The plan to ride 'The Double' came about by accident really - During a telephone discussion between myself & my good friend, Nick Dwyer, we talked about riding the SDW. A big problem identified was how to get to the start / back from the finish. A bit of a logistical ball-ache living where we do, near 'the middle'. Of course, the sensible thing to do for soooo many reasons is to start & finish from home. Simples! In fact, the only reason in the 'against' column for this plan was the fact we would have to ride it twice, but that's a thing so let's give it a go. So before we really knew it, we had talked ourselves into The Double!
If we were gonna do this thing we needed to pull our fingers out. We wanted as many hours of daylight as possible, but summer solstice had already passed and the days were only getting shorter. We set a tentative schedule of getting the ride done towards the end of July. In the three weekends before that Nick was away for one, so we had two weekends to get some training rides in & see if the plan was achievable.
Training ride one saw us both ride out from our respective homes to meet at Blackcap to ride to Eastbourne & back. This was the best-known section to both of us & would be started in the dark for our SDD so would be a good section to get to know better. We started this ride early (approx 05:00) & all was going well. We swore at the climbs, tried to commit the grassy maze at Eastbourne end to memory & tested our luggage / nutrition / hydration strategy over the 6ish hours. The only real blip with this ride, & it was a very lucky blip was quite a high speed crash on the last descent of the day, just before the A27. I still don't really know what or how it happened but count my blessings that after I had picked myself up & dusted myself off there was no real damage to me or the bike. A very important reminder that anything can happen!
Crash aside TR1 was considered a success. Pace was OK, we were happy with the tap locations and both had a chance to amend our luggage. Training ride two was the other way, Ditchling Beacon & as far west as 3 hrs would take us, then turn around and back to DB. On SDD day this would be our finish & would be ridden in the dark again. This section isn't that well known to me, so a worthwhile exercise to try to get it stored in the memory. Again a largely pretty steady ride with no dramas at all this time. There would still be slight tweaking of the nutrition & luggage strategy, but a good ride over a total of 8hrs confirmed that we were 'Go' for launch.
We had a solid plan, we were quietly confident that barring disaster we would finish the ride. Now we just needed to do it!
Saturday the 25th July was the day we had originally selected but as the week progressed it was clear that the forecast disagreed with us so we made the call on Wednesday that we would go on Friday 24th (I already had the day booked off & Nick could re-arrange his diary to suit). We had split the ride into 3 pieces (60miles, 100miles & 40miles) I would drive to Nicks house in Brighton where we would ride to start at Ditchling Beacon for a start at approx 02:00, ride to Eastbourne, quick selfie at The Kiosk, then back to DB to meet Nicks wonderful better half, who would take our lights home for a recharge, restock us with food & drink & send us on our way West to Winchester (another selfie) & back to Cocking Hill car park for some more resupplies & to collect our lights before the run home.
I actually got some good sleep before the alarm call at 00:30hrs & Nick & I made an efficient start from DB at our intended 02:00. I'd so love to say we had a great start, but psst psst pssst pssst pssst.!!! Nick had picked up a puncture on a relatively innocuous section (ironically at the top of the climb I crashed on whilst descending during TR1). A mess around in the dark stabbing the hole with a plug & getting squirted with liquid latex & pumping up the tyre showed another hole a bit further round - more stabbing, plugging, pumping & swearing & we were back off on our way with our fingers crossed.
After this hiccup after about 40mins, the rest of the ride to Eastbourne was good. Riding the chalky climbs in the bubble of your own lights was actually a nice way to do it. You don't look up & see the top never getting closer. You just look at the illuminated section & if anything concentrate on your line better. Our ride a couple of weeks before paid off and we descended to The Kiosk as the Sun was just coming up, which would have been lovely were it not for the grey clouds that filled the sky above the UKs 'sunshine capital'. There was an hour of our ride from the turn at Ebo to Alfriston that was pretty miserable. The rain fell thick & hard, steaming up glasses, getting our bikes dirty (very annoying) & making the descents a bit 'tricky', but fortunately, the skies were clear in the direction we were headed & the rain, like Nicks puncture was soon just a memory.
No crashes this time & we rolled into Ditchling Beacon car park a little later than we hoped to be met by the ever-lovely Mrs D letting us descend onto the boot of the car like locusts to grab handfuls of sweet sticky powders & potions & surprise us with some much appreciated foil-wrapped mini bacon rolls. We left our lights after repeating for the umpteenth time 'don't forget to charge the lights' & continued West for our middle & biggest stint between resupplies. This section was going to be 100+ miles all the way to Winchester, another selfie, this time at the statue of King Alfred the Great. A celebratory bacon roll I had carried for 70 miles since Ditchling and back to a car park where the trail crosses the A286.
In my mind's eye before the day, this 100+ mile section was where we could 'push on' a little on some of the flatter, more maintained trails at the Winchester end of the SDW. The reality on the day was that we were both a bit too broken at this point to go around pushing much. Nicks neck & shoulders were playing him up. My knees, especially the left, were feeling a touch tender, so too were my wrists. A good maintenance pace was adopted. This was helped now after the turn by a helpful wind from the SSW. Ominously on this return from Winchester Nick had to stop a couple of times to re-adjust / re-plug that puncture that was picked up in the first hour.......
Two very aching, hobbling & smelly men pulled into the Car Park at Cocking Hill where Mrs D greeted us, this time with Ham & Cheese rolls, more sweet sticky horrible stuff (needs must) & importantly, fully charged lights! In hindsight, we should have dealt with Nicks tyre here, but we topped it up with the track pump, all seeming well & continued. After all, we only had about 35 miles / 3.5hrs to go?
We soon rode past the point we got to on TR2 which was 3hrs (29miles) from Ditchling and agreed that we would just try to get as much riding done in the light as possible. This plan was going well, the skies were clear so the evening light lasted late. As the sun went down, the wind picked up, helping us up the climbs & pushing us along on the open sections (I nearly wrote flat - there isn't any flat!). Inside that last 20miles there were a couple of stops for Nicks softening rear tyre. On the third stop, with just 15miles to go we agreed we should put a tube in. It was dark, we were wrecked & we made much harder work of it than we should. We looked like a pair of drunks trying to change a tube, slurring our speech, wobbling about & dropping stuff in the dark. This pit stop was far from Mclaren standards, made worse by the fact the first tube inserted was a dud. This made us paranoid that there was still something sharp in there, although it was double-checked. The next tube was a success & after a tidy up, we were back on our way. Strava will tell how long this episode took, but in the dark, it seemed sooo much longer!
When rolling again, in the dark the finish actually seemed to come quite quickly. The climbs from Washington, up Newtimber & Truleigh were all horrible, but every one meant we were nearer to the finish. The climb up next to Pyecombe Golf Club seemed almost easy with the tailwind & the realisation that nothing was gonna stop us finishing from here. A slow-motion sprint down to the DB car park, more selfies & we were done, both literally & metaphorically!!! 22:32:28
It may have been said before, but that is the hardest thing I have ever done on the bike!
Things I have learnt.
Strategy wise it all worked well for us. The Ditchling - Eastbourne - Winchester - Ditchling format worked great. I wouldn't do it any other way. Our support stops were perfect too (Thanks Mrs D xxx)
Our 2 training rides were really important to help us pre-ride the sections we would be doing in the dark & to really be sure we knew where the drinking water taps are. They are vital!
Ideally, I would have ridden the SDD nearer summer solstice (end June) just to give more available daylight - It's so much easier to make progress in the daylight.
Whatever works for you - this is so personal. I used SIS energy drinks, drinking about a bottle every hour. At every stop I would neck a bottle of plain water too before refilling with energy product. Solid food was a couple of bananas, a few Tru bars (from Aldi) and the much appreciated Bacon & Ham & Cheese rolls - this savoury stuff was bang on! Also a handful of gels but really as security - most energy came from bottles.
I regret not having some caffeine tabs / adding caffeine to my bottles after the last stop. Nothing bad happened without it, but I feel I could have done with it to help with alertness.
Bike was spot on - It didn't miss a beat for the whole ride. I've done many inappropriate rides on this bike & struggled (Its not good around Bike Park Wales). The South Downs Way is absolutely perfect! I have cut the bars down slightly from stock & have fitted little Syncros bar-ends inboard of the grips. They are 420mm c/c & give a similar hand position to my road bike. I thought I was a genius doing this, then saw Lachlan Morton's set-up for Leadville where he had the same - maybe he saw mine?
Tyres were Conti Race King Protection setup tubeless with Effeto Mariposa Caffelatex Sealant - No issues through training or SDD - Pressure about 30psi
Altura top tube bag carrying bars, gels, car key & power bank to charge Wahoo - Wahoo Elemnt on the stem taking care or data recording & navigation.
Topeak handlebar pod thingy with energy drink sachets & chewing gum. I like this bag due to the stretchy net pockets on the side to stuff rubbish etc whilst on the move.
Blackburn frame bag with tools / spares etc - This one fits my frame nicely, In here was Co2 cans & inflator, quicklink, cable ties, tubeless plugs, duct tape wrapped around the tubeless canister, electrical tape (in case I see some dodgy wiring?), tyre lever, some wipes, mini tube of Squirt chain wax which was needed after the early shower, Park Tool tyre boot, chain quick link. AND a folded up face mask in a ziplock bag, just in case I needed to go in a shop as this was the first day of compulsory facemasks due to pandemic.
I had 2 x inner tubes. one taped down by the BB, the other under the saddle along with a multi tool.
2 x bottle cages too, one sideloader in the frame triangle, the other under the downtube. I made some innertube 'bottle johnnies' to protect these underslung bottles from all the sh1t you inevitably ride through, but ended up doing away with these as they are fiddly - I found that putting the bottles in here upside down worked just as well at protecting the lid / mouthpiece from getting 'tasty'.
Surprised this system worked as well as it did, but my lighting was dealt with by 2 x Bikehut (that's right!) lights. On the bars was their 1600lumen advanced light. Strapped to my hat was their 600lumen number. £75 for the pair (or £67.50 with BC discount). On the back was a 2 x 1/2watt Raleigh, battery-powered light. Cheap, powerful & lasts forever.
Oh - And a little bell off Amazon. This was a late addition to the setup, but was well worth adding. I must have used it 200 times, granted half of those were just for moral, but it worked a treat.