Tuesday, May 7, 2013

SSUK 2013

Sometime ago I signed up for the returning (after a one year hiatus) national singlespeed event. I'm not really all that sure why - it was reasonably local & I think John was pleased to finally have a couple of riding buddies of the one ratio persuasion. Regardless, I pootled over to Swanage on a greyer-than-recently Saturday morning - stopping to drop off non-riding items at Mum's cousin Pamela's house (where I would stay for the weekend) in Poole.

The Saturday was a casual ride to have a look around the area. About a hundred like-minded nutters showed up near the Swanage pier. It's quite odd to see so many singlespeeds on the English seafront. Singlespeeding still being relatively niche, there were all sorts of interesting & fancy bikes - a dozen or so fat bikes too. Not nearly as many singlespeed conversions (from geared mountain bikes) as I would have expected to see in NZ - I'm pretty sure the British spend so much more time & money on their bikes than Kiwis do (also bikes are more expensive in NZ) because they have so much time to do so when the weather is inclement.

We set off in one large group and after a few miles there was a vaguely organised (a continuing theme for the weekend) Le Mans start at the bottom of the very large climb (for singlespeeds at least, & most geared bikers I imagine) up to Nine Barrow Down. I struggled up, weaving in & out of all those walking & then spent ages on the ridge getting cold as the wind & drizzle came through and we waited for the stragglers & to find out where to go next. Off the ridge, there was a nice bit of trail around a golf course & then it was rather tedious fire road to the lunch stop. By the pub stop at lunch time in the sun I was a little/quite worn out from the week at work and really not in the mood to be social & to try break into well established groups of riding buddies - perhaps (probably) I was still mourning the loss of the proper challenging singletrack of two weeks prior. Also there had been talk of the event on Sunday being fifty miles (quite a distance with a solitary gear), so I thought my legs were worth saving for that effort. I had a nice lunch by the waterside and headed back to Swanage.

My unexpectedly free afternoon meant I had the chance to visit Tyneham - a village near Swanage & Corfe Castle that was forcibly evacuated in 1943 as part of the war effort and to which the residents were never allowed to return as the MoD held on to the land for use as a firing range.  Even now, it is only open to the public on certain dates of the year - that limited access took decades to gain.  It's interesting to see a village, of sorts, in a popular tourist area that is completely untouched by the modern world - only the church & the school still stand complete, the few cottages are ruined.  It's sobering to think of the families that lived there for generations under the protection of the local lord who all of a sudden didn't have the only home they ever knew.

Saturday evening passed very pleasantly in Pamela's company (my stomach was pretty happy too) & I slept well before heading back to Swanage Sunday morning.  Since I had left the previous afternoon, John & Richard (my Combe Raiders singlespeeders brothers in arms) had arrived from Somerset.  The event assembled in the same place & we took a more direct route to the start point - the pub of lunch on Saturday.  At about this stage it became apparent that we would only be doing twenty-odd miles - I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't get to push past the distance I would normally ride & see how I'd go.

It must be noted, that even though it was a long Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was absolutely glorious.  Eventually, after noon, small groups of riders were let loose to make their way to the finish pub.  We were sick of waiting around so left reasonably early on in the piece.  It was a grassy reasonably long climb up on to the first ridge.  About halfway up it became apparent that John was going to ride a lot faster than both Rich & me, so we let him go and coming off the ridge I started to enjoy myself as I got over the shorter-distance disappointment & removal of challenge from the day.  It was back up the big hill to Nine Barrow Down - which I couldn't let defeat me as I'd ridden it the day before.

Looking back towards Swanage while waiting for Rich.
Down off the ridge in a different place, we were on the fun little bit of trail around the back of the golf course before the short climb that most had me wanting to get off & push (I didn't). We dropped down again past dozens of ramblers out enjoying the sunshine, under the steam train & into Corfe Castle.  Rich & I had long since decided that we would stop in the village at a well-renowned bakery - it wasn't exactly a competitive event; so we did just that and had the rather surreal experience of eating pasties & pastries in the sun-drenched historic village surrounded by scores of mountain-bikers and dozens of re-enacters dressed up as Saxons & Vikings - big helmets, chain mail and all sorts.
A quick snap of a lamppost & Corfe Castle.
A bit more climbing, with a horrid pinch climb on the tarmac, some nice trail & all of a sudden we were at the finish pub (Square & Compass - which must have the smallest bar I've ever seen in a pub) and it was only half past two.  Maybe I would have been able to fit fifty miles of such hills in to a day.  We basked in the sun for a while, heard John's stories - he was one of the first to finish, not that it was much of a race - and didn't really drink much; before long, eyes turned to the clock as John & Rich were heading back to Somerset & me to Poole.  We left before the pig on a rotating stick made an appearance & enjoyed the final descent back into Swanage along the Priest's Way.

So not really the ride I was expecting or hoping for, but a great day out all the same. I'm not displeased that a larger group of Combe Raiders is heading back to Swanage next weekend for D's 50th celebrations. I'd quite happily repeat that loop - hopefully the weather is just as good.

It was just as stunning a day on the Bank Holiday Monday, so after getting home late morning I could hardly waste it - so I headed out into the forest to do an easy, flat recovery ride. It definitely was a flatter ride than the rest of the weekend & thankfully pretty easy too - as it turned out to be 73 km/46 miles more on the SS. Great to see so many people out enjoying the forest.

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