote an account of the ride here: A Reminder. I will never forget that view over the moonlit river Cuckmere that Gavin so eloquently describes.
It’s a bug that needs feeding… and I have yet to complete the Brevet des Grimpeurs du Sud award this year and, now that it is December, there are very limited opportunities to complete the two rides I need for completion before the end of the year. With this in mind I entered the Down to Downs Audax, a 100km Brevet Populaire and a GdS qualifier, as a permanent.
An entry via AUK and a quick email to Werner, the organiser, to let him know the date I planned to ride the event and a date was set for the last weekend in November, keeping options open for the Saturday or Sunday depending on the weather.
The official start point for this ride is Edenbridge, but with agreement you can start anywhere on the route so long as you pick up the necessary receipts at the brevet controls to provide proof of passage. Uckfield is the furthest point south so Gavin and our friend Vic decided to start from there.
There are no transport links from our area of Sussex to Uckfield so it was agreed that Gavin and Vic would get the train to mine in the morning and we would ride to the start point from here, an extra 60km added to the days riding (not forgetting having to ride home afterwards too).
The Down to Downs route is a squished up sausage of a loop with the most southerly point at Uckfield in East Sussex and pushing on the suburbs of London poking about the hills just inside the M25. There are some classic hills along the way, including Toys, Brasted and Ide Hills as well as climbing over the Ashdown Forest on the way out and the way back.
After Uckfield the first official control we passed through was Edenbridge, as we got into town a traditonal French Market was in full swing which had closed off the high street. We picked up receipts from an ATM outside the local Tesco – it’s a charming and very glamorous world this audax lark – and after a pastry or two we went on our way.
From Edenbridge we start the shuffle over the north downs, heading over the A25 and then on the busy suburban roads within the London orbital road to Orpington, but not before we stop for coffee in Brasted. We collect a receipt from a local BP garage in Orpington and head off straight away – these suburban roads are not to be particularly enjoyed.
Back over the Downs and into more comfortable and familiar territory on the right side of the motorway we make our way towards Langton Green via Penshurst, skirting just to the east of Tunbridge Wells – we’re not far from the Ashdown Forest from here. More receipts gathered from the a petrol station and again we set off for the final part of the ride over the forest back to Ashdown.
Lights were flicked on at this point. The temperature had fallen and the night was eerie. The climb from Groombridge up to the top of the forest is a long one; it climbs, dips, levels, climbs, levels and climbs some more before eventually opening out at the top of the forest canopy, with the lights of nearby towns sparkling in the distance.
Final receipts were collected at the McDonalds in Uckfield – being a Sunday this was the only thing open in the early evening. McDonalds is not a place I would usually patronise, but you know, needs must.
1 GdS qualifier completed and 1 final GdS ride to go – in a moment I will sign up for the AAA Milne as the final audax ride to see out the year and finally complete the GdS award for 2016.
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