Paul Gibbons – 23h 36m on the 15th July 2011. Paul from Lewes Wanderers CC originally planned to ride with a partner, but ended up going it alone. Starting off after midnight in a gale and suffering 3 punctures, Paul reportedly found time for a “rather tasty ice cold coffee frappe” when making the turn at Winchester to ease the suffering on the return leg. Paul decided to start at Devils Dyke and head out to Eastbourne for the first section.

In Paul’s word – courtesy of The Lewis Wanders CC:

Eastbourne to Winchester and back again-mainly off road. Another challenge and another 24 hours on the bike-or less, hopefully. This has been a challenge that has eluded me for the last two years. The first year, just never got round to it. Last year, a failed attempt with John Miller and then just never found the time for a re-run. This year, I thought would be ideal-I could do it after the national 24, ideal training for such a challenge. John was also up for the showdown. Preparation was slightly different for this ride-a lot more laid back and casual and no specific training what so ever. I had planned to do it on the Friday 15th of July, leaving at 00:00 from Devil’s Dyke. It would be a full moon if there was no cloud about, hopefully aiding in the lighting front.The plan was to ride to Eastbourne and back, travelling as light as possible, before kitting up for the longer section to Winchester and back. This meant getting the toughest bit out of the way first as well-sounded good.

Two days before hand, John announced he would be unable to go that day! I had got myself fully committed to this ride now and decided to go it alone, having told John that I wasn’t waiting for him this time anyway, no matter what; I wanted to do the ride in less than 24 hours! Steve Burgess also wanted to ride to Winchester from Lewes with me as I came back past. Once again, I told him I wasn’t waiting for him if he dropped behind. The ride was on, and John had decided to start Friday afternoon on his own, doing Winchester first-he would be pushing it with the weather forecast and a 2000 strong sponsored walk on the Saturday. It was blowing a gale at Devil’s Dyke when I arrived at about 11:45pm. I put everything on that I had got, packed my smaller camel bak and pockets with what I needed and set off, leaving at 00:17am. It’s all downhill to start, not ideal when you start off already cold. However, it’s all uphill straight after that! If you don’t know this end of the South Downs, it’s all up, down, up, down all the way to Eastbourne! I was already half cooked on my way up past the Jack and Jill windmills and had my first stop to remove clothing. A glance at the computer wasn’t good-my average was already down on what I was expecting, still early days yet.

Once over Ditchling beacon, things began to look better. The moon was out and lit the whole of the landscape with an eerie glow. It felt bizarre to be riding along these chalk stone ridges whilst the vast majority of sane people were tucked up in bed. Still, the wildlife was incredible, rabbits everywhere, deer of all kinds, a baby badger and a glorious tawny owl, to name but a few.

The smug look in Eastbourne-3:15am

I crossed the A27, still busy. I crossed the A26, dead as a dodo. Things were going groovy, arrived at the sign board in Eastbourne at 3:15am. Took some photos, had some food and then started to head for Winchester, back up the hill I had just come down. This is when I had puncture number one. I stopped to pump it up in the hope of reaching Jevington to be able to change it under a street light,…. no chance. All changed in the dark and back on my way-it’s not quite as straight forward removing your rear hub-geared wheel as a conventional wheel. Once out of the trees and heading for Windover Hill, there was no need for lights any more. The sun rise was stunning, my favourite time of day and it’s always good to be on a bike as the sun comes up, especially on the Downs. The sun and moon were both competing for the top spot for a while, creating an almost surreal image of far off and unfamiliar worlds.

At 5:20, I rang Steve to let him know I was at Southease station and on my way, and still on schedule. A bit further on and the dreaded bonk felt like it was creeping on-I stopped for a nosh up before it was too late. Back across the A27 and up to Black Cap, no sign of Steve so I motored on. My phone kept ringing and eventually I thought I had better see who it was; turned out to be Steve and he was up at Ditchling Beacon-still in front of me which was good news. We eventually met up and sped on down towards Pyecombe; puncture number two-a pinch puncture, two huge splits, one knackered tube! Back down from Saddlescombe saw my highest speed-68.8kph, before grovelling back up to Devil’s Dyke and a well earned breakfast of tinned custard and bananas. With a quick bag and bottle change plus a new tube, we were back on the trail.The sun was warming through, spirits were returning to high and the going was good. Then, puncture number three, f&%*!! Thankfully, that was the final puncture. We pushed on; Steve feeling good whilst I seemed to be suffering again, constantly needing food, and you really struggle to eat off road whilst riding, so you have to stop. This faze soon passed and some horrible climbs were conquered, looking forward to coming back down them on the way back. By the time we reached Cocking, Steve was lagging behind, going through a bad patch. A large and rather tasty tub of lemon meringue ice cream was shared and Steve told me to go for it alone, so that was it, back on my own.
Climbing out of Cocking is a real killer. Once on the top though, you stay up high, rolling on. This end definitely feels faster to me and I seemed able to push on quite quickly. I wasn’t looking forward to the climb out of the Queen Elizabeth country park mind you, but in the end, no worse than usual-thank god for a tailwind!I could now almost smell Winchester and it felt uplifting, but needed another food stop before I got there.

Winchester! 11 hours and 50mins! Not great, but good enough for me considering the three punctures. Took some photos at the statue and headed for liquid refills and refreshments-no time to waste. However, having bought a rather tasty ice cold coffee frappe, I sat down and enjoyed the moment, perhaps for a little too long, but what the hell. Working out the time and distance to go, it was looking like the 24 hour dead line was going to be a no go, but I had to get back to Devil’s Dyke anyway. My moving average said it was possible, but it meant minimal stopping-better get going!

I met Steve on his way to Winchester as I was climbing up the first of many climbs to go on the way back. I was amazed, thinking he would have bailed out a long time ago. A brief chat and I was back on my way. Sitting in the saddle was now becoming really uncomfortable, still only 60 odd miles to go! Took my first cup of tea at the bottom of Old Winchester Hill-tasted good and flew on to the QE Country Park. Another pit stop here and the first sign the rain was catching me. Still feeling good, whipping along keeping a watchful eye on the clouds-not that I would be able to do anything about it anyway! As I approached Cocking for the second time, I was expecting to see John fairly soon, looking as fresh as ever at the beginning of his ride, with me hanging on for dear life near the end! I pushed on, no sign of John yet, had he started? I was quite glad in a way, if he’d not started; the forecast was dreadful for tomorrow-not ideal to be undertaking such a challenge. Coming down to Amberly was the first descent I needed the lights on for and to my dismay, my light was saying it hadn’t got a lot of life left in it-I needed about two hours of light to get me back!

Walked up the really steep bit out of Amberly, spying some glow worms in the bushes on such a murky night and then bounced my way through the ruts under the light of an ordinary head torch once on the top – not ideal, but better than nothing. I was saving the main light for the downhills, where’s the moon light when you need it? One last bottle refill at the A24 crossing and I was off again, not far now. I was walking more and more of the steep, tricky bits and flailing around on the downhills like a drunk, with insufficient light to light my way; at least walking was saving the pain in my backside! The tarmac climb up to Truleigh Hill was almost heaven and the last major climb – victory was in sight and possibly within the 24 hour mark.

Turning the wick up for the final push, I changed up through the gears and opted for climbing out the saddle. I almost felt good again despite the rain slapping in my face, I was going to make it. Riding up the final climb and into an enormous checkpoint for tomorrow’s walk was the end – no one there to say well done, no one about at all, it was close to midnight. I rode on up to the Landrover and took a final time check – 11:53pm – I took that as my finish time.

So, completed the challenge – 23hours and 36minutes, 200 miles and a measly 27,240 feet of climbing (8,300m)!!! I think I seriously under estimated this ride; I knew it was going to be tough, but I convinced myself I could do it in twenty to twenty two hours, hence the start time. I was looking forward to rolling up to the pub for a celebratory beer and a large plate of food at the end. John had started, but later than planned and decided to pack after a couple of punctures before it was too late and is still hoping to make an attempt at a later date. I drove home, possibly the most stupid thing I have ever done as I was having serious problems staying awake even with the window fully opened! I had no problems sleeping once in bed and remained there for most of the day. Recovery was a lot better than after the 24 – at least I could walk this
time! So, what’s next then?