The South Downs Way, Take 1

This weekend of September 9th and 10th I went to ride the South Downs Way with Trail Break. The plan was to ride 60 miles the first day, then 40 miles the second.

It started out pretty well. I set off at my usual steady pace. At first I was a bit disappointed that the South Downs Way wasn't very technical; it's mostly smooth dirt. But then i realized that if I wa doing 60 miles of this in one day, probably a smooth trail would be better. And I do centuries on the road, which is even less challenging, so I contented myself with treating this more like a road century than an off-road ride.

I noticed that my confidence on hills has increased quite a bit. While on technical downhills I'm as slow as ever, I was often letting the brakes go completely on the reasonably smooth downhills and picking up quite a bit of speed. I felt pretty cool blsting down the hills.

Until I crashed on one of them, about 45 miles from the start. Not really sure what happened, one moment I was flying downhill, the next moment I was on the ground. I inspected myself. A small gouge below my right knee, a scrape on my right elbow, but the big problem was my shoulder. It hurt. Lots.

Trailbreak have water stops about every 10 miles, and I was about 5 miles from the previous one. I got back on the bike and limped the next 5 miles, pushing up and down the steeper bits, braking carefully with my left hand only. I finally got to the water stop and packed it in.

They took me to the local hospital for a checkup (they had to collect one guy who was taken there there earlier) and I had a sprained shoulder. Nothing major, and it's healing OK. But doing Sunday's ride was out of the question. So on Sunday I was making sandwiches at the lunch stop instead of riding my bike.

And it's made me think hard. No matter how good a biker you are, if you're flying down a hill fast even a little rock can throw you off, and the faster you're going the more likely you are to get hurt when you land.

So I was having fun and felt very cool flying down the hills, but would I have rather gone more slowly and done the entire 100mi 2 day ride rather than crashing after only 45 miles?

I'm afraid that I have to say the former...

So I think it's time to go slower on the hills than I really feel that I'm capable of doing.

And I also realize that my policy of being extra-cautious when I'm out on my own is indeed a very good one. While I was on my Wales trip this summer I was keeping my brakes on on those sorts of downhills, and so although I crashed I didn't get hurt. On Saturday's crash quite a few people stopped to ask if I was OK, and offered to phone Trailbreak with their mobiles. I only would have had to walk to the nearest road if I'd been too injured to ride.

Anyway, that's the story of my first attempt at the South Downs Way. I'll be back next year, and I'm definitely going to complete it then.

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