Sunday, 2 October 2011

A (mini) Adventure In My Own Back Yard

With some new outdoors kit to try out, and as the race season limps to a close (or as I limp to the close of the race season), Grace and I loaded up our bikes late Saturday afternoon and set off to try out our new equipment.

The kit in question was some new bike luggage from Eric at Revelate Designs and a teeny-tiny tent, acquired with the intention of some longer, multi-day rides over the winter. This a selection of kit I have collected together, daydreaming of some bigger adventures and it also seems like a natural progression for my riding as well as being something I've hankered after trying for a while. Anyway, there were a lot of new things to try so a not too long, close to home, plan was hatched. No-one wants to be stuck half way up a mountain in the rain at night wondering how to pitch their tent for the first time while the weather meanwhile blows a gale.

The kit had sat idle for several weeks as we raced at SITS, the Brighton BigDog, then there was a Big Peak District trip, some annual holidaying to be done after which a tired version of me limped from SSUK to the MaXx Exposure before, finally, this weekend, I had a weekend both at home and without a race. I couldn't wait!

Weekend tasks completed, we loaded our bikes with tent, sleeping bags, food, stove and running kit. Yes, running kit. Grace had entered a 10k run on Sunday morning around Friston Forest, so rather than drive over the morning before this interpreted by us as presenting the perfect opportunity to ride out of town, whirl around some singletrack with the plan of throwing up the tent somewhere above the forest to wake up near the race start before riding back home on Sunday afternoon.
Grace, bars and bag loaded up, adventuring out into the night

By the time we set off, the sun was lowering in the sky. We popped up onto the trails and started off on some wider tracks and were surprised how little the carefully packed luggage affected the handling. Thoughts of "secret singletrack" entered our heads but a bit of style lifting and a couple of stiff climbs soon changed our minds! We eventually wound our way onto the South Downs Way
Rob, tent & stove in hot pursuit

By now it was definitely night and we put our heads down set out East towards Friston, grins as wide as barn doors on our faces. We may have only been a few miles away from home, but this was something new. It was Saturday night, we had everything we needed until Monday morning attached to us or our bikes and we needed to be nowhere by no time in particular and the whole of the Downs were ours. The fabulousness of the ride was confirmed when we saw our first badger of the night and we slowed to let him scurry away in peace.

Right, time to set up house

The next couple of hours were over in a flash, punctuated by a second badger and a troupe of scouts, before we slowly realised we hadn't really eaten anything and it was well past tea time. Firle Beacon approached and it seemed like the perfect place to wake up in the morning. We dropped off the trail, out of sight and, once the beer was located, in a traditional division of labour, I set about erecting the tent while Grace set about cooking dinner.

Yup, that's definitely Scotch-Brite on the guy ropes then!
The chef, hard at work
Fit for a king

With the tent erected, a decadent dinner of chilli and flatbreads was scoffed hungrily and washed down with beers with a view of Newhaven by night and the channel to the South, the lights and flat landscape of the Sussex & Kent Weald to the North and a brilliant skyscape in the cloud free sky above us. By the time this was all taken in, it was time for an eagerly awaited bedtime.

Woken by sunrise we were treated to something very special. I emerged from the tent to find a blood orange sun appearing over the horizon with an inversion visible in front of it, aided by the Cuckmere river which was winding its way in the direction of our morning's travels
Not a bad view, first thing in the morning
To complete the morning, coffee on the go
All packed and ready to go again.
Food now in me, not my rucksack!
Bleary eyed we got some coffee on the go and, to compete with the decadence of the previous evening's dinner, a breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolate was consumed to sunrise. We were two happy riders. Once we'd eaten we packed far quicker and more efficiently than the previous evening's first attempt, the purpose of the trip: to get used to the new kit, already proving a success and we'd only identified a couple of small tweaks necessary before a "proper" adventure could be undertaken with good confidence in and familiarity with our kit.

Ready to go & we were definitely having fun:
A huge big smile for what was very early on a Sunday morning :-)
We rolled down our downhill and river side route to Friston Forest, and passed another couple of bikepackers and a walker packing up and making their way back to the main SDW trail who had clearly had the same idea as us. We arrived in time for Grace to sign on for the race and before I knew it it was time for the start. I'm not a runner so, what with it being Sunday I, appropriately, read the paper and did the crossword. Grace came back 7th woman finisher and to celebrate we got the stove out and had a cup of tea.
Setting out home for the final leg

Bikes packed up once more we headed out of the Forest and to Alfriston to re-stock with food for the return home. We crefully selected two large pieces of freshly made gala pie from the general stores before heading across the road to refuel on on ice cream and ginger beer in the sunshine. Bliss.

Once under way, a more sedate pace was taken as we'd been out for a while and the sun was really starting to get a heat on, the bike computer read a heady 31°C. We headed parallel to the Downs, keeping off the by now inevitably heaving SDW main trail and were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Downs from below plus miles of riding all to ourselves. Reality kicked in at Firle Bostal. We were going to have to cross the Downs at some point, and when better than a route straight up the side. At least it was tarmaced. We spotted some other riders part way up and the next few minutes were given over to our competitive nature and we made sure they were reeled in and over taken before the top, leaving only a few metres of pedalling left to think about how tired our legs were by now. We hit the SDW once more and rolled though the sunshine for a short while before finally stopping for a late lunch above Southease and a view up and down the River Ouse.
 Ouse valley & Lunch: Pie, crisps and cake. Probably what Lance eats too.
On the final stretch, just before we hit the last meaningful climb of the trip, we hit upon an unexpected sign that added to the sense of adventure. A large post marked the Greenwich Meridian, which we were crossing on our travels.
The Greenwich Meridian, as crossed by Rob Dean + a lot of luggage
By the time we'd got ourselves back to the outskirts of town and dropped down to the seafront we were spent. We span along the front, blissfully content in our adventure and planned our next trips and goals for the coming year. The trip had been a success and we'd definitely had an adventure, all be it a mini one, without venturing too far from home, with the luxury of being able to ride to and from our own front door. 

What a brilliant way to spend a sunny weekend in October.

A mini-adventure mapped out in my own back yard

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