A Wet Week in the West
I revisited the Isle of Wight recently, the first time for several years and the first time with my bicycle. On previous visits I have felt that not to take a bike was a rather serious mistake and staying for a week on the west side of Ventnor we should be in an ideal location for some serious rides. So my wife, Sarah and I loaded the capacious estate car so thoughtfully provided by my employer with our bikes, set out and arrived at the Isle of Wight on one of the few fine days in mid April.
Sarah isn't too keen on cold wet rides and I have gone off them a bit in the past few years so we ignored Saturdays rain and stayed in, all day. Sunday was glorious with barely a cloud and we headed off to Mottistone Down, just a short ride at a gentle pace but it just felt so good to go dragging ourselves up the hills and through the mud, at least I thought so.
In the evening I took a shorter ride from the house up to Stenbury Down. I have two sets of wheels, one set with Fat Boys for street rides and a set of Mavic CrossRides with Panaracer Smoke's for the mud. Obviously the idea is that I can keep the Smoke's in good condition for the mud but I was about to find how pointless this was. The Stenbury Trail from Whitwell Road isn't too steep or long but within 20 metres of the road the thick sticky clay was sticking thickly. Within 200 metres the tyres were so fat and the bike so heavy that the only solution was to poke it with a stick. That sorted I attempted to restart, balance carefully, get my feet in, pedal, wheelspin, stop and try again and keep trying with just one foot in the pedal and the other pushing frantically. I carry on like this for some time hoping that no one comes down the track to see me and travel about 10 metres eventually finding a patch of grass big enough to fit the back tyre on and find some grip.
Monday, I ride in the same area, toward Whitwell through Nettlecombe, past Stenbury Manor Farm and again up to Stenbury Down. As you might imagine it's more of the same, a lot of poking with sticks, very careful balancing to keep traction and more paddling along like a six year old. You must have got the idea now and I was beginning to feel like the Isle of Wight wasn't such a good place for bicycles.
By Thursday I have realised that the west end of the island is more chalky, better draining and less muddy so I set out for a longer ride to the Needles. I kept to the roads getting to Niton and then start up Bury Lane towards St Catherine's Hill. Ten metres off the tarmac and, well, read the description of the Stenbury Trail again, except this time the rain water has taken the mud off the centre of the track so I have a choice of thick mud or loose stones with sudden steps. By the time I go round St Catherine's Hill and past Hoy's Monument I'm looking forward to a bit of downhill and head for the path that runs diagonally down the west side. But I have to pedal all the way down. Cattle have reduced it to a quagmire and the wheels sink up to the hubs in places, my feet are dragging in the mud and the water running into the tyre ruts rapidly overtakes me and hides the driest line.
At the bottom I go left as it looks drier. It's not and I push the bike through the mud while walking on a thin strip of grass. The path comes out onto a track leading to Gotten Manor Farm which I reckon should be a bit firmer but the end of the path is flooded with a thin brown lagoon, to the left a midden of straw and cow slurry offers the driest route. I part carry, part drag the bike between clumps of straw and finally use it as a prop to stop me sinking into slurry. It stinks, and I begin to visualise myself stuck up to the waist until I am found by the cows or with any luck, the farmer who might have laughed but at least he might have got me out before Friday. Eventually I roll onto the tarmacked farm drive and ride along slowly, with my mouth closed, riding through puddles until the tyres are cleaned off.
I have been out for nearly two hours and gone about eight kilometres so decide to stick to the road to make up some time until joining the Worsley Trail at Berry Hill. I feel like I'm flying along on drier ground until I cross the Shorwell to Carisbrooke road and start up Renham Down. Here, you should go back a few paragraphs and reread my comments on the Stenbury Trail. By the time the top's reached, the chain is so full of mud that the gears don't work and I eventually resort to dragging the bike through puddles on its side in a vain attempt to clean it. The sheep and lambs looked on probably thinking ‘not again'. On the high chalky ground the rest of the ride is pretty easy and thankfully stays this way until I join the road again at Freshwater.
In a way it's a pity that we visited in the wettest spring for years but I certainly had a few memorable rides while on the island though not all entirely enjoyable. Next time we revisit I would like to join the The Extremists on a couple of rides if that's ok?
Jeremy and Sarah
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