Forest Row Bike Club

Ride Report

Staplefield - 24th May 2009

It was a fine, early summer's morning. Two days beforehand I'd done a not exactly storming, but competent ride to the top of the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees (just thought I'd drop that in), so today, Priory Road scared me not at all. And very soon after arriving at the bike shop, Ron, Gordon, Jane, Don, Graham, Kate, Zoë, Steve, Martha and myself began our way up that very road.

I heard more than once, Don being congratulated for something or the other, and when I asked him why, he modestly replied 'Just for being me!'. It turned out that Don had yet again completed the East Grinstead Triathlon the week before, and had shaved 10 minutes off his previous time. Superb! I added my congratulations and tried to hide my envy. I remember Don recounting how he was on the finishing straight some 3 years ago, I think, and he decided that it was time to throw in the towel. That would be his last. But just then, crowds of people began to cheer him in, and he threw his arms in the air feeling like a gold medal Olympian. So he keeps on.

Congratulations to Jane too, who also completed her first EGT, and in just under 2 hours too. She told me about how difficult it had been to motivate herself each time for the training, and to get out of bed early on that morning, but how good it had felt to complete the race in the dry and be back home before the unfortunate later runners had to start in the pouring rain.

And then we were at the top of Goat Cross before I'd even been able to mention my epic ride to the summit of the Tourmalet. Oh sorry, did I mention that?

As is customary for me of late, I am not entirely sure of the route we took from there. I seem to remember the region of Horsted Keynes, although not distinctly, and it is a bit worrying that I do recall that there is rather a nice looking home for the elderly there. (we tried to book you a place, but the other residents complained, Sorry - Ed) Spooky. I can, however, envisage the zoom down to Ardingly reservoir and the stiff climb up the other side.

Our itinerary (5 syllable word) was Staplefield etc., (the clue's in the title), and so where did Ron take us? Yes, Balcombe. Now don't get me wrong, I think that the tea rooms at Balcombe is one of the finer stops one can make on a bike. I just think the ride should have been called Balcombe etc. However, the ladies arrived in a haze of perspiration, and the men in a fug of unadulterated sweat, except me who is accustomed to riding in the Pyrenees, although I don't like to mention that. The sun was fairly beating down by now, and we all stood menacingly close to an elderly lady occupying an outside table until it dawned on her that maybe she had finished and she ought to go home. 'And about time too', we amiably called after her as we sat down to enhance our suntans. All except Ron, Steve and Gordon who sat inside because the couple on the adjacent other outside table selfishly stayed there to finish their lunch. Some people! Tea or coffee and toasted tea cakes all round, and then off once more, replenished. Down a short slope, across the main road and then a longish climb to the water tower. A short breather to regroup. When all had arrived, Ron announced that that was his lot for today, as he was on dog duties. Gordon and Jane had to get back too, so the three of them made their excuses and left, amongst farewells from the seven remaining intrepids.

Graham had thus been nominated to continue leading the ride, but without prior notice had understandably neglected to bring any maps. Foolishly he asked me for some assistance as to the direction we might take from there, and almost immediately got bored by my humming and hah-ing, thereafter doing a sterling job leading us all. We were soon pelting down a very long descent, although on a pretty poor road surface, made worse by the fact that we kept hurtling from sunlight into shade and out again, repeatedly just missing potholes and other obstacles as our eyes took time to adjust to the light levels. We all emerged pretty much in one piece in Staplefield. Just then I noticed that I had almost squashed a beautiful dragonfly which was unwisely sitting in the middle of the road. I stopped to pick it up, and marvelled at the iridescence of it's body, a bit like mine (not!). I carried it in a cupped hand, trying to catch the others to show them, but I only managed to catch Steve. I'm glad I did, because he knew a fair bit about dragonflies. He told me that before they hatch out into this little fella, they spend three years maturing in the bottom of a pond. He reckoned that this one had probably recently hatched, as this was the right time of year for them. We both had a good look at the little chap, and then it flew away to land on a blade of grass. Then off we pedalled to catch up the others and embarked on a fair-sized loop through Slaugham, to Hammer Pond, thence right into Grouse Lane, aptly named, as it climbs relentlessly to its end at Pease Pottage. Here we turned right onto a longish road which used to be the main route to Brighton, but is now reduced to a parallel road to the big dual carriageway to that town. No matter, it is here that I felt a surge of energy and crept away to claim the Handcross sign in a very un-childish way from the hapless Graham. Turning left at the roundabout, having waited for an appreciable time for him to catch up, I again piled on the pressure, tearing past the main entrance to High Beeches to nip in the back way and join the shortish queue to be served. Imagine my delight when Graham eventually arrived to explain that when he'd seen me pass the entrance, he had stopped to phone me and prevent me going over the horizon. In any case, I had got no further towards being served as the service is always execrably slow there.

Having finally placed our orders, we carried a couple of tables from the shade into the sun, together with enough chairs for us all, and we sat in the walled garden surrounded by various foliage and birdsong, and ate and drank handsomely. It was during this interlude that I learned of a couple of recent additions to the English language. Look away until the end of the paragraph if you are offended by lewd or sexist terminology. Firstly, 'nagivate', ie how your female partner directs you whilst you are driving. Secondly, 'testiculate', to throw your arms around whilst talking b******s. I did warn you.........

Maybe I'll add something that you may think can be applied to me after that. Q. What is worse than to be gone, but not forgotten? A. To be forgotten, but not gone........

Time to emerge once more. Aching bones came to life, legs were thrown over crossbars and we were off. And immediately we stopped again. Kate's back tyre was flat, but in a jiffy it was mended and pumped up, and off we all went again. And then stopped. Martha's front brake was rubbing, and she complained that she had been pedalling with the brake rubbing all day so far. No wonder she is getting so strong. I was tempted to tighten it more, but the chivalrous Graham adjusted it perfectly with no more problems.

It was about this time that Martha stopped to make a mobile phone call. 'Yes, please hang out my washing. You know my pink t-shirt? Well, hang it upside-down with two pegs.' She then whispered something else, but wouldn't tell us what it was. I rather fancy it involved other items of clothing, but will stop now lest I get a name as a dirty old man.

I was no help to Graham in the 'direction-back-to-Forest-Row-without-going-on-any-main-roads' department, so he bequeathed the task to Kate, who admirably aimed us all at the end of the windy lane from the tea rooms, then right and left up Back Lane, onto the snappily-named B2110 where I powered away in a very un-juvenile way to claim the Turners Hill sign. Thence right and left to the Selsfield water tower, which I hadn't seen close up before, although I'd passed it often enough. Kate knows her way around.

Riding along sedately enough, it gradually came to me that the West Hoathly sign wasn't far ahead, but Graham was in front, and out of sight. I chased gamely, but he beat me fair and square, (don't tell him that), but overtaking him just past it, I powered on towards the Sharpthorne sign. Looking over my shoulder and seeing nobody, I slowed down with a smug look on my face, which was erased as Graham appeared at 100mph from nowhere and took that sign too. How infantile!

That long descent from Goat Cross was next, and with the exception of Don, who decided to go straight home, we all rolled down towards the expectation of a large coffee at Java and Jazz. Unhappily, it was just closing, but Martha enticed us all to The Swan instead. Sadly, all the tables were in the shade, and the sun-soaked ones at The Chequers across the road were all occupied. However, glasses of beer all round took our minds off the chill for a while. Soon the alcohol began to take its toll, and I noticed that after a couple of pints, everyone else started to sound less sensible than ever. Giggling abounded. I had to put a stop to that and throw them out.

So, Martha wobbled her way home to prepare the evening meal for the Coolings, and the rest of us dispersed to our respective homes. Another memorable day........

John.


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