And the reason it’s happening now is because it’s dawned on me that I have to go back to work on May 1st and, if I’m honest, I’m not likely to get any fitter beyond that date. So in spite of the conventional wisdom that says you shouldn’t attempt the South Downs in a day in anything but firm and dry riding conditions, I’m running up against a bit of a deadline. Consequently as of right now, Tuesday 23rd April looks like D-Day with it’s combination of sunny spells and a light SW wind but, most importantly, it looks to have been dry for a few days prior which hopefully will dry things out a bit. Soft ground and mud are your biggest enemy when taking on the SDW as I discovered when I rode the first section back in February this year.
Which leads me to the preparation stage of the whole event which, if I’m honest, is probably the most enjoyable part – certainly it’s the least tiring. The hard part is not so much what to take as what to leave behind because, to slip into mountaineering parlance for a moment, I’m doing this whole challenge ‘alpine style’. Unless you are the sort of person who knows a crampon from a carabiner and reads The White Spider on holiday I should perhaps elaborate. Alpine style does not mean getting up at 10, a few hours of effort followed by a large liquid lunch all rounded off by dancing in ski boots with some girl from Berkshire to the sounds of a Euro-House track with a catchy chorus. Alpine style actually means getting up and down a mountain unsupported in one go, carrying everything you need with you (as opposed to setting up a system of progressively higher camps from which to stage your prolonged effort). So in this case that means catching the first train out of Clapham Junction (5:37am) and a later train home from Eastbourne while carrying everything needed in-between in a pack. And don’t think that there’s plenty of bike repair shops and Sainsbury Local’s littering the route to help out either, because there really isn’t. I think in the entire 100 miles there is one village shop around the 15 mile mark and, if you’re lucky, an ice-cream van at the top of Ditchling Beacon somewhere around mile 80.
So what to take? And more importantly, what to leave behind? Some early casualties from the original list include a spare tyre and a suspension pump neither of which I’ve ever needed during a ride and both of which weigh enough to get them cut from the list. (Cue the law of sod….!) Aside from that there’s nothing too surprising on the packing list. Puncture repair stuff and 3 inner tubes as well as some patches of last resort incase I get really unlucky. Some money for an ice cream at Ditchling Beacon and a taxi to the nearest train station if I throw the towel in. Beyond that it’s just food and drink including enough energy gels and bars to make a small child swear off sugary food and some drinks powders to mix in my water bottle (High5 4:1 currently the additive of choice in case anyone reading this is thinking of a similar challenge). Water reserves come from the camelback in my backpack which can hold about 3 litres (I think?!) but which actually need to be treated with a degree of care because taps are relatively few and far between and are easily missed. I’m also taking some helmet mounted headlights in case I have to finish in the dark which is weight I’d rather leave behind but, whilst the Force is strong in me, I don’t think it’s strong enough to navigate the SDW in the dark!
Navigation and stats will come via a Garmin edge 800 which Jake Phipps has kindly lent to the cause to prevent me from getting lost and/or lying about my time and route. That frees up my iPhone battery for music duties (can get a bit lonely out there on a Tuesday) and surfing for the nearest train station when I shred a tyre around the half way mark! If all goes well I should depart from the King Alfred statue in Winchester close to 7am and roll into Eastbourne around 13 hours later before heading home for tea and medals.