South Downs Double (SDD) Attempt – What Happened?

18 08 2010

Good question, so what did happen?

I blogged about my reasons for wanting to ride the South Downs Double (SDD) back in April but instead I ended up doing a 243 road ride from Birmingham to Kent on my fixie. But last Friday, Friday the 13th no less, things came together and I was able to have a go.

The South Downs Double is a 200 mile double crossing of the South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne and back to Winchester. My goal was to do it unsupported in under 24 hours. This meas I would have to carry all my food, tools, spares, and find my own water en-route. I’m not sure how many people have done this unsupported in under 24 hours, but I do know that 12 have managed it in under 24 hours and are therefore members of the South Downs Double Club. I hoped to be the 13th.

I suppose planning started back in August 2008 when I first rode the route with Simon, I was learning the route. Rachel was on a visit to Berlin with her Dad in the week before and this gave me a few evenings for pure unadulterated fettling, but, as I would later learn, I had overlooked something. I cleaned the bike, oiled the chain, bagged up energy drink, cereal bars and made a stack of sandwiches. I even went to the effort of calculating how many calories I would need to ensure that I would not pack too much food. Bit sad really, but do you know how many calories there are in a cheese sandwich? Thought not. Well mind had 375.

Calorie calculations

The plan was simple, catch a train from Birmingham to Winchester. I was due to arrive at 12.30pm. Faff for 30 minutes and set of towards Eastbourne at 1pm. Arrive at Paradise Drive, Eastbourne before 1am, and head back towards Winchester to arrive by 1pm Saturday. Catch a train back to Birmingham and head to a friends leaving party for beer. I didn’t have a GPS tracking device so I would tweet my location whenever I stopped for water. Simple!

So on Friday 13th I was stood in front of King Alfred’s statue in Winchester waiting for 13.00 to arrive hoping to be the 13th person to make the journey in under 24 hours. Think I was a bit nervous about all the 13’s.

Me start of SDD

At 1pm the rain started and of I went. I can’t remember too much for the first hour, a mother and daughter by a gate, ran over their water bottle, happy walkers, a guy saying something about bikes, rain stopping, going the wrong way for a couple of minutes, the pub with camping in the garden and then Old Winchester Hill. This is where the ride starts for me. It’s the first real hill on the route so things slow down a little and I started to settled down a little. I pass Whitewool Farm where we camped two years ago and quickly found myself climbing up Salt Hill and past the Sustainability Center (should go there sometime). Heading towards Buster Hill the rain started again and I get a proper soaking! Before long I was weaving through the trails of the Queen Elizabeth County Park. I’d made it there in a little over 1 1/2 hours, I was going well. The next section too Cocking provides the first real sight of the downs, the steep slopes, the views North over the flat lands and the bare chalk paths. The rain had eased, the sun came out and it was a real pleasure to be riding. I could hardly believe that I was actually having a go at the double!

Cocking and my first water stop was soon upon me. Looking back at my tweet, it would seem I was there by 3.37pm. That was only 2 hours 37 minutes for 35 miles, this was quick. I filled up quickly and set of up the hill but it looked like I was going to get wet again. The next milestone was Amberley at around 47 miles. Between Cocking and Amberley I had to deal with my second real soaking, lot’s of mud, a heard of cow’s blocking the route and the lethal wet downs chalk! By the time I reached the top of Amberley Mount I was covered in mud, very wet had nearly come of a few times and was wondering if this was really a good idea? But I do remember looking at my computer at this point and thinking “I’m going too fast, if I keep this pace I’ll make Eastbourne in a little over 8 hours, I’m not Ian Leitch, Mike Cotty, Rob Dean or Rob Lee, that’s too fast, I don’t know how I will deal with this pace, I’d better slow down!” So I eased of a bit.

Thankfully the rain stopped on top of Amberley Mount and little patches of blue sky appeared, but no sun. The next couple of hours ticked along nicely. The views from the tops of the hills were great, the rain stayed away and the trails were much dryer. However, I was becoming increasingly aware that my forks were not working as they should, it’s was like someone had wound up the re-bound damping and the ride was becoming firmer. There was also a rattly sound coming from the rear wheel and I was aware that the bottom bracket really could do with being replaced.  At 6.31pm I decided to stop at Devils Dyke, have a stretch and take a look a look at the bike. Sure enough the cassette was coming lose, so I tightened it the best I could, the bottom bracket was a bit loose, nothing I could do about that, and I regained some travel and rebound in the forks after some twiddling. I really need to send them for a service when I get home. Quick look at the computer and tap locations, I’d done 66 miles, so 2/3 of the way to Eastbourne and the next water tap was 11 miles away, I was still going well and had water so I pressed on.

The next 11 miles went very fast, I can’t recall much apart from clocking the location of the water tap at Saddlescombe. I was at the A27 and the Housedown Farm water tap before I knew it. Time for more water and my first protein drink.

Housedean Farm

This is where Simon and I had to bail on our first attempt at the South Downs Way. Back then it had taken us 14 hours to reach this point. My 3rd tweet confirms I had made it there in 6 hours 45 mins this time. Twice as fast. It was 7.45 pm and despite the hills I knew were still to come, Eastbourne was just 23 miles away, I was sure I could make it there by 10pm thus completing the first 100 miles in 9 hours, and without having to thrash myself to do so. So after filling up I pushed on.

The first climb after the A27 is long and steady around a big bowl in the hillside and from the top you can see where the South Downs Way must drop over the River Ouse to then climb up Itford Hill. Looking down over the Ouse you can feel the end of the South Downs Way and the mid point of this ride. The route takes you along the top of Kingston Escarpment before heading down a concrete farm track towards Southease. Shortly after blasting down this track my rear tire went flat. Bugger!

No problem, just change the tube. Bike upside down, wheel off, tube out, fit new tube, what’s this? I’d packed a tube for the Roadrat, completely the wrong size. Shit! OK, fine just fix it. Found the hole, patched it, found the thorn responsible, pull it out. Put the wheel back on, oil up the chain. Night was falling, so I put another layer on and set the lights up. Then I go to ride away, shit! The tire was flat gain. OK, bike back upside down, wheel off, tire off, tube out. Found the hole, patched after two attempts, now for the thorn, where is it? Where is it? WHERE IS IT? Umm! Ok, just put the tube back in and see what happens, but I’m not happy about it!

By this point I’d been on the side of the hill for 40 minutes in fading light, with the temperature dropping and I was cold. And then it happened. Do I carry on knowing I have no spare tube, only a couple of patches with the possibility of a thorn I cannot find still in the tire or do I bail?

It was a hard decision to make. If a flint slashes my tire and tube I could not fix with the patches I have, I’d seen guys puncture 4-5 times over just 60 miles of this route before. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck at 1 or 2 am with a puncture I could not fix and no real bailout option. If I bailed now I could at least head to Lewes and catch the last train to somewhere. So at mile 82, with my legs still going strong my attempt at the South Downs Double ended because of a fettling oversight. With a heavy heart and a tire full of patches I headed off route towards Lewes train station.

Luckily my parents were happy to collect me from a train station. Gatwick seemed the logical choice, a short train journey from Lewes and a quick blast down the motorway for them. Before long I was sat on a train covered in mud talking to the train manager about the ride. Just a few hours earlier I had been on-route for a sub 24 hour maybe even a sub 20 hour ride of the double and here I was eating my cheese sandwiches and emergency chocolate on a train bound for Gatwick. It just got weirder when on exiting Gatwick train station I found myself in the middle of the South terminal covered in mud and surrounded by squeaky clean holiday makers looking at me like I’d arrived from another planet. Planet South Downs Double indeed! Before long I’d been whisked away from the crazy airport world by my parents, and told them stories of my adventure whilst they cooked up some grub. Thanks Mum and Chris 🙂

So, I’ve had a real taste of long distance off-road rides and it seems that despite my concerns Trio was right, it’s not about the bike. But I still believe the bike helps. Despite not finishing I really enjoyed myself and it’s given me a massive confidence boast, I’m able to ride long miles off-road at a good pace. I was going really well, keeping a pace that I know I could have maintained for the duration and apart from the fettling oversight, I’d prepared well. Just means that I’ll have to try the double again sometime.

Seems the 13’s may have got the better of me.




4 responses

18 08 2010

Sounds a great adventure….but still can’t believe you brought the wrong size tubes 😉

19 08 2010

What a bugger eh! Glad you philosphical about it though – and what a fab experience- sounds like you could be a record breaker when you go for it again?

29 09 2010
Alastair Humphreys

great story and challenge.

8 11 2010
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