I needed to use holiday up from last year and so thought it would be a good opportunity to do some long miles on the Royal spending the whole day and do some decent mileage. I planned a round trip up to Horsham, itself around 20 miles away, and added in some detours to make the route more interesting. The result would be just over 60 miles.
There is an old railway line that goes from Shoreham all the way up to Guildford and I fancied going along there. The route is a great route away from roads and I would think takes you through bits of Sussex you would not see normally from the same angle unless you caught the train pre-Beeching times. Being an old railway too means no massive hills which is what makes such paths so attractive for cycling. It is a pity then that not more is made of this particular path. While the Cuckoo trail over in East Sussex has been made into quite an attraction (and I see us getting the train over that way in the summer with our bikes), the South Downs Link (as it links South to North Downs) has little done to it. The path differs in places from gravel to sand, to mud and there are places where bits of modern art are positioned, there are even in places old stations and railway carriages. But mostly it is mud, making a straight’ish path from Shoreham up to Guildford going through long lost railway towns such as Henfield and Southwater. A bit of a lost opportunity as while in the summer time you can bump your way along the path winter time brings water and mud, mixed with horses (it is a bridleway) leaves you navigating a muddy trail that in places you would struggle with a mountain bike let alone a fully loaded touring bike. There are pubs along the way to stop at, but little more than a muddy track runs down the side with little shown for its previous life and what it would offer now. What makes it even more of a pity is that there are not many routes out of the south coast that are flat and traffic free. You can choose to go along the A23 from Brighton (a bit out of the way), or play with the cars on the A24 dual carriage way, or the A283 out of Shoreham to Steyning. Neither of these are ideal, the most direct A283 being the least desirable being both fast and narrow where any cyclist has the potential for holding up traffic for miles (as someone who used to drive that route twice a day knows only too well). The flat ex-railway route which makes a direct line from the centre of Shoreham to Bramber and Steyning is the most ideal, if only it was not a mixture of sand and mud – too messy in the winter, too bumpy in the summer.
My plan is to go up to Guildford following this old railway line, a trip that is more than possible with just the odd detour where the old railway line meets new development. I pondered over this during the week and thought I would give it a go if I thought it would be dry enough (I didn’t want to have to navigate through muddy swamps!). My pondering soon stopped when the day before it drizzled and rained all day without stopping once. My pondering stopped even more on the actual day when I woke up and it was still raining.
Instead I planned an indirect route up to Horsham and a more direct route back. I put this into the GPS, packed some food and after taking the children to school set off….. in the pouring rain. I remembered how I said to myself how I was not going to take this bike out in the rain too much, and how nearly every ride I had been on so far had been in the rain! Not just normal rain where you get a bit damp, but pouring down so much that once again in places it was hard to see where the side of the road finished and the field started. This would turn out to be the first time that my waterproofs I hardly ever use for the daily commute to work would be worn all day (and did quite a good job too).
While using GPS, I do know the local area pretty well and so use it as a guide and a method for tracking progress. Sometimes it is nice to know how long you have got until you get to the top of a hill, or which way you go when you get to a cross roads with no distinctive marks. It saves having to look at a map now and then. If I was going through then I would take a map as well remembering that you should never trust technology (keep that in mind the next time you board an airplane)! The ideal of not fully trusting technology soon came into play as I headed down the road from the school drop off. Because I had not started at the beginning of my planned route within the GPS it was busy telling me I had to turn back to the first waypoint (back home). Not too much of a worry as I would just carry on and it would soon find that I was nearer the next waypoint and not the first and correct itself. It did not, my route was suitably different from the plan that it missed the second too and it was once again showing me an arrow to go backwards. Being 4 miles in I wasn’t going to go back home just so that the GPS could work out what I was doing, so I carried on with the plan for a simpler route if it did not correct itself.
I then remembered that as well as showing you numbers and directions for waypoints, it also had a screen for showing graphically where on the route you were. Not quite up to today’s GPS standards where satnav tells you which lane to go in, but a line on the screen that you can follow, deviating off the line as the road takes you off course and then meeting back up at the next waypoint. To my surprise it worked very well and the whole way up to my destination I followed the straight point-to-point lines on the screen.
This takes me onto the next bit about technology. I plan my routes using Bike Toaster which does the job very well with one or too limitations but the advantages well outweigh it. The main thing I like about this website is how simple and non commercial it is, just straight forward text and straight forward cookie controlled functionality to allow you to save your routes. No adverts, no flash animations, no widgets suggesting you to share your achievements. I turn auto-route off and plan my route by a series of waypoints which I upload to the GPS, that’s all I need. It lacks some of the features of sites such as MapMyRide when it comes to editing, but it doesn’t get in the way too much seeing as all I am doing is selecting waypoints and not trying to follow the roads directly. The best thing is that it is so quick, does what it needs to do and no more.
The service uses Google Maps like most of the others and that tends to show bridleways as white roads just like a normal country lane. When you look at the map you think wow, look at all the small country lanes I never knew existed, but in reality to know they are just dirt tracks or worse. So I keep an eye on that, but sometimes it seems I plan a route that looks all on road but tends to turn into a ploughed field. I got this feeling that this was the case when a country lane suddenly turned into a single track mud track with a horse and rider coming the other way. Strange, the map (and google maps on my mobile phone confirmed) showed this as a road that went alongside a river. It didn’t seem like it in reality and I turned back and re-traced a couple of miles of tracks and continued on known more major roads. Having to use the phone as a backup taught me something else as well which was touchscreen phones are hard to use in the rain – more of that was to come.
The rest of the trip was….wet! I also noticed that Horsham seems to sit on a bit of a hill when you come from the south, nothing you would normally notice but being wet and cold on the bike I really did notice it! A stop off in Horsham to eat my lunch (it managed to keep dry) and to change my now soaking fleece with a waterproof top. It is strange that while you are on the move you don’t notice how wet you are getting, possibly helped by it being quite warm. My waterproof trousers were keeping that side of things dry, but after stopping I suddenly notice how wet my top half was getting. I pondered for a bit, the train station was just a mile away and it would be warm and dry on a train… At the same time though, the GPS told me it was just 20 or so miles back home and I remembered a train journey meant changing at least three times and the likelyhood of it taking most of the rest of the day. I put ideas of wimping out of my head and headed home.
Different and more direct route home, I put my head down with the sound of rain hitting heavy on my hood I remembered about how Horsham was on a bit of a hill. This meant I was now going slightly downhill, no wind, and making good speed. The GPS suggested I would be home within just over an hour if I was able to keep the pace, an impossible task but nice to see all the same. It was at this point I thought I would see if the GPS had found its way. I had got so used to following the map view I had forgot all about it on the way up. To a nice suprise the GPS had found its way (and probably did miles ago!) and I was now able to see how long in distance and time I had to each way point, nice to keep an eye on.
The journey home was enjoyable but not much happened, just a case of keeping going. I passed over the old railway, the sad and muddy looking path alongside a nice looking pub, what a missed opportunity I thought. I didn’t race home, but I just happened to get back in time to meet T&J to pick them up from school, I thought I would be out for much longer than that.
The day and the rain had taken their toll though. While I was pleased that my first time ever for wearing full waterproofs for such a long period of time had not turned me into a human boil-in-the-bag experiment, not everything had survived. My mobile phone which I had been using to listen to the radio on suddenly went quiet. I stopped, thinking maybe someone was trying to phone me up only to find the screen flickering and then it went off. It never came back, the phone was soaking wet even though it was in my pocket. Never fully trust your technology indeed. More a problem, had my day just cost me £200 for a new phone?
The bike too had seen better days by the time I got back. The muddy and sandy railway cycle path had covered everything with muddy gritty sand. The waxy dry-lube on the chain showed me it really doesn’t like the wet the next day when I was faced with cleaning up and surface rust all over the chain. It really did not have a chance. A couple of hours the next day though tidied it all up and got it back to new again. I don’t plan to use the bike in the wet remember…..
On the good side, apart from the misunderstanding at the beginning the old and secondhand GPS did a great job. In the wet constantly it did not fail. At the same time, I had taken spare batteries as it was showing quite low on power, but these were not needed. Being quite old it takes normal AA batteries whereas today we are all used to purpose built rechargeable batteries we plug in at the end of each night. It seems to keep its memory between battery changes (I tested it) so that is not a problem. The battery life then seems to be just over a couple of long days riding which is a good 12 hours+ (I’m pretty sure the instructions suggest 26 hours and I can believe it). When you think a modern mobile phone last just a couple of hours with GPS receiver switched on, you sometimes think technology has gone a bit backwards.
No speed or time achievements this time, but an enjoyable day in the rain. There is nothing wrong really with rain, it is normally the wind and the cold that gets on your nerves. Today there was neither, just rain, and rain is no problem. I would prepare the bike for the wet if I did it again, and I would wrap my phone in multiple waterproof bags!