Solo night riding in the Surrey Hills.

Now Dear Reader you know that I'm partial to a bit of night riding. Cold, clear air, trails free of traffic, go where I like kind of rides. It's all quite pleasant really, if a little Billy No Mates style sometimes. However this weekend was just a step too far. Saturday I was busy all day doing errands here and there, and X-Factor was on the telly again, so an evening spin out was called for. It was a really nice night to be out; calm, clear and not at all cold. Went for an odd pootle past where George Best used to live and then a spin around Banstead and Headley Heaths. All very quiet with not a soul about. A nice ride but uneventful.

Sunday, normally a day time ride over to Box Hill. Managed to back myself into a corner and do a crummy Christmas sales event mid-day - stood in an hall for three hours trying to sell gnar mountain bike t-shirts to five year olds. That was tough, verging on impossible, but there you go. The free bacon sarnies were appreciated though, and I had a nice chat with a few people. Anyway, had yard chores to do at home, so once again I didn't get out until it had been dark for ages. Bike still set up with lights, gear still by the back door, so off I went. Saturday night was quite pleasant route wise, so why not do a lazy variation on that?

The why not is deja vu that's why. All a bit "have I not done this before?" style in the end. It was pleasant, I didn't do the exact same route, but it was all very, very similar so all a bit, well, boring really. Plus there was the chance that my lights wouldn't last as I'd not bothered to charge them up, so the ride was done on the low power setting. This actually worked, luckily as the night was quite bright but it was a little stupid all the same. Out for a twenty mile night ride with batteries less than one quarter charged? Yikes. Sure I got something out of the ride; the night was very clear, colder than previously, so once in a dark place the views to the heavens were fantastic. Standing in the middle of nowhere, a wide open space [and yes, you can find such places within the M25] with my condensing breath being blown around whilst star gazing was quite awesome really.

Sure, I'm meant to make every ride sound interesting but quite frankly sometimes they are not. They're just rides out. Saturday was OK, although tinged with the feeling that I was getting out for the sake of getting out. Could have stopped in and watched telly with the family. Sunday was definitely out for the sake of it, trying to make something of the weekend other than it being a bit boring. Really I should have just given in, stacked the fire up with wood, and spent two hours annoying the children.

Now I don't think the issue with Sunday's ride was being solo, or doing a very similar route. I think the issue was with the lack of stimulus during the ride. Cutting under the M25 and heading to the Mogador Pig Trap leads one down some very quite bits of bridleway indeed. It's essentially farmland, with the trail running through big, exposed fields. During the day you get what passes for Big Sky here in Surrey, so there are bonus view features. But normally at night the fun is served up as a blustery cold wind that takes your breath away given how exposed the place is. This is often the coldest part of Surrey and there's fun to be had riding in such elemental conditions, where any exposed skin feels initially on fire followed quickly by sheer numbness. I like that; it makes me feel alive. Last night there was no proper wind, no proper cold, not even a dampness to the air. Being in fields there were no scary wood noises, just quiet darkness. There was also a lack of animals, so no deer, badgers, foxes, owls or bats popping out unexpectedly to play trail chicken with me. There weren't even any people. In a nutshell there was nothing but me, my bike, and the trail. I didn't even pass a pub. It's hard to deal with such solitude two night's running.

Actually I'm missing one big point; farm machinery. I'd forgotten The Annoyance. Which was? 200m of gooey sloppy mud laid down the road for my enjoyment. Full road width and 15cm deep, it was hard to avoid. I realise tractors get muddy, so some will fall off, but this was ridiculous, as if they'd been spreading it on the roads to an even thickness. No way could a car have gotten through. I ended up, on two dry rides, absolutely splattered. OK it's the countryside, what do I expect? But really it was a bit much, and I can't even see how a farmer would live with it as he'd surrounded his house with slop. Bet his wife wasn't too amused.

It is, however, an experience to ride at night and you Dear Reader should not be put off. Things are different, often bizarrely so. Near the Pig Trap there's a bit of gravel track that runs down to a puddle of water, then curves upwards sharply. With my lights on the puddle looks beyond black, just a hole to infinity. But night riding you often lose all sense of what is up or what is down. You can have no idea whether you are riding up hill, along the flat, or speeding down something. It's only fleeting as you soon adjust, but fleeting is enough. So this puddle, following a bit of downward trail, well it looks as though it is hanging vertically in the air. You know it's a puddle, you know it's on level ground, so why does it just hang there? Both nights I got caught by this phenomenon, both nights I was slightly disconcerted by this hanging body of blackness.

That's why you go night riding, and that's why people bang on about it being different. Just don't do it with almost completely flat batteries.