Saturday 22 June 2013

The Longest Day = Do something silly

For several years I've had a hankering to do a "Longest Day" ride on June 21st, the Summer Solstice. I normally remember this around June 22nd so it's never actually happened. This year I somehow thought of it a good four days before the day so I had a fair chance of the ride taking place.

In my imagination I wanted a clear, warm sunny evening, an off-road ride where I'd be somewhere high up as the sun set. I could start after work - maybe about 6pm - and ride through sunset to do some real Summer night riding. There would be clear skies and a bright moon and that long lustrous twilight that you only get as a golden sun dips below the horizon.

Wow. Poetic. I'd also need another idiot to join me.

"Hey Darren, fancy a long ride after work on Friday? Oh, you're flying back from San Francisco that afternoon? Ah. OK, sure".

That was a yes then. The plan was set. All that needed to happen was good weather, flights to be on time and both of us still having the motivation to ride for four hours after long tiring days. Of course, the weather was the main risk - we've not been blessed with summer the past few years so the chances of that were slim.

Thursday, I checked the forecast. Warmish, maybe showers, maybe sun, maybe cloud. These weathermen like to hedge their bets. The one promising sign was the wind - from the West. My planned route took us out due East before looping back. A tailwind blowing us home would be most excellent.

Friday, I checked my email. Something had arrived overnight from Darren in the USA. He was just boarding the plane and still up for the ride. Every better news was the forecast had clarified, and clarified in a good way. 18C, mainly sunny with a magical tailwind.

Friday, 2pm. Darren was off the plane, and still keen to ride. Jet lag? Where we were going, we don't need jet lag.

Friday, 6pm. "Is Darren coming out to play?"

Of course, Darren was still doing work calls. There was twenty minutes of getting changed, filling bottles, fitting lights and generalised faffing and finally we were off.

The first half of the ride was only memorable in that it seemed to go on for ages. Riding mountain bikes on the road into a headwind for 35km doesn't excite me. At least Darren let me go in front for most of it, he's told me that the person riding in the wind gets extra oxygen and therefore it's easier for them. Thanks Darren!

After 90 minutes or so we reached the turn - the junction with the Ridgeway. Known as "Britains oldest road" it's been in use for over 5000 years. Hopefully it would hold out for another three hours. At the trail we started on the photos. I took one of Darren... he took one of me.

It was that kind of evening. We started riding and soon discovered that the ground was bone dry, and as it is chalk based, it was like riding on concrete. The wind caught us and we were rolling along at an easy 18 mph. Uphill. We stopped for pictures.

And sometimes didn't stop for pictures.

We stopped for snacks, and kept one eye on the sun.

By 9.15pm we were 60km into the ride and there were distinct signs of orange around. Time for more pictures.

Sleeping bike
Magazine cover star
Purple grass
 We were even being followed by the shadow bikers. Always a good sign.

Right hand one looks cool.
Right, pictures done. 20km to go, and probably an hour of riding. Time to get going again. We hammered along as fast as our tired legs could take us, losing height as we dropped off the ridge.The trail turned from wide and open to narrow, overgrown and rutted. Concentrate, concentrate was our mantra as we balanced speed against the need to stay on target, in the eight inch wide channel. Now the sun was down we fired up the lights as we entered the trees, roots casting shadows like pythons, dips in the trail deepening in the gloom. By now, Darren was feeling the effects of being awake for 30 hours or so and was starting to bounce off the sides of the track. Not far now... only a few more kms.

Glorious road. Rear lights on, we could relax slightly. Talk turned to recovery drinks. Cider in particular.

10.30pm. Back at Darren's house. Four hours including stops, 80km.