A few weeks ago, I cycled 45 off-road miles along the Downs Link from Guildford to Brighton on a whim. I liked the look of the route, so I figured I might as well give it a go. Why not, right?
I hadn’t trained; I cycled it on my cheap old hybrid, and I filled my backpack with Soreen and Snickers and peanut butter bagels and chocolate coated raisins. It was over 20 miles further than I’d ever cycled before, and hillier than I expected, and I got lost a few times .. But it was sunny and warm and beautiful and I loved every single minute of it.
I was apprehensive, to say the least. I had never gone further than Cranleigh on that route (9 miles), I’d never had to fix a puncture before (or any other mechanical bike problem) and was cycling solo. I pretty much just crossed my fingers that nothing would go wrong and decided ‘to hell with it’. Plus, I really wanted fish and chips…
The first part of the route was a lovely flat disused railway line. It was nearly deserted for the first couple of hours, except for some charity walkers, a couple of other cyclists and a horse rider or two. It was also very easy to navigate, with easy-to-spot Downs Link signs at regular intervals.
The second 10 miles or so were reeeally beautiful:
Carpets of beautiful bluebells. Miles and miles of them, surrounded by woodland. I got lost on this stretch, as there were a few different paths through the woodland, but a very kind runner spotted me and helped me out! And once back onto the path after a slight diversion, it was smooth sailing again for another hour or so.
A lot of the second half of the route was through open countryside, which was brilliant. As well as it being easy peasy to find your way, you could see for miles and the views were stunning.
Whilst the majority of the route was along the Downs Link, there were a couple of diversions onto quiet country roads:
It got a bit tricky when I reached the South Downs Way and Coastal Link – there were signposts and coloured arrows everywhere, and I got a bit muddled trying to work out which one to follow:
I didn’t take my Garmin, so I have no idea what the exact distance was, or how long it took me, or what pace I was going; but the moment I clambered off my bike and stood there looking out at the sparkling blue sea, none of that mattered. The pride I felt when I finished my little adventure was epic.
I think for a while now I’ve been a bit caught up with times and paces and mile splits and distances and endless targets. Whilst training for events is great, and the crowds and medals and goodie bags are awesome, I think in many ways my cycle to Brighton topped it all.
There’s nothing better than pushing yourself up a crazy huge hill in the middle of nowhere, on your cheap old bike, with no real idea of where you are (but hoping you’re still vaguely on track), just to feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair as you free-wheel back down the other side, wobbling and bumping over the loose gravel and getting splattered with mud and unable to wipe the ridiculous grin off your face.
I think I need a bit more of that.