7:15- breakfast. "It's a lovely day, aren't you taking your road bike this morning Dad?" "No son, I'm riding the woods today"
The spring solstice has come and gone, leaving behind it daylight saving time as a reminder of the changing season. This morning is cool, still and fresh. A deep red sun glows through the mist as I wheel my bike out of the garage and coast down the hill with the children's shouted goodbyes ringing in my ears. Which route to take...road..trail..woods? Thirty seconds later I'm turning off the road into the first strip of suburban woodland, weaving through the trees, dropping in and out of small chalk pits and hopping over trunks of trees brought down by the winter gales. This section is short and easy, but coming so early in the ride it's always a good wake-up call.
Out of the trees, up the alley, lift the wheel for the step up onto the road, cross to the next section of bridleway which the kids and I walked the other day, counting squirrels and looking for treasure. Thirty seconds later cross another road, faster now on a smooth bridleway past another pit where the carcass of last year's pantomime cow decays gracefully, papier mache flesh falling away from its wooden skeleton. Cross the lane, carve a line past a sleepy schoolboy texting on his way to school. Keep the speed up, unweight and float the first drying-churned-mud bumpy section onto the footpath skirting a field of winter wheat. This was muddy drudge riding a month ago, but dry and worn smooth by tyres, paws and feet it rides fast today. Float more bumps past the mist shrouded pond where coots stand on the bank taking stock of the day, more narrow fast singletrack to another lane. Cross the road to the next bridleway, down to the middle ring for the hill because I'm still warming up and not in hero mode. Easy spin up, avoid the collapsed badger sett which is a real hazard on dark descents, crest the hill and ride along the ridge, past the clutch of cell towers in a corner of a farm compound full of well-used machinery.
Real countryside now, pause for a photo at the gate at the end of the ridge, cameraphone not doing justice to the view but good enough to record the moment. The first section of tarmac- change up and spin along a single track narrow unfenced lane through the fields. Looks like the farmer's planted wheat this year instead of last year's sickly-smelling rape, good. F*ck, I don't remember that pothole, deep, sharp-ended and wide it must've been caused by the winter frosts. Ten minutes in and the first car of the commute is behind me but hanging back nicely, just as well because it's too narrow to overtake and I'm not pulling in. T-junction coming, I pull in slightly to give it room to get past in recognition of its lack of aggression. It's Simon, he lives maybe half a mile from me and works in the building next door. Brief hellos though the open window- "Get a bike mate" before he's off down the lane. I follow, peeling left through a gate onto the next track. Another muddy rutted nightmare in the wet, it's drying now. Slightly downhill, picking a careful line between the soft bits and the ruts where I stacked last year though lack of concentration.
Right into Symondshyde Wood, smooth flat bridleway, 'improved' with a crushed stone surface last summer. Birdsong in the tree canopy above, bluebells pushing through the leaf litter and sticks below, a blue carpet waiting for late April. The bridleway is the boundary of a strip of beech, I'm riding though tall commercial pines now, muddy patches, narrowing. Shots in the distance, bird scarers perhaps- there are deer in this wood but I think it's closed season. Passing a couple of familiar landmarks- rusting machinery left over from planting the pines- turn left onto a forest ride. Less familiar, this wasn't the track I was planning to use but it's heading in the right direction judging by the position of the sunlight slanting through the trees. Easy ride down to the lane, left and right through the livery stables onto a long flat farm track through open fields recently ploughed and harrowed to a fine tilth ready for planting. Clock's ticking, short of time. Change up, pick up the pace, spinning fast on the smooth surface. Left and right around the corner of a field bounded by high earth banks awaiting sand quarrying. Looks like we'll get another few seasons before the quarry reaches here. That square green patch of grass on the right used to hide a ROC observation post; post cold war it's filled in and used by radio controlled fliers. 8:21 and I'm pushing pushing harder now, past the clanking conveyor, though the gate and over the road to a disused lane. Faster still, turn hard right over the berm, meandering track through the parkland next to new houses, gravel pinging off the downtube. Cycle lanes through the housing past the postman delivering to mews style townhouses. Ivy Walk, Cornflower walk, Campion road- echoes of countryside which came before the aircraft factory before the houses. Roundabout, first real traffic and last quarter mile sprint to work.
8:27, drop into the underground car park.
Another day, another dollar.