audax

Mini-north west passage 120 km

17/02/18

Last year I did the longer (200 km) version of this ride; looking at the route is hard to believe it’s only an additional 85-ish km.  This was far more pleasant, starting and finishing in the light.  It was certainly long enough for me to be doing having not ridden anything long for sometime.

You need to be fairly confident riding in traffic for these rides as they are mostly A roads, and I did have a number of daft overtakes and close passes.  Eavesdropping on a conversation at the cafe control one bloke was saying that the 200 km is thought to be the oldest on the calendar and probably originated as a local club reliability ride pre-Audax UK (est. 1976), but no one remembers.  Certainly the roads would have been quieter then.

It was cold and wet at the start and riders were coming and going, some seemed to be on the 200 km (which started an hour earlier) and only just starting, so at 8.55 am I decided to get on with it rather than wait around.  Perhaps I missed some information about a road closure (which turned out to be passable by bike as is often the case) but I don’t know.  The route follows canal and railway line through Littleborough and Todmorden then head up to Holme Chapel and Clivinger, which is a nice section, the steep valley sides had a dusting of snow on the top.  Then through urban Burnley and Nelson before Blacko, where I stopped to take a photo for comparison with the last one.

Bike and signpost in Blacko Signpost in Blacko Bike in Blacko

The weather was backwards on this occasion, it got better as the day went on.  Over the highest point of the ride then down to Lisburn for an info control.  This was nice steady climbing.  Then a lower flat section, where a road closed sign blocked the route but I continued on and there was still half the road left (and no work being done at the time).  Unfortunately the road surface was littered with debris and I soon heard a noise coming from my front tyre.  I stopped just 3 km short of the control to find a piece of glass and a slowly bubbling tyre.  I don’t get many punctures so I’m not very fast at changing a tube.  I managed to break a tyre lever, and the roads weren’t very clean so I was spreading mud and probably worse over my hands and tights, but at least it wasn’t raining now.

Tyre levers

Eventually I got to the Country Cafe control in Waddington, recently visited on the Season of Mists.

Tea and pot

After this a nice profile of Pendle Hill is available when there is less cloud.  It did lift later.

Pendle Hill

Back over the Ribble and around the edge of Blackburn.  Here the route directs riders to turn right at a roundabout for the M65, which was horrible last year so I had spent a bit of time on google street view and found that I could cut it out by going along the towpath underneath (Leeds and Liverpool canal).  The sun was putting in an occasional appearance now and there had only been a few spot of rain (and hail) so I stopped to take off my waterproof and replaced it with a windproof gilet.  Up over Oswaldtwistle Moor, where I thought I might expire last time.  So much tamer in the sunlight and it was easier than I was expecting.  Another ‘highest point’ of the ride (303, 297 and 295 m peaks).

Oswaldtwistle Moor

Through Haslingden and Edenfield, then the final climb up to Ashworth Moor Reservoir.  I was looking forward to this as it had been one of the few highlights of last years ride.  It’s a nice road with good views but the overtaking traffic took some the enjoyment away, especially on the fast descent when a car came past into oncoming traffic then promptly turned left, causing me to brake.

On the last section through Rochdale I was unsure of a junction (named destination on route sheet wasn’t on the sign) but fortunately another rider appeared at the red light and said his GPS was indicating right.  Maybe this is where I went wrong last year.  We got separated at other lights further along (where a driver stopped and asked me if I would send my camera footage to the police if he went through the red light – I was able to reassure him he was quite safe as the thing on my helmet is a light, but the fact that it can be mistaken for a camera is no bad thing), but he kindly waited up ahead to make sure I was still on track.  The last few junctions were a repeat of my way in from the station but when I called a left (which cuts a little corner off) he decided to go with his GPS so I arrived a couple of minutes before him.

Howard, which his name turned out to be, and I both took advantage of the veggie pie and peas option laid on for finishers at the pub.

Pie and peas

Back to the station and there was some very nice light on the hills we’d just come over, and the last of it did its best to make Rochdale look appealing.

Bike at Rochdale station

Establishment-names of the ride: Fecit Farm, and Only Foals and Horses stables.

Mini-north west passage route

122 km, 7 hrs 32 mins, average 9.9 kph

2016 – 2017 audax season

17/10/17

At the start of the season I got back in the saddle with a hilly 50 km.  Entering LEL in January got me planning training rides, ideally doing a Super Randonneur series (SR; 200, 300, 400 and 600 km rides in a season) in preparation.

LEL training graph

After a real struggle on an early 200 km I finally got back to the ranks of Randonneur on my 40th birthday, in the amazing surroundings of Mull.

Birthday cake and champagne

After that everything was progress, my first 300 km was splendid but definitely ‘type 2’, the second much more manageable.

Route map of 300 km Beyond the dales we know and Wigginton rides in Yorkshire

A 400 km was my first experience of riding through the night, and became a real slog toward the end; finishing with around half an hour to spare was a bit too close for my liking.  A 600 km pre-LEL wasn’t to be (twice), so I found myself at the start feeling inexperienced, amongst other things.  But LEL, even un-finished, proved to be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience (even if I do it again I’m sure that first time will never be matched).  It was a real shift in my psyche, although it’s been a challenge to maintain.

JJ start, LEL Innerleithen hills sketch Climbing Yad Moss Peter and Erica at Brampton LEL brevet card

I thought I might have had more than enough of cycling for a while afterwards but that proved not to be the case, and I was keen to at least get my SR award this season.  Well, it didn’t happen, but I thoroughly enjoyed Blackpool-Glasgow-Blackpool nonetheless.

Blackpool Tower

Post-LEL I still have numbness in the thumb and first two fingers on each hand, and the left is pretty pathetic in terms of strength and dexterity.  I plan to get a bike fit (and possibly ahem a new different bike) once I get properly back in the saddle.  I did lower my saddle a little to try and prevent the recurrence of Achilles tendon pain (so far so good), and rotated the bars forwards slightly to try and keep my wrists linear while on the hoods.  There’s no way to tell if the latter has helped while I have continuing numbness, I just hope I haven’t caused any more damage.  I know nerves take a long time to heal.

I’m managing a few rides early this season but November will bring a challenge of a different kind with more surgery and the mind (and fitness) -rotting recovery that accompanies it.  The nature of it is such that I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back on the bike, and it might be best to try and get my final operation done as soon as possible afterwards and have an extended pause rather than off-on-off-again.  If I can help out at some rides during this time I’d love to.

I found some great software to create a heat map at https://erik.github.io/derive/.

2016-2017 heat map

Points: 14

AAA: 7.5

Distance (actual ridden, including DNFs): 5013 km (3053 miles)

 

Blackpool – Glasgow – Blackpool…no SR for me…

22/09/17

Train to Blackpool; at Hebden Richard gets on and squeezes his bike in the passageway, this being one of the refurbished northern trains with a bizarre bike enclosure where two bikes can barely be properly contained, and there is no flexibility to add a third. Still at least the train staff don’t seem to mind. We get into Blackpool in plenty of time, I had planned on twiddling my thumbs in the station waiting for HQ to open but it’s fairly deserted and we head straight to Bispham Community Centre and discover we’re not the first to arrive. Plenty of time for faffing, tea, and an ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ sandwich.

At 10 pm we start, the group of twenty-something staying together for a little while, setting a fast* pace. I soon find myself at the rear and concentrate on following the person in front as I think we’ve detoured from the routesheet and I’ll be screwed if I get lost. Me and the person in front are going at a similar speed, and after a while I become aware of a light behind. A late starter? It turns out to be Richard who must have taken a slightly different route. He and the chap in front (who I realise must be on fixed going by his downhill cadence) settle together at a speed slightly above me, but remain in reassuring sight for a while. At one point I am sure we are about to witness a smash; a car begins to overtake me on a blind corner, I’m far enough around it to see there’s a breakdown truck coming the other way. Surely it’s going to plough right into the front of it?…I brake, the truck brakes, and the car squeezes through between the two in front and the truck, and speeds off to live another day. But not many more driving like that. It takes a while for my adrenalin to subside.

I stop to turn my route sheet over can see the pair in front no longer. After Kendal it’s a long but steady climb up and over Shap summit. I try to use the big ring on a rare dip but the chain comes off so I pull in at a farm entrance to replace it. I’d just replaced all my cables but hadn’t had enough ‘breaking in’ time, and they behave rather differently on a stand than when used in anger. I’m worried about it coming off the other side as well so as it turns out I don’t use the smallest cog the whole ride – there are no really steep sections and in fact the worst turns out to be going up to Dalruscan from the A701 when I went off-piste for a sleep.

Going up and up the A6 and there are only a couple of vehicles. It starts getting misty. I have no idea where I am relative to the summit, and stop in a lay-by to have a drink of water (descending the next day I spot the lay by and realise this was almost the top). It is thick fog here now. I am aware somehow of a steep drop to my left. There is a patch of world illuminated in front of me by my light, and a feeble red glow at the rear, but behind that absolute nothingness. I am aware that I exist only in this tiny impenetrable world, and no one else is aware of my existence.

I move off again and soon the fog thins and the pedaling gets easier. Was that the top? I have no way of knowing. I am enjoying night riding this time; in contrast to sections of twisty minor roads, on this A road I can see further ahead, there are white lines and cats eyes, and even the occasional car, and we have mutual and advanced awareness of each other. I love my water bottle glowing in the light of my headtorch like a G&T under UV, and the tiny fireworks that drops of water form as they spray off the front wheel under the headlight.

The first control is Penrith, and I stop at an Esso garage where a few others are.  They seem to have had almost all of the sandwiches already, so I opt for crips and coke. The very friendly guy working there has learnt all the rules of audax by the time I approach the till and I have no need to ask for a receipt.

Riding through the centre of Penrith I recognise it slightly from my JOG trip, and especially the climb out of town where the peaks of the lakes would be visible in the daylight.  It’s a short stage to the next control, a 24 hour Asda on the northern edge of Carlisle. This being England, 24 hour in fact means that it closes some time on Saturday evening and has to keep Sunday hours before opening again early Monday morning. It seems I’ve already lost track of what day it is, and reading the opening hours expect it to be closed. One of what becomes the advance party is sitting on a mobility chair waiting for the others, fearing they have become lost in the hugeness of the supermarket. He reassures me that it is open, and I remember that it is early (5 am) Saturday not Sunday. I go in search of what I would really like, which is coffee and a croissant, but it’s a bit too early for the bakery counter so I come away with a sandwich and flapjack. The supermarket is occupied almost entirely by staff, filling the shelves.  Later another rider says we should have just ridden around the aisles. There is a guy in front of me at the till who is clearly plastered, buying a litre of vodka. The only other customer is a Stobart driver, who during the course of my conversation with the checkout-assisting member of staff (fortunately she reminds me I need my receipt, which I am on the verge of forgetting) comments that buying food in Abington services, the next control, is best avoided for financial reasons. The others have left so I take my place on a mobility scooter seat and enjoy my sandwich.

Sitting on a mobility car in a supermarket

Leaving, the birds have started but it’s still pretty dark. The road out of Carlisle is familiar but only as a busy car queue, one of the main routes in and out of the centre. Now it’s deserted. This section is familiar from my trip to JOG, and I stop once again at the Welcome to Scotland sign.

Welcome to Scotland, Gretna

After Gretna we’re on a section of the LEL route, it seems strange to be here again. It’s proper dawn now and I keep looking behind me to see the growing glow of the emerging sun. Again (after LEL) I notice a splendid tower/castle and make a mental note to look at a map and work out what it is, I think it’s Robgill Tower but I’ll look into it properly. Soon we go through Lockerbie and I make a point of going through the town centre just because I know it and I can. Then it’s the tortuous B7066 to Beattock; featureless apart from the road surface, which has way too many features, every centimetre or two…the only consolation here was that I knew I wouldn’t have to take the same route going south.

A mental switch happens at the Beattock roundabout where the route shrugs its shoulders and settles in for the journey north, along the valley which is shared by the M74 and the west coast main line. I love this corridor, it’s familiar but enchanting.  I always like riding routes that I’ve worn well by car or train, to experience them at the ‘proper’ speed of the bicycle is to properly enjoy them, and the next time I’m passing on the train or the motorway I’ll be eagerly looking out of the window and saying ‘I cycled along that road’ to any unsuspecting travelling companions.

Beattock summit

Somewhere along here we pass the house I vaguely remember from LEL with the wooden orang-u-tan in the garden. It’s a bizarre marker of the worst road surfaces. At Abington I catch up with the advance party, which turns out to be a pattern over the next few controls. Being cheap (remembering the advice of the driver in Carlisle) I opt for a filter coffee and this turns out to be an expert move as the waiting time is much reduced, and I’m most of the way through my fruity toast before Richard’s latte appears. The effect of a proper stop and food should not fail to be appreciated, I felt at my best just after this stop here and on the return leg.  I leave alone feeling slow, although I see Robbie (who I met at the start) and riding partner arriving just as I go.

After a little while I’m not too far behind another rider, but never too close. We flirt with the cycle path, constantly checking whether it or the road offers the most comfortable ride. Faithfulness is impossible until after Lesmahagow, where a splendid new section has been laid and can be committed to. Slowly civilisation builds, and eventually the route becomes a string of traffic lights, often challenging as ‘straight on’ requires taking the right lane.

Glasgow is another Asda, in Toryglen – a less likely name for an area of this part of the country I cannot imagine. The advance party are here when I arrive, and leave before me. It’s around 13.30. A couple of local boys ask about the ride and I do my best to enthuse them, one of them tells me about his wheelie expertise so I bow to his greater skill. I feel no great achievement at this point, it’s just a case of turn around and get on with it.

The next control is Abington again, so onwards and upwards. On the climb out of Glasgow I start to feel very strange, disconnected from myself. My body is doing all the right things, my legs keep pedalling as I know they will, and even my head is processing the routesheet instructions as if on autopilot. In part this is good, because I’m sufficiently spaced out that any pain or discomfort goes almost unnoticed.

But I don’t really like it.  I remember a conversation at the start where someone talked about singing, so I try that. Now I can’t sing at the best of times, and now I’m out of breath and I realise I don’t know enough words, but it is more or less doing the trick and I feel more normal. It only works when I’m at least mouthing, if not singing the words out loud; just humming a chorus isn’t good enough. I discover that I really don’t know all the words to anything, but the best I can do, and so becomes my repertoire, are: Bread and Roses, Dream a Little Dream, and No Children. I resolve to properly learn these and others for future reference.

I see other bikes at Abington, but not their owners until they leave. A visit to Burger King takes a bit longer than I’d like but it’s worth it for something warm eaten sitting down. Down to Beattock, some of this stage is nice and fast. Here I leave the route and stay on the A701 towards Dumfries, to my parents house.  I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this road as the traffic can be fast and it isn’t that late, but taking the back roads involved too much faffing and risking wrong turnings in the dark. It’s ok and goes by fairly quickly. After the traffic lights at St Ann’s three deer run along on the other side of the road, going my way, before jumping over into the field. The turning off presents the steepest hill of the ride and it’s a fair honk up without my smallest chain ring. Then the nice descent home, it’s 8.30 pm and my parents are away so the place is in darkness and deserted. Not even the cat appears. This is good because I don’t want her to sneak in and then to spend my precious time-in-hand chasing her out again. The aga is on so I take off my damp bits (there has been a bit of light rain, but it’s mostly just general sweat and outdoor sogginess) and hang them up. I’d planned to just get a blanket and sleep on a sofa but I see the bed that my mum has made up and decide I can’t resist, so climb in as soon as I can with my alarm set for 12.30 am, having calculated that I need to leave at 1 am to make the next control before cut-off. As soon as I hit the pillow my brain stars whizzing, and although I fall asleep fairly quickly even my dreams are busy.

Clothes drying

The alarm goes and I jump out of bed before I can reconsider. I try to be as quick as possible with a cup of tea and bowl of muesli but still leave a little later than planned. It’s warmer than I was expecting and I have to stop and remove a layer at one point. The little roads to Lochmaben are of course deserted at this time in the morning, and the A709 to Lockerbie is very quiet (again I wouldn’t fancy it during the day). A bonus of my detour is that I miss the tortuous B7068, and it probably brings the route over 600 km: Andy Corless the org had struggled to convince the good people of AUK that his original route was over distance and so had been forced to give us a little detour into Longtown to make it up, which of course I still had to take, but maybe next time I could offer to run the ‘rents place as a control?!

In Longtown the petrol station (of an LEL visit) is long closed but I spot a slightly dodgy looking cash machine on the outside of a nearby shop, and obtain my proof of passage. I don’t normally look at them but this time I glance at the place and time info, and am surprised to see I’m 6 minutes over time at the control (3.26 am). The last stage hasn’t felt fast but I didn’t think it was that bad…maybe my calculations were wrong. I’m not sure how fussy Andy, or AUK would be about this sort of thing, but I am already formulating my excuses (mainly centring around the very last minute route info – I was laminating my routesheets at work at 4 pm before the 10 pm start).  I see another rider, going the wrong way so I assume he is searching out the cash machine, but when I turn back to wave he has already disappeared.

Now it’s off to Carlisle, I’m happy that we don’t just retrace the last little bit because I always hate doing that (…ok, it’s an out and back route, but that’s not quite the same), just follow the A7. No need to control in Carlisle so the next stop is Penrith. After we cross the motorway I spot another rider (igauk from yacf I think) and pass him as he stops. There’s a bit of a climb before we get to Penrith; the traffic is sparse. The sky is clear now and I tilt the brim of my cap up so I get a better view of the stars. I’m getting sleepy, try a bit more singing and also slapping myself in the face. Focus on Penrith as a nap stop – maybe there will be somewhere to sit and nod off at the petrol station? Back after leaving Longtown I spotted a couple of randonneur-occupied bus shelters, but there is nothing here; each lay-by has a bus stop sign but nothing else.  That is until I approach one and notice a large black object in shadow at the far end of the layby, possibly in the adjacent field…maybe a bit of farm machinery? Suddenly it’s alive, a glowing, sparkling almost, white dragon…so vivid, believable and disturbing until the last minute when I pass it and it resolves itself into a tree, illuminated by the headlights of a passing car. The shock of realisation wakes me up for a while, and I’m a little pleased that I’ve had my first audax hallucination.

Glowing dragon

A while later and I’m sleepy again, when my steering feels odd. I’m just passing an isolated house so I stop and take advantage of their outside light. My front tyre is soft, but not flat, so I pump it up and hope it will get me to the Penrith control where I can change the tube. Again this wakes me up and I get to the edge of town, but then it’s suddenly very flat and I have no control, so stop annoyingly short of the petrol station and sort it out. Checking the tyre for sharps I discover that it’s actually worn through at a spot, so deploy an emergency boot of section of old inner tube plus gaffer tape. I can’t have refitted the wheel very well because now I have a rubbing brake.  Clearly I’ve also done a shit job on the brake cables, as the straddle cable on the canti is simultaneously slack and almost too tight to use the quick release. Sunrise and daylight happens while I’m fiddling, I turn off my head torch part way through.

At the petrol station I meet igauk again, he’s almost ready to leave. Chatting it turns out that he lives in Glasgow, so he’s driven to Blackpool, cycled home for a few hours kip and is now cycling back to his car…we are an hour out of time by this point but he needs to get back to the arrivee for his car whatever, and I reckon there is enough time for him to get there within the cut-off. There’s a costa machine so I enjoy a hot coffee and a sandwich while considering my options. In theory I should be able to cover the remaining 100 km in time, but I’m not sure how I would stand with the out-of-time controls, and I know that theory doesn’t always hold up when you’ve hundreds of kms in your legs and you’ve had less than four hours sleep over the past two nights. Also the way my bike is feeling at the moment I would have no confidence in going much further. As an extra minor irritation my bike computer (cheap Halfords cable model bought in an ’emergency’ come time ago) has stopped, reading 499 km.  Penrith has a main line train station, and I’ve learnt my lesson and haven’t left anything in Blackpool so I could head straight home (but this may be expensive). Igauk leaves, and I remove and refit my front wheel, taking a bit more care to tighten both side nuts evenly. It spins without rubbing on the brake blocks. How about the tyre boot, will that hold? I realise that, after LEL, I have a strong desire to complete the distance even if I’ll be out of time. And I have all of today, Sunday (it’s currently 7 am), to get home, plus Monday off work. It’s also a gorgeous morning, and I’ve got a ride that takes me through upland England…it would be daft to miss out.

I decide to press on, and see how the tyre and wheel feels; if it’s no good I can just head back to Penrith. I’m now resigned to ‘tour’ back, and I stop in a layby to let Andy know I’ll be a DNF, but the theoretical possibility that I can still finish on time stops me sending the text message. But I’m clearly in touring mode as I stop to photograph the hills to the east, I reckon Yad Moss must be in there somewhere.

Pennines from Penrith - Shap road

I’m also tired again, so I stop in Shap to make use of the facilities: recently repainted interior, stone flagged floor, wooden bench, east facing so some nice morning sun but a little noisy from passing traffic and pedestrians. No buses. This time I do send Andy a message to tell him not to wait for me, especially as his hire of the hall in Blackpool only lasts until 8 am so he’ll be sitting in his car waiting for the stragglers after that.

Next it’s the climb over Shap Fell, with its warning road signs about bad conditions in winter. I think this is my favourite bit of the ride. I’m piecing together my experiences of the way north on the previous day (or day before, who knows at this point) in the dark and the fog, with the clear daylight and the views that are here now. It could be another world, but in time I spot the place I stopped, isolated from the world by fog. The road is quiet, the views are splendid, the hillsides wild, just as I like them.

View from Shap Fell, east View from Shap Fell, south

Over the moorland top, down into the next valley it seems like another world. This is the descending I like, the road is safely wide with good visibility. Then through Kendal, where I lose touch a little with the routesheet but following signs is good enough and I’m soon on the way to Carnforth. Here the control is at a truck stop, and I no longer bother to ask for a receipt. The woman running the shop is friendly and talkative, it doesn’t sound like she’s had that many of us through (not sure of this is because they came through earlier before her shift started, or they have stopped elsewhere) but she seems unfazed by the oddness of the enterprise.

I leave a little uncomfortable and tired, for the final section. Navigating through Lancaster poses a couple of problems but it is me at fault. At one point I just don’t have the energy to move across a couple of lanes of traffic to take the correct position at some lights, so stop and go via a pedestrian crossing. Then I turn too early, resulting in catching up with the chap who I spotted in the darkness of Longtown. It turns out that he’d missed the final version of the routesheets, so had passed Longtown then somehow learnt that it was a control and so headed back, doing an extra 30 km in the process. Now he’s going much faster than me so after a brief chat and some encouragement that he can get back in time I leave him to it.

The last section, as almost always, is a struggle.  It’s now normal-people’s daytime and the road is busy.  I experience the highest concentration of shit driving ever, with so many close passes including someone who seems to be attempting to shave my legs with their wing mirrors. A couple of cars have stopped at the side of the road and seem to be doing the exchanging-insurance-details thing, which comes as no surprise. This is a flat section and I’m unpleasantly reminded of the LEL Fens. Similarly tired now I take a turn off for some villages near Pilling – or maybe Preesall? –  to have a snooze on a bench next to a bus stop sign (very poor accommodation but it’s dry and the sun shines on my face).

On the final stretch to Blackpool I start to follow signs for the seafront rather than the routesheet, and finally get there about 3 pm, an hour later than the arrivee closure. In some ways this is better than I thought, probably without the flat tyre and with a little more effort I could have finished in time. But I didn’t, so I haven’t managed an SR. That was my aim, but I’m not too upset, and happy that I pressed on and at least finished the distance. I turns out that Blackpool on a Sunday afternoon – during illuminations season but too early for the lights – is a bit weird. I get some chips and a cup of tea near the tower, and eavesdrop on the conversation of the lad serving and his two mates loitering for free food; it sounds like a tough place to grow up.

Blackpool seafront Blackpool Tower

Heading back to the train station for home I have trouble locating the entrance, and a woman passing notices my confused expression and offers help; so I am reminded of the friendliness of northerners, even towards the Lycra-clad.

* or ‘relaxed’, as another rider’s account described it. Bastard.

Blackpool - Glasgow- Blackpool route

618 km, 41 hours

London-Edinburgh-London

Prologue

Saturday 5th August

4 pm, bumming around in London

Struggling to write.  Manual dexterity poor, numbness in fingertips and swollen hands. Knees painful when sitting.  Feet swollen, ankles swollen and painful, going up stairs is worst.  Sleep deprived.  Sadness to have stopped before the end, proud of 1350 km.  Tears and embraces still with me.  Landscapes, weather, experiences…trying to fit them together to make a coherent story in my head.

In other words I feel alive.  It really has been, and I hope continues to be, a life-changing experience.  At the start, to feel as entitled to be there as anyone else. So many different nationalities, strategies, bikes, speeds, luggage…but united.

The week leading up to LEL was one of the hardest in my life…it seems flippant to say that from this more comfortable position but it really felt like that.  I’d come off anti-depressants a few months previously after around 5 years; at the time I was feeling ok and didn’t want to be taking medication for ever.  Slowly I started to feel different.  First the sudden unexpected choke of threatened tears where they hadn’t been before.  Then the slow rising tide of depression, taking motivation, time, joy, ambition and enthusiasm, including for LEL.  I was existing, but not living.

I’d had quite a good plan of training rides, made in the enthusiasm of January, which should have taken me up to a 600 km, if not two.

LEL training graph

A few were missed due to unavoidable life stuff (including a brick through my living room window while I was en route to what should have been my first 300 km).  I made myself do rides I had planned but more and more was finding anxiety being surrounded by others and tried to avoid people as much as I could.  Please don’t speak to me, don’t make me engage, don’t force me to flick the heavy switch that smiles.

 

Sunday 6th August

11.50 am, on the train home to Leeds

A 400 km completed brought little joy.  I arrived lantern rouge with 10 mins to spare having had a puncture and being lost a couple of times in towns.  I finished in a bit of a bad mood I think, with no time to sleep before the hall HQ was closing and I had to leave for a train home.  That ride was a lone battle through the night, my first to see light go and dawn come.  I felt so slow during the night stage, but there was nothing other to do than to keep going.  So easily spooked by shadows.  Eventually daylight and a service station, a few words with a group of three who’d been a bit ahead of me the whole time, then they were gone again.

The 600 km – again, into the hall and pick up my brevet card, lay out the bed, then go away and hide to be alone until it’s a suitable time to sleep.  The ride starts and people settle.  I’m alone but plenty of others visible, and I being to relax.  This brings on a migraine (my usual trigger is the relief of stress) which causes me to pack at 100 km, being unable to see properly.

One more chance, another 600 km; this one I’ve spent a bit on travel and accommodation for.  Again no great desire or motivation, I just make myself get to the start because I have to.  This is x-rated and I’m inexperienced.  I’ve got a bivvy bag on my rack because I knew I wouldn’t have time to make proper use of a Travelodge along the way.  Devon, Somerset, Bath, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire…crossing hills under a June sun which is logically beautiful but in my state of mind that was alll it was, I wasn’t enjoying it and had no passion.  I fixed a broken mudguard with duck tape and cursed Oxfordshire Council’s road resurfacing programme.  Discomfort, tiredness…never quit until you’ve had a cup of tea and a sit down I’ve been told.  A coke and a park bench on a nice village green at 220 km would do.  I could pack.  I COULD pack.  I don’t have to do this.  If I pack it’ll be the end for LEL.  I could volunteer.  Ok, I’ve given up LEL.  A strange calmness comes over me: regret and release.

A few days later; rational brain.  I’ve got my train tickets and camping in Loughton all sorted and paid for.  No one else can benefit from my place at this late stage. I spend a lot of time reading threads on yacf.  I’d sent Peter a message when I packed the 600 km and he does a great job by not encouraging me to volunteer.  I persuade myself to start, and this causes lots of stress as I consider the bike maintenance required; new mudguards (I really can’t start LEL with duck tape holding everything together), brake blocks, swapping front/rear tyres which of course involves valve damage and a flat, last minute saddle change, running out of time to fit new cables…yes my headset needs attention…this takes hours and hours and I get frustrated (as always) by the slow progress of this amateur mechanic.  Also up against time preparing route sheets, etc.  Meanwhile work is a never-ending stream of emails and requests, I manage to spend an afternoon trying to get on top of things but they are coming in faster than I can reply to, never mind actually attend to.  Management are ineffectual and I feel alone.  See my GP and discuss pros and cons of going back on medication – it would be long term and I don’t want that.  Investigate other options, and not for the first time I am struck by the gap between crisis services and talking therapies with a 3 month wait.  Nothing for the in-between space where I am.  Hate being at work but I don’t want to be signed off, I know that wouldn’t really help.  Even in these last few days, as I see photos on Facebook of riders coming to London from all over the world, I am not sure whether I’ll actually make it to the start.  I am only just getting myself out of bed and into work, how am I going to motivate myself to keep going in the dark, in the rain, uphill, in the middle of nowhere?

I get through that last week, though not without a recurrence of self-harm.  I’d been ‘clean’ over two years.  It provides about 24 hours of stillness.  At some point I seem to make my mind up; yes, I will travel to Loughton. I want to experience the atmosphere, and I actually start looking forward to registration.

Leeds train station

And then I’m there.  I see a few people I know but avoid speaking to them.  At the start I see and eventually speak to a couple of riders I know; we’ve done several of the same build-up rides.  I watch several starts.  A bloke in civvies speaks to me, he has just come down to wish people well and see them off, he doesn’t know anyone in particular.  This is humbling.  As my start time approaches I send a hurried email to my family with the tracking link.  They know I’m doing this but not much about it.  I’ve deliberately not shared the tracking link before now, not mentioned that I’m doing LEL on Facebook, not ordered a jersey, not ordered a yacf nameplate…it takes until registration for me to feel that I’m actually allowed to be here; eventually it seems that we are all in this together.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the night gets in

Anthem, Leonard Cohen.

 

Log

Sunday 30th July

11.38 am: T – 03:30

The wait. Hours yesterday after registration, first in a coffee shop in Theydon Bois then later, when the rain had properly set in, in the tent, reading a newspaper until it was a respectable bed time.

Coffee in Theydon Bois

A thunderstorm in the night. No need to get up early but awake and no desire to lie in after about 7.30 am. Some riders were on their way by now, the tent and bike next to me already gone. Now, after a morning trip to Loughton to find a Costa (reliably open on Sunday mornings), which was nice as I saw lots of riders heading to the start, I’m sitting in the tent wondering whether it’s too early for me to go yet.

Debden campsite

Everything is ready, my towel has even dried after a shower, all that remains is the application of Conotrane. Two German JJ riders opposite (same start group as me) have just left although they are still in civvies so not sure where they are going to. It’s sunny and breezy, a some clouds.

1:05 pm, at the start

Checking out the bikes: so far one Brompton, another Hewitt, recumbents, only one tandem as yet (although saw a trike this morning), an old Raleigh with a large plastic water bottle with a tube up to the bars, French one with gorgeous lugs, Californian Carbon with couplings…watching the groups starting, still far enough away from my start to be too nervous so maybe should eat before appetite is lost.

Bikes at the start of LEL Bikes at the start of LEL The start of LEL

 

Loughton – St Ives 100 km

JJ start, LEL

I can’t remember much about the first stage.  The starting group fragmented a little but I think a few of us rode pretty much together most of the way.  I remember a French chap in front, and a Japansese guy just behind my wheel quite a lot.  Somewhere along here we crossed the Greenwich Meridian which I think is marked by a sign, but I missed it. The weather was mostly good.

I came into the control just behind this fully-faired recumbent, which was entertaining just from the reactions of spectators.

Recumbent cycle approaching Louth control

100 km

 

St Ives – Spalding 61 km

Got to Spalding earlier than expected, the last stage was fast with a tailwind, and it turned out to be a nice evening after a bit of a downpour on the previous leg [Ed: these notes were made at the time, I have no recollection of this now!].

Near Louth

Through Crowland with its curious three-legged bridge; I didn’t stop to take a photo because it was inhabited by 16 year olds drinking cider (or whatever 16 year olds drink these days) and I’m easily intimidated.

I planned to sleep here and did so, figuring the beds would be full at Louth.  I got up at 2.30 to leave at 3.00.  I met Rickie in the dining hall, he’d already had the disaster of a sheared pedal axle, had managed to get home and get either a replacement bike or axle (not clear which) and get back on track. Pretty sure I’d have taken any excuse to quit, where some people take any opportunity not to.

Food in the evening wasn’t wonderful, but the volunteers were, and there were breakfasts.  Plenty of bed space and it was well organised.  My first experience of being woken and I surprised myself by being ‘happy’ to get straight up and get on with it.

161 km

Loughton - Spalding route

 

 

Monday 31st July

Spalding – Louth 83 km

This was a nice morning’s ride and a good time to start out, seeing the light come into the day.  This type of landscape is unfamiliar; the map shows no contours and roads and rivers travel in straight lines and take 90° turns.  For the only time on the ride this section was deserted, I only met one other rider and that was because he’d been sent back on himself by his Garmin.  More owls than cyclists.

Early morning near Louth

Looked forward to a second breakfast at Louth.  Got one of maybe three remaining portions of past-its-best porridge, and black tea because they’d run out of milk.  This was the only time I was disappointed by a control; I’ve since read about issues with the external contractor.  There were a few folk sleeping on the floor in the dining hall, so presumably all the beds were full. The weather forecast was on display on wall-mounted monitors – nice touch – and it looked good.

244 km

 

Louth – Pocklington 97 km

The Humber Bridge was the highlight of this section.  I felt like I was missing a line or two on the route sheet, or I took a wrong turning coming off the bridge, but little-recumbent-guy (who I saw quite a lot of over this day or two) showed me the way.  This photo is me doing my best Arnold Rimmer face.

Humber Bridge Humber Bridge

Before the bridge there were Wolds.  I dislike Wolds.

341 km

 

Pocklington – Thirsk 66 km

This section included Castle Bastard, in the Bastardian Hills.  I have ridden this before but it still feels stupid [Ed: I seem to have included this in my highlights. How fickle.]

Howardian Hills

Notes I made on arrival at Thirsk: Feet are uncomfortable but not as bad as the hot thing I had on the Exe-Buzzard. Thought I’d try some ibuprofen (and perhaps it will help with everything else). Saddle sores seem present when I clean but they are actually not too bad on the bike. Wipes and Conotrane at every control.  The mechanics seem busy, just saw someone come in with an armful of tyres. On this stage I met a guy waiting on a verge whose frame had cracked. I guess you can be prepared for the likely, but carrying a spare frame is beyond even audax levels of self-sufficiency.  There was some writing on the road here including ‘half way to Edinburgh’.  Which I found very welcome, but also thought I might swear at it on the way back, if I got that far.
Either I’ve seen one of the first riders on the return journey or it was someone packing.

By Thirsk I’d ridden further than before.  Didn’t really seem to register.

407 km

 

Thirsk – Barnard Castle 67 km

I thought more of this would be familiar than it was, but nevertheless it was nice to go past Newby Wiske with memories of my first 300 km.  I rode quite a bit of this leg with Osian; nice chatting and it certainly helps the kms go by, though I find it impossible to concentrate on the route sheets at the same time.  Osh’s knee was looking pretty bad and he had a chat with the control Doc (Barney had TLC you would never have imagined); of course medical advice on most complaints would be to stop, which no one wants to do.  His plan involved quite different sleep stops than mine and he set off again, while I headed to the big sports hall for a few hours sleep.  There was plenty of space here and I was given mattress on the far edge, next to some gym mats so I even had a nice surface to do a couple of yoga stretches on.  I’ve done this when touring and it’s really nice to get your spine in a different position for a few minutes after being on the bike all day.  On LEL I intended to do this before sleeping, I managed in Spalding (all-be-it without gym mats) and here but after that it went out of the window.

I had looked forward to seeing controllers Erica and Peter and daughter Vic at Barney, who I met when volunteering on WCW (Windsor-Chester-Windsor) a couple of years back.  Familiar faces and their welcome were heartwarming.  I think son Jamie had the pleasure of waking me up next morning – it’s a brave job to be rousing sleeping randonneurs.  I got on the road again about 3.30 am, a great time just as light was appearing.

472 km

Spalding - Barnard Castle route

 

Tuesday 1st August

Barnard Castle – Brampton 82 km

A lovely start, at first dark and undulating.  Impressions of a beautiful valley but more light would be needed to fully appreciate it.  Caught up with Union Jack tights-guy (another name I’ve forgotten, sorry) and chatted for a while.  I arrived at a later control around the same time as he did, to hear a volunteer helping him with ‘this is Moffat and it’s Tuesday’.  Pressed on over Yad Moss as colours came into the sky; I rather enjoyed this but don’t tell anyone.

Yad Moss Yad Moss

Enjoyed some free-wheeling down the other side, not before the rain started and riders coming passed stopped too, to don waterproofs.  I rode with Maryjane from the Isle of Man for a while, also a lab tech and also riding a Hewitt; we arrived at Brampton together but I lost her in the bike park and didn’t see her again.

I had a shower and a change of clothes from my drop bag; I probably spent too long here but a shower really does make you feel human again.  I hadn’t thought about the changing rooms which were the typical UK school set-up which means no privacy; why are they like this when the rest of life isn’t?  Happily under these circumstances I think most people would be a bit preoccupied with their own thoughts.

There was a covered area to hang up wet stuff, I think some things were pegged up on the way north-bound in the hope they’d be dry coming south.  Shout out to the volunteers here: a very patient german guy in the bag drop and the chap mopping the shower room.

566 km

 

Brampton – Moffat 71 km

The direct road from Gretna to Moffat is soul-destroying; featureless apart from the road surface, which has too many features (I’ve done this on JoG and I’m also sort of local so I knew it was just a case of head down and keep pedalling).  I stopped at Lockerbie Tesco for some emergency food that I thought I might want later, and ibuprofen, which I had by now started taking two of at every control: I’d never done this before, and would only do so again on this kind of ride.  A few others stopped here, including a German rider who offered me some chain oil. This was one thing I wasn’t too worried about as I’d put a new chain on and it was still luxuriating in the stuff it came in.  Still, it’s probably the only time I’ll be offered lube by a german woman.

Brampton - Moffat Moffat LEL control

630 km

 

Moffat – Edinburgh 80km

Riding this stretch of the A701 really was a childhood dream come true.  So often had I been driven (and latterly driven myself) up here and imagined bicycle adventures…I spent too long at university in St Andrews and home was just off this road some 10 miles south of Moffat, but I could never have entertained such long distance riding then.  The first section was a bit unpleasant but after that I just settled in a lowish gear and took it easy, plodding away.  The weather was nice at the top.  It isn’t always of course; somewhere up here is a memorial to two postal workers who died after being caught in a blizzard.

Devil's beeftub Devil's beeftub

Then such a long freewheel I forgot that I could pedal for a while, until some folk sped past me.  Then those familiar places; Broughton, Blyth Bridge, Romano Bridge…eventually a turn-off to new roads at Leadburn.  Now the approaching rain was gaining on us.  All day it had been on/off, short sharp showers which could be ‘ignored’, but it was clear that this one meant business.

Pentland Hills, Edinburgh

After some horrible road surfaces coming into Edinburgh the route took a cycle path where I followed one of the Elliptigo gang; I could see why he was wearing a helmet – all those overhanging branches.  I was happy to see Raj leaving the control just as I arrived, he seemed be going well.  Osian was here too and we ended up riding a bit of the next section together.  Trikin’ Dave was on the desk when I checked in which was great as I’d hoped to see him, although we only had time for a few words.  I tried to find him later before I left, but I think this coincided with him going out on a rescue mission for a rider who was down in the horrible rain.

I was very hungry here and for the only time went back for seconds of pasta, then a muffin; that much would have made me feel sick elsewhere.  I don’t think I had any sense of celebration of reaching Edinburgh; just keep going.

710 km

 

Edinburgh – Innerleithen 43 km

I loved this section.  Deserted roads up and down valleys.  We accidentally formed a Yorkshire group, with Osian, Nick (suffering but determined to finish LEL and achieve a Brevet 25,000 award, which I believe he did), and Jack and Patrick, both from Leeds.  Nice chatting carried us up the climbs, eventually pee and jacket stops separated us.

Scottish Borders

The Innerleithen control was lovely and in retrospect I should have stopped here for sleep; Osian did but it seemed a bit soon for me.  Great to see Lucy McTaggart here after doing her weekend of rides not so long ago. The food here was some of the best.  I forgot to buy mudguard stickers and missed getting a badge.

753 km

 

Innerleithen – Eskdalemuir 49 km

A twisty route out of Innerleithen as it got dark was followed by one of my highlights; riding through these hills as dusk turned to darkness; moon, stars and riders’ lights up ahead twinkling, and the silhouettes of hills.

Innerleithen hills sketch

Going up was good, going down, with (as it felt) limited illumination, less so.  I’m not sure if it’s my light or my confidence.  But the second half of this stage I hated.  I was so alone by now, the only other person was an Aussie who came out of nowhere, speeding downhill just as I’d braked to avoid some cows who showed no sign of moving at all.  He soon disappeared and I was alone again.  I was staring to get a bit cold but was reluctant to stop as I was ‘nearly there’.  This was a section that brought back memories of a conversation on yacf on ‘the only time I thought I might die on an audax’ (2009 epic weather I think); here was a steep drop to a burn to the left on a very quiet road.  Ok it was dark, but the weather was good now; I’d hate to be here in the circumstances that were described by others.  Eventually the junction familiar from the Moffat Toffee appeared, and I was nearly at the control.  The sight of a bunch of bikes leaning against a hall – the control!  No, I know it isn’t, because it isn’t the community centre…could the building have changed shape?  I’m confused (and clearly tired).  Then a Peter appeared and explained it was a dorm, the control was another 2 km down the road.  2 km!  It seemed so far.  Finally I got there and had some soup, then looked for somewhere to sleep.  I knew there were only 30 beds here (although they’d got the extra ones in the hall down the road and they were all full), but the cafe floor was also pretty full so I tried to get some sleep sitting with my head on a table. That didn’t work.  I was sitting looking bewildered when Chris Crossland (again! how did he get here?) came over and offered me an emergency camping mat (which I suspect may have been his own accommodation).  There were no blankets left but the room was warm and I had my jumper on, but still had random shivers every so often.  I asked to be woken at 4 am but didn’t really sleep and got myself up. I think I ate some more, the cafe still looked like a disaster zone but the amazing local volunteers were still going.  In the few minutes it took to faff outside before leaving the midges attacked, and I was glad to be moving again.

802 km

Barnard Castle - Eskdalemuir route

 

Wednesday 2nd August

Eskdalemuir – Brampton 59 km

The route to Langholm was the same as on the Moffat Toffee, I remembered a climb but it was ok and warmed me up so I stopped to take a layer off.  There were a few others on the road, and stopped in Langholm, but I rode alone.  Shortly before Brampton the route joined back up with the northbound leg, near the border.  I stopped in Longtown just as a garage was opening at 7 am for a can of coke.  The  woman running it had already dealt with many riders on the way up so she was fully aware of the lunacy of it all.  I was struck by her strong northern English accent so close to the border – you don’t have to go far north to find thick Scots (the accent not the people!).  I had a nice moment of peace, and watched two jackdaws on a roof next to the garage, one being affectionate and the other seemingly uninterested.  I realised here that if I got no further it didn’t matter and I’d already had a wonderful time.

I arrived in Brampton and collected my drop bag again to get clean gloves, hat and arm warmers.  I didn’t really need them but since they were there I thought it might be good to have a change of seams. I went for an hours sleep, much needed but I didn’t think I could afford any longer.  On being woken (again that you volunteers, all went to plan) I felt very spaced out.

Brampton dorm

I saw Osian and Louise in the cafeteria, Louise agreed that I looked like I was on another planet. I think I managed to get a couple of fried egg rolls, always a favourite riding food for me.

861 km

 

Brampton – Barnard Castle 83 km

The weather started nicely.  I think caught up with Osian but went passed – can’t remember why, maybe he’d stopped. Then I caught up with Raj and we rode together for a while.  He recalled the first time we met (Wiggy 300 km) and commented that he’d learned to ride rather than walk up the hills since then.  A couple of guys came passed (now known to be Jon and Simon), Raj jumped on their wheel and I followed. It was a comfortable pace and they swapped around a bit at the front.  Raj seemed happy where he was but for the first time ever I took part in some almost-proper group riding and took a turn on the front. I found knowing how to pace it really difficult, and they actually asked if I was happy to slow down a bit at one point.  The roads started to rise and the weather got worse. We stopped for waterproofs before the Yad Moss climb proper. It was bleak and seemed harder than going northbound…looking at the profile the first bit by Brampton is steeper going this way, but the Alston – Middleton section is fairly symmetrical, so I expect it was more about weather and tiredness.  Saw what I now know to be Drew Buck’s camper van cafe, it was one of those times when you feel like you just have to keep going so I missed the magic flapjacks. A couple of overseas riders were taking a lot of photos here and we were amazingly able to smile and wave at appropriate moments despite the relentless climbing and rain.

Climbing Yad Moss

Nearing the top (disappointIngly no sign or anything to mark it as far as I could see, it’s slightly undulating up top so never clear when you are at the summit) we stopped for extra layers to keep warm on the descent. Some time on the way down our speeds differed and our little group broke up.  I stopped in Middleton-in-Teesdale (reminded of the stop here on Beyond the Dales, at which I was sorely tempted by the ‘hotel’ sign) for not one but two flapjacks in a bus shelter. Saw Wobbly’s bike parked by a cafe. The final leg to Barney was a long slog, I was soggy and fed up. At least we had a brief glimpse of the Castle coming this way, but I was not feeling in the mood to stop for a photo, and there was quite a bit of traffic.

I arrived at the control (cruelly up a steep drive) to meet Victoria on duty outside.  The rain had pretty much stopped by now, so I took off my sealskin socks and wrung them out. Vic was impressed that I put them straight back on, but as I pointed out it’s better done while they are still warm. Then Wobbly arrived with a three-pack of socks he’d just bought and offered me a pair, but I was already saving a dry pair in my rack bag for some sort of final luxury. I checked in and was waiting to get food when Pete appeared and exclaimed ‘let me give you a huge hug!’, which he duly did. Any thoughts of not wanting to go back out there were banished by his joy and care, and more so when Erica came over for a chat. I knew I just had to keep going. Peter came back later and introduced me to Sue, with a preface of ‘you can tell her to go away’, and ‘I’m a skeptic but she has an amazing effect on some people’. Well I’m a skeptic too but by now also embracing all LEL had to offer. Sue is a patient (dental) of Pete’s, as far as I know she’s not a cyclist, but was voluntarily spending several days at the control doing reiki (definitely not my thing) and general life-enhancing stuff.  We had a very short (under the circumstances) chat in which she taught me to tell myself that I could do this, and also dispensed many hugs.  One of the more unexpected and surreal moments of the ride, but along with support from Team Davis it really helped me to go on with a positive spirit which I didn’t have when I arrived. I also met Louisa, another mini-Davis.  So amazing that these three young adults would give up their time to work silly hours helping support their parents, supporting us.  A last photo-op with Erica and Pete, then off.

Peter and Erica at Brampton

944 km

 

Barnard Castle – Thirsk 64 km

The weather was better for at least the start of this leg.  Here’s Whorlton Bridge, no chance of conserving the momentum gained on the way down.

Whorlton Bridge

Some time before now my Achilles(es) had started hurting, first the left then both.  Saddle was ok, discomfort but I’ve had worse.  I was strict about cleaning with baby wipes and reapplying Conotrane at every control. I noticed that my hands were now struggling to do anything other than change gear or brake, which was pretty much all I needed them for now.  Cutlery was challenging though. Numbness didn’t set in until afterwards.

I remember riding back through Newby Wiske and there being some VC167 riders and a guy on a recumbent leapfrogging, but nothing much else.  Marcus from Port Navigation was busy on entrance/exit duty outside at Thirsk and so I didn’t get chance to speak to him.  I think Julian was here too on the check-in desk, we’ve done quite a few of the same rides this season, he’s a very experienced randonneur and when I’ve seen him on a ride it’s always been reassuring .  This was the 1000 km mark, but it didn’t register as I was using the route sheets which reset to 0 km at each control; I really liked this because it focussed on just getting to the next control and not being overwhelmed by the enormousness of the ride.

1008 km

 

Thirsk – Pocklington 67 km

At some point along this section it became night. I found myself with a nebulous group including some other JJ riders, and as it became properly dark and we headed towards the Howardian Hills I could reliably identify a French guy (Pascal as I found out much later) and a couple of other riders, all overseas I think: there wasn’t any conversation in either direction. I pretty much hated this bit.  Riders were all over the road, not sure how much of this was sleep deprivation and how much riding on the left (there was no other traffic to act as a reminder, I tried to remember what ‘left’ was in any other language but could only manage German, and they wouldn’t have needed any help). Pascal nearly came off a couple of times falling asleep, which I found scary.  I felt a responsibility but didn’t really know what to do to help; I remember asking him if he had any food. Descending in the pitch black was easier with our combined lights, so in that sense I was glad to be with others, but still I felt we were quite slow (how I could have gone any faster on my own I don’t know…). I found the roads strange…in our pool of light they looked like climbs but by cadence and gear felt like gentle descents.

On arrival in Pocklington I knew I’d need a couple of hours sleep.  There was a dorm across the road but it was full, so I was directed to an audax bed/the cafeteria floor. We ate quickly and Pascal and I agreed to leave in a couple of hours after some sort of sleep. I think he got a bed eventually; after some uncomfortable fidgeting I managed to find a blanket which improved the comfort and warmth of the floor by an order of magnitude. When I woke I found Osian and he joined Pascal and I when we left. I knew now that I wouldn’t be able to have another ‘proper’ sleep, it would just be a case of going as long as I could.  Before now I’d felt ok for time in hand but here I started to stress about it, thinking I’d be upset if I managed to finish but was out of time.

1075 km

Eskdalemuir - Pocklington route

 

Thursday 3rd August

Pocklington – Louth 97 km

After donating some Conotrane to Raj who left very quickly, Pascal, Osian and I left together, and picked up an Irish guy whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry again). I think I chatted to team Nibbles somewhere along here too. We stopped at a little shop on the north side of the Humber Bridge; Red Bull two for £2, they must have been doing a roaring trade. Over the bridge with no navigation issues this time.

Humber Bridge

I can’t remember much after the bridge to Louth, I was starting to nod off so stopped at a bus shelter to find the bed already occupied – was it Rickie? – so had a sit down with my hat over my eyes, 20 mins nap which left me feeling much better afterwards.

Happily Louth had some food this time, nice cheesy and veg pasta if I remember right.  The chap serving said his 16-year-old son had offered to come along and volunteer at the last minute and had been in the kitchen pot-washing all night; what a star. Osian went for a sleep. I got my drop-bag and went for a shower, bumped into Simon and Jon who gave me a towel and saved me a walk to find one.  Another hideous school communal shower set-up, again I’m astounded at what we expect our young people to accept as a ‘rite of passage’*.  I left with Pascal, a can of coke, and some much-appreciated campness from one of the guys on the control desk.

*Not at all a complaint for LEL.  Rather recalling my past memories and present identity.

1172 km

 

Louth – Spalding 84 km

This was hell, and probably where it all fell apart. The wind was either head or cross, and very strong.  I found riding with Pascal difficult, in retrospect he’s an experienced randonneur and perhaps I should have stuck with it. The pace felt slow, I was stressing about time and wanted to go faster. I knew I’d need to sleep again. He seemed to want to set the pace in front all the time; if I took a turn on the front I’d end up pulling ahead and then wait for him to catch up, at which point he’d take the front again straight away, so I didn’t feel like I was doing my share of the work. At one point he wanted to rest so we pulled in at a bus shelter and had just dismounted when an American guy stopped and helped himself to the bench, then made some cryptic remarks about sheep…so I just had a flapjack and set off again. Goodness knows how we’d have coped if actual bus passengers had the cheek to occupy such places.

Then I got into a really weird and unpleasant state of mind. Pascal stopped for a leak (I’d noticed that by this stage blokes would stop absolutely anywhere and go without lifting a leg over the top tube) and I pressed on, expecting him to catch up.  I felt very sleepy and became fixated on getting to Spalding where I’d allow myself an hour of sleep.  I focussed on each route sheet instruction, counting down the kms and pushing painfully on. The mental pushing here was intense, horrible, unlike I’ve known before, and I knew I couldn’t do it again during this ride. Every pedal stroke was clear yet seemed a finite resource.  A few folk (including Yorkshire Nick I think) had caught up on the last few turnings and followed me as I took a wrong one, sorry.  Pascal wasn’t at all far behind as we turned in to the control, he looked a bit pissed off but I just told him I had to sleep.  He pretty much bounced the control; Chapeau.

I had an hours sleep in the dorm and had some warped LEL-related dream. When I was woken I knew that I had to go and eat and then set off, but my understanding of what I was doing, why, and where, was disrupted. I thought I had to get back to Loughton but for the arrival of someone, maybe royalty?  I knew that I was confused but it took a while to remember exactly what I was doing. I do remember a lovely volunteer telling me I was doing bloody well, and felt a bit chocked up by it.

1256 km

 

Spalding – St Ives 61 km; …Cambridge

I left Spalding with about an hour in hand. Under normal circumstances I’d be confident that I could cover the remaining distance in time, but these are of course entirely abnormal circumstances. Probably I already knew then that I couldn’t finish in time. Sense of days had gone now, I think it was still darkening when I left. I enjoyed some of the first roads here; flat and sometimes following water that you’d occasionally get a glimpse of through the darkness. I think the wind had dropped, and there was a little rain. I saw an owl flying in a field next to the road, it came and perched on a fence post and looked me square in the face as I passed before taking off.

Owl sketch

I could hear crickets all the time on this section.  This started to seem weird and I became convinced that either a couple of them had a attached themselves to my coat, or that it was a new noise that my bike was making heralding an imminent mechanical disaster.  I brushed my shoulders a few times to see if I could get rid of them but to no effect.

It got dark and I remember a string of villages  I was nodding off again and stopped for a nap on a grass patch by the road.  I wasn’t there long but had a very clear dream about an art teacher I had at secondary school who was a twunt.  Getting ready to go again a few folk rode passed, including one guy who was playing music out of a speaker of some sort.  It was very odd traveling along the dark roads with this patch of light and sound up ahead.

In Cambridge I ended up following a few riders through the traffic light car-trap bit before the guided bus lane, I’d seen it online and knew to avoid it but failed miserably…at least the place was clear of traffic at this time in the morning. After a bit of faffing we found the bike lane and I pulled ahead while I could. Again, was this a mistake, should I have joined the others and would the company have kept me awake?  The bike lane was lit up by permanently-on cats-eyes on either side, it was a strange experience following the two lines of lights and being able to see nothing else. Then through the centre of Cambridge, quiet at what must have been 2 or 3 am, just a few revellers. Followed the cycle route out of town and started to fall asleep again, I snapped awake and found myself in a cycle lane that I’d vaguely seen through a haze…relieved not to have come off. I knew I needed to sleep again and found a patch of grass under a tree; still urban but residential, and I was keen to make it look like my stop was intentional, not an off. I leaned the bike against the tree and lay down with bits of me in contact with it, I seemed concerned that someone might try and steal it while I slept.

I don’t know how long I was there but it was light when I woke up. I’d put on my jumper and waterproof, my buff as hat and my hood up, but unsurprisingly was a bit cold on waking. I stood up and tried to decide what to do. A few riders went passed. I knew my LEL was over. I’d passed a sign to Cambridge train station a while back so initially thought I should head that way, maybe sleep in the station until I could get a train back. I was out of time, and the distance to ride to Great Easton (50 km?) and Loughton (another 50 km) seemed a long way. But others were still going and they must have been close to or out of time as well, since I was in one of the last starting groups. That convinced me to go on for a bit.  Then I changed my mind and turned back towards Cambridge. Then I stopped again, seeing more riders, and turned around again and continued in the direction of Great Easton. I’m not sure why I didn’t either try to catch someone or wait for others and have some company. But I didn’t get too much further, to Little Shelton, before I was falling asleep again and knew this was not sustainable. I powered up my phone and found there was a train station not too far back the way I’d come, which turned out to be on the Cambridge – Cheshunt line that I’d travelled down on. I got a train about 6.30 am, nowhere on it to prop the bike up so I had to stand next to it and was then falling asleep standing up. I remembered I had a few jelly beans left and eating them kept me conscious to Cheshunt. I got a taxi to the campsite (slept through most of the journey until the driver woke me up for directions) then got into my tent for a few hours sleep, until the morning sun made it unbearably hot. Then I got up and went for a shower, meeting Dean who’d finished and had a few hours kip at HQ. He spoke of high DNF rates and quipped ‘there’ll be an enquiry’ which provided a little comfort to my DNF.

I walked down to Davenant School to collect my drop bags, and hoped I might see Raj, Osian, or the others I’d ridden with. On the way I met Chris Crossland off to find ‘some different food’.  He said he’d been in Eskdalemuir when a driver arrived for the drop bags and said Chris was on the list too, so was transported back to Loughton (I hope he was allowed to sit in the cab rather than share the journey in intimate contact with full drop bags). The bags were almost all there (they were still waiting for Spalding I think) and already sorted by letter. I realised I hadn’t eaten in ages and asked if they had anything, I was sent to the kitchen to help myself to potato and beans. I was defeated, but I also knew I couldn’t have gone any further.

LEL drop bags LEL drop bags

Later I went into Loughton centre and found Pascal waiting around on a bench (he said he hoped no one would think he was homeless and give him money), and we chatted for a while. He had another 1000 km+ randonee coming up and was hoping his ankle, or maybe knee, would be ok for it. I left him and bought a notepad and pen, to doodle and scribble with my defective fingers, and set up residency first in Starbucks and later Wetherspoons, until it felt like a respectable time to go to bed.

About 1350 km

Pocklington - Cambridge route

 

Epilogue

It was a privilege to be a rider on LEL.  Wonderful as a bike ride, but so much more. The organisation and the people who make it happen are amazing.  From the volunteers who give up a week’s holiday to work ridiculous hours, to the core team who have been planning this for at least 4 years and spend day after day on our daft questions, so many people made this a success.

Many sections were fantastic, and I hadn’t enjoyed riding my bike for a long time; I reminded myself to appreciate them while they lasted, not knowing how far I’d get or what lay ahead:  Owls hunting over the fens as dawn came on Monday morning.  The tailwind allowing me to bomb along at 30 kph.  The road past Castle Howard, ridden at least once before (so I know I can do it again etc).  Velvety-topped airbeds and soft blankets that will forever be the most welcoming and comfortable beds in the world.  Pasta; I had been off carbs in preparation (no bonking at all and hardly any food not at controls, I’m marking that down as a success).  Yad Moss going north with drawn breaking.  Friends at Barnard Castle.  The familiarity of Lockerbie Tesco in such unusual circumstances.  Chatting to Maryjane about Hewitts and being technicians.  Talking to the guy with the union jack tights in the dark.  Ending up in a Yorkshire peloton for a while.  Climbing the Beeftub – eventually by bike.  The descent afterwards – you could freewheel for ever.  Edinburgh to Innerleithen; beautiful hills and deserted roads.  Seeing familiar faces: Dave in Edinburgh, Lucy in Innerleithen, Chris everywhere.

 

Learning

Having been unsuccessful on my 600 km rides I was lacking experience in sleep management and this is what did for me in the end.  I need to – either or both – ride faster, and spend less time in controls.  Or be able to stay awake for longer, but I suspect that is largely pre-determined by biology.  An advantage(!) of DNFing is that I kept my brevet card with the arrival times on, so I already have my ‘time in hand’ graph.

Time in hand graph

I didn’t hurry through controls, but being after the bulge I also didn’t have to wait around much for anything.  So while I could have been quicker with the water/bogs/food routine I can also see that under different circumstances (more queues) I could easily have spent the same amount of time stopped just because of waiting for stuff.  Which suggests I would benefit from riding faster.  I think this means nasty things like ‘interval training’.

I was really pleased with myself managing to stick to the philosophy of ‘just focus on the next control’ (at times only the next routesheet instruction). I think the distance being so much further than I had gone before, and my capability unknown, made this easier; getting to the next control was often all I could expect myself to do so there was no point in worrying about the rest of the ride.

I’d definitely go for a late start time again.  As noted elsewhere you will pass more people than you’ll be passed by, which is psychologically helpful.  The bulge is avoided.  Given the current knowledge, experience and awesomeness of the organisers you are unlikely to get to a control that has run out of food.  The only thing is that if you are out of time but still going the controls might be closed; if you’re out of time but an earlier starter you still get all the benefits of the controls which are open for the later folk.

Bike and kit

I rode on my Hewitt Cheviot tourer, which is my ‘good’ bike.  I got it for touring with audax at the back of my mind.  No doubt it’s not optimal, but people rode LEL on Bromptons, a mountain bike, a Pashley,  several fixed, plus recumbents both two-wheeled-and-naked, and three-(and even four)-wheeled and fully-faired.  And that funny tringle-shaped thing.  It really is not about the bike.  I’ve been doing all my own maintenance this last year or so, many thanks to my local community workshop Pedallers Arms. The only thing I didn’t mange to do that I wanted to before LEL was replace all the cables.  Nevertheless my bike did everything I asked of it, and I had no mechanical issues.  I think my position could be improved, and a bike fit might be a birthday present to myself in the future.

‘Bike-packing’ luggage seems increasingly popular, but I don’t think I’d change my rack-pack set-up.  For me the rack may as well stay on the bike, as it’s been used on numerous rides this year when camping or just dossing in a hall on sleeping mat and bag pre-audax, and every time it comes on and off there is the risk of damaging the mounting threads, so keeping it on is preferable.  I have a small bike frame and limited room for either frame or saddle bags.  My Super C has great capacity plus being box-shaped you can see and access what’s in it easily.  I do have an Alpkit bag just behind the bars; I intended this to be a home for a charger and battery (usb-werk or igaru but I ran out of disposable income), but it has been very handy on audaxes to hold wallet, phone, pen, lip balm and brevet card.  On LEL most of these didn’t need to be to hand so it was less useful.  In the time before the start I decided it was better to have my waterproof jacket and gloves (a) more easily to hand, and (b) not taking up space in the rack pack, so I used a dry bag with a couple of fixings to keep it on the rack, just behind the saddle.  This is probably the best view of it luggage-wise:

Humber Bridge

I thought I might hate my bike and all that is cycling after LEL, but it’s been quite the opposite.  It’s now waiting for new cables and headset bearings, not to mention a good clean.  It gets a pat on the handle bars everytime I walk past it on my way out of the shed.

 

Damage

Two weeks post-LEL (no cycling): Achilles pain has pretty much gone now although ankles are still slightly stiff.  Always worse in the mornings. A little numbness in toes, one or two on my left foot occasionally slightly painful.  I’ve been most conscious of my hands, all of my fingers are slightly numb but my left hand is noticeably worse and my thumb and forefinger are sometimes not bending when they should.  Strength is limited, not sure if this is real or due to a lack of feedback from the numbness. But I have managed to write (messily) and then type this.

Mentally I’ve been in such a different place compared to the months before LEL. Perhaps it’s a human equivalent of ‘have you tried turning it off and on again?’  I felt such clarity on the first couple of days of riding that I haven’t had for a long time.  A friend asked me a while ago, ‘what do you think about for all those hours riding?’, and for me the beauty is that I don’t really.  It’s simplicity, like when I’ve been touring, except more intense and immediate. I have to follow these instructions to get to the next place where I can eat and maybe sleep; I have enough with me to keep just about warm and dry.  I had connections with people in a way I don’t normally, volunteers and riders, so much is stripped away and we all just get on with what we have to do, all the time looking out for each other.

I’ve made an effort to hold on to everything and process it all rather than avoiding anything, so I’m not beating myself up about not finishing; I don’t regret stopping when I did, because I could not go any further. I am happy to question myself and answer myself on this. I’ve ordered a jersey and I will wear it with pride, cos I damn well earned it.

Recently someone on FB defined DNF as ‘did not fail’. I’ll go with that.

LEL brevet card

Exe-Buzzard…just Ex

08/07/17

Last chance for a 600 km before LEL.  This is an x-rated event and in retrospect maybe I needed a bit more TLC on my first ride at this distance.

I travelled down to Exeter the day before the ride and had time to visit some old haunts, including my favourite pub, the Double Locks.

Colleton House, Exeter Exeter Quay Double Locks pub, Exeter Double Locks pub, Exeter Exeter

Then I made my way (using the train to Digby and Sowton which looked easier than navigating dual carriageways) to the Travelodge at Exeter services where the ride started the next morning.  I’d originally booked another bed near Reading, but when I took a detailed look at the route and my schedule I realised it would be the most expensive bed per minute, so cancelled and took a bivvy bag, mat and sheet liner instead.

There must have been around 10 riders in the car park next morning.  I spoke to one (Hugo?) briefly but didn’t see him again, he looked fast.  A few of us kept similar pace for a while but I rode alone.

I’d spotted this feature, the Burrow Mump, on the map when looking at the route, noticeable as the few contours for miles around.

Burrow Mump, Somerset Burrow Mump map, Somerset

The route takes a fairly straight line through Devon, Somerset, Bath, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.  The first control was in Wells, where I joined a chap from Audax Bristol in Costa.  I left before him after chatting to a couple of non-audaxers cycling outside, but taking a wrong turn by the busy market (I went through the wrong arch and did a few circuits of the centre before finding the right one) he must have overtaken and I didn’t see anyone else on the road at any point.

Wells Wells Cathedral

I was worried about getting lost in Bath, remembering that I’d got through it on my trip to Lands End purely on luck, but the routesheet proved fine.  I did have to walk, very carefully, down this street, it was so steep.

Bath

Somewhere on the way out and up I wasn’t sure I was still going the right way, but eventually the routesheet made sense again.  The sun was hot and there was quite a long climb which I’d have hated to back-track on.  Next control was just through Cirencester at a services, and a few other riders arrived while I was there.  My feet were painful, ‘hot foot’ I think, so I made the most of the time off the bike here and took my shoes off, and lay down and closed my eyes for a while on a small patch of grass.  I’d fitted a new saddle (Brooks Cambium) for the previous weekend’s rides, and while I found it comfortable it seemed to cause sores very quickly so I was doubly uncomfortable and not enjoying the ride.

After Bibury (very busy) we entered Oxfordshire and the road surface deteriorated to that all-over very rough covering that can’t be avoided.  I noticed a new rattle and stopped in Buford to find my rear mud gard had broken where it was bolted to the frame.  Some tape was sufficient to keep it together, but didn’t stop me internally grumbling that this was the second rear guard that I’d destroyed.  To be fair to SKS, both have been a result of user-abuse; the first went where my saddle bag was bouncing on it, and this break was from an extra hole that I’d had to make to take the bolt.

Broken mud guard Burford, Oxfordshire

It was now becoming a nice evening, but approaching Charlbury I was struggling as well as feeling fed-up.

Oxfordshire Charlbury, Oxfordshire

I turned off-route to the village centre and a Co-op, for coke and crisps.  After some thought I decided to quit, and head back to Burford for the night, then on to Cheltenham the next morning for a train home.  I cancelled my second night’s booking in Exeter, and was glad that I’d had to get an open return train ticket as it wouldn’t cost me any extra to get back to Leeds.  I ended up in my bivvy bag in a field behind a car park, glad that the night was warm and dry.  The A40 to Cheltenham the next morning was nice and quiet, if a bit of a slog.

Exe-Buzzard route

242 km, DNF

Moffat Toffee and Broughton & Back

01/07/17 Moffat Toffee 200 km

My second outing on this ride – it was my first 200 km a couple of years ago.  This time serendipitously (my train was fairly late back on Sunday as it was cheap) I was able to make a proper weekend of it.  I took Friday off work and an early train to Edinburgh and then along the new line to Galashiels, then rode to a campsite in Melrose.  Plenty of time for a mooch around the place: Abbey, Hills that would be nice to walk up with appropriate footwear (and less cloud) and the river Tweed.

Melrose campsite Melrose Abbey Eildon Hills, Melrose Bridge over the Tweed, Melrose Bridge over the Tweed, Melrose Bridge over the Tweed, Melrose Bridge over the Tweed, Melrose

We started an hour earlier than usual as it was the same day as Galashiels’ Common Riding, but even so there were some early band members about already.  On the first stage I saw Julian who’s been on quite a few of the same rides as me this year.  I told him I’d entered LEL but that my training hadn’t gone entirely to plan; he said he’d be volunteering the time round, having ridden it multiple times he thought it would be good to ‘give someone else a go’.  Jolly decent chap.

Galashiels Moffat Toffee 200 km Moffat Toffee 200 km Moffat Toffee 200 km

I rode the section into Eskdalemuir with a chap (sadly forgotten his name) who was training for the Etape du Tour, a similar distance but considerably more climbing.  Eskdalemuir Community Hub was an excellent  control once again, and it was exciting/daunting to see a list of LEL volunteers up.

Eskdalemuir Community Hub

Next top Langholm for an ice cream, then on to Moffat where I had planned to meet my Mother at the control cafe.  I sincerely hope that her paying for my sustenance doesn’t contravene any AUK rules about ‘support’.  I can predict my timings reasonably well now and since she is always late I suggested I’d be there 15 minutes before I expected to arrive…typically for the only time ever she was early and spent a while standing outside the cafe and chatting to other riders.  On the way up to Moffat I could just see the hills near my parent’s house, although they didn’t make the best photo.

Towards the Barr Hill In Moffat

The final leg from Moffat is one of my all-time faves, up the A708 passed the Grey Mare’s Tail and over the top to St Marys Loch.  I’d remembered this stage getting quite cold last time and had worried about gloves, until I realised that the last time I rode this it was April, not July.

A708 Moffat to Selkirk A708 Moffat to Selkirk A708 Moffat to Selkirk A708 Moffat to Selkirk A708 Moffat to Selkirk A708 Moffat to Selkirk

It was nice to finish feeling good and ‘ready’ for the 100 km the following day, compared to my previous Moffat Toffee when I was wiped out.  After stopping in Moffat for longer than I’d normally spend I had a fast ride down on the final stages and finished earlier than expected.

Moffat Toffee route

208 km, 11 hrs 27 mins

 

02/07/17 Broughton and Back 100 km

Although much tamer than the real thing, this was LEL practice of sorts as it was the first time I’d done rides on consecutive days.  Today’s 10 am start was almost a lie-in, but I did have to get up and pack up my tent before riding to Galashiels.

The only parts of this route that were familiar were the first few and last kms (as they were the same as yesterday) and Broughton itself, which I’ve driven through numerous times on the way to Edinburgh. It was a nice route which essentially follows the river Tweed all the way up to the A701, although it’s not always visible.  There was even a bit of sun.

Broughton and Back Broughton and Back Broughton and Back

I finished in plenty of time for the train home so had a bit of time to kill in Waverley station.  There were three people with bikes that were entirely different beasts from my trusty Hewitt, who appeared to be on their way home after a triathlon.  It was a pleasant evening’s journey home and I saw the river Tweed once more as it finally found the sea in Berwick.

Berwick upon Tweed

Broughton and Back route

117 km, 5 hrs 55 mins

Three Coasts…a DNF

First attempt at a 600 km.  Started a migraine about 50 km in, visual disturbance meant I couldn’t see where I was going properly.  I managed to find some paracetamol in a village and stopped for a while to give it a chance to work and for my vision to clear, then reached Pocklington and a petrol station control.

Impression of a migraine

Very fuzzy headed and probably rude to everyone there as I felt totally out of it.  Sparkly disturbance came back and I realised I wasn’t going to be able to continue.  I sat on a bench for a while, one of the riders came past (going the wrong way as I’d gone off-route to the high street), it was all could do to shake my head in a “sorry I can’t speak” gesture.  It was very hot and bright, I retired to Costa for a good while until I felt ok to ride out to York for the train.  My house keys and bedding were in Mytholmroyd, and the control wouldn’t open for several hours (the route is two loops and HQ is also a mid-ride control, with the opportunity for sleep and, I should imagine, packing), so I had to hang around Leeds centre for several hours, very frustrating being so close to home.  I’ll never leave my house keys again.

Not Quite the Spurn Head 400 km

27/05/17

I had originally registered for the Old 240 400 km, but after reading Chris Crossland’s ride notes (“the route will take you to remote and inhospitable places (e.g.Yorkshire)”) decided that it was a little ambitious for my first go at this distance, so switched to this flatter and less remote route.  I’d love to ride the Old 240 though, maybe next year.

Accommodation was provided in the Mytholmroyd Community Centre the night before although it didn’t seem that there were an awful lot of us taking advantage of it.

Mytholmroyd Community Centre

Many more arrived the morning and I met Raj and Osian from the Wiggy 300 km, plus Bob Bialek who always make a point of making sure he’s remembered both of my names whenever I see him, which is very nice.  He was doing the Old 240 of course.

A loose group of us rode together for a while, through the main roads and dual carriageways of West Yorkshire, eerily quiet at this time on a Saturday morning.  The first control was at Busy Lizzies Cafe in Castleford, a great place for it with just the right sort of food at just the right speed.  Shame about the bog though.  Two male cyclists seemed to be using it simultaneously before me; maybe safety in numbers.

Shortly afterwards, and probably due to the debris on this bridge, I had a rare puncture.  I noticed it not be feel but the noise of escaping air.  Probably because I don’t get them that often I’m not the fastest at fitting a new tube; Osian came past but I told him not to wait.

Old bridge over the Aire at Ferrybridge

We crossed the Ouse at Boothferry, from where the M62 crossing looks rather impressive.

M62 crossing the Ouse

A little lump over the south end of the Yorkshire Wolds then it was flat again all the way out to the Spurn Head; it’s Not Quite because some severe storms have destroyed part of the spit.  Nice to have ridden to the coast though, and a good cafe as the control.

Spurn Head Spurn Head

I really enjoyed the first bit of the return journey, riding past gas terminals on the lonely cost roads was rather eerie.  Soon though the wind made itself known, and it became a hard slog.  The next control was a petrol station and I caught up with a trio who would remain not far ahead of me for the rest of the ride.  Banter seemed strong here and I think kept them going.  Next I got lost in Beverly and spent ages going round in circles unable to find “L by Minster sp. Howden B1230”.  I don’t know how much time I lost, I even went to the train station to look at their map of the local roads to try and figure out where I should be going…maybe I was tired and would have managed under normal circumstances, although it must only have been around 8 pm.  Eventually I found a sign to North Cave which was the next place listed on the routesheet, and once on the road I realised it was the one I was supposed to be on.

After North Cave the route rejoined the one we took east, until near Goole where it diverged again and a 24 hour McDonalds provided a welcome control and feed.  It was hard going and I was really looking forward to this by now, not my usual diet but it was just the job.  The three other guys from the last control were here, one of them chatting to a member of staff who he recognised from doing the ride the year before; she was full of stories about wet damp cyclists (it sounded like another audax uses this place as a control too) and late night visitors on their way to the hotel over the road after nights out.  She seemed to really enjoy her job, seeing all sorts coming though the door, both regulars and randoneurs.

Control at McDonalds near Goole

The return leg was now south of the trip out, with an info control in Crowle.  It was properly night now, and I was riding on my own all the way.  It was a struggle, I felt like I was going really slowly although I’m not sure if I was.  Overall average speed was just over 20 kph so not the fastest of my rides.  I was easily spooked, I kept seeing shadows or lights up ahead, or noises from behind, that I thought were people – although quite who’d be sitting on a park bench in a village or lurking behind a tree at 3 am I don’t know.  I thought about stopping to have a nap but I didn’t think I’d be warm enough having nothing to lie on.  I did stop in a bus shelter but just had a bit to eat and a rest.  And got spooked because I thought someone was watching from the house opposite.  Eventually the sky began to lighten and the birds awoke.  This was my first experience of origin right through the night and I can’t say I enjoyed it, I just kept going as there didn’t seem to be any other option.  I also hadn’t appreciated before the decrease in speed because of not being able to go downhill as fast as in daylight, my light not illuminating enough of the road up ahead to be able to descend confidently.

Eventually the welcome sight of Woolley Edge Services, where I found the three amigos again.  I had something to eat from Costa and a sleep on their furniture.  I had managed to nod off leaving my wallet and phone on the table to anyone passing to help themselves too, but happily the two blokes who came over to ask about my bike and what I was up to were entirely trust worthy and just told me off for not being careful.  I think I misread my watch and thought I had less time than I did, in reality I had plenty of time for the last 30 km at this stage although I was feeling pretty knackered.  One of the others guys commented at the end that there had been a lot of ‘experienced audaxers’ having a good break here when with only 30 km left they’d normally be cracking on, and that the wind had really challenged all of us.

The final section had a sing in the tail for me in the form of Halifax, where I got lost having missed a turning.  More time wasted going up and down, back and forth…I don’t fully trust the map on my phone as th compass is dodgy so it takes a while for me to get my orientation even if I know where I am.  Eventually I worked out a way out and down some A road or another, getting onto the A646 back to Mytholmroyd. I pulled into HQ in a somewhat grumpy mood, with about 10 minutes to spare, another Lanterne Rouge for the collection.  One of the trio came over and we had mutual congratulations in a dazed way, he looked as bad as I felt (I didn’t venture near a mirror myself).  Also Osian was there and hadn’t finished much before me, he’d been feeling ill and I heard later he’d had several days off work with the large so he did really well to finish.  Raj was back too and about to head to Hebden Bridge with another rider to wait for the first train home.  I had hoped to be able to sleep a bit at the end before going home (first train back to Leeds was about 10.30 am it being a Sunday) but as the control closing time had come folk were packing up and heading off.  I ended up gingerly riding to Hebden too, for lots of coffee that didn’t seem to have much effect.  I don’t remember feeling particularly pleased to have completed a 400 km, just exhausted and still a bit annoyed with my two lost episodes.

Spurn Head 400 km route

415 km, 26 hrs 40 mins