Last October our Sonder rider Scott Swalling headed off for 180Kms+ loop of the Northdowns Way (NDW), King Alfreds Way (KAW), Southdowns Way (SDW) and Downs Link (DL) on his Broken Road.
A relatively early but civiliased start I casually rode to the start/finish of the loop. Set the Garmin to nav and off I went. The very first thing you do is climb and that is a bit of a theme until the last 60km+ on the DL.
Starting along the NDW out of Guildford, I rode over familiar terrain and predominantly sandy trails. It was great that the sand was still a little wet, making it a bit easier to ride, but not super fast. I crusied along these, passing quaint houses, farms, horse studs and large manor house, across estate fields and wiggled along some single track in places. All in the gloom of the early morning and on/off drizzle for a little over 1.5hrs until I reached the junction with the KAW.
Joining the KAW on a fast section of road as the drizzle started clear. I point down the hill, tucked and went, over the weak bridge, wondering if I had eaten too much the day before. I sped to the next section of trail, a path through pine forest and fenced moor land. The habitat changes between these two main types for some time. Now and then I ride through farm land, sometimes through farm yards (still an odd feeling for an Australian), past more stables and studs.
The KAW section I rode from the NDW to SDW, has a variety of different terrain from sandy moors over Frensham with views of both ponds, slick sandy bridleways, road, muddy fireroads through pine forest and some rocky climbs and descents. The most noteable are, the sandy wall I hit entering Hankley Common, one I thought I would be off walking, but some how managed to clear it, the rocky ascent out of Thursley was slick and loose and had be pushing for a little way. Then after many more K's of fun, undulating, varied trails and roads, the last two climbs up onto the South Downs came at me hard, sapped the legs a little, making the SDW sign post a welcome sight and a good place for more food and a comfort break (when the bike and foot traffic allowed).
Until this point I had seen very few people, due my early start and grey weather. Apart from an 84 year old man out for a run, I passed on the second to last hill before the SDW and a couple of others on the KAW and some dogs walkers. But now things were getting busy as the weather improved. So it was time to be extra polite and smile lots. Along the KAW, I had passed pubs, little villages, cafes and coffee stops, plenty to find along the way, even if you drift a little of course to do so. Up onto the SDW and I know things are fewer and far between and missing the taps can be a right pain in the butt. The times I have ridden the SDW, I haven't missed one. However there is always first time.
Out on to the SDW and the sun even started poking through the clouds, the weather improved and the spirits crept even higher (I am always happy on a bike). One of the things I found riding the "official" cycle route along the SDW was the little difference between it and some of the previous version of the route I have taken, certainly didn't change the level of damage done to your legs and the views even when grey, remain beautiful.
Lack of riding, lack of sleep and the relentlessness of the SDW would have me off walking a few climbs as I crossed the big whale backs of the way. I know the SDW and knowing what is to come and what has passed is actually an advantage in my mind. I can plan, I can literally plan on which hill where I am likely to fail on the singlespeed, accept it in advance and make up for it on the ones I know are on my limit. I know when the taps are roughly coming and can hydrate accordingly with no fear of running out of water. The taps are even better marked now, so the couple that are on fun descents are easier to spot.
Of course I also know that Richline Farm Shop is coming soon, another tap stop there as well. Over hill down valley, up over another hill, the SDW keeps coming at you, but it is a great place to ride. Soon I crest the last hill before the farm and drop down, preparing for a longer than normal stop. "I really need to ride more" I mutter as roll to a stop, say "Hi" to another fellow cycling adventurer (Tony). Richline Farn Shop is basic, the coffee is instant, but the cakes home made, the ice cream is quite decent too.
I sit with a coffee, a large flapjack, can of Tango and some more natural snacks from my Possum frame bag. Tony and I chat about sleeping in ditches, the pros and cons of knowing your route ahead and Tony's best way back to Camberley. It is not terribly direct, but we share ideas. Soon my need to ride on drives me to pick up my helmet, of course place my rubbish and recycling in the right bins and thank the shop owners. From hear on cold legs a farm track leads up to a rock hardpack trail, for the first part of this I hurt, cold legs, singlespeed and straight up hill for approximately 1km, from a stop. The gate 200ms from the farm doesn't help. But once warmed up my rhythm returns and it starts to feel good again.
Climb, descend, climb, descend, it is the charm of the SDW, or is it the curse? As the picture below demostrates, either way, I seem to like it up there.
There are a few more hills, to conquer and descents to enjoy, some of the toughest are to come. I know this, but I also know I am now getting close to my next junction. Strangely as I tick off hill after hill, ensuring I also enjoy views like the one below, I feel a little down, that I won't be riding to Eastbourne.
Crossing the road at Washington signals there are only a few more hills left to worry me until much later, for on the other side of these last couple is Botolphs and Steyning. Where I meet the Downs Link. But frst I must descend Pig Hill. You get the picture.
Down to the trail junction, it is time to update Nik on where I am and that I am approximate 1 hr 30 minutes behind schedule (it was a finger in the air schedule), but strangely bang on ride time. The much longer than planned lunch break had taken it's toll on my schedule. After a 10 minute snack break, I was off again. The DL was going to be tough, not because of hills or anything like that, but because of the lack of them. Spinning a single speed is tough, spinning one with 120km's already in the legs and knowing it is pretty much flat until the outside of Guildford is brutal.