Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The tandem: Ditchling, the final frontier

Refreshed and full of KitKatty goodness, CC and I decided to go for it.

CC hates getting off her bike and has an amazingly stubborn attitude about hills, she successfully conquered Ditchling on her first go in June last year. I just wanted to prove the doubters wrong but, secretly, was terrified I'd let CC down. On the same ride that she'd mastered it, I'd had to give up before I'd even seriously begun because my knee hurt and I just didn't think I could do it.

As we began the ascent we passed a group who had stopped at a layby before the hill began, we could have stopped there but decided an uphill start on the tandem was just not a good idea. A few of the bystanders cheered as we passed before the trees either side of the road closed in and we were encased in a steep green tunnel.

Although alone to begin with, there were others on the journey, to our shock we passed a couple and then we saw some walkers. Ditchling curves so you can't see where it ends and each corner is a fresh mini-hill. You can start off optimistic and quickly lose hope. I was a walker last year so steered clear of them, and would never have mocked. CC and I were forced to call out to one walker though as she veered in front of us as we climbed. We had announced our presence but had to call repeatedly for her to move.

If one of us flagged the other would encourage and that's how it went for the whole climb. As more people abandoned their bikes to walk we start to overtake larger clumps of people and many of them cheered us on and shouted encouragement.

At this point I felt like someone had thrown a cup of brine in my face as the sweat was so heavy, sexy in the extreme, I'm sure you'd agree.

There's a sign with a horse on it on the last curve and we kept our eyes glued to the horizon willing it to appear. When it finally did I nearly cried. That last corner was murder and it was only a shout of 'It's the tandem! And they're still on!!' that kept my legs going. As we crested the hill it was all too tempting to just stop dead in the road but I was determined that we would glide to a stop in style. A gorgeous dog was ahead as his owner was chatting to some of the riders. My aim was that we would stop near it so I could pet it.

We had made it. After CC and I had laid Miranda gently down and hugged in an overly emotional manner I rang my mum, who had texted to check I was ok. I proudly announced that CC, the tandem and I were at the top of Ditchling, 'Did you push it?' was the reply.

After Ditchling there are a few more dips and swells before the descent into Brighton and it didn't take long for the adrenaline high to wear off. Yes, we were nearly there, but we were also exhausted. Talk was of breakfasts and we spent the last half hour detailing what exactly we would eat. It was the smell of the sea that enlivened us and, as we swept onto the sea front, CC even took her hands of her handlebars to do jazz hands as we came to rest at the Madeira cafe. We stuffed ourselves with fried tasties and regaled our experience to Charles, owner of Miranda.

As we prepared to leave we went to say goodbye and thank you to Mr Fabulous for yet another great FNRttC. It's a bit like getting an audience with the king as there's always a queue. We thanked him and received the highest honour possible:

'I underestimated you girls, I thought it would be a disaster and didn't think you could do it. You've proved me wrong, I've never seen such commitment.'

With the equivalent of a cycling knighthood ringing in our ears we headed for the station, CC on Reg and Charles and I back on Miranda. We thanked Charles profusely for lending us his fabulous machine and got on the train home. We ended up with bicycleslut (owner of the penny farthing) and J (a fellow Uxbridge Roader). They own a tandem and a prior conversation with them was part of my inspiration.

What better way to end such a weird experience than to sit next to a penny farthing?

I got home and showered before settling down for a nap with Mr Handsome. As I dozed off I reflected on our achievement and sent CC a text:

We are actually certifiably mad.

Then I slept and dreamt of Miranda.


  1. "We are actually certifiably mad." Yep, slightly more mad than the avg. FNRttC-er, it deserves to be said. But you 'carried' yourselves brilliantly and, tbh, made riding a tandem look far too easy. After scaring the bejaysus out of me whilst you practised at HPC when you didn't seem to be completely in control 100% of the time. How wrong was I then?

    Not getting 'let out' wasn't a tandem thing on the night, I think it happened to me a couple of times; restarts are clearly a bit everyone for themselves.

    Chapeau to you and CC see you next time?

  2. I was so totally impressed with how you guys got on with it. As we left HPC I did wonder if you'd still be riding (and speaking!) by Gatwick, but within ten miles you were looking totally at ease with it. You'll have to come round and try C's penny now...