Gosh hasn't the weather been fun here in the UK for a few weeks? Last night was especially good; heavy rain and an howling gale. Sleep wasn't an option. In the end we all drifted off to a broken sleep, and expected to wake up to utter chaos. All was calm. One of those sunny with heavy rain days we get. There was no plan to go out, it being a family Saturday, but by mid afternoon we were all bored at home, so it seemed fitting that at least one member of the family do something, so off out I went. Not far off dusk, so lights fitted, food packed.
Didn't fancy the Box Hill route. Kind of figured all the rain would make it a muddy mess, and the multiple storms would mean trail debris. So, Caterham it was then. Now anybody who knows the area, but who has been away for some time, would know instinctively that this is not a route to be chosen lightly. If the Box Hill route is likely to be muddy, then Route 21 to Caterham is likely to be under water. As indeed it proved to be. Shown below are the Dragonfly Lakes, and yes, that is the path. I didn't go out of my way to find this; this is what we have to live with 2014 style. The path goes from where I'm standing to just in front of the building. The actual cycle route, which goes off to the right, was worse. Route 21 runs parallel to a stream, which overflows with run off from the North Downs. That was un-passable today, so I had to make my way through this. Well I didn't; for sure I could have back-tracked a few miles, but who does that? So right at the start of the ride my feet got wet. Hard not to when the water is up to your knees for 100m. Really this mountain biking mallarky is an hard sell mid winter here in the UK.
So, where exactly is the footpath then?
For the geologists amongst you, the Dragonfly Lakes are a lovely example of how the Thames Valley floods out. You can see the North Downs off in the distance, and living here for a spell you learn that when they get wet and saturated, a little time later these lakes flood out. You just know deep inside. Rain last week? Lets go look at the flooded lakes this week then! This happens on a much grander scale heading North. Looking at my photograph below, which essentially shows the Thames Valley, you get a hint of the land falling away towards London. All the land between here and there gets saturated. Where does it eventually go?
During the week I'd reluctantly fitted new transmission to my PACE RC303. The gears slipped pretty much constantly on rides out, which spoilt things. Hard to have fun when in the granny ring all the time. Yet with near constant storms rolling in it didn't seem clever to put new stuff on. Some things, though, can go too far so £100 later and a bit of spannering [it's actually really, really easy to change everything at home in under ten minutes - give it a go people] the transmission was all new and shiny bright. Naturally the new chain wouldn't quite mesh on the ride. It worked 100%, gears changed fine, no rubbing, no slip but I always find that until a chain realises that it's life from now on is going to be shit, there's always a reluctance to run smoothly without the odd grumble. It's just a feeling, and most people would ride through it, but I'm a sensitive soul.
Looks like another storm rolling through.
Getting to Gravelly Hill proved fun. Not only was the trail flooded out in sections, but the water table where it wasn't flooded out was very, very close to the surface. Mud was the order of the day, and this side of Surrey there is a bit more clay, a bit less sand in the mix on the up-slopes. Happily spinning away, day dreaming, all of a sudden one tyre would lose traction and we'd rotate through more than ninety degrees. On one big spin I ended up facing the opposite way, which was slightly alarming. Hence the ride proved to be harder physically than it had a right to be. A lot of effort was wasted in wheel-spins, both the big, obvious ones but also the energy sapping micro-managed ones. And yes, the Maxxis Aspen tyre is still fitted yet now, past mid-winter in our wettest winter for 250 years. I'd say that in these conditions you'd have to have a really specialised tyre to find any sort of grip. Perhaps a narrow 1.5" with massive knobblies would do? Anything else just will not. For some odd reason I'm enjoying the challenge associated with use of this tyre. Any fool can climb with spikes, but try the same ride with near slick tyres. Hmm, next winter on a cyclo cross bike?
The Maxxis Aspen still isn't a mud tyre. When will I learn!
Rather strange vertical reflection from the Shard.
It was a funny ride, and not one to sell mountain biking to anybody. There were no highs; no fast downhills, no swooping singletrack, indeed no flow other than a watery one at all. For the seasoned mountain biker though it was still nice to be out and about. You get an itch, a feeling that your getting fat and idle, or missing out on something when you don't go out. For sure today I didn't find an huge amount to be joyful about, more a confirmation of what I knew would be out there in the wilds of East Surrey. The bonus if there was one, was a lack of tree debris - it does get a little tiresome cutting back branches, or scrambling with your bike through whole tree tops. You know what though? Wouldn't have missed it for anything. Choice between stopping at home and doing nowt, or mincing about on water soaked trails fighting traction and ruining my new transmission? Well.....