At the end of April, Steve Mac, Ian Anderson, Brad Williams and Kev James headed out for two day epic to the Isle of Wight and back.
It started with a rendezvous at the dolphin pub at 8.30 then onto Hurst to pick up Steve by 9am. By the time we had left Steve's we now we all had our tales of lack of training and lack of miles all on record, so it was time for some hard graft.
We ditched the original plan to keep to the A272 on the insistence of Ian and were treated to a better ride as a result. The first part of the ride picked up the Sunday steyning run in reverse but we cut across via Spithandle lane to Washington then onto Storrington before hitting the country lanes properly.
The roads were fairly rough in places with a few lumps but nothing too strenuous but we were enjoying the chance to ride side by side and slowly eating up the miles with a helpful tailwind. With a few map checks we risked a road closed to road works and came across a stunning scene of a lake and open woodland. We all agreed that we'd be moving to the house overlooking the lake.
Much too our amusement at the next map check Brad seemed so overwhelmed by the name of the village (Cocking) that he had the first (and not last) wobble of the trip, We agreed to briefly picked up the A272 through Midhurst before heading south again to Elsted. The first killer climb of the day was realised at Harting.I think this features in the Chichester triathlon and at one point I was close to track standing I was going so slow. Ian was in turbo charged mode with Brad glued to his wheel. I only had the comfort that Steve was behind grinding it out. We topped out on the climb and had a fast decent heading south before we cut west again up another sharp climb.
With around 60 miles done, by now we were all thinking about food and in the small village of Chalton, we stopped at the excellent Red Lion pub, which had amazing views overlooking a valley of the Hampshire downs. The sun was shining brightly and we had a very leisurely lunch, with Brad seeming to fall asleep on a park bench at some point.
With stiff legs and full bellies we set off. And in classic form we were straight up another sharp hill which we could have anticipated having enjoyed the view of the said hill over lunch. Steve was having gear problems as well as feeling the effects of his meal. Up this hill we then bridged the A3 and then hit the Meon valley. I had never ridden this part of Hampshire before and it was a definite highlight. Virtually flat and with sweeping bends and a tailwind, I couldn't resist hitting the front and trying to up the pace. While this stretch was quite long, it was over far too soon.
Having treated ourselves to fast and flat roads, we decided it was time for some off-road fun. We had spotted a lane that looked quite small on the map but we thought it might be rideable - well kind of. Luckily we all managed to stay upright and puncture free and I enjoyed a few cyclo cross style moves over tree stumps and avoiding large rocks. My overconfidence was sharply brought back into balance as the back-end stepped out just as I hit the gravel as the track transitioned to rough road - but I managed to hold it together.
We had a few more map checks to do before we managed to pick up some of the road section fairly near the end of the South Downs Way. Having done this ride in reverse a few times I remembered a few landmarks and realised we would have a long drag up onto the downs again. We topped out the climb surrounded by open fields of rape in glorious sunshine and headed West again to Twyford, crossing the M3 just south of there.
We were starting to realise that time was ticking on. Luckily I had found my legs a bit more after struggling most of the early morning. We pushed it on a bit via busier roads and found the Hampshire drivers were not cycling fans. Admittedly, in a break neck run through Romsey, just north of the New Forest, Ian decided to test the breaks of a car turning right on a roundabout, which meant that we weren't complete angel cyclists. I had no choice but to keep going having been glued to Ian's wheel but had to flick the bike at speed and I was amazed that Brad - behind me - also opted for the same option. Steve had the sense and foresight to see that stopping was a better option. A bit too close for my comfort.
From therein we were keeping a reasonable pace, but were not too sure if it was going to be close for the ferry. It was at this point that the 100 mile mark started to bite us all. Steve had a brief moment on his own but as the road went up he somehow saw the end crawling slowly towards him and stopped the elastic snapping. I can't say that the New Forest was much of a highight as the roads were heavy with stressed out bank holiday drivers. And mysteriously, a long grind up through the Forest was not rewarded with a decent into Lymington - how does that work hill and sea level anyone?. Still we were happy to make it to the ferry with a ½ hour to spare.
The ferry crossing was enjoyed with a strong coffee and a bit of chat, but it was amazingly short and we all lowered ourselves gingerly onto our bikes in Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. Fortunately, we were still blessed with sunshine and the stand-out point was how quiet the roads were. A stark contrast to the New Forest. The road to where we were staying in Newport was rolling but not especially testing and we had a chance to ride two-abreast without too many traffic issues and soon made up the final few miles. With relief found the Travelodge we were staying at with 120 miles in the legs. The evening was then a story of a mega nosh up in a local Italian and the treat of a few ice cold lagers.
Day 2 - Isle of Wight and back again
The second day didn't start as brightly and we were all fairly saddle sore even sitting down for breakfast. Steve managed to use his charms to get us a breakfast deal of tea and toast to which we seem to add a number of other breakfast extras.
A very brief ride down the street was halted by Ian noticing a flat-ish tyre. In the waiting period Brad seemed to get a bit bored. Having remained cleated-in on one side he decided it was time for the second wobble of the trip. Again much to my amusement.
I think that I made a bit too much of the breakfast as I suffered in the first hour of the ride. We decided in the time available to make our way down to the Needles to do the sight seeing thing. This entailed riding up and over a series of long hills and topping out on what might have been the high point of Island.
We headed into Freshwater then took a bit of a detour around the coast to the north. I must admit at this point that I was feeling groggy from the beers the day before and tired and was not particularly enjoying myself, so the prospect of hills up and over the Needles was not welcome. We eventually found our way to the Needles and took a small single track road into the face of a mental head wind that had us all in the small chainring. At the top we still couldn't see the Needles, but we watched the alarming sight of Ian descending offroad towards the cliff's edge. Ian was apparently quite confident that his brakes were quite good. We had visions of air-sea rescue.
Photo opportunity in the bag we headed back to the Needles visitor centre where I had to change a puncture. While waiting, Brad spent time looking in the gift shop, but was heart broken that the sand in test tubes was no longer available in the gift shop, clearly this had left a lasting impression on him!
Once again we were concerned about the time of the ferry and the distances we had to cover. The slow progress in the morning was only going to get worse as we now had a strong westerly headwind to deal with. On this basis, we headed back on the main road (hardly busy) and ate up the miles with Ian on the front and the rest of us sitting in. Fortunately, we all stuck together so it was fairly fast going and we got through Yarmouth again to see a load of cyclist starting an Isle of Wight sportive event. We made the ferry in Fishbourne with time to spare and just missed the earlier Ferry by a few minutes.
Across the sea we were soon rolling out of Portsmouth, which was not the nicest welcome back to the mainland. Busy roads and head winds were the order of the day. These miles passed without much excitement. Ian was happy to be on the front, which he had been most of the day, reinforcing his nickname of "The Ox" even more. We eventually picked up another rider coming out of Havant towards Chichester. He was kind enough to show us the way around Chichester and past Goodwood House. We left him to head back South, and agreed to do a brief stint on the A27 so that we could pick up the Slindon valley. Once again I was feeling much better at the 60 mile point (the same as the day before), so I led us up the climb up the valley (although Brad was happy to sprint for the last 50 metres at the top!!).
The reward at the top of the valley was the ride down into Amberley at good speed then the three hills that step up towards Storrington. We all stopped at the garage for the final energy and water refills. As always the road from Storrington towards Steyning and back home via Ashbourne was pretty kind to us. We managed to keep it together most of the time and we were all pleased that we had enough in the legs to keep it going to Steve's. It was there that we bid adieu and then the final short leg up Isaac's lane with 220 miles + logged.
Overall, it was a great trip with everyone at a similar level in terms of fitness and everyone in good spirits. The beers in the evening were a welcome treat as was getting off the saddle after some mega miles (both Steve and I found that it was a good two days before we could sit properly again!) It also worked out pretty cheap - £50 for the accommodation and ferry - and we agreed that it would be a good ride to try to repeat in future.
Author: Kev James