Monday, August 07, 2017

July 12th: Reading to Hindhead

Over the past several days, I'd developed plenty of confidence in Komoot's bicycle routing. Sure, at times it would put us on a national bike route that did insane crazy things, but these were all signed national bike routes and I wouldn't have been able to do better. So when Komoot told us it was about 33 miles to Hindhead, we took it easy in the morning, saying goodbye to JF only at 10:00am.
Almost immediately, riding towards Wokingham, we encountered pretty serious mud on the bike trials. Most of them we could ride through, though of course with considerable wetness on the rims and chains. Well, I didn't build super strong wheels so I could baby them so we rode through as many as we could, though some of them required me to dismount and push through to remain confident that we wouldn't have a sudden muddy swim. All through the process Bowen was calm and composed.

In Blackwater, we stopped at a Tesco Extra for lunch. They featured a cafe with a kids meal deal, so I had fish and chips while Bowen had the chicken nuggets. When we came back outside to resume riding, however, we discovered that the front tire was flat. Extracting the inner tube and locating the corresponding hole in the tire, I dug out a piece of glass, no doubt picked up during all that wet riding. I used up my last patch patching the tube, again sticking in a new inner tube into the front tire. Not being willing to do without a patch kit, I went back into Tesco and discovered that yes, they sold patch kits! For one pound I got a brand new patch kit (with only 3 patches, but enough to get through the tour). We were back on the road.
The kicker came near Farnham, where Komoot demanded that we ride through a flooded tunnel. I balked at this and said, "We need to find a better way." Bowen rebutted, "What if it's the only way!" I backed out and made an attempt to route through what looked like a hiking trail in the woods, but that resulted in thigh high nettles, which hurt! To add insult to injury, when I abandoned the bike and carried Bowen on my shoulders to see if the route would go through at all, it dead ended in a boarded up bridge that wouldn't take the tandem! My lower legs would tingle for the rest of the day from all those scrapes from stinging nettles.
So we backtracked once again to the flooded tunnel. A group of cyclists passed us, but didn't stop to talk to us at all! It wasn't that they were going fast --- they were riding at bike path speeds. I hope I never become so jaded that I don't stop to talk to a father with a 5 year old son on a tandem who's obviously touring through the country. To my surprise, we rode through the tunnel with no problems at all, leaving the tunnel with wet rims and chains but dry knees. "I told you we could do it," said Bowen. It occurred to me then that maybe people become parents so that they can be heroes. There's no way your spouse would look up at you the way your 5 year old son does. I hoped that the day when my son discovers that I'm only human isn't too much of a let down for him. Looking at the map now on a big screen, I realized what I should have done was to ride to Farnham on the busy A road we had traverse (which looked huge and busy!) and then taken Tilford Road all the way to Hindhead. The traffic would have sucked, but it would have bypassed what was coming to us.
The ride from the flooded tunnel to Waverly was somewhat pretty, alongside the river Wey, redeeming Komoot's routing in my eyes again. The traffic was also very light and I enjoyed the riding, setting us up for another conflict when the GPS told us to take Greensand Way through the Hankley Common Golf Club rather than follow the road! In retrospect, the road would have been faster, and wasn't that much traffic, but we were not to know that the dirt detour would devolve into sand! We should have turned around at the first sign of sand, but by the time the thought occured to me we were in too deep. Bowen had to dismount while I pushed the bike for a good 15 minutes before we reached rideable ground. It didn't make me feel any better that there were signs saying: "MOD Training Ground: Unexploded Ordnance Potentially Present!" "This sucks," said Bowen. But he walked and didn't really whine. I was in awe: I know adults who would have whined all the way through the walking part, but my little adventurer was already more of a man than they were.
We finally got back onto the road and once again Komoot tried to get us to ride a dirt track. We stopped an equestrian and she told us to get back onto the road and follow it to the T-intersection and then turn left. In practice, we probably should have turned all the way around and turned right to climb over Gibbet Hill, but we didn't know that.

Once we got onto Tilford Road, the traffic increased, and the climbing started in earnest and never let up. In fact, it didn't let up until we got to Hindhead, our destination of the day. Once at Hindhead, I realized that the AirBnB address didn't have a street #, so I pulled out my bluetooth headset and called Kim, our hostess. She reminded me that in rural England, houses don't have numbers but have names, and kindly stayed on the phone until we found the house and opened the door.
Hindhead was the capstone of our trip: Bowen had long wanted to visit the real Gibbet Hill, and we lost no time in getting settled and then hiking back out to the Devil's Punch Bowl National Trust, and walking the 20 minutes to the Gibbet Hill Cross. Along the way, we met a cyclist who told us how to get out of the area without traversing the nasty stuff we did: ride on the Gibbet Hill bike path, descend the other side to Thursley and Elstead, and used the Puttenham road to get over the big motorway to minimize traffic. He also told us to look for the marker on the bike path telling us where the motor way tunnel running under Gibbet Hill was.
After all this build up, you would think that Gibbet Hill might be a let down, but Bowen was delighted by it. The visibility wasn't super great, but we could still see very far, and the area was indeed very pretty.

Dinner that night was at the local Nepalese restaurant. It was serviceable but not great. I'd booked the next night (our last free night) at Staines at a place with its own kitchen so we could cook and not have to eat out. In the evening, we finally met our hostess, who very graciously helped us with laundry, and not wishing to repeat the day we just had, I asked to borrow her computer with a large screen to plot the next day's route on Ridewithgps. She went so far as to call her sister who was an avid cycle tourist to see if she could share a route with us. Her sister recommended CycleStreets. Using Ridewithgps, however, I discovered that there was what looked like a canal bike path from Brookwood all the way to Addlestone, which beat anything CycleStreets suggested. I plotted several alternates in case this one wasn't good, and called it a night.

My legs tingled from all the stinging nettles, however, and no amount of hydrocortisone could stop that. I slept, hoping I would feel better in the morning.

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