I had some fancy salmon and a beer in a pub in East Clandon, at the foot of the Surrey Hills. It would have been better in the garden, but all the outside tables were booked, so I sat on my own in a carpeted room behind the bar. When I finished, the guy brought me the card machine and asked me about my bike ride. I told him that I wanted to sleep somewhere nearby, where I wouldn’t upset a farmer, and he told me to cross the main road then climb up Staple Lane, and stop somewhere before the woods. I was pleased, because this was the way I was heading, and backtracking is always annoying, even if you’re not in a hurry. He filled my water bottles and I walked out in my clippy cycling shoes.
When you’re riding all day, and you stop for an hour, it feels good to be moving again. Two turns through the village, then wait for a space between fast cars on the A road, then the hill starts straight away. The Garmin says 3%, then 6%, then 11%. But soon the views are stretching out behind me. There’s a woman walking through the field on my right, holding a camera and tripod above the high grass. A bit further, two hatchbacks, doors open, music playing, a few young men looking belligerent or maybe nervous, selling or smoking drugs, breaking lockdown rules or enjoying the sunset on a still July evening in southern England.
At the top of the hill the hedges become woods, so I turn back and freewheel down the hill. I pass the boys again and stop – slightly out of their sight, I think – at a gap in the hedge that I noticed on the way up. I lift my bike, heavy with bags, and step through the hedge. On the other side, I see the view properly for the first time and I’m happy that everything has worked out so well: I’ve ridden as far as I’d hoped, I’ve eaten, I’m going to sleep somewhere so beautiful that I’m already thinking about how I’ll describe it. I unroll my bivvy bag, stuff the mattress and sleeping bag inside it, undress awkwardly, piss in the hedge, plug a battery into my phone, take a photo and climb into the bag, facing down the hill.
November 15, 2020