let's ride the Haywards Heath Howler!
An early Sunday morning start and a minor quandry about what to wear. Would it rain? It's August 1st. The 'Haywards Heath Howler' awaits. I decided if it did infact rain, it would be warm. So don't worry about it. The bike was already in the car to reduce 'faffing', kit bag packed, I'm good to go. Picked up Swazy on the way and about half an hour later we arrrived at Ardingly College, the Start/Finish point for our ride.
With plenty of car parking available, we wondered over to the registration area (being mindful of not wearing cleats in the school hall), received our timing chip, free bike lock (bonza!), some food and a voucher for a cuppa. My number was 1778. Hopefully this was no reference to the number of minutes it was going to take me to complete said 'Howler'. I had not participated in any organised rides so far this year - and Swazy had never rode more than 90 km. Given that we were riding the 'Epic' route - 148 km - it was going to be a real challenge. Brandishing numbers, tie-wraps and maps we returned to the car and got the bikes ready.
Basically the event was being run jointly by ukcyclingevents and wiggle, the on-line retailer. It cost about £22 with 3 food stops and mechanical help available should you require it. There were 3 types of ride - fun, standard and epic, the only differentiation being distance. The cyclists went off in groups of about 15, spaced about 5 minutes apart. All you had to do was follow the signs, though we had a map just in case. Simple. We started at 8.50. Course closed at 16.30. Hopefully we would be home before dark.
I was determined to ride a bit more economically than usual. What has happened in the past is that I blast off, rampage up as many hills as I can and then fade out a bit. On shorter distances - say less than 80 km, this isn't a problem. By the time I start to fatigue I'm back home. However, this ride would be different. Plus it would be pointless because Swazy needed some half decent pacing - we started together so we would finish together.
We were full of beans over the first 30 km. In fact the first food stop seemed to come up quite quickly. We had made good work overhauling all of the riders in our start group and had begun catching others ahead. We had both been taking on fluids and all was well. A couple of cheeky climbs had been tackled, but nothing to write home about. It definitely helped having other riders in our sights most of the time. The Beacon was next though. This was the hill that obviously caught your eye, but I also knew that the High Weald would provide a stern test. We rode South, the Downs looming ahead of us. The route split twice, separating the fun and the standard riders with the 'epic' challengers. My only criticism here was that the signage should have been larger at these split points. What happened was cyclists were staring at the signs and not the road when it came to these junctions and that might have caused an accident. We cut through Ditchling and headed up the beacon. Having overtaken a number of fellow cyclists, it was my turn to be on the receiving end. Very lithe, thin men over-took me on the way to the second rest point at the summit. The Beacon is not that bad - but it is a bit gritty and this was the second time we had climbed it in 3 days. Let's say we were both pleased to reach the top and refill our water bottles. Some great bikes were parked there. After a few minutes we headed back down and in the vague direction of Lewes. Herein lies my only other minor gripe - that this middle section was designed more with mileage in mind than anything else. It involved some back-tracking and 'almost' loops that eventually took us eastwards towards Lewes.
So at the halfway point we were feeling ok. We were heading North now, in the vicinity of Chailey, Newick and Nutley, and still talking to each other. The terrain was undulating, providing nothing unexpected. We ascended Dane Hill and made our way to Ashdown Forest. It was beginning to get a bit spicy in the legs department. That, combined with the added excitement of the optional livestock collision made for an interesting few minutes (cows with horns + sheep = potential problems). We skirted past Crowborough and went through Hartfield. Forest Row came and went. (Parish Council note), the road surface through that town is terrible. To say it was a slog up to the final feed station at Weir Wood would be a serious underestimate. It was leg sapping. There was a photographer at the side of the road and the best I could do was a grimace. But it was all worth while. The descent from this top was fantastic - 75 km +, in two sections. Really fast. From here we went towards East Grinstead and then Kingscote where we climbed yet again - this time past the very grand Gravetye Manor House. West Hoathley followed and we were close to home. Another exciting descent later and one final cheeky climb we were on the road to Ardingly. We had barely seen any riders since the bottom of the beacon - and the peloton that caught us when we were near Plumpton didn't catch us again. (I was pleased about that).
I'll level with you. I was pleased to get off the saddle. Swazy had made a fine job of the ride and I felt ok. Longest ride of the year for us. It had shown me where I need to improve for the Etape Hibernia later this month. There were massage facilities when we arrived back off the college and the dude who had a laugh at my expense earlier that day was also there, checking if we had enjoyed ourselves. We answered in the affirmative. If there was someone driving badly around the roads of East Sussex at about 16.00 on Sunday 1st August that was probably me. I think the lack of food was playing with my decision making! Other than it it was a really good day. Great effort from ukcyclingevents.co.uk and I would definitely particpate in another event....I'm thinking maybe the New Forest ride on the 3rd October for instance....