During lockdown one of the daily occurrences was a local resident sharing a beautiful photo taken at the top of Caesar’s Camp. After a few weeks of this I felt like I was definitely missing out. So I persuaded J to risk taking me back out on the bike again to show me the sights. Because I had been following the shared posts with interest, I knew that it might be an uphill slog. I’m not sure I would have been so keen to go if I’d have realised what lay before me. Thinking back, the huge hill that my car struggles to drive to Upper Hale should have been the clue.
Still, blissfully unaware, J and I set out on the bikes early one Saturday morning. I still didn’t really know how the gears worked and more through luck than judgement I found one that felt comfortable. The beginning part of the ride was easy, crossing Velmead Common and over the road into Tweseldown. Off the gravel I found the riding a little harder as I hadn’t really got the grip of handling the exposed tree roots that snaked over the trail. I was a little out of breath by the time we crossed Bourley Road to continue through the ferns and brambles. It was about here that I realised precision steering wasn’t exactly my forte either. So I was quite relieved when the path opened up again as we drew alongside Tweseldown Racecourse.
A Bad Plan
The earthy trails here were dry and dusty with more tree roots and patches of loose gravel to negotiate. There was a shallow but steady incline upwards that I found hard but in reality was nothing compared to what was to come. As we entered the tree line, the gradient took a turn for the worse and I very quickly found myself puffing and panting as I tried to keep up with J. Most of the trails we followed upwards were wide gravel tracks. This didn’t make them any less torturous. There were several times that I had to stop and catch my breath. I was definitely regretting suggesting going to Caesar’s Camp. Surely nothing could be worth this pain.
Meeting my Nemesis
There were nice bits too. Little trails that veered off the main tracks into ferns and fun downhills. It was just that everything we went down, we had to pedal back up. There were runners covering the ground faster than I was. Finally I met my nemesis. It was a ridiculously steep and rocky hill that J seemed to breeze up. I couldn’t even get my weight distribution right. After my front wheel lifted for the third time, I admitted defeat and pushed the bike. I fought the sense of shame and embarrassment that was bubbling up inside. I was determined not to ruin another ride because of my shortcomings.
Over The Ascent
The good thing about that hill was that when I caught J up, the worst of the ascent was over. We were finally out in more open ground around. There were lots of runners, cyclists and families out enjoying the fresh air. I could see what all the fuss was about. The landscape around here was lovely. Lots of copses of pine trees and some large ponds that used to be the location of old gravel pits. There were more wide gravel tracks as well as paths that lead through gorse patches. Of course, J decided that off-trail was the way forward and I picked up a few scratches as we pushed through the prickly bushes.
The View from Caesar’s Camp
The sun was rising high by this point and the temperature was beginning to rise quickly. I had worked up quite the sweat on the way up so I was glad when we finally pedalled along the stony ground towards the viewpoint at the summit. I had to admit that the vista was stunning and well worth the effort getting there. From the top you can see over Fleet and across the runway of Farnborough airport to the town itself. In the very distance, on a clear day, you can see all the way to London. It was one of those kind of days today. Absolutely stunning. We stayed for a while there, resting, relaxing and drinking the view in (as well as lots of water!)
The Fun Way Down
The ride down was lots of fun and a welcome reward from all the hard work earlier. I felt exhilarated and revived from the view and relaxed into the downhills. I can’t say that I totally took my hands off the brakes, but I tried to be as brave as I could. Although I had struggled on the technical bits of the Tweseldown ride, I felt like I had gained a new confidence on the bike. I’m not sure whether it was me beginning to lose my fear or me beginning to find my courage. Either way, it felt good. We took a different route down through the trees then out back alongside the racecourse. My tyres skipped over the tree roots again but I left the speed carry me on, chasing J and trying my best to keep up.
Bitten by the Bike Bug
By the time we got home we had ridden eight miles. It felt good to have achieved that before breakfast. Something about my attitude towards cycling shifted that day. It wasn’t just about keeping fit or learning a new skill. It was about rediscovering the joy of being a kid out exploring new places with just myself and my wheels to get me there. That was the kind of riding I could get into. The biking bug had bitten me hard.