I noticed the local CTC group was organising a night ride on (ok, near) the summer solstice. Ride your bike, watch the sun rise in the middle of the night on the longest day, have breakfast and come home. This to me seemed interesting and a bit out of the ordinary. I pondered about it for some time, I even bought a new front light to replace my broken one from the winter, which meant even before I had decided I knew in my head I had indeed decided and would be going along.
Biking early in the morning is a must, being the only one on the road at the best part of the day, and then getting to your destination with most of the day remaining. On a normal ride I would tend to leave the house around 5 or 6, plenty of time to do some distance before stopping off for breakfast. The mixture of a darkness and old slowly turning into day and life starting to appear seems to set the day off well. For this ride, the longest day, I would have to get up a lot earlier to catch the sunrise, a 3am wake up with a 3.30am leaving time to meet the others in Worthing at 4am. That would give an hour’s ride before the sun really started to show.
The plan for the trip was to meet the others in the group in Worthing, from there I would follow the leader along a route that would take us to Horsham for a quick look break and Dorking for breakfast. I planned a route back home from there to do on my own. I had never met these people before, in fact all the information I had was from a small post in their facebook group, but as my local CTC group I had been meaning to find time to go on a ride with them.
I had geared up my bike with the Cats Eyes reflecter lights that come on by themselves and I use all during winter, good for being seen by but no use for seeing. I had visions of when I went on the London to Brighton night ride and the experience of being in the pitch black with just a couple of small LEDs showing the way, or not as it happened. I gathered that at the most I would need a really good light to see by for only an hour, and so I re-bought the small 3-LED light that I had before and had stopped working at the end of the winter. For £18, it’s not one of those series World War 2 search light style lights that some cyclist have, huge battery pack and blinding every person in a 10 mile radius.
As expected, there is not much traffic around at 3.30 in the morning. Amazingly it was not that dark, at the horizon I could see the lighter sky and wondered if it had actually got fully dark overnight of is a slip of light was there all the time. After the worry of not being able to see where I was going, it turned out that I would never the main light, the flashing reflector light would do its job and finally switch itself off later on as I rode out of Worthing and the sun was starting to come up.
Not a single car or person, at the most just the odd taxi and that was it. I cycled the 5 miles to the meeting place, with the only excitement meeting a police car failing to stop at a roundabout and nearly hit me. I held my hand out to say stop and he finally saw me, waved apologetically as he went passed, I’m thinking he was nearing the end of a long shift and wasn’t quite expecting to see anyone else.
I arrived at the cross roads just before the meeting time. Once again, a normally busy junction was completely deserted in an almost spooky post-zombie apocalypse type of way. As I waited, keeping a watch out for the undead, I started to wonder if anyone else would turn up. This would only be my second such CTC ride (excluding organised Brighton ones) and I remember the last time I turned up early and waited quite some time until the first people would arrive. Nothing wrong with that at all, infact it is nice in a cycle touring type of way where time is not as important. However, at 4am in the morning, lurking at a cross roads on my own, fending off any zombies and looking slightly suspicious myself. As 4am turned into 4.10am, I decided either people were running late, I had got the wrong meeting place, or no-one was going to turn up. I decided to sort out my own route and make my own way up to Dorking, for breakfast. I wanted to be riding when the sun did come up.
I had not planned this and so could not press the magic route button the GPS and follow the big arrow. Instead, I looked at Google maps on my phone and plotted the best way out of Worthing and up to Horsham, at which point I would do the same again to Dorking. A bit “old school”, almost using a real map if it had not been on my phone! The only problem I had, and a familiar one, was there are little options when it comes to escaping to the other side of the South Downs. With sensible routes from Shoreham or Brighton, or Arundel. I had in the past used the A24 to escape on previous rides, and while I have no massive problem with such a busy road, it’s not the most comfortable with cars whizzing 70mph+ passed you. However, now it was all a bit different, with the whole of the human race turned into zombies, not a single person or car about, I had the roads to myself.
After one look around for both living CTC cyclists and undead zombies, I set off North along the A24 towards Ashington. It had only just gone passed 4am and yet the darkness had gone and an eerie early morning light was replacing it. The duel carriageway was carless as I made my way out of Worthing and through the small gap in the Downs leading to the rest of the world. Within the whole 4 mile stretch the only other sign of live of a zombie decontamination lorry, although I must admit I never actually saw the driver… As Ashington grew closer I contemplated staying on this trunk road all the way up to Horsham, but figured that if this road was a tad boring when in the car, it would be even more so on bike. I left the main road and continued Northwards towards Christ’s Hosptial and Horsham.
It was a this point the sun was really starting to rise in the sky and the ever so required photo of a golden sunrise would happen at any minute. The sky was clear and so I was not disappointed. The sun rose, the sky was orange for a brief moment, and then it was cloudy and seemed darker than it was just moments before. The days building up to this had all been clear hot blue skies, today was going to be different.
From spotting the sun rise (not hard to do), to spotting rabbits and deers. Rabbits are fast little things, you see them all over the road in the distance but they can feel you coming and run off into the side ages before you have chance to see them properly. To start with I tried to take photos of them but never managed to catch any within frame at a decent distance. There were so many in the end that started to get used to them and a bit bored of yet another load of rabbits in the road. Infact, it at times I was having to watch out for the odd lost rabbit still on the road running for protection and ending up running alongside me in and out of my wheels. The rabbit survived and finally found safety in the hedge. Which was just as good as suddenly a deer lept out from the side of the road and in front of me, straight across and off into the woods on the other side. Being hit by, or hitting, a deer, the results would not be good, mostly for me I could imagine. I would see two further deers, one in the woods watching me suspiciously and one just standing in the middle of the road in the distance all the time while I fumbled with my camera, right up until the moment of pressing the button and it ran off.
Within no time I had managed to reach Horsham and it was still very early, the town was diserted which gave me problems at traffic lights. With no cars left after the zombie invasion, most traffic lights failed to spot me, most traffic lights seemed to be red. I waited, and waited a bit more. I started to get worried, sensing zombie creatures watching me and closing in. I checked all directions, no cars, no visible zombies either, but I knew they had seen me and were planning. I slowly eased through the red lights, no-one noticed, no-one was there…. I thought I heard a something more in the bushes, I didn’t look back but I did hear the faint moan of “brains….”.
At this point I had to plan the next part of the route up to Dorking. The best way would be starting along the old Crawley Road, crossing the “new” dual-carriage way and upwards towards the North Downs. On my way I passed a burnt down house and a deserted pub, both had seen better days and had been left abandoned for what seemed many years. I could only imagine what zombie invested ending the occupiers had faced… Northwards I soon had the sense that Gatwick was nearby and while still very early in the day the planes were low and frequent. This matched the “No Second Runway” billboards appearing in the gated and enclosed gardens on the large houses, always a shiny Range Rover in the drive. Maybe they had a point, it was still amazingly early and yet the noise and frequency of planes was pretty impressive.
Stopping now and then to check the map, Dorking soon started to appear on signposts and the North Downs in the distance. It was a nice feeling to know that I would not have to climb these hills today, Dorking would arrive before the hills. A slight off road section through the middle of a golf course, under railway bridges, through allotments and along long narrow alley ways (all seemed to be a cycle route) and I finally got to the “Cock Roundabout”. A never ending source of amusement for anyone driving along the A24 to finally come across the massive statue of a “cock”, a male chicken, standing in the middle of a roundabout. For some reason a cockerel has been part of the coat of arms for Dorking since 1951, just why I don’t know. This also begs the question why in 2007 a 10ft cock was put on the roundabout, apart from making anyone’s journey through Dorking a bit more amusing. As it happened, I had arrived, on my bike, at this roundabout. I stopped and marvelled at the statue for a while before I started to think about breakfast.
It was 7.30am, another hour until the cafe would open. Traffic and people were now about, the threat of zombie invasion subsided and normal life was starting to wake up. The weather too, it had started to rain. I could sit and wait for an hour for the cafe and breakfast, or I could look up Tanhouse Farm Shop in nearby Rusper, a place I had visited before (with CTC) for a great lunch, I was sure their breakfast would match. A quick check on Google maps and Ride with GPS app and I noticed my route back home took me past the farm shop anyway. I selected the route on the GPS and set off to follow the arrow. A small mistake following the lines and not the arrows on the GPS led me to start tracing back the way I had just come, I soon turned round and put my trust in the arrow only. I should never doubt it, the arrow showed me the way.
It really was raining now but it was not cold, meaning the rain was refreshing. I had no problem getting wet and no plans to stop to put on waterproofs unless it looked like it would continue for a while. By the time I had made my way through and our of Dorking and was heading back south, the rain had stopped. A friendly smell of fresh rain was in the air. Riding along I spotted two lonely looking cyclists coming towards me in the other direction, something drew me to them. While they had nothing to suggest it, they looked like CTC members, they looked like people who had biked up from Worthing…. By the time I had processed all of this, we had both passed and they had disappeared into the distance, I shall never know.
Bad news when I turned up at the farmshop, opening time was not for another 30 minutes. The choice of sitting and waiting, or carrying on, I would be back in Horsham within 30 minutes. A Beefeater grill, by the station, offering all you can eat breakfast at a reasonable price (and the coffee and sausages are good). I know I had opted for the big chain store instead of the small independent, but… I hate waiting around.
Maybe it was not a good idea, the small distance into Horsham seemed to go on for hours and miles, I was starting to feel the affects of non-stop biking for a number of hours. Stopped for a muesli bar snack which I hopped would see my into Horsham and breakfast. A carried on going, keep checking the distance on the GPS and suddenly… Horsham by-pass was in front of me! I was nearly there, just a ride up a small hill, over the railway crossing, down the dreaded Kings Road (never liked that road, always seemed boring even when I biked along it when I was 10) and then in for breakfast. But wait, over the railway crossing, seconds before I got there, the lights started flashing and the gates came down, it seemed a train had left Crawley and we all had to wait for it to get to us…. It seemed like hours before the gates went back up again, but after the rest I was in fine form to do the last stretch before breakfast.
Sausage, bacon, eggs, bean, mushrooms…. lots of orange juice, lots of coffee. A number of croissants.
I was back home by lunchtime, the ride had been hard for the way back. A constant head wind which made the small 4 miles from Partridge Green go on for ever. The early start had been fun, the fact that I had not found the others had not got in the way of a good day out. It was clear though, with an early start of 6 or 7am all would be fine, with a start of 3am it was like I had never been to sleep (which was nearly true) which meant… most of the afternoon I spent alseep.