Distance: 155 miles. Elevation: 5800 ft
The day after Tuesday’s ride I was suffering from PEED (Post-Epic-Event-Depression), a phrase I coined a few years ago to describe the empty feeling you get after a big party or holiday or other such epic event. You could say I was feeling PEED-off! So I decided to go out again on an even longer ride on the Friday. The weather forecast looked like this:
37°C is the highest temperature I’ve ever seen forecast for the UK. I planned a flat-as-possible route that would have the light WSW breeze behind me along the coastal section. At 155 miles this was to be my 10th longest ride. I would need to leave early to make the most of the cooler morning air and try to avoid those later thunderstorms.
I set off at 7 AM. Two things had delayed my start. The first was that when I’d looked outside I’d seen that it had been raining in the night. That, along with the promise of rain later, prompted me to fit an ass-saver:
The second problem was that when I turned my Garmin on, it warned of “Insufficient memory”. Damn! Does that mean it wouldn’t record the ride? I wondered. And maybe it hadn’t loaded the whole route and wouldn’t navigate for me. I zoomed out a long way on the display and it appeared to contain the whole route so I decided to take a chance; I could always enter the ride manually later on Strava. The only other slight question mark over the ride ahead was some slight saddle-sore left over from Tuesday’s ride.
The air was already warm and the skies were blue, but the sun wasn’t a problem that early in the day.
I rode the mainly flat route through Bough Beech, Edenbridge and Lingfield towards Crawley. This was mainly shady and the sun wasn’t a problem. Somehow I hadn’t been paying sufficient attention when I had created this route online because I found myself on the busy A2011, skirting the north of Crawley. Eventually I left the busy morning rush-hour traffic behind me when I found the Rusper Road. I had planned for my first proper stop to be in Horsham, at the 50-mile mark, and had intended to take a break before then to eat a banana. But I couldn’t find anywhere suitable and besides I was now only 5 or 6 miles from Horsham so I decided to push on to the designated stop, namely The Cafe, next to Horsham Railway Station.
The time was 10:15. I was glad I had my lock because I had to leave the bike for several minutes completely out of view while I placed my order. As a change from egg, I had a cheese on toast and a coffee. I sat outside shaded from the sun.
I topped-up my bidon before leaving. Heading south from Horsham I was riding on much quieter roads. But the heat of the day began to build. It was probably around 30°C by now and I started periodically pouring water over my head. This is a great technique and I don’t think I would have survived without it. By the time I got to Hurstpierpoint I was looking out for places to top up my bidons before I got to the exposed landscape of the Pevensey Levels, which I imagined were coming up soon (they weren’t). I saw lots of shops but always feel reluctant to ask for water in a shop. Soon I was in Hassocks and then Keymer. I stopped at what looked like it might have been the last cafe in the village. Again, I didn’t feel I could ask for a top-up so I ordered a coffee.
“Sorry but our machine doesn’t do black coffee. Would instant be OK?”
Before I could say no, the young assistant piped up “We could make it with espresso – I’d have to do more than one”. “Yes that would be OK. Thanks.”
For the next few minutes I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on, just that she was preparing the coffee. After a while I suddenly realised that she was making a normal mug of coffee using multiple shots of espresso from the machine. “How much do you have so far?” I asked. She tipped the mug towards me and it was about half full. “Yes, that’s enough, thanks”. I sat outside to drink it.
I topped-up my bidon before leaving. I estimate that I’d stopped her after 6 or 7 shots had gone into the mug! Needless to say, with all that caffeine, I was focused for the next part of the ride. I was so focused that I didn’t need my reading glasses to see my phone! haha. I was so focused that I was riding along solving quadratic equations in my head. haha
By now, it was so hot I was praying for clouds or at least tree cover on my side of the road. Just after Ditchling village comes five miles of road that follows along the foot of the North Downs. It’s a gently undulating and twisting lane with vast flat expanses to the North, and the Downs rising up steeply to my right (South).
Six miles later, at Ringmer, I was on the lookout for water again. I saw a young family loading or unloading their car so I asked them if they could top-up my bidon. I started pouring one bidon into the other so that they would only top up one but the guy insisted that he refreshed both bidons with cold water and even asked if I would like squash. I asked for squash in one and plain water in the other one, to pour over my head during the ride.
The time now was 1:15, with the temperature into the 30’s. The wind was in my favour now. Six miles of fast B-road led to four miles of the fast and straight A22.
… at the end of which I was once again on the lookout for more water! I spotted someone washing a car at a car dealership in Hailsham and was directed to reception where a kind person filled a bidon. The route then took me back onto quiet country lanes. My stomach was feeling hungry again so I found a shady place to stop, sit down and eat some savoury stuff – mini scotch egg, small bits of gala pie and a fig roll for energy – really not much in total. My mouth was so dry, it all had to be washed down with gulps of water.
Periodically, throughout the ride, my Garmin complained of “Insufficient Memory”, so I just pressed <Enter> as instructed. It still continued to work as normal so I just hoped everything was OK by the end.
A few miles further on I reached The Pevensey Levels, but I only really skirted the edge, unlike on other rides, so the worry of being fried by the sun in such an exposed landscape had been ill-founded.
The best thing to do in the Pevensey Levels is stop and listen. The sound of the rushes swishing in the gentle breeze is very peaceful and soothing.
Just after Pevensey village, as I entered the charmingly named ‘Sluice Lane’, I was warned of “Road Closed in 4 Miles”. ‘But was it really closed?’ I asked myself. I rode on, assuming I’d be able to get around whatever it was. Then, a bit further on, “Road Closed in 3 Miles”. ‘Hmm, that’s quite specific and insistent’, I thought. ‘But was it REALLY closed?’. I rode on. Further warnings at 2 miles and 1 mile. Eventually the road reached the shoreline.
… and I thought that even if it is totally obstructed further on, I would be able to just walk around it using the beach. Eventually I reached the closure
and it was a simple matter of squeezing past the barriers.
Two miles along the shore came my second pre-defined stop, at the 100-mile mark. It was the Sovereign Light Café at Bexhill-on-Sea.
(Writing this, I googled the Sovereign Light Café and was most surprised to see that there was actually a song about this place. I read the lyrics first and liked them, but when I watched the video, I’ll just say that it’s not my kind of music (just leave it at that!), although I like the jacket he’s wearing in the video!)
Even though I had planned this as a ‘proper’ stop where I might get a coffee and something to eat, all I bought was the obligatory Twister, which I enjoyed while sitting watching people ‘promenading’ along the sea front.
Cycling along the sea front at Hastings was effortless. The gentle WSW breeze gave me a break from the effort. The shared path along the sea front in Hastings is one of the best I’ve seen. There were two things on my mind at this point – Barley Lane (v.steep) and the fact that I could get milk at the caravan park where I got some before. Gliding along through Hastings I smiled to myself when I recognised the exact spot where I had collapsed in a heat-exhausted heap on a ride a few years ago. This time I was feeling better than I had been on that day. I’m sure that the water-over-the-head trick was a major factor because it was even hotter today.
Just as I was out of the saddle climbing the ultra steep first bit of Barley Lane, my garmin gave one of its helpful “Insufficient memory” warnings – damn! I had to briefly sit back in the saddle take one hand off the bars and click my garmin, by which time I was nearly at a standstill. So it was back out of the saddle to continue with the grind.
At the holiday park a bit further on I bought a Fanta Orange and, crucially, some milk. They didn’t have pints so I bought the smallest they had, which was 3 pints! I poured the Fanta into my front bidon, drank about a pint of milk and then put the rest of the milk in my back-pack (obviously still in the bottle!), thinking that I’d sort it all out later. Now carrying quite a weight on my back, I slogged to the top of Battery Hill to rest by the lookout point.
I couldn’t drink all that milk at once and yet I didn’t want to bin it, or carry it on my back, so I poured-out all the water from my ‘over-the-head’ bidon and filled it with milk. Then I drank the rest of the milk and had a few savoury bites to eat.
Looking inland to the North I tried to see if I could spot any evidence of the promised thunderstorms
It was certainly cloudier in that direction but didn’t look particularly menacing. It was now 4:40 pm, 110 miles done, 40 to go. Sitting on the bench I felt quite tired. I looked at the grassy ground in front of me and imagined taking a quick nap. I decided to press on.
Down the hill to Pett Level then along, through the nature reserve, to Rye Harbour, all the while helped by the breeze. Through Rye and out on the 5-mile straight of Military Road to Appledore, after which my route turned more northward and the wind was now from the side, but didn’t cause any problems. As I headed inland the temperature rose quite a bit. I hadn’t used the water-over-the-head technique all along the coast and I suddenly realised that I had discarded my remaining water earlier. There was no way I wanted Fanta or, worse still, milk in my hair! I stopped in Woodchurch and bought more Fanta and some plain water (which I later discovered was flavoured!) to pour over my head. I poured the Fanta into my front bidon. The other bidon still had the milk so I stuffed the water bottle in my jersey pocket.
Back on the bike I poured some of the (flavoured) water over my head and it felt really cold, indicating that it probably wasn’t hot enough to need that any more. In fact the temperature remained reasonable for the rest of the ride.
As is my usual habit I was mentally ticking off the places through which I passed. It was amazing to think that Hastings had been coming up and now it was miles ago. Same for Rye – that had now passed into the past. Still on the list were Bethersden, Headcorn, Staplehurst and Marden.
Near Headcorn the road was wet; they’d had some rain by the looks. The sky was all cloud now. Then I felt the very occasional drip on my head. Then, somewhere near Frittenden, the heavens opened. Massive drops of rain pounded down on my lid, so loudly I could barely hear myself think. Visibility dropped to a few yards as I could hardly see through my goggles. Naturally I got soaked. But it felt refreshing! I didn’t mind it in the least. I was extremely lucky that it eased up and then stopped after about five minutes. So it had been just enough to cool me off for the remainder.
I had an energy gel in Marden to help with Barn Hill five miles later. At the foot of Barn Hill I decided to jettison any unused liquid. There wasn’t much milk left so I decided to keep that to drink later. I emptied what little remained of the Fanta and the remaining half a bottle of (flavoured) water. The climb wasn’t difficult and 5 minutes later I was home.
This ride was all about managing liquids. Stopping frequently to make sure I didn’t run out. Liquid for drinking and some for cooling. Milk at the end as it is the only thing that settles my stomach and is an excellent rehydrator. It’s amazing to think that I drank all that and yet weighed 4lb less at the end of the ride!
The Cafe, Horsham
Thank you to lady who did my cheese on toast and was then later told by another employee that it was too hot to use the grill. Also for topping up bidon.
Spoilt for Choice Café, Keymer
Thanks to young lady for giving me 7 espressos for the price of one! Also for topping up bidon.
Young Family, Ringmer
Thanks for topping up my bidons with cold water and squash!
Chandlers MINI, Hailsham
Thanks to young lady for topping up my bidon.