Forest Row Bike Club
Hill Climb (the one left over from last year): 12 November
Well, early on during this week’s ride, I got an ear-bashing from David about not having done a ride report for absolutely ages. Hence, here I am sitting in a draughty loft trying to get back into his good books again.
Now, despite it being mid-November, in common with lots of other people I still have roses, fuschias and geraniums in bloom in my garden, along with grass which needs cutting again. Therefore, whilst long trousers and sleeves, although thin, were in order, I still could do without gloves. And as I rode through East Grinstead towards the Forest Way, I marvelled at the pale sunshine trying to break through. Just at the beginning of the Way I happened upon Christa and David. “How lovely to see one of you!”, I offered, and David gallantly acknowledged that I must be referring to Christa. We exchanged our greetings, and having enquired how Christa had been since I last saw her, (ages), as soon as she began to reply, I stopped to assist an old bloke who was doing some repairs to his bike. That was no old bloke, that was new member of a couple of weeks, Gordon Franklin. He was in the process of tightening up his handlebars which he had a few moments before almost taken a nose dive over, as they swivelled around in their stem. Whilst this was going on, Zoë fairly whizzed by us, and when Gordon had got his bars sorted, it took us the whole way to Forest Row to catch her up.
Outside the bike shop were gathered, eventually, Ron, Martha, Steve, Brian, Jane, then Christa and Dave, Zoë, then Gordon and me. Hilary was already there too, but had kindly come along to tell us that she had thought of a marvellous excuse how to miss the Hill Climb 2005, (which was taking place in lieu of the one we didn’t have last year, geddit?). Her daughter had phoned to ask her to meet her in Lewes, and she was going to ride there to meet her for a few hours, and try to get back before dark. Feeble! Oh well, some people are just not committed. (And others should be!). So we bid her goodbye, through collectively gritted teeth, as she pedalled off looking rather pleased with herself.
Ron had told me previously that he had devised a cunning plan so that everyone would have an equal chance of winning last year’s Hill Climb. “How can it be?”, I thought. He announced that everyone would have to choose a time that they thought they would take to complete the climb up Priory Road to the Goat Crossroads, and the one who guessed closest to their actual time would be the winner. Drat!!! All that training for nothing! Having all guessed our times, with the only clue being that the distance to the top is 2 miles, Steve was sent off first, with the equipment to time us all in. The rest of us followed at 1 minute intervals, with Ron bringing up the rear. Now, as those of us who did it will know, 2 miles seems a heck of a lot further during a hill climb than it does poodling along chatting, so some minutes later at the top, we were all begging each other to give us the kiss of life, and all being refused, as we tried to suck the rarefied air into our respective lungs.
When we were at last able to, we saddled up and made our way off towards our destination, the café in the garden centre at the top of the Ashdown Forest. Ron had all the information he needed to work out the Hill Climb winner and runner-up, but wouldn’t let on yet. We turned right before Wych Cross, zoomed down the hill and across the water splash at the bottom, and struggled up the other side. David and Zoë witnessed a daft little dog attacking a massive horse. It reared up on its hind legs, and was expertly controlled by the lady rider. (The horse, stoopid, not the dog). Good job too, as David reckoned if he’d been any closer, he’d have been kicked into Kingdom Come.
That potential disaster avoided, we ploughed on through Coleman’s Hatch, where Jane realised she could have met us coming through, thus avoiding the punishing Hill Climb. Too late, Jane. Ha ha….
What timing! Just approaching the thinned-out air at the summit of the Ashdown Forest, I realised it was on the brink of 11 o’clock. Remembrance Sunday. As we approached the Friends car park, we noticed it was crammed full of cars, and all along the roadside too. We all stopped, and one of us, I can’t remember who, pointed out that some way into the forest south of the road, a Lancaster bomber had crashed during the second world war, and each Remembrance Sunday there was a ceremony held there. Indeed, there were lots of people making their way across the common towards the spot, and just to the north of us was a Tiger Moth biplane circling in the sky, awaiting, no doubt, a call to overfly the spot. Sure enough, a few moments later, it turned, flew lower, right past us all, and executed several turns over the spot where the service was taking place, before disappearing over the horizon. Supposedly, it had dropped hundreds of (biodegradable) poppies over the site, but my eyes are not what they once were. A poignant moment.
And so to the garden centre. Inside, I couldn’t help but notice that there were oodles of trendy young ladies all working away there, and thought (aloud, unfortunately), that if I were only 40 years younger….., before being a) pinched severely in the arm by Christa, and b) berated by Martha and Jane, who were all just behind me [and c) sniggered at by said young ladies - Ed]. I gave up looking in the mirror years ago, so perhaps I should do it again once in a while, so I could in future avoid making an arse of myself at moments like this.
Seated outside, and suitably admonished, my mobile phone went. Gordon pleaded “Where are you all?”. When told where we would all be stopping, he had only heard ‘Duddleswell’, and was at that moment sitting all alone in the very nice café which was, unfortunately, half a mile further on. He received a suitably loud cheer when he sheepishly arrived a few minutes later.
The moment of truth then arrived. Ron had worked out the final scores for the Hill Climb. I won’t dwell on it, because I didn’t win, but I am delighted to announce that the lovely Jane won the 1st. prize with a time astonishingly close to her guessed time, namely within 3 seconds!! Well done her. Second, only just a little bit adrift, was the equally lovely Martha. Well done her too. Sexism, I call it. But no matter, all of us men kept our composure and congratulated them both. And still do!!!
Tea and cakes scoffed, winners’ prizes distributed, we plodded off up the hill towards home. Ron stated that we were going via Hartfield and the Forest Way. “OK”, said Brian to me, “You follow me down the hill, take a brief detour to my house, I’ll give you a couple of magazines [No, not that sort], and you’ll be able to catch them all up as they get to Hartfield”. Spiffing idea. Detour to Brian’s, magazines in pocket, pedal like mad to catch everyone by Hartfield, then, er, no-one. Oh, I get it, a grand plot. We all go the other way and John cycles home on his own. What a sucker! OK, I fell for it.
Revenge is sweet, however, ‘cos at the exact moment that I arrived in Forest Way, who should I encounter coming the other way but Ron, Gordon, Zoë, Christa and David, who made such a good job of being pleased to see me, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d all been to R.A.D.A. That’s how we all ended up in the coffee shop having a last warm up before we went home.
Don was there to meet us too, having earlier been doing his duty at a Remembrance Day service. So it was that as we left, Christa drove the car to East Grinstead while Don rode Christa’s bike there, accompanied by David and myself. Don had to adjust Christa’s saddle somewhat, though, and shortly afterwards I noticed that it must have been a little, how shall I put it?, uncomfortable, being at approximately 30º from a safe angle. But Don, being made of sterner stuff than me, made it all the way to East Grinstead without his eyes watering.
Finally, we three stopped at the East Grinstead War Memorial to look at the tributes which had been laid there earlier, and swapped stories that we’d heard from those who’d really been there at the time. Sometimes it feels a real privilege to be alive.
Thanks again, FRBC.
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