Meet my new friend.

Saturday 18 October 2014 – Epping Forest.

Ok, last post from Epping Forest for a while I promise (fingers crossed behind back), but I have been enjoying myself up there and this week was different. This week I was riding my brand spanking new bike and it was a real joy.

After the last couple of rides on the old and too small Kona I had decided that I was enjoying my riding enough to spend a decent slice of cash and get a new bike. After a bit of time looking around the internet and some discussion with Tony from Walthamstow Cycles I decided on a Genesis Latitude 20, a steel framed UK designed bike – I also decided on a bike with lots of gears.

I haven’t bought a bought a new bike for years, the last one was the Kona Dawg full suspended bike I bought what must be twelve or so years ago. The DMR I ride in NZ was assembled from a frame I bought second hand in 2005 and bits from other bikes I had owned. I can definitely say that technology has moved on since I bought or built. The new bike has 27.5 inch wheels, a size I had not even heard of on a mountain bike a month ago – apparently they are the new thing, and it has twenty gears, which is also new to me. It seems I did get very out of touch.

I had a very busy weekend booked but managed to sneak out on Saturday morning for a couple of hours in the forest to give the new beast a bit of a run.

20141018 114026

This is the one and only time it will be truly clean…

20141018 112844

It was a good ride, I am pretty sure I did not ride any of the same trails I rode last week, I definitely got misplaced twice this time, once in a small section of forest before the main park – I did an unexpected loop, but it was a nice trail. The second time was on a really good section of flowing single track, though sadly I rode up the gentle gradient – twice, before popping out on a road and having to use Google maps to work out where I was. Which was not where I expected to be!  It didn’t take long to get back on track though.  There are so many trails in the forest, and unlike home there is no trail marking and the trails are two way. Not that there were many other riders out on Saturday morning to meet coming the other way.

20141018 114013

The bike rode beautifully. With a large 19 inch frame and the big wheels the centre of balance was significantly higher than I was used to, but it is such a stable platform I barely noticed the difference. It also felt a lot lighter than I expected and even with those massive handlebars it was surprisingly quick to manoeuvre.

20141018 123821

The fork is an X-Fusion Velvet RL2, I have not heard of the brand before, but they seem to have a good reputation and the fork was very smooth and even better I could lock it out for the road section to and from the forest. I have never had a lock out fork before, luxury!

I did come off at once stage, the rear wheel just flew out from underneath me in this really greasy section of track on the way back home, luckily I managed to get off the pedals before I hit the ground and came out unscathed – and “clean”.

20141018 133159

Actually I was filthy when I finally arrived home, the tracks were either very greasy, very wet or very boggy in so many places. One of the reason I really enjoy winter riding…

20141018 135655

Fabulous bike and another great ride.

an Epping Forest mud fest.

Saturday 11 October 2014 – Epping Forest.

Wow, three posts from consecutive weekends from the same place, I must say it has been a lot of fun visiting the forest – who would have known !

As I mentioned in my last post, autumn arrived last weekend with a sudden drop in temperature and the onset of the first rain in what seemed like weeks. Fortunately it only rained while I was at work or at home and I managed to squeeze a couple of runs in on the way home from work. Not that I am running very far at the moment, just barely squeezing out five miles. The good news is that I am getting fitter again, not that I could get a lot less fit. I signed up with a doctors a couple of weeks ago and found I am 7kilos heavier than I was when I did my 50km run two years ago – ouch! I have not been 85kgs for a very very long time.

I had been following the forecast all week and had decided if it was not pouring with rain on Saturday morning I would head out for a ride and see how muddy and greasy it would be when it had been wet. It was a pretty damn glorious morning. No excuses needed.

I am really lucky living in Walthamstow in NE London, I am twenty minutes from work in Covent Garden by tube (plus a short walk) and I am five minutes by bike to the bottom fringes of Epping Forest. If you look at the area on a map it is hard to see that all these small patches of green all hook up and eventually join with the lower reaches of the forest itself.

I wore my Garmin watch so I could map the ride, and maybe come up with a vague idea of where to go next time.


As I was riding on my own this time I was hoping to be able to find some of the single track we rode a couple of weeks ago, but there is so much track in the forest and it is impossible to get really lost, so I was not too bothered. I would guess that well over fifty percent of the ride today was on proper single track with the rest on wider trails, and apart from the first and last five minutes of it none of it was on road – though I did cross a few

The forecast had been for a cloudy morning with some showers, but it was pretty damn nice out there, I love the fact that unlike most of the riding I did in New Zealand, I was not riding in pine forest, so I loved the trees and the way the sun filtered through them. I had to stop and take a few photos on my phone on the way; this was just five minutes in to the forest section of the ride – bike is still clean !

20141011 102218

The light reflecting off the water at Highams Lake was lovely so I stopped for a wee look and just maybe, to stop sucking air for a second.

20141011 102532

The trails had taken on a lot of water in the last week and it was pretty slippery in some places, traction was minimal at times and I will have to make sure I get some decent tyres on my new bike, it was a hell of a lot of fun and I surprised myself by how quickly riding greasy trails came back to me, though I am slow as all heck…

I did stop for half a cup of coffee at one of the forest tea huts. I was trying to work out where I was on the map on my phone, but without glasses on it was hopeless.  I think I will take the paper map next time.

Two rides and I have already bent a seat post, it used to take me at least four or five rides.

20141011 105236

The forest has lots of wooded area which is riddled with single track, some old and faint and some new and freshly ridden, I really enjoyed the mix of fast trail and tight twisty faded trails with low hanging branches and a vagueness of direction. The stinging nettles are a pain though! Epping itself is not all forest, there are a few open sections and I made use of these to gain some distance. My plan was to ride as far north as I felt like and then duck into the trees and meander my way back.

20141011 103756

20141011 111714

I pretty much managed to ride a mix of single track all the way back down to the bottom end of the forest, surprisingly I managed to head in generally the right direction the whole way back towards the small interlinked sections that got me back home. At one point I found myself riding along the side of the River Ching, along some trails that EL and I walked a while back.

20141011 114553

I got a bit uncertain about my direction in the next section of mini-forest and ended up riding back up a trail that I rode down a couple of weeks ago before realising I was heading in the wrong direction, and that was really the only time – something I was utterly surprised about as my sense of direction has been truly awful since I have been in the northern hemisphere. Maybe I have just not been testing it enough.

I wanted to get a couple of hours of riding and was pleased to do that, we had some furniture to move after the carpet man had been in while I was out, so had vowed to come home in a reasonable time and less knackered than I was two weeks ago. I did get laughed at when I turned up all muddy though!!

2014-10-11 12.41

It was a great ride, I am now very keen to get myself a new and properly sized bike, my left hip really did not appreciate me riding so low today and was quite painful by the time I got home. But bloody hell it was fun out there. My love for the sport has certainly been rekindled.

an Epping Forest sleepout.

Saturday 04 October 2014 – Epping Forest.

After an awesome ride in the forest last weekend I was really pleased to get a message from microadventure organiser extraordinaire Anna, talking about an early autumn, last day of summers warmth microadventure on Friday night. Even better, it is in my hood – back in Epping Forest.

I managed to sneak home quickly after work to get changed and pick up pack before deciding to take the bus all the way up to the meeting place in Loughton rather than bussing to Leyton and catching the tube. Frustratingly the bus took ages to get out of the bus depot and more than a kilometre up the road as the traffic was really bad, I ended up being over half an hour late to the station, but it seemed I was not the only one. It was dark when I arrived at the station and rather than hang about waiting to see if there were any other stragglers I started walking up through Loughton and out into the forest towards our meeting point at the Robin Hood pub. I didn’t realise the road would have no footpath as well as no street lighting.

IMG 0850

Strangely I was the first to arrive at the pub, but I was not alone for long as others started arriving soon after me, some having taken rather a long walk from Loughton station. There were ten of us who turned out for the night, which started with a couple of beers, some quite nice Thai food and a little whisky tasting.

10686914 563957873750791 694704774708153711 n

After the whisky tasting we headed off from the pub, crossed the road and went straight into Epping Forest. We took a twenty or so minute walk down one of the paths until we found what looked to be a comfortable clearing to set up camp for the night. The great thing about this microadventuring malarky is that it should be nice and easy, no great packing of tents and camping equipment. Tossing a sleeping bag, mat and a bivvy in a small pack is all that you need. this makes for a quick transition from finding a place to camp to being settled. Sweet !

Then sleeping type things happened, for most people, not so much for me, but some happy snoring sounds rumbling around the forest suggested some had a good sleep.

Fortunately it was a pretty mild night, I was expecting it to be colder than it was, and was glad I really didn’t have to test the boundaries of my summer sleeping bag. It was a pretty comfy night and reasonably quiet in our section of the forest.

It was a slow start in the morning, I lazed about for a while waiting for signs of life from the others.

IMG 0857

IMG 0859

Eventually I got up and went for a stroll to find a clear photo of the sunrise I could see through the trees.

IMG 0862

I also found we had some neighbours as well.

IMG 0861

Most people were up soon after I got back, with not a lot to do it was pretty much a case of pack up and go. A couple of people had these awesome jet boilers, small gas filled stoves that put out intense heat and boil a container of water in just over a minute – no good for cooking, but brilliant for coffee, which was generously shared around.

IMG 0864

Once packed we walked the thirty or so minutes down through the forest to Chingford station and caught the train home. For me it was three stops and I was home by 8:30.

I am really pleased I went, it was a fun night out, with a great bunch of people.

As forecasted the temperature plummeted on Saturday, dropping about eight degrees over the weekend. And there ended summer!

An Epping Forest Epic

Sunday 28 September 2014 – Epping Forest.

Growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s meant my friends and I were riding bikes in the dirt years before the term mountain biking came along, but then teenage laziness arrived and I did not really get back on to a bike until I bought an old mountain bike off of my friend David in 1998. After a couple of rides in Woodhill and Riverhead forests near Auckland I was hooked. Over the next dozen or so years I rode most weekends, in many places in New Zealand and made opportunities to ride when I was on work trips to Sydney and Boston. To say I was keen would be an understatement, it was the first time I found a sport, or any form of exercise I truly loved. The frequency of rides waned significantly in my last year in New Zealand as I discovered trail running and the trail running community. I rarely had the time or the fitness to do both in any one weekend. And then I left the country !

Apart from the facial expression I love this photo of me taken at the 2007 Moonride 12 hour event. It is the only event photo I have ever bought – and it is the first time it has been seen in public… That little pop took me completely by surprise!

CEMR07 3280-h

Back to today.   I had bought my Kona Lanai’i before I started working and had ridden it a couple of times on the road, basically using it as a cheap form of transport. I had it booked in for a service with Walthamstow Cycles the week I was offered my job and have not had the time to ride it since, though Tony from Walthamstow Cycles had offered a couple of times to show me around the nearby Epping Forest.

El and I have made a couple of visits to the fringes of the forest and each time I go I think about what the forest would be like for mountain bike riding. Well today I had the opportunity to find out as I took Tony up on his most recent offer.

I was up early for a Sunday and soon into my old regular pre-ride breakfast of coffee and banana and peanut butter on toast.

2014-09-28 07.16

Tony, Tom and I had arranged to meet about five minutes ride away from home, on what turned out to be the edge of the forest.

2014-09-28 08.08

I was really surprised to find we actually ducked into some trail so close our meeting place and it was a nice thirty minute ride through Walthamstow Forest, Highams Park, the edges of Woodfood Golf course and Hatch Forest before we hit Epping Forest proper. I was stunned at how much off-road riding was to be found so close to home, and though I am sure I will never find it on my own, there was one section of single track that had the heart soaring and a monster grin appearing on my face – lovely, swoopy and fast. So unexpected.

We were to meet a forth rider at Butlers Retreat, but due to alarm issues he didn’t show. Mountain biking in New Zealand never offers you the sight of buildings built as far back as 1543, which is when the building in the background, Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge was built. Love it !!

20140928 084819

20140928 084838

The view down over London is apparently amazing on a clear day, I guess I will have to come back !

20140928 091006

It was a great ride, I took a load of photos – well I thought I did, some were still on my phone when I finished and some were not… We rode a broad mix of single track and forest trail and I was pleasantly surprised at how many forest users were out making use of this wonderful resource. Horse riders, runners and mountain bikes were everywhere.

We had a few stops, one for a broken chain, which were really appreciated by me, I have not ridden a mountain bike since February and my lack of fitness really showed. It was also apparent that my bike is too small for me and I will need to buy a larger frame. Yay 🙂 The frame is the same size as my beloved DMR back in NZ, but the geometry is not the same and it was just uncomfortable and I had really sore hips and back by the end of the ride.

20140928 094455

 20140928 094740

There is a great mix of single track in the forest, grin inducing fast sections and twisty, turny root filled lovely bits mixed with loads of link-up trails and grassy sections.

20140928 092257

20140928 092111

Though it is largely flat I was still pretty worn when, after a couple of hours of riding, we finally stopped for tea and a bun at the High Beaches tea-shed. A well known, and very popular stop for all sorts of forest and forest road users.

20140928 105057

Tom had to get more water so we headed over to the Epping Forest Centre car park which has a tap, and found a couple of blokes washing off their bikes. This contraption using a sealant gun to hold down the tap was just inspiring !

20140928 111928

It was a shorter ride back to the streets where we started and I was definitely feeling it at the end. It was a most awesome ride and I cannot understand why I have not been riding up there for weeks. I will be back, but I am sure I will never find half those trails again. I really appreciated being shown around by Tony and Tom and couldn’t believe the stats that they produced after the ride. 23.4 miles in the forest for a first ride was not too bad at all !

I am pretty sure I earned the half a cold pizza I had for lunch!

20140928 122942

I haven’t had a dirt tan for ages 🙂

20140928 122654

Maybe not an epic in real terms, but it was an epicly fun ride.

Thanks Tony and Tom. I am looking forward to my next outing, and buying some proper riding shorts !

Rye Nature Reserve and Camber Castle.

Sunday 21 September 2014 – Rye, East Sussex – Part two.

Our Saturday in the lovely East Sussex village of Rye turned into a big day with too many things to see and do to fit it all onto one post, so in a very rare event I decided to split the day sort of in half and do two posts. Yesterday’s post had us looking around the village and the very old inn we were staying in and finished as we found a small cafe on the edge of town to stop in for lunch.

We had initially planned on walking out of town, along the edge of the River Rother down to the sea and then northwards across Camber Sands towards Dungeness and its charming power plant. However after visiting the information centre and seeing a map I wanted to visit Camber Castle which is on the south side of the river and in the middle of the Rye Nature Reserve. This also meant a walk down the river to the sea, with the bonus of a castle and a double bonus of no power station – so that is what we decided to do.

After crossing the river on the edge of town we found a narrow and twisting track through about a million nettle bushes that slightly more scenically took us down to the river, the second option was to walk by the roadside, so while this was a little stingy in parts, at least we were away from the traffic.

IMG 0747

IMG 0755

It did not last for long and we soon walking on the edge of the nature reserve and some farm land – and I could see the castle off in the distance, which kept me nice and excited.

Just past the village of Rye Harbour we found the first of a string of Martello Towers, these were built to protect the harbour during the Napoleonic Wars in 1809. This one was built on the edge of the sea, which is now, only 200 or so years later, almost a kilometre away… I liked the tower but was disappointed we were not allowed to go near it.

IMG 0758

IMG 0759

The walk from the village down by the river was really nice, if very bleak. I loved the clouds and the absence of trees or any life apart from birds.

IMG 0766

IMG 0769

This is real birder country and there was a hide on the edge of the marsh land that had half a dozen birders perched over their binoculars, looking out over the water.

On the edge of the beach are a couple of pillboxes left over from the war, a modern rendition of the Napoleonic Martello Towers.

IMG 0773

There is also a long sea wall built that is constantly being extended to prevent the pebbly beach washing across the rover mouth – sealing off the river and the harbour forever.

IMG 0774

I really enjoyed the walk down the beach towards Winchelsea and Hastings, and I took way more photos than the load that I have posted here. I really would have liked to have had my big camera with its wide angle to really capture the immensity of the scene, but then it would have taken all day and I wouldn’t have made it that far.

IMG 0776

IMG 0779

IMG 0780

IMG 0781

IMG 0782

IMG 0783

IMG 0785

There is an old Royal Navy Lifeboat Institution shed on the beach and just before we reached it we followed one of the lovely old and slowly disintegrating groynes to the small path at the top. Which was a bit of a relief as walking on those pebbles for a couple of kilometres was hard work.

IMG 0792

IMG 0793

The lifeboat shed on the beach is used as a memorial to the seventeen members of a Rye lifeboat crew who all tragically perished in a storm as they went to rescue the crew of a stranded Latvian ship back in 1928. It was later discovered that the Latvian crew had already been rescued.

IMG 0795

IMG 0797

IMG 0796

On that cheery note we soon turned inland and followed the path around the far edges of the ponds to find Camber Castle. I was really looking forward to seeing the castle as it is a really unusual design.

IMG 0803

The castle was started in 1512 as a circular tower built to defend the harbour at Rye, it was extended in 1544 with four smaller circular towers built around the outside and linked by walls. It was the first of a series of castles built under King Henry VIII to defend the harbours in Rye Bay. Like the Martello Towers and Ypres Tower in Rye itself, the building of the castle was rendered pointless as it was abandoned in less than hundred years later as the shoreline moved too far away.

I took a few photos as we walked around the outside and was looking forward to going in for a look at this quite different style of castle. I was rudely shocked to find the castle is only open to tours at 2:00pm on the first Saturday of the month in the summer. What bullshit. I was a bit aggravated to say the least and may have said some bad words that reflected poorly on English Heritage….

I was so disappointed, as it is lovely. I really liked the wind and sea air damage to the stone walls, and I can see that the site is potentially unsafe, but nanny state rules gone mad again.

IMG 0805

IMG 0804

IMG 0806

IMG 0807

There were some more lovely squally rain clouds as we walked back towards Rye, and I could not help myself but take some more photos.

IMG 0821

IMG 0844

I think El got tired of waiting !

IMG 0831

IMG 0834

We crossed over a very tidal side river and were soon back in town, up the short steep road to the Mermaid Inn and sitting in the side outside with a well earned gin and tonic.

IMG 0848

As we had had a very light lunch we decided to eat early and headed out just after six. We had seen a nice looking restaurant as we walked town earlier in the day and this was one was quite reasonably priced compared to most – still ‘west end’ prices though. Rye is very expensive ! We were lucky to get a seat as long as we were finished before 8:00 as it was fully booked out. We did have a great meal and a nice bottle of rose to go with it. Much better than last night!

We had a bit of a lie in on Sunday morning, followed by breakfast in the hotel – I didn’t eat as much as yesterday though ! After breakfast we packed up and checked out before heading back to the station. We had read earlier that the train had been replaced by a bus service to Ashford, we were not sure on how many buses were running and how many people were likely to be there so we took the cautious route and went early. Luckily.

IMG 0849

The bus service was a cluster-disaster, buses didnt arrive, the station attendant had no idea what was going on. After almost an hour of waiting and people coming the other way arriving by taxi the station attendant came out to tell us the bus was half an hour away. It arrived as she walked back into the station…

From there it was an uneventful journey to Ashford, where we managed to catch the fast train into London and home.

It was another pretty awesome weekend away. We both loved Rye.