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

Meriden 50 km

20/05/17

In which I introduced three unsuspecting types to the joys of audax.  Sadly I didn’t take any photos…

Julie and I had talked about doing a ride together for ages so when I spotted these from just outside Coventry I was happy to travel down for whatever distance she fancied.  Then Jed and Jeremy were talked into it too as training for a 100 mile sp*rt*ve in Birmingham later this year.

They were suitably amused by brevet cards, baked beans and the questionable sanity of long distance riding (or some of the riders, at least).  We had lunch in a pub afterwards and Jed expressed satisfaction that his kids would be suitably embarrassed that he was out in public in lycra, but that at least he wasn’t wearing a ‘mankini’ (i.e. bib shorts).  I kept quiet…well I suppose I don’t have anyone to embarrass.

They all did really well, we were only slightly lower than my usual average speed.  We had torrential rain about half way round but it had pretty much dried up by the finish.

Meriden 50 km route

50 km, 2 hrs 33 mins

Beyond the Dales we know and the Wigginton 300

29/04/17 and 13/05/17

Chalk and cheese in God’s own country.

“Right, piss off”. And so around 40 riders were dispatched on what is hopefully the inaugural Beyond the Dales We Know 300 km. Some of us had arrived the night before and camped at Mike and family’s farm, which they had generously opened up to us as HQ. The finer details had not gone unnoticed, including the provision of a cockerel alarm clock to make sure we were all ready for the 6 am start.

Waiting for the start of Beyond the dales we know Waiting for the start of Beyond the dales we know

[These two photos have been nicked from Facebook and I can’t remember who took them, sorry. I just like that either I or my tent features].  I had entered a more tame ride (complete with Travelodge before and after) to be my first 300 km; but my plans had been thwarted, as is often the way, by life (in this case in the shape of a brick though my living room window), and so it was that I found myself approaching this ride – which would take us over some 3,500 m of climbing – with some apprehension.

Beyond the dales we know

The route was pure genius, with flat sections at the start and finish and many lumps in between, over some of the best roads this part of the country has to offer. First we headed down to Ilkley, which was the nearest point to home for me, but I hadn’t been on these roads before. Next we turned north, passed Bolton Abbey and into the Dales National Park.

Beyond the dales we know

The Tour de Yorkshire was coming along some of these roads later in the day and there were lots of flags and painted bikes hanging out, however for some reason we didn’t receive any applause. The route turned up Littondale, and here was a section I recognised from a walk in the area a couple of years ago. I remembered that I’d always wanted to continue up this way, and here I was. A control at the Queen’s Head pub was a nice place to stop, just tea and crisps for me. I believe I missed a harmonica rendition. A few others were here around the same time; Andy and Rob (Rob doing his first 300 km too) and Steve? who’d started at 1 am from home that day on his way to yet another SR in a month.

After this it got lumpy. The road up from Littendale over Pen-y-Ghent Gill to Stainforth is beautiful. A tough climb, so I was quite happy to stop for a photo half way up.

Beyond the dales we know Beyond the dales we know Beyond the dales we know

Then a gorgeous ride down to meet the ‘main drag’ towards Horton in Ribblesdale. The majority of the roads on this ride were deserted, so it was a bit of a shock to arrive in Horton which was full of cars and people and tents, there being a big three peaks race on over the weekend. I’ve walked them on separate occasions but have never felt the need to exert myself over such a prolonged time, through darkness, cold, rain, in a limited time…oh.

My right knee became painful at this point, and I began what turned out to be a prolonged period of doubting whether I’d finish, and general misery. The route passes close to train stations along the Settle – Carlisle line but after Dent (England’s highest station) bailout option are non-existent. Well maybe you could try hitching a lift at the Tebay truck stop. Such things occupied my mind for quite a long time.

After the bustle of Horton the road quietened down a bit before reaching Ribblehead, again also busy. A burger van was mentioned on the route sheet and provided much motivation at this point; I promised myself a stop here as bribery to continue. The fried egg roll was one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten, in the way that just what you are craving is when you’ve been riding for hours. I saw a train leave the station heading south…the way home…no, keep going.

Now the road down through Dentdale is no doubt one of the ‘rewarding descents’ promised by Dean. Unfortunately I was at my most miserable here, my knee seemed to get better and I was fine for food, looking back I can’t quite explain it but I felt thoroughly unpleasant. I was conscious that if I was going to pack it had to be now, up the steep (of course) hill to Dent station. This is a beautiful place, but that was failing to make an impression. I thought about having to call Dean to tell him I’d quit, and would crawl sheepishly back tomorrow to reclaim my tent. I thought of how I’d feel instant relief now if I could stop, but that I knew I’d regret it later. My LEL dreams would be realised as a volunteer rather than a rider [thanks to Pete who later provided me with a kick up the arse by way of ‘I want to be stamping your card not having you stamp cards!’ I hope to be stamping in 2021]. I thought about that road along the Howgills on the east side of the M6 – when would I ever get the chance to ride it again?

At no point did my mind shift, I never thought ‘get over yourself and get on with it’; I just kept going and kept hating it.

Eventually I got to Sedburgh. On my previous two visits it was absolutely bucketing down so this was a nice change. As I prematurely took an ‘easy to miss’ turning Andy came out of a cafe and said a few of them were having a bite to eat, but I put my polite hat (helmet?) on and said “Thanks but if I stop now I’ll never get going again”.  Really I meant “don’t speak to me I hate you all why I am doing this”?  On finding the right road I followed Howgill Lane which, as the name suggests, is not an easy freewheel. At some point, and I’m not sure where, it stops becoming a green climb and turns into a moorland descent, full of sheep and grass in the middle of the road. About now and despite my best efforts I started to enjoy myself. I’d ridden up to JoG a few years previously and the route had taken me north up the other side of the M6. I’d loved it then, it’s a magical enough passage when driving or in the train, and being there by bike makes it even more ‘earned’. And now I was at the more remote side, dodging sheep.

Beyond the dales we know Beyond the dales we know

On arrival in Tebay truck services I was happy to see a few now-familiar faces. The cafe had recently closed but the shop was still open and the woman on the till was full of enthusiasm about our next roads, being a regular rider of them. This next section, from Tebay to Brough, was one if my favourites. Maybe I’d realised that although I might not ‘finish’ (be back at HQ in time) I wasn’t going to pack (really there aren’t any options) and so I relaxed a bit. I love riding over moors like this; very few (almost zero) cars, just snow poles and the unfenced road.

Beyond the dales we know

I reached Middleton-in-Teesdale still without full confidence and seeing the prospect of ‘hotel’ on a road sign I was again considering the options for stopping. Happily I followed the others in front and visited the Co-op, which offered no such distractions. Dean had asked that we report in at this point to give his crew in Staindrop an idea of their schedule. And the arrival there was wonderful! Cowbells, tea, and flapjacks. At this point with about 50 km to go, I must have realised I’d make it. I also knew there were at least a couple of riders behind me and some not too far in front, so I didn’t feel too out of it.

As I said the beauty (ok one of then) of this route is the flat start and finish. I was feeling pretty good, knowing I was on target to actually complete the ride. In the last few km I had a route sheet confusion and ended up on a dark road, somewhere near HQ. Reluctantly (as I don’t like to rely on it) I consulted the map on my phone and figured out how to get to the arrivée. The map is all well and good but the compass function is not to be trusted and as it turns out I was about to head off 180° in the wrong direction. Fortunately the local constabulary passed at this point and stopped to check I was ok. Since there is a police centre at Newby Wiske they were able to point me in the right direction. Eventually I rolled in as lanterne rougue, to the confusion of Rebecca and Co who I’d been ahead of at the last control. I’ve never finished a ride to a round of applause before! As lots of people were staying over there was a certain amount of beer consumption already in hand, and I was lucky enough that a can of Green King had remained intact. After enjoying that and a bit of a chat with the assembled company I retired to my tent and left them to several more hours of revelry.  The next day (Sunday) morning was bright and sunny, and a spontaneous breakfast was cooked up by Mike.  I felt not-too-bad, and rode the few miles back to Northallerton station for the train home to Leeds. The next day was a bank holiday and very fortunate too, by then the ride had caught up with me and I slept through the whole morning.

 

Two weeks later, having recovered both physically and mentally, I found myself in the surreal situation of lying in a village hall on a Friday night before the Wiggy 300 km with three other snorers riders, trying to sleep while bathed in the eternal dawn from an emergency exit light. My accommodation of Thermarest and sleeping bag seemed fairly luxurious compared to Raj next to me (a blanket) and a chap who’d retired to another room and was sleeping on whatever soft material he’d put his bike on in his car. Andy and Rob from Beyond the Dales were also staying over, and a couple in a camper van in the car park. I had my ear plugs but didn’t sleep particularly well, no doubt being conscious that we would be up at 4 am kept my brain active. All good LEL practice I told myself. It’s great being able to stay over before a ride, I don’t have a car so would have to find a B&B otherwise. Someone’s alarm went off but I’d already woken and got up, and was busying myself ejecting a slug which was attempting to take up residence in my panniers.

It was gloomy but dry as we left, and within the first half hour the sun broke free of the horizon, briefly visible as a huge red orb before being partially hidden by clouds. This route was quite unlike Beyond the Dales, being fairly flat in the main but with a final hilly section of 66 km. The routes shared a short section near Boroughbridge but otherwise explored very different landscapes. The first control was in a cafe in Malton, approaching which and passing Morrisons I realised I’d stopped here before…maybe on the one previous ride I’ve done from Wigginton. The cafe was a lot nicer than the supermarket, and I was happy to discover that I really can do 100 km before breakfast, powered only by a strong Brownian motion producer.

Bike and signpost near Hutton Cranswick Food after 100 km at Malton

Raj joined me and we discussed our onward travel plans, he found that his last train home was going to be relatively early and so pushed on as quickly as possible; my last one back to Leeds was after 11 pm which at an average riding speed of 20 kph should have been fine, but if not I’d ‘only’ have to wait 3 hours in York for the next service, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, so I was trying not to feel any time pressure. The next section was due west to Ripon, a place I remember from touring the Way of the Roses because I ended up riding round the centre in circles attempting to follow the NCN signs (a classic, where signs for the route point both left and right with no indication of which is the east and which the west direction).

After the first long stage the route was nicely divided into ~50 km sections which I found ideal. The next control was a cafe in the park which was shared with riders on the Wiggy 100 km. Raj and I left and rode together for the next section, north to Richmond. Here we tackled the climb up to the historic market town; a pilgrimage to Greggs where I explained to the person serving why she’d had a large number of requests for receipts. Here I chatted to another rider (Ossian as I now know) who was also preparing for LEL, this was only his third audax so I think he’s on track! We discovered we’d both registered for a 400 km from Mytholmroyd a fortnight later, a first for us both at that distance. Raj and I set off for Stokesley, the last control and the beginning of the scenic section. We chatted about our riding experience; Raj is from a costal part of India where he said you can do a 600 km without encountering any hills, but that meant a lot of experience of riding into the wind! He’s also worked and ridden in a variety of places including Canada and Singapore, so when I asked what he thought of British drivers he was very impressed with the consideration and respect experienced – which certainly puts things into perspective. On arrival in Stokesley around 5.40 pm we dropped into the control cafe but the proprietor said he could no longer offer us any food, as it was a Saturday evening and he was booked up, having expected us all earlier. He was however happy to sign our cards and fill water bottles, which was excellent and I explained that we were the slower end of the field. Raj set off as soon as he’d had his bottle filled, but I was happy (and needed) to take a longer break. There was a Co-op for sustenance and as it was now turning into quite a nice evening I had a wander around the town centre while eating.

Packhorse Bridge in Stokesley Packhorse Bridge in Stokesley

Now the hills of the North York Moors that so far had been gradually approaching as grey silhouettes became real, with colours and shapes highlighted by the evening sunlight.

North York Moors

I hadn’t been around this area before, which may have been a good thing; I’ve found tackling hills in ignorance is often best! A few km after Stokesley we had a relatively steep drag, before an eye-streaming descent towards Chop Gate. The chap I’d spoken to in Richmond had left Stokesley just before me and mostly he was in sight, we were going about the same speed so it was nice to have company in that distant sort of way; experiencing the same roads but independent in our own little bubbles. It was now a cracking evening and for all looking at the elevation profile this was the section to dread it’s also (imho) the most beautiful and it was certainly my favourite.

Cyclist silhouette North York Moors, Bilsdale

On the next hard climb we caught up with Raj, and although I felt bad passing him I also needed to go at my own pace [edit: on LEL, which he finished and I didn’t, he commented that he’d learned to ride up hills since we first met on this ride].  Eventually arriving in Helmsley I recognised the centre having stayed in the youth hostel here a couple of years ago. A number of VC167 jerseys and their occupiers were taking a break in the town square. This leg was 66km and I thought I might need to take a break at some point, and my Greggs chocolate cookie was waiting in my rack bag if needed, but I pushed on. It got colder but I was just warm enough and reluctant to stop. As with every ride I found the last bit hard and felt like I was slowing, I don’t know if that’s real but it always drags. Beardy chap and two VC167 riders caught me up in the last 10 km and I managed to hang on to the back as they pushed fast for the Arrivée. I know I could never have put in that effort if I’d been riding alone. The two VCs (Denise and Les?) even put in a sprint finish. I was happy to be back, ahead of my guesstimate schedule of 10.30 pm, at about 9.15 pm, plenty of time to enjoy the copious tea and several species of cake on offer.

I thought I’d have plenty of time to get a train home but when I got to the centre of York (now full of Saturday night merrymakers) both road and pedestrian signs were useless; for a place with such famous rail heritage it would be nice if the train station was a bit easier to find. In the end I had to consult both a kebab seller and the map on my phone, and got to the station in time for the last couple of trains. The passengers consisted of a lot of drunk people; and me, dead to the world.  Some very loud blokes got on half way home, I could hear them between bouts of sleep and was vaguely aware that they were being pests but it was only when we arrived in Leeds that I realised they had entertained themselves by removing my bike from the storage space and bouncing up and down on it. I ended up with a lift home from the train driver (who cycles with a Wakefield club, what a star), and straightened my bike up the next week.

 

Two very different 300 km rides exploring Dales, Moors, Wolds and Hills. Yorkshire has a bit of everything (plus coast, to be experienced in my next ride…). I found the second ride more ‘achievable’ than the first (never say easy, it’s an audax); it was certainly flatter but I think a lot of this is psychological – I’d done a 300 km before so I could do one again. The first time, it was a new distance with all the uncertainty that goes with it. The second, perhaps I let myself relax and enjoy it a bit more as there was less pressure. Many thanks to Dean and Co for truly making an ‘event’ and not just a bike ride for my first 300 km, for me it really felt like an achievement and the atmosphere was wonderful. And to Keith and Ann – who provided constant tea and cake despite sporting a sling from a recent off – for a splendid tour over some lovely wrinkles and then through the Vale of York, before a sunny evening through the Moors.

 

Beyond the Dales: 300 km, 18 hrs 20

Wigginton: 300 km, 16 hrs 30

 

Yorkshire 300 routes