Ribble & South Downs Way Double

On the 15th February 2020 keen bikepacker, Eoghan McHugh took up the challenge of completing the inaugural edition of the Atlas Mountain Race on his Ribble Adventure Ti. After fully recovering from the exertions of the challenge and after being furloughed during lockdown Eoghan sought out a new challenge and heard about the South Downs Way Double. Here in ‘Ribble & South Downs Way Double’ Eoghan describes how the ride came about, what it entails and how he is preparing to meet this epic challenge.

By Eoghan McHugh | @storiesfromamanandhisbike

Covid-19, furlough and lockdown have been a very, very tough and confusing time for everyone in the UK. Right before all this happened, I was in the process of changing jobs. Lockdown came and the new opportunity was withdrawn. I am one of the lucky ones though. My old company has taken me back and furloughed me. But, when all this lifts…

No goats were stolen in the making of this blog!

But, that’s for another day to consider. And, certainly not anyone’s problem but my own. To keep my spirits up and to try to keep the glass half-full, I pulled out the Adventure Ti that I rode in Morocco and have been having a blast riding and exploring off-road.

You see, I live a mere four miles from the South Downs, which is just pure adventure. After staring at those mellow, sloping hills for years, it’s always been in the back of my mind to ride the South Downs Way – from Winchester to Eastbourne, 100 miles off-road.

And, lockdown provided me with that opportunity. I rucked up, bike fully loaded, set off at 10:30am from Eastbourne and arrived in Winchester at 2:30 the next morning. And then, people started telling me about the South Downs Way Double. Oh yeah, it’s a thing! The rules are pretty simple too. I’ve gotta ride 200 miles (there and back) in 24-hours or less.

I looked up the details and found out that it’s 18,151 feet (or 5,532 meters) of climbing. I’ve since decided never to look at details ever again… But, I am going to make it on that South Downs Way Double board! And, it looks like that day is coming soon – in July!

Prep

Let me tell you, there’s a lot of factors to take into consideration when planning something of this magnitude. And, little breathing space to get things wrong. Make a wrong turn, get a mechanical or bonk and that’s the difference between less than 24-hours and more than 24-hours. I don’t want to go to all this trouble to fall on the more than 24-hours side.

So, to prepare, I looked at several factors: what bike to ride, the navigation, time/ energy management and pacing, nutrition and fuel, mental preparedness and logistics.

Even though I’m getting more and more experience with endurance riding, it’s always good to sanity check ideas with others. I reached out to Dan Pullen. More than a local legend, the man rides other competitor’s bikes while simultaneously riding his own during races to give the competition a boost and still ends up beating them. He’s also DS to a crack racing team Lindfield Coffee Works Race Team.

Bike

Ribble are awesome and the bike’s they’re designing will live through a nuclear disaster. I’m a lucky chappy, I’ve ridden a few of the CGR’s they’ve released over the last few years. I also got a hold of the titanium tank, the Adventure Ti, to ride in Morocco during the inaugural Atlas Mountain Race.

Luck and fate paid an integral part of my downfall in Morocco. But, I know a good bike when I see one and the Adventure Ti cannot be written off with one mishap. So, I’ve repaired it and it’s back working 100% once again.

The width of the loop handlebars offers a lot of comfort while riding. Not having drops makes it easy to reach the brakes, giving me a lot of confidence to descend. The 11-speed cassette has been swapped for a 12-speed and I’m set for climbing!

The 3 amigos ride again!

I’ve ridden the bike now for a couple of months and it gets more envious looks and compliments than does the Mona Lisa in the Louvre or the Statue of David!

Navigation

I’m a disaster with navigation.

Usually, I just ruck up to an event with no devices and ride. Both times I’ve done the full South Downs Way, I’ve taken several wrong turns – wasting energy and time. Riding the South Downs Way Double in less than 24-hours is going to be tough enough without wrong turns. This is something I need to get a handle on for the Double and I know in advance navigation is one of my weaknesses.

To prepare for the navigation, I’ve ridden the full 100 miles from Eastbourne to Winchester twice now. I’ve also ridden sections of the route as training and for further route familiarisation.

The green fields of England.

Now, I don’t want to just rely on my keen sense of direction, my eye and nose to point me in the right direction. All have failed me innumerable times in the past. As well as my instincts, I’m breaking tradition and will be using a bar mounted navigation unit with turn-by-turn navigation.

Let’s be honest here too. Not only will I turn left when I should turn right, but the signs that mark the route are impossible to follow for various reasons at different places on the path. And, I’ll also be riding at night for some of the ride.

Navigational aid is crucial!

Time management, Energy Management & Pacing

If you didn’t gather from above, I don’t have mounted devices while riding.

With the changes recently made to Strava and the limited functionality there now, I’ve even contemplated leaving my phone at home on recent rides.

I’m a feel rider. I have ridden by feel for long enough now that I know what’s sustainable and what’s not. However, I’ve never ridden 200 miles and climbed 18k feet in a single off-road ride. And, again, I think using energy through a feel-approach is going to land me on the wrong side of that 24-hour mark .

The South Downs Way is the only National Trail to lie entirely within a National Park

So, I’ll be building out a wee bit of a schedule to keep focused and on-track while riding. I’ll also need a rough schedule that accounts for some time off the bike to eat, collect the wits and carves out any time needed for the ‘what-ifs’ that inevitably come up.

I love chatting to people, from waving at people that are out and about to having a chat while cycling. I know this slows me down. It also causes me to burn through energy – there is a lot of thought that goes into my witty repartee! This is going to have to go on silent for the South Downs Way Double. Headphones in, playlist on and eyes on the prize – which will be quite difficult for me. But, for the sake of marginal gains and keeping my head in the game, I’m gonna do it! Apologies in advance if you’re out and I don’t say hello!

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