First of all, a brief re-cap of how we came to be here…
As a result of crashing my bike last year, and sustaining a serious long-term shoulder injury, I needed a goal, something that would be tough, and force me to work hard. My brother suggested the Big Red Randonnee, 100 miles in a day down the South Downs Way, in aid of the British Heart Foundation. It seems like such a long time now since that first painful wobble barely 100metres down the road, but it was the start of the journey that brought me here. The plan was that my bro’ Supawal and I would ride the event, while the wonderful Carla would provide back-up…We arrived at the bed & breakfast in Winchester on Friday afternoon. It’s always a bit of a gamble with a B&B, but this one was perfect, situated down a quiet country lane with hardly any traffic, a garage to lock our bikes in, and a lovely garden to spread the maps out in, and make final plans. Better still was the fact that it was only one mile from the start of the event, and the ride would come right past the front door. We unloaded the car, put our bikes together, and couldn’t resist a little ride along the first few miles of the route. It was brilliant, lovely sweeping trails through stunning countryside, we allowed ourselves to become a little excited about the forthcoming epic.
After a trip to the local town for fish & chips we sat in our room overlooking beautiful Sussex countryside. Carla produced a hip flask containing whisky, and we enjoyed a snifter with our sunset.
We were up before 5am next morning, plenty of time to have breakfast, and get down to the start for 6am. Wrong! We raced down the lane with barely 5 minutes to go hoping that we would get there before we were swamped by riders coming the other way. We made it, just, but missed the official start by a couple of minutes. We hared off back up the lane we had just come down and were soon part of the mass. Back past the B&B where Carla, and Mo the landlady were out to cheer us on. Onto the first climb in the early morning sunshine.
The first few mile were a bit frantic as riders suffered from ‘dog off the leash’ syndrome where they go far too fast to sustain, and ‘headless chicken syndrome’ where they dash off in all directions without knowing where they are going. Luckily Supawal and I didn’t suffer either of these because my first puncture forced us to stop. While we were fixing my ‘flat’ literally hundreds of riders came past, but from all directions, and shot off in the direction of the consensus opinion. Puncture fixed we rejoined them.
Through our day we rode through some beautiful countryside, saw some fabulous sights, and met some great bike riders. It was a perfect day, sunny but not to hot, dry but not dusty, and a slight tailwind all the way. Some of the things that stuck in my mind were the Englishness of the rural landscape, the speed down the descent into Queen Elizabeth Park, the gorgeous bottom of the girl who mesmerised us on the stony climb, rider number 1 who was doing the event as a build up to an ironman triathlon, the Kiwi on a touring bike who looked like he had started growing a beard when he left New Zealand, and never shaved since, the vast rolling upland tracks where we bowled along with ease, the camaraderie of the riders.
At the half-way point I took a change of kit, I was feeling good, by Devil’s Dyke at 65 miles I was still feeling good. Supawal suggested that as I was feeling so good I should push on on my own, and leave him to enjoy his suffering. I lifted my pace a little, and the miles flew by. The last third of the SDW is said to be the toughest. Steep climbs with the sun on your back, and the glare of the chalky track. I kept waiting for the onset of a bad patch. I had been expecting sore hands, or neck, or knees, or something, but it never came. Yes, I had sore shoulder, but I had that from the start, and it hadn’t got any worse.
Inside the last few miles, and Eastbourne came into sight. I remember being torn between going faster to get there in the best time possible, or slowing down so that it wouldn’t be all over. I got together with two other riders and we flew down the last descent all fatigue forgotten. We arrived at the finish to applause from all the other riders, their friends, family, helpers and so on. I was so elated I shouted greetings to them in Italian! What a day.
We showered, and sat in the sun for a while, cheering other riders home. All too soon it was time to leave. Carla drove back to London while Supawal and I celebrated with a cheese sandwich and a can of beer. We felt like kings. A perfect end to a perfect weekend.