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Tour de KAW Day 1

By Sam B

Blessed with mint gravelling conditions heading to the coffee man with a van.

Being a club founded on the traditions of road cycling, the MTB division decided it was time they took the limelight and organised the first multi night FIASCO MTB expedition.  The idea of taking on Cycling UKs King Alfred's Way route was first put on the table during Covid lockdowns. The clubs successful (ish) completion of the SDW gave us confidence in taking on this far bigger challenge.  Enough people put their names in the hat to take part, so proper planning took place.  We agreed that doing the 350km+ over one night would be a stretch, and three nights was too much time away.  So we settled for a three day/two night trip.  No one had the gear or the inclination to camp, so the three stages were split around decent places for hotel options. The three stages would be ridden clockwise, Godalming (picking up KAW in Thursley) to Salisbury was stage 1, Salisbury to Goring stage 2 and Goring back to Godalming stage 3.  This seemed a good plan as it front loaded all the climbing into the first two days, and gave us the shortest stage in terms of distance to finish on day 3. We would all be carrying the gear we needed for the three days, except for our bike locks for the overnight in Goring.  It was decided that our night at the Premier Inn, Salisbury would be spent with our bikes in each of our rooms.  The Swan at Streatley were not quite so keen on this, and asked if we could use their bike locker.  Whilst that looked robust, we didn't fancy taking our chances, so we dropped off 3 x heavy duty kryptonite locks to the hotel a few days in advance.  It was worth the effort, as it meant everyone would get a decent nights sleep. The only decisions left once, dates, route and over nights were sorted, was bike type and how to carry everything. Our group ended up with four of us on full suss XC MTB, and two on gravel bikes. Most of us went with a saddle pack, and then a mixture of frame bags, bar bags, back packs and hip packs.  After spending some time trawling through reviews and making extensive use of the amazing site, I went with Revelate packs as per the image below.  I also rode with a hip pack, no rucksack. This all held plenty of gear for three days/two nights of summer riding. On a personal note I was really impressed with the Revelate kit, and would highly recommend.

KAW rides packed and ready to roll

It was agreed that each day we should start as early as we could manage to give ourselves the maximum amount of time to get the days riding done.  Hopefully we had enough time each day to get the km's chalked off, have decent coffee and lunch stops and soak up some of the history along the route.  Also no one fancied the thought of a late start and rolling into a hotel, hungry and tired at 9 or 10 o'clock at night. Finally all the planning and preparation was done, and as Friday morning dawned, we grouped up at Godalming Pepper Pot (one of us already gotten lost) and headed out on our adventure. In a break from what we assume is convention, rather than start and end at Winchester, given that FIASCO HQ is only a few KM from the KAW route, we joined the route on our local patch of Thursley Common and headed up Devils Punchbowl immediately.  DPB is not the hardest climb in the world, but its the highest point of KAW and so getting that out the way only 9km in was a psychological bonus.  Being local, we also had the advantage of knowing to not follow the KAW route precisely up DPB, as the section known as THE MARBLES, is no fun at all to ride up.  A detour for a few hundred metres to the east lets you ride up on the closed road, much nicer and smoother. The warm morning helped make this opening stint feel even more exciting, giving a real sense of great times ahead. We dropped down off the far side of DPB, entered into unknown lands and managed to lose the route for the first time as we approached Rogate, minor mishap, spirits remained high!

Lost already less than 20km in to the trip.

The trips first coffee stop was taken at Turtle Cafe in Liss, then it was back out and continuing south to pick up the South Downs Way.  Its probably fair to say the hardest climb of KAW is on the SDW, as you leave Queen Elizabeth Country Park, cross the A3 and climb the grass path up to the top of Butser Hill.  Shortly after Butser hill, the groups one and only puncture for the trip occurred, one of the gravel bikes puncturing on the SDW flint paths. 

Who will make it all the way up Butsers grass slopes?

One puncture in a combined 2160km on gravel isn't too bad

We were now 4.5 hours in and everyone's thoughts were turning to lunch.  There were a few stop options at various pubs, but we happened to pass Cadence Cafe at Holden Farm (*note as of 2023 this is no longer a Cadence Cafe!) and so stopped there for a selection of mega cycling themed toasties such as The Wiggo and The Armstrong, cans of coke and much needed shade. I think its fair to say we all ate more than we should, and the trek off towards Winchester started off slightly slower than anticipated.  It was decided that a stop in Winchester was required.  A cycling cap was needed to fend off heatstroke and someone's bike (mine I think) needed minor treatment.  The nice folk at BeSpoke Biking sorted us on all on requirements.

Obligatory snap with The King in Winchester

From Winchester all talk turned to the historical highlight of the days stage, with a trip slightly off route up to Farley Mount to view the tower.  My narrative on the way possibly resulted in a bigger build up than the small white tower deserved!  There was a quite a lot of "is that it?" and "all the way up that hill for this?".  Apologies were dished out, and then the long downhill section followed.  Again the build up for this section was better than it turned out to be, with many of the paths totally overgrown and so not really possible to ride at any sort of speed. A true disappointment as I had been imagining how good a 10km downhill section could be.

The majestic (?) white wizard tower at Farley Mount and David sporting his new cycling cap which he lately regretted buying.

The remaining 30km or so went pain painfully slowly.  The weather was glorious all day, but the heat was really getting to everyone by now.  All chat had pretty much stopped, and it was only broken for various folk asking "how much further?". This final section consisted of way too many short steep pitches for everyone's liking, but slowly the km's were ticked off.  By Broughton everyone was officially out of gas and desperate for cold fluid.  Sadly in this area there is literally nowhere to provide anything on the route.  One option of a shop we had mapped out turned out to be shut, so just as we were about to give up all hope, we stumbled across and fish and chip van in a car park at Middle Winterslow.  The problem of him being cash only was thankfully resolved by a couple of the more intelligent team members bringing some cash.

A great section through the fields on the way to Farleys Mount

Full of Fanta, Coke and whatever else we could get our hands on, the final slog to Salisbury was completed.  I am not sure a group have people have ever been so happy to arrive at a Premier Inn.  Even better, it was still daylight.  Bikes were deposited in our rooms, showers taken, then a few beers and some carbs.  A long hard day, in hot conditions was completed without any major mishaps.  Our injured sixth team member even made a surprise appearance to join us for days two and three, despite major knee injuries!

Everyone retired to bed for some well earned sleep, fully aware of another early start and even harder day ahead.

The spirit of gravel personified


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