The year is slowly drawing to a close, yet I find myself riding further and more often than I have done in previous months – the last gasp I guess. I start a new job with a hefty commute in the New Year and I suspect time for bikes will be limited. As a result I feel in decent shape, certainly the engine is ticking over nicely to do a good turn on a Sunday.
For those of you following this blog you’ll know that I have been making steady progress to complete the coveted Brevet Des Grimpeurs Du Sud. I completed three of the rides earlier in the year, and they are recorded on CycleTechReview.com for posterity (see related links at the bottom of this page). However somewhere in the middle of the year the time or the desire disintegrated and I didn’t pick up the Audax baton again until November. Now time was running out, spare weekends scarce, as are GdS qualifying calendar events. So it was down to entering events as ‘Permanents’.
A description of a Permanent ride: “Permanents are events registered with Audax UK which can, in most cases, be ridden at any time. They are intended as events for the more experienced rider, riding alone or with family and friends, and not as replacements for calendar rides whose dates have been planned as part of a programme of events.” ~ AUK
A few weeks ago I completed the Down to Downs permanent, it wasn’t long after getting home that I sent my £3 via the AUK website to enter the AAA Milne. The AAA Milne was the final opportunity to complete the GdS award and I was keen to get on with it. After having roped in a friend to ride with me, 11th December was set as the date.
The AAA Milne takes it’s name from the author, who I am sure you are familiar with, since the ride takes a tour around Winnie-the-Pooh country. The route passes Pooh Corner at Hartfield, which is nearby where AA Milne lived and Pooh Sticks bridge. Both of these are actual places in the Ashdown Forest that you can visit, and it’s worth a visit.
There are three potential starting points; Groombridge, East Grinstead or Barcombe and must be ridden in a clockwise fashion. Barcombe is my end of East Sussex so I started there after meeting friends for coffee at Bills in Lewes. The original Bills by the way, not these pretend ones that have started to appear all over the country. As usual, thanks to the local rail operator and their on-going dispute with staff, it was a case of riding to the ride. In a way I am thankful for this as it has greatly enhanced the sense of self reliance, which is entirely in keeping. It also affords me a whole new sensation of self satisfied smug and I quite like that.
The route is on familiar lanes, at first heading north from Barcombe. It then sweeps to the east, traversing the Ashdown Forest a couple of times before heading back to the starting point. Validation, in this case, was possible by sharing your GPX file with the organiser. Tracing my route and ride data is not something I usually do, so I dusted off my Strava account. Which meant having to reinstall the app on my phone, ready for Sunday 11th December. We were also following the route from a GPX file rather than the usual method of map and route sheet. Constant referral to a route sheet would have been a massive faff in the depths of mid-winter.
Adam and I were joined by Vic for the first 30km before Vic peeled off to take the scenic route home. We seemed to have reached East Grinstead fairly quickly, the most northerly part of the route before heading east. There were a few, three in fact, pointless downs (or ups) just to come back on yourself in Sharpthorne, East Grinstead and Groombridge. Remnants of the calendar event and marking points where manned controls were likely to be? Making sure we did this ride properly we duly obeyed the GPS and followed the route exactly as planned.
We stopped for tea at the Pooh Corner shop in Hartfield, a whitewashed brick cottage with low slung ceilings. The stop was long enough to chat and eat and drink a pot of tea before contemplating the next, hillier, half of the ride.
We did the futile jaunt to look at the train station in Groombridge – it’s not particularly interesting by the way. Then we headed back through the village to tackle the long climb through Lye Green and Friars Gate to the top of the Ashdown Forest. I did this climb a few weeks ago on the Down to Downs audax in the dark and it is a climb I’m familiar with. But this time it felt harder. With its dips and cold troughs, steep and gentle ramps it’s a tough climb. Perhaps the cold and the preceding miles made it feel more difficult this time?
Here the route does this fantastically cruel thing of shooting down off the forest only to come back up it on another side. It’s fiendish, since at this stage you are a mere 15km from the end point, but still have another 30+km to actually ride and a few painful hills to get yourself over.
With the business end of the ride out of the way we begun our decent off the forest heading back through the grubby winter lanes back to Barcombe. Along Picketts Lane we can across a puppy – I won’t go into the details of this part of our ride adventure, the GPS trace helps to tell a story:
When we got to Barcombe we decanted to the nearest pub, The Royal Oak, for a pint of Harvey’s Best. Time for a bit of a think about how to get home. It was here that I discovered that my phone battery had died. I later learn that it died just 3km from the end of the ride. Thankfully, Martin the organiser has found this acceptable to validate the ride. But just in case I submitted Adams GPX data too. I knew there was a good reason not to do this Strava business, not that I have anything specific against it you understand.
With the AAA Milne completed this meant that the I could apply for the GdS award. In an uncanny twist Martin, the AAA Milne organiser, is also the man behind the Brevet des Grimpeurs du Sud. So it was a simple matter of sending £3 to him and penning a courtesy email along with my AAA Milne GPX file. My name is now listed along with 112 other riders as a Grimpeur du Sud.
It’s quite nice to feel this sense of achievement, it hasn’t been big deal but it was good to have this goal and I am glad to have got there in the end, I can relax for Christmas and then think about getting through a certain off-road ride New Year’s Eve.