Evening all. Here’s an account of a ride done by a complete beginner to cross-country Muni. Previously I did just under 2 mile “there-and-back” rides at Margery (near Junction 8 of the M25) for a month until about November last year, and I decided I really needed to get back out there.
The place: Norbury Park, between Leatherhead and Dorking. The book “More Cycling Without Traffic” published in 2000 detailed a nice 3.5 mile loop in the area. The previous Sunday I took a quick look there and decided it would be ideal, despite the almost-full busy car park at the North of the route.
So I chose to divert from the A24 and parked in the secluded, tucked-away mini car-park at the southernmost point of the route. Only room for about 8 cars, but mine was the first and only car to park there on this fine Wednesday mid-morning. With 661s already on and Camelbak on back, I donned my new KH Pulse gloves/wristguards and attempted to put my helmet on, but clumsily concluded it would be better to do those last two the other way round. A few minutes to get prepared, no other cars or people to be seen.
First 300 metres on a very narrow no-through road with fields either side, very gentle uphill gradient. The book said “you are highly unlikely to encounter any traffic” which I believed, especially as I was riding towards the dead-end. Less than 70 seconds into the ride I hear an engine, I have to dismount and step onto the grass bank as the road didn’t allow room for any pedestrians. Who would be driving here? A red post office van delivering to the cottages at the end of this road.
I follow it, and then encounter the first of many wooden barriers which I ride around (albeit holding onto it) the existing tyre tracks in the mud showing all other pedal-vehicle users had done the same, onto a steeper uphill and probably the muddiest part of the route. The mud was nowhere near as bad as Margery (zero wheel-traction was guaranteed there) but I still had to fight against the sliding around, and near the crest of the hill came the first UPD. Oh dear, a remount was needed, on a slippery and uneven uphill. I remounted successfully and was thrilled, only to UPD again after less than two wheel revolutions. Two more riding-off-after-remount’s failed, so I had to walk it up the hill before a fully successful remount. Now it was level, but the mud was thickening, the underlying surface getting more uneven. Still, I make it through.
The mud covering was now getting less, and on a straight gravelly section comes my first encounter with a member of the General Public, a middle-aged man wearing a wide brimmed hat walking his dog. The dog charges towards me, so I voluntarily stop and try to be friendly with it, and it turns out to be friendly back to me. The gentleman remarks the wet weather would make riding difficult, especially those with one wheel. A short chat later, I wave him goodbye and ride on.
Woodland appears on the right and time for the first downhill, gentle gradient but littered with loose stones and tree roots. No problem, but somehow a UPD occurs on the little smooth respite before something tougher; the road has a deeper channel that meanders from right to left and then to centre. Should I avoid that and stay on the side, or go into the gully and let it guide my wheel down? I opt for option 1, mount, ride and quickly change my mind for option 2 on the move. Gathering speed steadily I make it down to the level and around the second wooden barrier, UPDing a few feet after it.
Now a dead-straight level track. This one has no loose gravel, but still a bumpy ride caused by the surface of the stumpy “square rocks”. I encounter another man and his dog, I choose not to stop for this canine. Somehow the gentleman cannot resist saying “That’s fantastic! Absolutely amazing!”. I just give a weak thanks as I ride by. What exactly is amazing about what I’m doing? I’m just riding a wheel along a straight track which to me would be no harder than doing it on a two-wheeler. So what?
Halfway down this track, a farmhouse and another wooden barrier comes into view and I see a man and woman in the distance. I ride round and the couple fix my attention just enough to miss a ridge and resulting in a running UPD. As I position to remount he remarks “It must be so hard because presumably you can’t freewheel it”. Wow! Someone who’s never seen a Muni before figures out at least one technical aspect. I say to the man that that’s correct, and fill him in a little further on the reason why you should always look at the ground while riding. As I mount and pedal away, he says “Have a nice ride!”.
End of the track was a crossroads requiring a right turn. The official halfway mark. By now my legs are starting to give in a little but I figured it wasn’t long to the picnic area. I was correct in terms of distance, but things started to go awry. The uphill gradient was gentle, but rather long and on a wet bumpy gravel track giving about three UPDs. I give in and walk up a little to barrier number four amongst open grassland and attempt to remount, it fails.
Here comes my closest encounter, a lady at the top of the open hill and her kid someway off in the grass. But is it their dog who stands very close by and takes a very sincere interest in me for three minutes, taking no notice of the kid shouting “Leave him alone”. When the dog eventually leaves, an attempt to remount on this bumpy uphill fails, as well as the next three attempts. By now my legs are jelly and my face feels as red as a cherry, so I have to officially give it up and walk my Muni the very short distance up to the fifth wooden barrier and take a pew at the picnic area. Here I do nothing for 5 minutes, except catch my breath and hydrate.
After that official rest stop, through the last of the wooden barriers which I ride round successfully onto seems like a very appropriate home straight, a normal smooth pavement on the level in woodland which holds the biggest surprise, painted yellow artificial speed bumps. The bumps are small and high, and wide enough to guard the whole path. The mud either side reveal tyre tracks of riders past, but I charge over the first one and make it successfully. A small sign diverts me left off the path to a viewpoint, which is well hidden by the trees. I start to admire the view gradually coming into focus, and a UPD reminds me once again that I should have ridden up first, stopped, and then looked at the view… of the A24.
Turning back and rejoining the path, over the second speed bump with a wall of thick chopped logs either side. Signs saying things along the lines of “don’t play on the logs” mildly amuse; if I’d invited any trials riders long they’d have had a ball. This smooth path is the easiest riding, but also the longest. My legs are beginning to tire again, but are eventually relieved when the subtle downhill gradient takes ahold and eases the rolling resistance. My last encounter with the General Public is a group of about 20 Senior Citizens. I slow down, stick to the very left of the path and they gradually filter over to the right, apart from one who has to be pulled out the way 3 seconds before a potential impact. Was she blind? Maybe she was.
Over the last speed bump, which thanks to a grass bank had no room either side to pass if I decided to chicken out of it. The downhill gets steeper and bends to the left, but I need to go straight on to access the uphill path leading back to the car park. The gradient is significant, but the semi-smooth track helps me make it all the way up without stopping. A little hump later, and a steeper narrow descent bending to the right opens out suddenly and I’m right next to my car again for the first time in about an hour. And still no other cars.
Well that ride would be nothing compared to the more experienced Muni’ers here, but I’m still proud of myself in riding (most of) that distance, and being my first ever ride worthy of a write-up (I hope).