ick Dwyer – 22h 32m 36s on the 24th July 2020. Nick took on the challenge with friend Rob Pelham. A Ditchling Beacon start was chosen for their adventure. Nick is on the right!
In Nicks words:
It started like something like this after a conversation with Rob Pelham about a month ago
Me: “Rob are you planning on riding the SDW this year?”
Rob: “Maybe, but it’s a real pain to get either to the start or from the finish so I was thinking about doing the double to make things easier”
Me: “Ah ok I might join you on that as I’ve done Winchester to the Devils Dyke and Ditchling Beacon to Eastbourne but not the whole thing”
Rob: “I reckon start from Ditchling Beacon, ride to Eastbourne, back to Ditchling Beacon to Winchester and then back to Ditchling”
So I carelessly talked myself into the idea…. “You’re a fool” someone said to me!
So that was the beginning of a plan to start at 2am at Ditchling Beacon, head eastwards to Eastbourne and then back out west to Winchester then returning and finishing at Ditchling. We planned two six-hour practise rides, one to Eastbourne and back and another heading west for three hours and returning back to Ditchling. The consensus was that east of Ditchling was harder physically so we would tackle that first and maybe take advantage of the usual south westerly winds to help us on the final leg back from Winchester.
Our practise rides went well, helping to shape our plans for kit, fluids and nutrition and other details such as likely pace and the best place for support. Rob had a lucky escape on a high-speed crash on a descent at the end of our first ride after being deflected by a cricket-ball sized flint into a hedge. He emerged with a few grazes and was a little shaken up but thankfully had no serious injuries. It made us realise that despite the best plans and intentions you also need a little bit of good fortune.
On the day we set off from my house at the edge of Brighton and rode to Ditchling Beacon for a 2am start. With little or no wind and at 15 degrees C it was pretty mild. It was all going well up until about forty minutes when I heard the sound of escaping air from my back tyre. It had been punctured by two very large thorns which we plugged in quick succession. It was my first puncture in two-and-a-half years of riding tubeless and were pretty bad. Luckily the plugs worked and we pressed on to Eastbourne. As we left the Kiosk to return towards the heavens opened and it started to rain heavily and we were soon soaked. Thankfully by the time we reached Jevington the rain stopped and the skies cleared.
We met my wife Kaye at Ditchling to restock our supplies and to hand back our lights for recharging given we would need them later in the day and planned to meet up with her again on our final leg as darkness fell. A quick blast with the track pump to restore the back tyre and we were ready to go. At this point I wasn’t sure if I could carry on. The pain and discomfort in my neck and shoulders was just too much. After some encouragement and reassurance I decided that it was worth a go and I may not get another chance. My fitness was good but the long hours on the bike were proving very uncomfortable, especially on my upper body.
We headed out west and I decided that whilst things weren’t getting any better for me they weren’t getting any worse either. The miles started to mount up and we were making steady progress, albeit slightly checked by having to re-plug one of the punctures with a larger bung.
Fast forward to Winchester we took the obligatory selfie with King Alfred and started our penultimate leg and met Kaye at Cocking (doesn’t sound good does it? 😉 ) to collect lights and final replenishments for the last section. It all went well until just west of Washington when the rear tyre gave up 170 miles after the initial puncture then we had to concede and fit a tube in the dark the first tube wouldn’t hold any air, the second was fine, more delays!
Thankfully that was the end of our puncture saga, no more dramas and we finished after midnight back at Ditchling Beacon, slightly disappointed that we missed a 20-21 hour finish but all things considered we had a good ride.
From my perspective I could not have done it without Rob’s support, he could have ridden a much quicker time if he had not had to wait for me on many occasions. I found it pretty tough but mostly from a comfort perspective, my neck, back and shoulders were very unhappy with the punishment. With hindsight narrower cross-country handlebars would have helped a great deal. The rest of the bike performed brilliantly. The punctures were just bad luck and could have happened to either of us but also two weeks previously we had no issues on the same stretch of trail.
We managed to get the nutrition pretty much spot on and Kaye’s help was pivotal in swapping lights and replenishing supplies. The SDW taps are an indispensable resource and it’s so important to know where they are located.
It was the hardest thing I have ever attempted and that includes two Ironman Triathlons. The furthest I have ridden and the longest amount of time I have spent on a bike. At 57 I am no youngster but with good planning and preparation and some great support from friends and loved ones much can be achieved. The South Downs way is one of my all-time favourite places to ride and spend time with friends. Some parts are also incredible tough to ride too.
Finally many thanks to everyone for all their work in curating https://www.southdownsdouble.co.uk/ it’s a brilliant and inspirational site, the content is invaluable, such a great help. Well done all.
Are there any recommendations that I can make? Narrower cross country bars would probably be comfortable? In fact most are mentioned or covered in some way in the site content, however simply put:
Be prepared, be practised and determined, relish the challenge.