The Wiggle Ups and Downs was the first sportive I ever rode in earnest. It was 60-odd miles of misery and pain, the single hardest thing I'd ever done on a bike. It introduced me to the delights of Leith Hill and White Down, the latter accompanied by a Walk of Shame.
Fast forward nearly six years to Saturday 11 March and I was back again, to start a new and much changed route. Gone was the car park lotto at Friends Provident in Dorking, the snaking shuffle around to the start line, the dread of tackling Ranmore Common with cold legs or the Coombe Bottom descent with a full bladder.
The new HQ for this event was the Cranleigh Showground, and good grief, this is a popular event. The lines of traffic queueing to get in stretched back almost to Ewhurst, and the single metalled road leading to the on-field parking meant that anyone 'just dropping off' had a very long wait before being allowed out again. Generous recent rainfall also meant that the grassy parking spaces were slowly beginning to look like northern Belgium, circa 1916.
Riders turning up for registration, al fresco in a capacious marquee, on their winter hacks or cross bikes smiled smugly at the likes of me, growing steadily taller on platform shoes of Wealden clay. The route along the car track, past the food outlets and sponsors' tents, was imprinted with so many cleat marks it looked like we'd arrived at the venue the night after a rave for fauns and other magical woodland creatures.
Having signed in and got stickered up, it was then time to hit the road while dodging the hordes of cyclists still arriving. The first 200 metres took us past the turning for Barhatch Lane, and the temptation to send everyone for a 25% dose of misery inside the first 5km must've been overwhelming for UKCE.
Thankfully, we stayed on the main road - I was to discover later in the week that the Winterford climb had in fact been closed for four weeks due to a landslide at the business end of the hill.
The route wound its way out west, crossing the A264 and then through Loxwood before heading north towards Godalming. Here was the first major test of the day, a slog up Hascombe Hill and past the arboretum at Winkworth; but after this, for the Standard route riders at least, there was nothing too arduous. Sure, there were bergs-a-plenty, but ones I found I could power up and then recover on the quick descents.
The feed station was a welcome relief all the same, and I was intrigued to see a PowerBar offering of a gingerbread-flavoured energy snack. I can't say I'm a fan - they're usually labelled 'before', 'during' or 'after' - there should be a fourth option of 'bin it'. I think the Spice Girls had more authentic ginger contents.
When the route split, it sent both Epic and Short riders on an expedition up some of the more infamous climbs in the Surrey Hills, but the Standard maintained an up and down character that was more deserving of the event's name and, in my opinion, the time of year.
I still felt brimful of determination and energy coming to the end of the course - one day I may man up and attempt an Epic - but it was actually quite a relief to cross the finishing line.
The swag this year is pretty good. Regular sportive riders like me a drawer full of 'Finishers' t-shirts, so the socks and buffs are a very welcome change.
Earlier this year I kicked off the season (and my Etape du Tour training) by revisiting the Hell of the Ashdown, my most favourite-least-favourite event. Several times I have seriously wondered if I would ever enjoy cycling again, after the beasting a hilly 100km sportive in February can give you. But, like starting your day by stepping in a pile of dog's eggs, it means that everything that comes next has a reference point, and is usually more enjoyable.
This new Ups and Downs is a hit with me - moving away from the, dare I say, tired ascents of Box and Leith and exploring some new routes around the varied and challenging roads of Sussex and Surrey.
Mind you, I've seen the route for the Surrey Hills Cyclone later this spring; I think my prep for that may involve stomping barefoot around the local dog-walking hotspots...
The Wiggle Ups and Downs Sportive is a UKCE event. Visit www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk to see upcoming sportives across the UK.