Part 1: NITP
Ali had been hyping this up for a while now. I had warned him of the weather and the 'Leith Hill Octopus' (we will abbreviate this as 'LHO' as it will be mentioned a bit throughout this blog) would be best tackled in a warmer climate. This was more Ali's idea and I had made him aware I was not fit enough to climb all 8 up but would support him as much as my legs would allow me.
Winter had kept up its image, it was cold meaning the roads would be grimey. Because of the amount of elevation involved and you can blast me for this, but I opted to drive to Cobham then ride down to Dorking to meet Ali who would also be joined by Josh. Josh has just been chosen for the GB duathlon team so I don't think he needs an introduction of what he can do on a hill! So there's me warming up making my way down to the bottom of Coldharbour Lane for the agreed time of 9.40am. Now, history has it Ali doesn't believe in time, he feels that you can rock up to anywhere at anytime and all will be good. His favourite films which he won't admit are 'Back to the Future' and 'Groundhog Day' all because he can relive moments over and over again. If he's late, he can jump in his Delorean with the mad Doc (it would be in this case, some protoype bike which has been cooked up by secret agents at Area 51 and will feature soon in the new X-Files series!) and make sure he turned up at the agreed time set by both parties in question.For his sins, I have tweeted him some grief even claiming he's so late that so much fracking has taken place, Leith Hill has actually shrunk in size!
Oh look who's turned up?! No apologies just a comment that I look like a lollipop man because of my bright orange Altura jacket and BBB florescent overshoes. I decided to give him the cold shoulder, literally because I have now waited so long, frostbite has started to take over! There was little sympathy from the pair just mocking! So I asked Ali for his order of torture, he didn't really have one, just a rough guide off a Strava course he had downloaded. I had my Garmin so if we needed redirecting, I would be the safety net. First ascent would be Coldharbour Lane. One of the longest ways up but not necessarily the hardest. It would definitely make up for my drop in body temperature lost in the amount of time I had to wait for Numptie and Noddy! I had asked Ali how hard he would take the hills, his reply was just to make sure he would achieve it so if he felt he had the legs, he would push on. Josh on the other hand looked like he was out on a leisurely Sunday stroll. He was gassing on about his new 'sponsorship' with GSK and the amount of testing he was made to do. I had my doubts. I think it was all a cover up for Acne creams found on areas the sun doesn't, lets just say, penetrate?!
I've always remembered Coldharbour as an annoying climb, you go up a little, then you freewheel, then you're climbing again. This time around and maybe because I had company and the banter was flying to and throw, it was over in a blur. We reached the 'Windy Gap' and it was onto the next climb. Taking one of the better ways down via Leith Hill Rd, joining the a25 then turning off at Abinger Lane although Ali for some reason, told us to aim for some place called A-Binger. I know these areas pretty well now and I have never come across this lane so when Abinger Lane appeared, I powered on thinking it was further on. Turning around, I could only see Josh trying to stay on my wheel. I slowed up and he claimed we had missed our turning. Obviously due to Ali's poor grasp on the English language and more specifcally, pronouncing words, I had missed the turning. Obviously, he will claim he pronounced it correctly, so good luck to him if he ever finds himself on Countdown!
Part 2: Ali
NITP had been on my case for a while now about weather and waiting for at least Spring to take this on. You man or mouse?! Think he was moaning about changing his brake pads again because of all the muck he would pick up on the climbs. The 'Leith Hill Octopus' challenge (we will nickname this 'Octo' as it will be mentioned a bit throughout this blog) is something that has been stuck in my mind since last summer after a discussion on Twitter looking for some new goals to achieve.
Accompanying me on this adventure would not just be NITP who has made it very clear his feelings of mucky roads and the fact that Iceland has better weather at the moment, but also another cycling enthusiast in the form of a future pro. Josh has just been selected for the European Duathlon team so you'll see him on Eurosport very soon. If that doesn't happen, do they still broadcast topless darts?! Thing with NITP is that he is anal when it comes to time. If you're on time, you're late. I will never admit this to him but was planning to be late anyway just to wind him up. I'll give some story about how it'll take me 15 minutes to descend a couple of miles to meet him. Josh and I decided to drive up to the top of Leith, park near the 'Windy Gap' (not sure if this is because of the weather or a meeting point with people who have problems with flatulence!), this would be our aim for each climb up as it is roughly the highest point on the hill.
We cruised down to see a lollipop man controlling the traffic coming up Coldharbour....oh sorry, that's NITP! Think you could spot him on Google Earth he was that bright! He wasn't happy. He was shivering and complaining about not feeling his toes. He tried to give us the silent treatment but with his gob, he was never gonna keep quiet! I had a rough idea of what the order of service would be. Obviously getting back up Coldharbour would be the first point of call, a little frustrating as I have just descended it but if it helps to warm NITP back up so he can stop the moaning, I'm all for it! If I have the legs, I might push on some of the climbs but I've set out to achieve this today so that was my 'Shane Ward' ('My Goal' -it's slang, he had his only hit with it?! I'm a big fan and have camped outside his house a few times even when he hasn't been in, I'm devoted, I have a tatoo on my ankle of his signature, I also have his face as my wallpaper for every electronic device, I also collect ticket stubs off Ebay from people who have been to his concerts, 'my goal' is to collect every stub ever printed so I can literally say I was the only one there at his gigs! I love him dearly!).
Josh was cruising ahead on our first ascent dropping his new sponsors GSK every 30 seconds, I was hoping he was going to offer a free tube of toothpaste with each climb completed but he was too into these fitness tests they made him do, something about walking up stairs then sliding down the bannister, sounded Ironman-like! Coldharbour was over quite quickly considering the descent down was ironically a drag. I had told the boys to turn off into Abinger Lane when we hit the a25. For some reason, NITP decided to time-trial on. I was unaware of his entry into the a25 10miler but think he got the date wrong! Josh went after him and when they eventually met me on Abinger Lane, NITP had claimed my English wasn't good enough for him. Well Josh understood me so if he wasn't too distracted on setting a Strava PB on the a25, he might of realised I had turned off!
Part 3: NITP
Beep, beep....what....the...f....! The Garmin had turned itself off! You are kidding me?! Now I fully blame Ali's timekeeping for this but I had paused my Garmin manually and forgot to restart it as we started the LHO. I thought it was strange the average speed we had been keeping but assumed it was because we were following a 'pro' around. So when it turned itself off, I had a hissy fit! I slowed the pace down to reset the damn thing and let Ali and Josh ride on a bit. I was glad this was a calm climb up as being annoyed on a 20%+ gradient wouldn't of been a good mix for me. Cresting the top of the Windy Gap again, Ali revealed we had to turn around to find our next climb. The descent down Leith Hill Rd (heading South) was a bit tricky, gravel and bits of muck covering the road surface meant touching the breaks had its risks but so was flying down at 30mph on a wet road! Turning off at Ockley, I said to the now siamese like couple (just as they were joined at the hip, they were riding that close to each other, it was Valentines after all!) I would head on to grab some photos coming up Broomehall Rd for them to post. Broomehall itself has some false flats and is one of few Surrey climbs which is not protected by trees so you can get a headwind if you're unlucky with the weather. Romeo and Juliet made their passing and I managed to grab some action shots. It wasn't probably till another 10 minutes that I managed to catch them up at the car park by the Windy Gap where they were scoffing their faces with Josh's homemade cakes. I was offered some but now knowing he has an association with GSK and the possible contamination risk, I'll pass thanks!
At this point, I was contemplating calling it a day just as I knew I needed the legs to get back to the car but as Ali looked like he needed my support and guidance, I agreed for one more. Tanhurst? Really?! I accidently found this climb once and it was horrible. It's a constant slog up and knowing the single track lane, it was going to be ultra grimey! I wasn't wrong. When we eventually found the turning for it, there was streams of water pouring down that I felt like we were white water rafting. We had passed a couple of walkers who even raised an eyebrow with a comment of 'wouldn't it be faster walking up?!'. I only have a 9 speed on my Specialized Tarmac so I am pushing squares before the other two, no just the one, Josh spins his legs as easy a yo-yo, Ali just has the extra gear he can call upon when the tough gets going. Of all the 8 ways up Leith, this is probably my least favourite. The gradient is steep throughout, not a climb I can get going on, always battling the cadence. Rejoining the duo at the top, I told the guys that was it for me. I wished them well and made my way back down Coldharbour on the cold lonely journey back to Cobham. Big kudos to Ali, he takes a challenge and commits himself to it. He's very good at the steep ascents, something I am a little jealous on. I had no doubt with Josh at his side, he could complete the LHO challenge.
My journey back to the car was a slog. A headwind had whipped itself up which made the ride back to the car mentally frustrating. I had the choice of following the cycle path along the a24 which would be boring or climb Ranmore Rd, not the easiest of hills to get over especially when you've already done 4 ascents (3 according to Garmin!). I'm one to take up an opportunity so tackled Ranmore which took a good while especially with the headwind. Finally over, a dragging ride back to the car and I could switch those heaters on and warm the feet up! My toes were frozen! Don't think any overshoe would of saved my feet today! As I sipped my nutritional milkshake I had purchased the day before at the London Bike Show, I thought of Ali and Josh finishing off the rest of Leith Hill's ascents. I thought of them, drove off whilst laughing because I knew it would be a while till they found themselves a radiator to hug! But they had eachother and love was in the air!
Part 4: Ali
To make matters worse, his Garmin only turned itself off. He forgot to press start again on the Octo which meant his first climb will not be recorded. I think I chuckled so hard a little bit of wee came out! We left NITP to it and Josh and I pressed on to keep the elevation ticking over. This was a gentle climb which led you out back onto Leith Hill Rd. In hindsight, I would of chosen this as the last climb to treat the legs but beggars can't be choosers. Our next ascent would take us up from the South via Broomehall Rd. NITP pushed on so he can grab a few shots of us cruising up. It felt like being on a sportive but knowing that I could just nick the photos off his Twitter account to use! Josh and I agreed that a nutritional stop was needed to control the body's urge for refuelling. Past experience has taught me to fuel up before I feel the legs going otherwise you are playing catch up whilst still expecting the body to deal with the demands of the exercise you're participating in. NITP was 50/50 about continuing on just because he had to ride back to the car in Cobham which was fair enough but I pushed him into joining us for at least half of the challenge. He didn't like it though when I told him the next climb was Tanhurst Lane.
He warned us off its muck and potential slippery surfaces. We had to take his word for it as we were Tanhurst virgins. I'll give him credit, he wasn't far wrong. Yes there were mini streams of water flowing down and the odd log in the road but it was a good climb to test the legs. Josh was loving it and flew on. NITP was just behind me shouting out tips as we were climbing up. Felt like I had Brailsford on my wheel but a much hairier version! Back to the Windy Gap again, it was at this point NITP made his point of leaving but jokes aside, his knowledge on some of the hills is invaluable and I greatly appreciate his support. But I'll make sure when it gets to a temperature of his liking that he too will become a member of the Octo society!
4 down, 4 to go. We made the treacherous descent back down Tanhurst which the brakes weren't happy about just to loop back around again onto Leith Hill Rd, this time to climb it from the South. Out of the 8, it can be argued this is the hardest just for the constant upping in gradient which never really rests till you get past the National Trust car park and even then, theres another kick just round the bend. We took another risk by descending down Sheephouse Lane to mix the route up and it turned out to be another mucky lane we had to contend with. Back on the a25 but without WLC to bomb off pretending to Wiggo', we took the correct turning and made our way up through the leafy village of Holmbury St. Mary. As climbs go, it was quiet but it had it's dark side. Turning off back towards Leith, it had a spike which caught us out. Slight confession but we didn't climb back to our designated peak of the Windy Gap. Think we deserve the leniency as we had undertaken this challenge in the middle of winter! We opted to cruise down Leith Hill Rd and bear right to climb Sheephouse Lane. Getting a feel for it on the descent prepared ourselves for the grind up.
Knowing we were on the home straight, the mileage started to take its toll. 50 miles in and we had the final climb to do, a road we had now rolled down multiple times already, Leith Hill Rd North side. Luckliy, this had the best surface out of all the 8 climbs so it was painful on the bike but coupled with the distance and the overall elevation, our legs started to fill up with lactic acid and it took a little bit of mental strength to get up it. Having the car at the end of the ride was a great motivation climbing all the way as I didn't want to have to walk up or even worse, leave the car there! The Windy Gap was now our home. 8 times (I'm counting when we first arrived!) we had visited this place, I even felt compelled to change my home address to this now memorable beauty spot. 4,500ft accomplished, I did think the elevation would be higher but challenge done and dusted. NITP is probably home by now soaking his feet in a hot bowl of water with a cuppa, I had Josh and his homemade flapjacks to celebrate with although his eyes were saying something completely different...I only then realised it was Valentines and Josh had mentioned his girlfiend was away...
Part 5: The Other Half
He's gone again, I think Santa was really pleased with me last year that he has continued my good fortune on! Obviously he's gonna come home mucky probably moaning about Ali's timekeeping and his stats for the day, I'll just make sure I'll have the Kardashians playing on TV, that normally shuts him up, if that doesn't, nothing will!
'Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring'.