Hell of the Ashdown ride report

The Dirty Dozen – The story synopsis

‘Top Transportation Engineer (Major John Haile) is assigned a dozen committed cyclists to train and lead them into a mass secret mission in the Southern England Hills in a Cold War setting’ – or something like that.


The Penge ‘dirty dozen’, most having trained for this day, ventured out to the cold roads of Kent and Sussex to tackle the Hell of the Ashdown.

One Direction – One Way Or Another

If you are the type to swap a nice warm bed and a mountain of lovely Sunday breakfast for a 110km notoriously hilly ride in conditions including: snow, more clouds than sun, chilly winds of between 10 and 14 mph and an expected ‘high’ of 2 degrees with the possibility of ice on the road, then you need your head testing, a new, more comfortable mattress, or a tastier cereal choice!

To underline the curious behaviour on display here the team included; one with a broken rib, another recovering from a back injury, another whose wedding anniversary it was, two who volunteered (they might say were coerced) to join the team on the day and three who not only did the 110km ride but rode there and back to the event – you know, crazy people!

Now either we were showing our determination and commitment or should simply have been committed. Note: Over 500 of the 1,500 riders who had signed up for the event looked out the window that day and thought ‘you know what, I’d prefer a cup of tea, warm slippers & the Archers Omnibus’ – great minds think alike – conversely fools seldom differ!

What’s Gloves got to do with it?

The Penge ‘Damart’ team were well wrapped up – our Mums would have been proud. Winnie dressed as a human ‘pass the parcel’, reportedly wearing an impressive 6 layers plus mittens! (I think all his kit had his name sewn in but cannot confirm this). Now the downside here (from a man who had five layers and a plimsoll bag on his back) is that whilst your body keeps warm you are now also a big sweaty sponge on wheels. A typical dilemma occurring if you took your gloves off to eat something or sort a mechanical issue, your fingers froze and then were re-inserted into cold sweaty gloves – Arggggh!

All in all you’re just another bike up the Wall

Why are all these tough climbs given twee names; Star, Toys, Pain etc. Case in point the big challenge here was the misnamed Kidds Hill, better described as ‘The Wall’. Possibly the name referred to your transformation as you attacked the hill as an adult and got to the top feeling like a helpless baby.

On every sportive there is one hill that everyone is dreading, the one all the talk is about, the nemesis. Kidds Hill was that one. No need for cycling computers here unless seeing your speed ebb away in tenths is something that motivates you over 1 mile / 400m metres of climbing and an 18% gradient – didn’t think so. To paraphrase Edmund Hillary, the fight is not against the hill; it’s against yourself. Well there was a full-on barney going on between your body parts and your bike – cranks slowly arguing with your concrete and jelly legs, lungs screaming for breath and all you can give them is very cold air, your mind telling you it’s a matter of pride and your body saying who cares about pride – just stop.

Two little boys had a little jaunt up Toys (Hill)

A special mention must go to my riding companion Neil who is all about the detail – you can tell by the bike he rides (Pinarello Dogma if you’re asking). He’d had the foresight to leave an anniversary card for his good lady before he rushed off like a latter day ‘Milk Tray’ man. When riding up the hills, no matter how tortuous, he would open his top for the photographers to make sure he was flashing the club kit, and then slump back over the bars!

You don’t know the half of it

So you conquer the infernal hill that had taken up so much of your thoughts. It’s behind you now and just as you perversely start to miss it you realise you are nowhere near done yet.  You slog on with the odd glimmer of sunshine to lift the spirits, a few tea stops and as much free energy gels as you can appropriate (well they do cost over £1 each you know).

Nowhere to run nowhere to Ide

The National Trust describes the area as… Ide Hill is a village within the civil parish of Sundridge with Ide Hill, in the Sevenoaks District of Kent, England. It stands on one of the highest points of the sandstone ridge about five miles south-west of Sevenoaks.

What they fail to mention is that it’s also a right pig of a hill to ride up when you’ve already done 40+ miles!

Beware the Ides of March – Well Shakespeare, the Ide on a cold Sunday in February is not much fun either!

Some ride in the gutter, but some of us are looking up Star Hill

It’s strange how something you’d normally not welcome, like Star Hill, on your average weekly ride becomes like an old friend. On this ride you knew this feature meant the home-ish straight. So, after avoiding enough pot holes to fill the Albert Hall, suicidal dogs and deer, drivers pre-occupied with thoughts of a nice 3-course Sunday lunch to slow down for a cyclist in bright orange, we made it back to the Biggin Hill HQ. We counted them all out, and after 5-6.5 hours, we counted them all back in again.

Every Day’s a Learning Day

  • Rides in the UK in February tend to be cold – who knew!?
  • Sometimes the weather forecast is spot on no matter your level of optimism
  • Don’t wear your bib shorts as your last base layer – toilet breaks will be very cold!
  • There is no shame in using a Granny ring – Use ‘em if you got ‘em
  • People who complete this in just over 3 hours have missed the bountiful English scenery
  • Many fields in the countryside have more than a trace horse in them
  • If I appear on Oprah’s show, at least I don’t have to apologise for my use of SIS energy gels
  • Mrs Neil’s husband has a nice backside – it’s all I saw up & over a number of hills
  • 64 miles of cold riding is well worth one certificate
  • We are an open club but deer are not allowed to join mid-ride


The stats

Trip Time: Long

Riding Time: Arduous

Riding Distance: …follow the second biggest star to the right and just keep going

Altitude Gain: As Stevie Wonder said, ‘too high, but I ain’t touched the sky’

Calories Burned: With all those energy gels and cakes we had, as little as possible?

Avg Temperature: 2 degrees with the wind chill making it feel more like minus 10 degrees

Avg Speed: Yes, it was average

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