With my tandem riding partner focusing on a team Time Trial event, I had a long training ride on my own. It’s been a great summer of riding and I wanted to find a fitting ride to end the season before the cold winter nights descend. Time to dust off the cross bike for a little bit of off-road / on-road action.
The dense, dark fog at 4:30am was not quite the late summer early morning sunrise I had hoped for. The droplets of moisture sparkled like jewels in the headlight on the bike as I rode from my home in Alresford the 8 miles into Winchester. The plan, to cycle off-road along the South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne and ride back home to Alresford on-road and be back before the pubs closed. It was a round trip of roughly 200 miles, 50% off road and 50% on. It seemed a fitting challenge to end a delightful summer of cycling here in Hampshire and further afield.
The dense fog made route finding a bit tricky. Paths I have ridden hundreds of times before were unrecognisable. At times it was hard to tell if I was going up or down – the mist takes away the visual cues that help locate oneself in time and space. But by the time I had ridden through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, the sun had begun it’s work. A short while later I was rewarded with the first of many stunning views, this one from Beacon Hill.
Early morning on the Downs is delightful. Turn a corner to see a fox disappearing off into the woods. Look left and there’s a herd of deer tucked up against the edge of woodland. Meanwhile an owl works it’s way across a ploughed field in absolute silence. No matter how many times I see these sights it still thrills. Gradually the wildlife is replaced with people. Friends amble along in an easy step putting the world to rights; groups of men on high tech mountain bikes having great fun making a weekend of adrenaline pumped riding along the trails and families cajoling children with promises of ice cream.
The day wears on and the sun climbs high into the sky. Damp gloom has been well and truly replaced with glorious sunshine and deep blue skies. Ditchling Beacon is smothered in cyclists, walkers, spectators and supporters. There’s some sort of event going on but I can’t tell what it is. I push on through. Somewhat selfishly I want the quiet and solitude of the quieter sections.
At 3pm with a satisfied grin I roll of the downs onto tarmac. A quick stop to put some air in the tyres and it’s time to head home. It’s not long before the roads begin to quieten with people settling into their Sunday evening at home. Once more the cool damp air returns. As I roll into Alresford at 9:30pm I have that delicious sense of tired satisfaction. I’ve banked some wonderful memories to last me through a cold winter of training. After a day of contemplative rolling through the countryside it’s not the pub that beckons, but time with my family.