Distance: 193.3 miles. Elevation: 7668 ft
This ride was to explore more of the South Coast by starting even further west at Littlehampton. The forecast was for a sunny, hot day, 28°C inland but a fair bit cooler on the coast. I left home at twenty past five. Temperature was about 17°C, so I decided to just go in short sleeves, knowing it would warm up later. There was a glimmer of pre-dawn light in the sky. Soon into my ride there were great views of mist clinging to the fields in the Weald.
The first leg of the ride was to cycle sixty miles to the Old Mill Café at Wisborough Green in West Sussex. I had planned to get some money at an ATM in Tonbridge, but I soon realised that my GPS was taking me on a route that didn’t go through Tonbridge – when I plan my routes I usually check them thoroughly, but I must have omitted to check where this first part actually went! For the first couple of hours of the journey I started to actually get colder – my arms and feet in particular. So I was pleased when the sun did manage to peep above the horizon, although it had no real power yet. In Edenbridge I stopped to get some money out, using my phone to locate an ATM.
I arrived at the café at ten past nine. They had just opened. I ordered scrambled eggs on toast and a black coffee, and was somewhat taken aback at the price of £9.70! Still, it was very tasty, served with fried tomatoes and great service. I sat outside watching the early morning world go by, which consisted of watching a dad help his son change a punctured tyre, involving some particularly stubborn wheel nuts. In the thirty-five minutes I was there they still hadn’t changed the wheel. Other action consisted of a steady stream of drivers unable to park or properly manoeuvre their vehicles in the car park.
Back on the road, I had warmed up now and was feeling comfortable. Ten miles later came the particularly attractive village of Amberly. Dominating the skyline now were the South Downs, rising up steeply a mile or so ahead, similar to the south-side view of Ditchling Beacon (The Green Monster). But this isn’t anywhere near as tough as that. Just after crossing the River Arun,the climb begins; a fairly gradual ascent over two miles to 460 feet. This is followed by a very rewarding two-mile gradual descent on fast roads down to the town of Arundel. Shortly after leaving Arundel I noticed the unmistakeable aroma of the sea, even though it was not in sight and still over a mile away. Soon I reached Littlehampton. It was just after eleven and the temperature was now well into the twenties.
The thing I noticed about Littlehampton sea-front is that it’s the ‘seaside-iest’ place I have seen in all my extensive travels around the south-east coastline. It had everything – a nice wide promenade, with the sandy beach on one side and a park on the other. Kiosks were selling everything : ice creams, rock, candy-floss, hot dogs. There was crazy golf, a boating lake, shops selling beach goods, amusement rides and a ‘petit train’, as they are known in France. I loved it!
The next stop was Goring-by-Sea, eight miles further on. I stopped to sit on a bench and have an energy gel. The sun was hot! Through Worthing and onto Shoreham, another ten miles further on. Riding through Shoreham I noticed that everyone, bizarrely, was sat in chairs looking inland, away from the beach and sea. Puzzled, I asked someone why. “There’s an airshow”, came the answer. Aha! That made sense. My next scheduled stop was at the hundred-mile mark at Southwick, to the west of Brighton. I stopped at Carats Café Bar, located on a strip of land between the sea and the River Adur. To get there I had to cross some locks.
At the café I had a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. The time was now one o’clock and it was now scorching hot, 26°+. I think it was from about this point onwards when I began to feel the effects of the heat/sun.
Four miles after leaving the café, I was weaving my way slowly through the throngs on the Brighton sea front. Imagine a glorious hot Saturday in the middle of August – it was packed! The crowds thinned out as I approached the marina-end of town. Leaving Brighton the road follows seven miles of up and down terrain as it passes through Saltdean, Peacehaven and on to Newhaven, and it started to take its toll. A breezy easterly headwind today made the whole eighty-mile coastal part of this ride a bit of a challenge. I had been expecting it, but I hadn’t realised how hot it was going to be. The hills, combined with the heat, made this section onto a real grind as I slogged into the wind. It was around about this time when my stomach started to not feel right. I recognised the feeling from a previous ride – seems to be some sort of heat exhaustion. The worst part of it is that it makes drinking liquids almost impossible because it just makes me feel sick.
I started craving a drink of cold milk, which I knew would go down OK. Five miles of flat road through Newhaven and Seaford ended up on a particularly rough unmade road which I had encountered on my previous trip – I must find another way round this road. I wasn’t in the mood for it today but luckily I was offered a brief respite when a family out for the day had managed to get lost while looking for Cuckmere Haven. “You need to turn around and then it’s right at the end and down the hill”. “Thanks”.
At the top of the rough lane I stopped under a shady tree and just stood there hoping the wind would blow stronger to cool me down. If I’d had plain water in my bidons I would have poured it over my head. I pressed on. Down the hill into Cuckmere Haven, I had never seen it this crowded – cars and coaches all over the place. I stopped and asked a group of people if there was a shop. “There’s an ice cream van over there” they offered. “OK, thanks”. That was no good – I needed MILK!
The climb away from Seven Sisters starts at about 10% but doesn’t last long at that gradient. It eases off flat then climbs again more gently towards East Dean. The only trouble is that this is a busy A-road and I was getting distracted by some over-cautious drivers that were not overtaking me, causing frustration to those cars behind. “Come on, overtake, ffs” I would mutter under my breath, as I struggled up the hill. Eventually they did. Following the steep descent into East Dean I turned right towards Birling Gap and saw a lady with some shopping bags. “Excuse me, is there a shop open around here?”. “No, nothing local. What are you after?”. “Milk”, and then for some reason I added “a pint of milk”. She had a think and then said “Well I could get you a glass of milk”. “I can do nothing but accept that offer”, I said, or something equally as stupid. She disappeared into her house and came out a few moments later holding a pint glass of cold milk. Maybe that word ‘pint’ had an effect! “You don’t know how good that looks” I said. She didn’t want to take any money but I insisted, and couldn’t thank her enough. It was just amazing drinking it. Nothing at that point in time could have been better. And milk is one of the best re-hydrators. I drank half and put the rest in my bidon, intending to finish it pretty quickly while it was still cold. I rode away thinking that she had just saved the day!
It really perked me up and I felt no reason to stop at Birling Gap, which was also much busier than I have ever seen it. The three-mile climb to Beachy Head was still tough, being into the wind. But the view over Eastbourne and Pevensey Bay was worth it!
The three-mile descent into Eastbourne helped to cool me down a little. I used a new (to me) cycle path out of Eastbourne – quite a nice route. Maybe I’ll retract that previous statement about Eastbourne being cyclist-unfriendly! By the time I had ridden another ten miles to Bexhill, I was suffering again and gagging for more milk. I should be able to get some at that café in Winchelsea, I thought to myself. The weatherman had said it would be significantly cooler on the coast – WRONG! When I got to Hastings it was >28°C. I just couldn’t go on. I collapsed onto a shady patch of grass just by a wall, to shelter from the sun. I felt crap. I forced half a fruity/nutty energy bar down with some juice. I considered my options. And realised there was only one – carry on! Even the act of getting back on the bike and clipping my pedals in was almost too much effort. Strangely though, once on the bike it’s easy to just keep pedalling away, almost as if in a trance.
Somehow I managed to climb the ridiculously steep first bit of Barley Lane at the eastern end of Hastings. Further up Barley Lane there is a holiday park. “Aha!” I thought. A holiday park must surely have a shop that would surely sell…..Milk! And surely enough they did. And heartily did I gulp down another pint of that heavenly liquid! Again my strength was momentarily restored. But I was dreading the 45 miles I still had to go. Mentally I listed the waypoints: Rye, Appledore, Tenterden, Biddenden, Staplehurst, Marden, home.
Somehow I managed to keep turning the pedals. My legs were feeling fine. It was just the rest of me that was knackered. My head was down whenever I had the chance, my weight slumped on the bars. It started getting dark, but as I headed inland the heat never let up. Luckily I had the wind behind me now. Gradually the waypoints were being ticked off. As the night came down a couple of interesting things happened to liven up the ‘auto-pilot’ state I was in. The first was that I saw a couple of bats flying in front of me. That’s not unusual but one of them stayed a couple of metres right in front of me for several seconds. Another time, silently and from my right swooped something large and dark. An owl flew noiselessly down the road ahead of me. Was it me it was investigating, or maybe after one of those bats? After it had swooped by it veered suddenly up and to the left and ruined its air of stealth as it landed noisily in a tree, disturbing the otherwise peaceful moment. Nearer to home a badger strolled across the road in front of me.
I was still really thirsty. I kept sipping from my bidons but not too much because my stomach didn’t like it. Somehow, the way points did seem to go by quite quickly. As I was nearing the end, I had only one last thing to worry about – Barn Hill. Would I be able to summon the energy required?
Yes, was the answer. I did somehow manage to slalom my way up Barn Hill and then home. I had lots to drink and a couple of slices of bread and then slept.
Garmin kept crashing
Several times on this ride my Garmin crashed and switched itslef off. Luckily I remembered to restart the timer every time I switched it back on again.
Milk is a good drink during ride
I already knew that milk is an excellent recovery drink. It seems to be ideal during the ride too, on hot days.
Air display crash
When I was having my coffee and cake at Southwick, I saw a man looking inland and a small boy saying “there’s lots of smoke, maybe a plane has crashed”. The direction in which they were looking was out of my field of view so I didn’t bother looking and I just forgot about the whole thing. Later, the next day, I heard that a Hawker Hunter taking part in the Shoreham Air Display failed to pull out of a loop and crashed onto a road, killing 11 people. It was just over a mile from where I had been sitting. Bad news!