King Alfred’s Way

Not being able to travel for the last 18 months has meant that I’ve not done either of the 2 big cycling events I had planned. I was going to go back and have another crack at the Dirty Kanza (now known as Unbound Gravel) and The Rift (200km round a couple of volcanoes in Iceland).

So I’ve been looking for something a little closer to home to have a crack at.

Mid 2020 Cycling UK announced a new route that they had been working on for a while called the King Alfred’s Way, a 350km mainly off road route that starts in Winchester, goes west to Salisbury, North to near Swindon, west along the Ridgeway to Reading and then down back to Winchester via the edge of the Surry Hills and the South Downs Way.

Day 1

Hursley House

I parked my car up at my old IBM Office at about 7:00 and spent the next 30mins getting all the bags setup on the bike, topping up the tyre pressures, generally sorting out filling water bottles and distributing snacks for the day round various pockets.

It was a short (7km) ride to the official start point at the West Gate in Winchester so I could set off close to 8:00.

Winchester West Gate

The route works it’s way through Winchester on mainly quiet residential streets before making a break for the countryside towards Sparsholt where it forks off on to single track trail up through the woods.

It was then a gentle rolling mix of wooded tracks and farm lanes all the way out to Salisbury where the road turns north to roll past Stone Henge.

Stone Henge in the distance

After Stone Henge the route sets off across the Salisbury Plain Training Area, this is where the you have to keep an eye on the flags and be prepared for loud bangs and tanks crossing the track. It was actually pretty quiet this time.

I had expected to find somewhere to stop for lunch along the way but it’s pretty remote and it wasn’t until I drop off the Plain (just after the end of the 3rd GPX file) and made it to All Canning around 14:50 (and the pub was supposed to close at 15:00)

I had planned to camp at a place called Smeathe’s Ridge which is just past Barbary Castle having seen it mentioned as a good spot by a few people riding/walking the Ridgeway. Unfortunately this appears to also be a race horse training gallops which the owner was in the process of mowing when I got there. I did think about asking for permission, but decided to press in a little to see if I could find somewhere else.

About 5km further along and having dropped into the valley I came across an empty field that was well screen from the track, wasn’t overlooked and didn’t look to have any paths running through it. I set up my little tent , and boiled the water for dinner.

View across the valley

Day 2

I woke up stupidly early on the morning of day 2 so I had managed to pack up my tent and was ready to roll again by 6:00. It started with a short push to get up on to the top of the ridge again.

I soon past a perfect camping spot that was just off the trail, behind a bench looking out over the valley. Another cyclists had spent the night and was still very much asleep as I rolled past.

It was foggy and even started to rain a little so I was glad I’d packed my proper rain jacket, both to keep the wet out and to help keep warm.

The track winds it way up over another ridge to the north and then drops down again to crosses the M4 and passes the PGL Summer Camp before climbing back up on to the Ridgeway.

I was short on water as having last been able to top up my bottles was at The Kings Arms in All Canning the afternoon before and uses a bunch for dinner the night before. I found a tap with a dirty looking hose at a little take way caravan attached to a pig farm. Unfortunately as it was mid week and still very early so no change of grabbing a bacon sandwich, but the fitting for the hose came undone easily so I could top up my bottles. About 2km further on there was another tap signposted.

Ridgeway Strade Bianche

The farm lanes were mainly crushed chalk which looked great but could be pretty bumpy and had chunks of flint poking though which was best avoided. As it was dry it was pretty quick rolling, but would be really sticky in the wet.

The Ridgeway took most of the morning, then the route drops down to run along side the Thames at Goring.

The Thames Path took me on to Reading, which was fun as it was the first day of the Reading Festival and the route past one of the site entrances, having to dodge lots Polos and Fiat 500s full of teenagers and then through main shopping centre with the paths full of people carrying disposable tents and crates of cheap cider.

I stopped off at the Mission Burrito in the shopping centre for lunch, before following the River Kennet south out of the city.

The route was mainly cycle paths and trails until it hooks up with the can Basingstoke Canal for a while.

Crossing the canal

After the canal I detoured a little to find the hotel I’d booked in Aldershot deciding that a real bed and a takeaway pizza would hopefully lead to a longer nights sleep.

Day 3

Day 3 started with the only encounter with a bad driver, a close pass on the way out of Aldershot, who then had the gawl to argue about it when called out.

The route rolled through some of the smarter housing south of Farnham before crossing the edge of a golf course and entering another military range. This area is very sandy which was hard going at time and required pushing.

Bike wheel in sand

Unlike the ranges on Salisbury Plane I did actually catch a glimpse of some of our guys in green suits, a small group that looked to be heading off to practice with some smoke grenades.

The range ends up with the climb up to the Devil’s Punch Bowl which again in places is very steep with sections of “babies heads” sized boulders which makes riding without suspension tricky, but the view from the top is pretty good.

Devil's Punch Bowl

After the Devil’s Punch Bowl the route tracks south from Hindhead again sticking mainly to forest trails and I even spotted some deer on the way into Liss.

Deer on the path

I cut the corner a little to get to Petersfield a little sooner and from there up the old road through Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Before the absolutely brutal climb up Buster Hill (it’s bad enough up the other side on Havesting Lane with tarmac). With all the weight on the bike I had push most of it.

From the top it was an easy run along the South Downs Way to the cafe at the Sustainability Centre for some much needed lunch. As I was feeling it by then I choose to make use of the local knowledge and took the direct road route back home. Down Old Winchester Hill and then back up Beacon Hill out of Exton, before cutting across to Owslebury, Fishers Pond and Colden Common before hitting Poles Lane back to Hursley.

Conclusion

It was a really great 3 days and I had a lot of fun, but 3 days is really pushing pretty hard considering the amount of climbing and the type of trail the route takes.

I’ll try and do another post about the kit I took, but one thing I will say is that I’m going to need some new gravel/mtb shoes pretty soon. The Giro Rumbles I’ve been using since I started training for the Dirty Kansa have been pretty good, but a week later the feeling has still not 100% returned to the middle 3 toes on both feet (It’s getting better everyday, but it’s time for some stiffer soles).

Dirty Kanza 100 2019

I’ve just got back from a pretty great trip.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year I was going to take part in one of the premier gravel riding events, the Dirty Kanza.

The Trip

I flew out to Denver and spent the first 4 days in Boulder. This was for a few reasons. Firstly it’s somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for a while as it was one of the options I listed for my year at uni in the US (I suspect that the powers that be knew I’d have spent the whole year snowboarding which is why I ended up in North Carolina…) and I was sure there would be some good riding to shake the flight out of my legs. It’s also at altitude (about a mile above sea level) which I was hoping would help as a final little push (I know you have to spend more than a week at altitude before it actually starts to have a positive effect).

While in town I went on 2 rides led out of the Full Cycle bike shop. The first was a road ride on Saturday morning at 09:00 which covered about 70km in 2 and a bit hours.

It was a nice pace to shake the flight out of my legs and to make sure I’d put the bike back together properly after the flight. The ride was pretty flat and I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the pace.

The second ride was billed as a gravel ride but had aspects that were closer to a mountain bike single track ride. And this time I really started to feel the altitude as there was a bunch more climbing some of it pretty steep.

Both rides left from the Pearl Street store with at least 2 ride leaders. If you are in town and want somebody to show you some good riding I suggest you head along and see these folk.

I stuck in a repeat of Saturday’s ride on my own on the Monday just to keep the legs turning over as I didn’t fancy doing any major climbing. I also tried to stick a short run in but the the altitude really kicked in and I managed about 4k before deciding that enough was enough while gasping for air.

On Wednesday I set off on the monumental drive across most of Kansas. I had booked a place to stop in a small town called Hays to break up the nearly 600mile drive.

The drive was an experience, I’ve driven round different parts of the US in the past, but either on the East coast or round the US National Parks in the South West, but this was just hour after hour of nearly totally straight flat road. I can totally see the appeal of a self driving (totally, definitely not the current systems that require human oversight) vehicle for this kind of driving.

While stretching my legs when I arrived I happened to catch a train crossing Main Street.

Then on Thursday I finished off the run in to Emporia. While the first 360 miles had been nearly totally flat the ground did finally start to become a little bit more rolling.

The Event

The Dirty Kanza is based out the town of Emporia in East Kansas.

The DK takes over pretty much all of Commercial Street, with pretty much all of the shops getting involved. There is a area between Commercial Street and Mechanics Street where all the sponsors get to set up their stands and you can look at all the new bikes and tech.

On the Friday before the actual event there is a short social ride, I rolled round with everybody before heading off to recy the first 10 miles of the course.

The full 200 mile event starts at 6am (with the dawn) and the 100 mile event starts 30 minutes later so I got to see the folk doing the longer distance set off.

Once they had cleared the starting area, we got to line up to set off.

The ride was a tale of 2 parts, the first 90km to the feed station went really well, cruising along at a steady 23kph and doing just over half the climbing in just under 4 hours. I’d made a decent dent into the 2 750ml drink bottles I had with me. I refilled them both and had a snack to keep the energy up, I spent about 15mins at the rest station. The temperature for the first leg had topped out at about 25 °C.

The second leg was a lot harder covering just short of 80km, the temperature topped out at 35 °C and averaged 32 °C and this meant I burnt through a lot more water. Luckily there were a couple of places along the way where I could top up my bottles again. It also kicked off with one of the bigger climbs of the whole route. There had been a 40% chance of rain (with the possibility of thunder) in the forecast for the afternoon that I had been keeping an eye on all of the week running up to the event, hoping it wouldn’t happen. By the time the temperature passed 30 °C I had changed my mind and scanning the sky for clouds.

I got within 10km of the finish when I had my first and only mechanical issue. My rear tire had nearly fully deflated, but the tubeless sealant had managed to plug the leak so all I needed to do was use a CO2 canister to top it up.

Crossing the DK finish line

The finish line was back down Commercial Street which had been converted into a street party while we had been out on the trail. Lots of people cheering which really helped get over the line.

I would definitely do the DK again, may be even give the full 200mile version a try next time, but that would need a bigger training plan and probably finding a way to spend a good few weeks at altitude in the run up. I would also make use of the third bottle cage mounts on the bike