Monday, 24 August 2009

L-E-L Day Six

Gamlingay to Lee Valley
65km with 591 metres of climbing

I suppose that it is inevitable that eventually the body's internal clock will break its mainspring and cease to function properly. This happened at Gamlingay, which was the one and only time on LEL when I needed to be woken. At 4:30 I was still sound alseep, coming round in a completely empty room. All other riders had left, and I hadn't even stirred!

Tony was already consuming breakfast as I arrived, and we jointly got on the road at 5a.m. Noticeably, it was still dark, thus underlining again just how far North we had been just 48 hours earlier.

The route back to Lee Valley does contain some hills, and whilst none of these are particularly fierce, the effect after 1335km is unpleasant. This was tempered by the fact that it was a beautiful morning, and the sun was again shining over wide swathes of cornfields, and largely deserted roads.

The route keeps away from most of the main roads, but does do a short stretch of the A602 before Hertford. At 7:30 in the morning, this is not a pleasant place to be, even for just 2km.

Hertford itself was fairly quiet, but hillier than I recalled, as was the climbing around Broxbourne Woods. The final climb is Holy Cross Hill (I recall it as Holy S*** Hill!) and comes only 3km from the finish. This is great on the way out, not so good on the way back. It must be 1 in 7, and feels like 7 in 1 after 1398km of pedalling an overloaded bike. Determination and sheer bloodymindedness got me to the top without walking, and 3km later I rolled into Lee Valley having ridden the whole thing.

Arrival time at Lee Valley was 9:05 on the Friday, an elapsed time of 115 hours and 5 minutes, 1 hour and 35 minutes inside the unadulterated time limit. I was, and still am, very chuffed indeed.

The obligatory post-event photo was taken, and I am surprised that I still look semi-human, albeit about 10 years older, and completely shattered.

Thankfully, pastries were available and helped the revival.

I recovered my bags, and changed into the LEL T-shirt I had left at Lee Valley. On registration, I had received both the T-Shirt and a LEL cycling jersey, but there was no way either of these were ever going to get worn if I hadn't finished the event.

I made my way back to the railway station, and sat in the sun to wait for my lift home. The original plan was to cycle to Watford Junction to get the train home. This plan died at Coxwold on the way South, when I begged a lift instead.

The lift arrived at 11a.m. and I was asleep by the time that one junction of the M25 had passed. This lasted until just before Newport Pagnell Services, where I was woken by severe pain in the knees, which were protesting at finally being allowed to rest in one place. In an effort to relieve the discomfort, we stopped in the Services, and got some more food and drink.

Hastily consumed, this sent me back to sleep until about 15 miles from home, where I couldn't get back to sleep and spent the afternoon sorting stuff out.

Amazingly, on the Saturday, normal service was resumed (although an afternoon nap was taken) and I even got out on the bike for 18 miles on the Sunday.

Day 6
Gamlingay - Lee Valley
65km and 591 metres of climb
40 miles and 1939 feet of climbing

For the whole event
1,401 kilometres and 11,898 metres of climbing
871 miles with 39,035 feet of climbing
Elapsed time 115 hours 5 minutes
Cycling time 69 hours 15 minutes
Cycling speed 20.2kmh

L-E-L Day Five

Coxwold - Gamlingay (NOT London)
316km with 1,380 metres of climbing

It is easy, in the comfort of one's own home, not to appreciate the simpler things in life, like the Great British Blanket. Without this most marvellous of creations, it is virtually impossible to get to sleep. With one, and with the benefit of a full day's (or close to a week's) cycling behind you, you can sleep virtually anywhere. Thus is was at Coxwold. On our arrival, the beds were already fully occupied for the night, and no-one looked like moving. Bed therefore became a flattened out cardboard box in the corner of a brightly lit hall, with my helmet forming a somewhat hard pillow. With the benefit of ear plugs, and blindfolded by the buff, I got nearly 5 hours of hardly interrupted sleep prior to waking up about 5 minutes before my scheduled call.

With the benefit of a quickly grabbed breakfast (I can remember it was quickly grabbed, but cannot for the life of me remember actually what it was) we were outside, fettled, faffed, and ready to go by 3 a.m. It was still dark. Very dark. A procession of loosely organised tail lights was already stretching away from Coxwold as we latched onto the back. The first noticeable thing was that these lights were heading upwards. A long way upwards. Feeble memory recalled a long plummet into Coxwold some 3 days earlier, but didn't quite recall just how steep, or how far. Very steep, and far too far, was the answer, and with legs not yet fully mobile, this was the usual early morning struggle. Thankfully, the hill expired before the legs, only for us to be rewarded with further rolling terrain.

We shortly arrived at the most gratuitous hill on the course, in the village of Crayke. Gratuitous, since I am sure that there is a perfectly acceptable (flat) detour, I am equally sure we couldn't have found it in the dark. I remember this place particularly since we were in the presence of a couple of Italians, who pronounced the name as "Crikey". My legs agreed. At least the exit from the village gave us a decent downhill stretch out onto the flatter stuff most of the way to Thorne.

This section was notable for a few things:
- Luxury Randonneurs Accomodation, an almost fully enclosed wooden bus shelter with a full width bench, windows and a light!
- Regular quick changes as showers came and went with the approaching light
- Catching Tony (who had left me behind as I changed) suffering from the dozies in Sutton upon Derwent and flaked out in a Bus Shelter.

Arriving in Howden at 7:00 it was time for a second breakfast. Unfortunately, the Co-op was not open. Further down the street, bacon sandwich smells wafted from the local butchers. But they weren't open either! Torture. In the end, a garage sandwich had to make do. The rest of the route to Thorne was flat, and increasingly busy as morning lemmings rushed to their places of work. The human/bicycle interface was getting sore, and the legs feeling very tired, but I still wouldn't have swapped places.

As we arrived at Thorne, the sun came out despite the strengthening wind, and provided some promise for the rest of the day. It was incredibly warm on the terracing of the Rugby Club, so I spread out my wet clothes, and retreated foodwards. In the hour after our 8:15 arrival, my foul weather gear dried completely whilst we refuelled.

Next stop Washingboro, some 75km distant. 75km of unrelenting fens (initially at least). The wind was largely from the side, but providing a welcome boost when we turned westwards. We soon arrived at the turn South at Sandtoft. This is largely an unremarkable place, save for the fact that it heralds the start of the most boring cycling road in Britain. The straight from Sandtoft goes dead straight for 11 km, with a high point of 3 metres above sea level, and a low point of 2 metres. Oh, and a howling side wind. Purgatory. The only feature, as such, is the 'climb' over the railway embankment of the east Coast Mainline where, according to the law of Sod, we had to wait for two trains.

Finishing the fens proper by crossing the Trent at Gainsborough we were rudely awakened by a 'real' hill, but I was glad of the opportunity to freewheel down the other side, standing on the pedals to relieve the posterior discomfort.

A check-in break whilst Tony made a phone call led to a lengthy conversation with a local gentleman who was astounded both with the length of the ride and the levels of lunacy possessing so many to attempt it. This was a recurring theme throughout with nothing but encouragement forthcoming from those we met along the route.

Lincoln's Cathedral can be seen from many miles away, but the route cruelly skirts around it before heading into Lincoln from off the top of the escarpment near the Dambusters base at Scampton. This means having to climb to the top of the hill. It also means that when you are up there, you are exposed to ALL of the weather. Tony was also visited by the puncture fairy at this point so, at his instruction, I carried on to the control to meet up later. Increasing winds drew attention to some very dark clouds gathering above, together with grumbles of thunder. Sat atop a bike, on the lip of the highest hill for miles around is not the place to be in a thunderstorm. Time to drop the hammer. By the time Lincoln's edge was reached, the trees alongside the roads were already shedding leaves, but thankfully this was all I received from them. About a mile behind me, another rider had a near miss with an 8 foot branch which crashed into the road behind him, whipping him with the leaves as it passed. Lucky!

Arriving at Washingboro just ahead of the heavy rain, I retreated to the shower before food. There are times when even my stomach has to come second, and if I couldn't find some comfort in the saddle, there was no way I could finish. By this stage, my legs would not support me standing on the pedals for the last 200km.

Clean and changed, I attacked the buffet with Tony, who had just arrived in the rain. We left at about 2:30pm but this effectively meant that we were hitting increasing traffic on the road to Sleaford. This was probably the most unpleasant piece of road on the entire trip, and I would much rather forget the 2 hours it took us to get there. After Sleaford, the trip to Thurlby just dragged and dragged, particularly with my increasing worry that I would not be able to finish if I continued to be unable to sit down properly.

Thurlby came at 18:30 and I trudged inside, greatly worried. Strangely, after 45 minutes sitting on a comfy chair, and some decent food, all symptoms disappeared and I was able to cycle normally on the next section, powered by Relentless obtained from a garage en route. This section was splendid. The countryside rolled gently, the views splendid. Better still, the cornfields of the home counties were reached as the sun went down. The effect was stunning, but went unrecorded as my camera was by now in the bottom of the saddlebags. Night fell as the hills around Kimbolton were reached, and St Neots was reached at the point where pubs chuck out, and clubs take in. I shall try hard not to judge St Neots solely on this experience.

As on the way North, the few kilometres between St Neots and Gamlingay took far longer than their distance on the map seems to deserve, and we rolled into Gamlingay at 23:50 to meet a few riders waiting to depart after their rest stop.

We now had a choice. Press on to London, finishing at about 4:30, in the dark and largely unheralded, subsequently finding nowhere to sleep? Or sleep at Gamlingay, get up early with a (semi)triumphal arrival in the daylight. No contest. Time for sleep prior to a 5a.m. departure for the last 65km of the ride.

Day 5 - Coxwold to Gamlingay
316km and 1,380 metres of climb.
196 miles with 4528 feet of up and down

Only 65km left, and 10 hours 50 minutes inside the time limit. Confident of finishing without completely ruining myself for the first time.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

L-E-L Day Four

Traquair to Coxwold
267km and 3237 metres of climbing

Having been sound asleep for about 3 hours, I semi-woke at around 1 a.m. and took a stagger out to the entrance to check on the weather. Peering bleary eyed through the doorway, it was obvious that the weather hadn't improved much. There was still a lot of wind and it was still hosing down with rain.

The volunteer on check-in-and-out duties informed me I should go back to sleep as I would not be allowed out into the night without company, and no-one else was going anywhere. Indeed, the hall was noticeably fuller than when I went to sleep. Additional riders had arrived from Edinburgh, and most had gone no further. I say most, since there were a couple of riders who got 2km past the control only to find themselves pushing their bikes downhill into the wind. They decided that the 43km to Eskdalemuir was a long way to walk, and turned back to the control. A motorcycle outrider was also in evidence, having escorted a semi-hypothermic (can you be semi-hypothermic?) American into the control from next to the cattle grid where he found him.

I later found out that one lone rider had made the journey overnight, the 45km taking 5 hours and resulting in an abandoned ride due to the fact that he subsequently lost control of his limbs for several hours until his core temperature warmed back up. Had I not overstayed my plan at Washingborough on the first night, I might well have been at Traquair at the time he left, and would certainly have accompanied him, probably with the same result. Success and failure hinges on such minutiae.

Another couple of hours of fitful sleep later, and everyone was being encouraged up for breakfast and getting on the road. Any longer and we would potentially have been out of time at Eskdalemuir. It was noticeable on this ride that the effects of latitude on daylight are more marked than you might imagine, and by 4 o'clock as we set out, night was fighting a steadily losing battle with the daylight. Dawn never really happened, it was such a grey morning that the dark just eventually gave up and went away.

There was still wind, but less than the previous day. There was still rain, but most of the sky's content was already on the ground. This was never more apparent than Ettrick Marshes, a lovely area in good weather, but obviously a little prone to dampness. Shortly after a turn, we were presented with a flooded stretch best described as 'tidal' with a strong current running right-to-left across the road, with the left-to-right return about 50 metres further on, and water lying on both sides of the road. Another corner and the road just disappeared. All there was, was water. The 'canal' before us was roughly bounded by trees, which soon disappeared round the next bend. Onward or backward? No choice. The water reached the bottom bracket as we rounded the bend but thankfully got no deeper, the flood petering out some 400 metres down the road. In order to perfect the photo opportunity, the heroic Paul re-entered the maelstrom (OK perhaps I exaggerate a little) just to prove it was there. Whilst I was putting the camera away a lady rider arrived still heading North (and already timed-out). She was determined though to reach Edinburgh and get a train back from there. The last we saw, she had her shoes dangling round her neck wading off through the flood. Chapeau!

The rest of the leg to Eskdalemuir passed without incident, and we arrived to a control in the 'recovery' stage from last nights unexpected crowds. There were still a few individuals there, some suffering from mechanicals, others just suffering. We took a relatively relaxed breakfast, and left Eskdalemuir at 8:15, 95km to go to Alston, and less than an hour inside the time limit.

The three of us stayed largely together until the last hill before Langholm, where Paul's knees started to exact their revenge, and he fell a little behind. In Langholm, just as on the way up, the heavens opened. The river (Esk?) was already in full spate, and mighty impressive all the way back to Longtown.

In Langholm, I waited on for Paul to go buy Ibuprofen (good ol' Vitamin I) whilst Tony pressed on. We were only 5 minutes or so behind, so we got the hammer down (a bit) on the A7 to see if we could catch up. At one point, I was convinced we'd seen Tony in the distance, but the next time I looked up, no-one was there. Longtown didn't take long, but rest was needed. Paul retired to a tea shop, whilst I could not resist the allure of a further bacon buttie from the Cobbles Sandwich Shop. Tony arrived mid-consumption having taken the more 'scenic' (hilly) old road back from Langholm.

Paul was nowhere to be seen, so I backtracked to find him comfortably settled in the company of another 2 cyclists in a warm tea shop. Wanting to make the most use of the day, Tony and I pressed on once we had let him know our plans.

The road to Alston through Brampton was a blur, except for a few climbs which stick in the mind as painful memories. On the approach to Alston, it began to cross my mind that I had not yet got off and pushed the heavy bike at any point of the ride, and it would be a shame to start now. The problem was Alston itself, and its cobbled High Street at 1-in-7. Reaching the bottom, I turned a low gear, sensibly remaining seated in case of rear-wheel-spin on the wet bricks. At this point the noise of a rapidly approaching tractor caused a quandary. If I kept going at my current rate, it would pass at the point of a parked car, shutting me off from the hill, causing me to stop in a place where restarting would be impossible. I gave it the gun, and sped past the parked vehicle carrying the speed past the market square and onto the last part of the High Street. The cobbles were done! The remainder of the climb to the Outdoor Centre was steep, but not difficult, and we rolled in at 13:56 over 2 and a half hours inside the time limit.

Taking an elongated refuelling stop, I lost Tony as he went on ahead whilst he felt like cycling. I tottered out about 15 minutes later and onto the climb to Yad Moss. Despite this being the steeper side, the climb did not feel as bad as the darkened descent of 2 days earlier, and I was soon at the top. A couple of Dutch riders passed as I was using the mobile phone signal at the top, so I had riders to chase on the long descent to Middleton-in-Teesdale. They were no match for my flurry of descending lard. Once I had used the whole road round a couple of the wider bends my momentum was such that they could not keep up without pedalling and I was gone. There were flat sections which I am sure were not there 2 days previous, but the rest of the ride to Middleton Tyas passed without too much difficulty (though the granny gear was much in evidence at times). For most of this section I was riding on roads obviously deluged by rain, but I never got rained on once. I arrived at Middleton Tyas at 18:36, only an hour down on my original plan, but by now was finding it hard to restrict the rest stops to the short ones planned. It was beginning to look like the 45km extra at the start of the day might just make Thorne a little too far off for tonight (and London too far off the following night).

I rejoined Tony at the control, and we set off together for Coxwold, with the intention of seeing how we felt once we got there. This section was just as eminently forgettable as on the way north, save for the fact that night fell quickly (and much earlier than in Scotland) just before we reached Coxwold. We rolled in at 21:45, still only about 90 minutes down on my plan, but I just couldn't face any more cycling in the dark, so we ate and retired for another early start the following day.

Traquair to Coxwold
267km and 3237 metres of climbing
166 miles and 10,620 feet of climbing

1,022 kilometres done, perhaps tomorrow I could start to think about counting down to the finish, but London was looking just that little bit too far away.......

Monday, 3 August 2009

L-E-L Day Three

Alston to Traquair (Southbound)
215km and 3,160 metres of climbing

It is always nice to wake up rather than to be woken, and this is what I managed at Alston to begin Day Three. The body clock functioned perfectly, waking me at 5:50 ahead of a 6:00 wake up call. In the top bunk next to the window, I could hear the muted sound of randonneurs fettling their bikes outside, together with gusts of wind. A glance round the curtain gave an unexpected view of a brilliant sunny morning, spoilt somewhat by the fact that every long blade of grass was doing its best to lay flat on the ground out of the wind. Depending on the prevailing direction, today might be very difficult indeed.

Downstairs the hospitality for breakfast was already in full swing, having never really stopped as they were by now dealing full-on with riders arriving from both directions. Indeed, I had seen the first echelons of those returning South as I ascended Yad Moss the previous evening. How could they be so fast? Research would indicate that many had made it to Edinburgh with either less than 2 hours sleep, or in some cases no sleep at all. Rather them than me. I think I know my limitations enough to know I would get gradually slower to the point where sleep will actually GAIN me time.

Breakfast was the customary mixture of staples such as muesli, beans on toast and bacon butties but, instead of them fully reviving me, I suddenly began to feel terrible. My face was glowing, my chest feeling "slightly absent", feeling sweaty and faint and generally awful. Nonetheless, I went outside to fettle the bike, and twitter to the watching masses. This revealed the view from the Outdoor Centre I had missed the previous night.
Utterly fabulous, and this was the way we were going today, no matter how I felt.

The short drag to the main road didn't help but, by the time I had accelerated to 45kmh downhill to Alston, the cold air had revived me and as quickly as I had felt ill, I felt fine again. Weird.

Alston was 'interesting'. The 1 in 7? High Street with its rectangular cobbles was still slick from the previous night rain, and by the bottom my hands and arms were aching from grasping the brakes so tightly. As we turned for Brampton, and the road toward Scotland, the road kicked up again, and I went backwards relative to many other riders although the legs were again feeling stronger than the day before. One of the people who overtook me on this hill was wearing 'heritage' Brooks Kit and passed seemingly effortlessly, although I would catch him again later.

Along this section I was passing and being passed by a small group of Italians, they would pass when I took photos (such as this one looking Scotlandwards) and then I would overtake them again on the road.

It is worth noting that one of these Italian gentlemen was a fellow called Carlos, who had his bike nicked from outside a cafe just before the start. He borrowed a hybrid 'city' bike from an employee and rode the whole of LEL on it, wearing just the clothes he stood up in and the contents of his bag drop at Dalkeith. Stories of the rider arriving at Washinborough clad in cling film (he had no wet weather gear) are already the stuff of legend. Whenever I saw him at controls he NEVER stopped smiling. Chapeau to you sir!

They may have stopped for coffee at Brampton, for it was here that I lost sight of them. The road to Longtown was full of other sights though, mainly the increasing flow of returning riders on their often wonderful machines. Uprights, recumbents, a rowing bike (look it up) and even two fully enclosed HPV's. All of them a good 200 km ahead of me.

Between Brampton and Longtown, I recaught the Brooks-clad rider, who introduced himself as Tony who actually lives not too far away from me. It was with he and Paul (the guy I saw the night previous) that I would conclude much of this ride, and I feel that their company was a primary reason for my success.

The Cobbles Sandwich shop in Longtown provided welcome fuel ahead of a fast-as-possible thrash along the A7 to Langholm, and the turn onto quieter roads. Tony rode ahead as I went for the rain gear in Langholm but again, as soon as I had it on, the rain stopped. The hills started after Langholm, but I made it into Eskdalemuir at 12:05 only a couple of minutes down on him. It was also worth noting that there was a ferocious following wind that would help all the way to Dalkeith (but not back).

Leaving Eskdalemuir we set of towards Edinburgh, knowing that there are 5 distinct climbs on this section. None are particularly bad, but the cumulative effect was to prove draining. But the wind helped. And did it ever help! Every climb was at about 15kmh (much faster than I am normally capable of) and every descent a 65kmh blast downhill past the struggling faces of those still returning. Of course I did my best to take no obvious pleasure in this, since it would be my turn soon enough.

After the 4th of the 5 climbs we arrived in Traquair and were diverted into the "Secret Control" in the village hall. What a control this was. This was the first occasion where I have ever been served a dram of single malt whisky at an Audax. With cake. I hope it will not be the last. Dragging ourselves back to the road, we progressed through Innerleithen and the picturesque stretch past the Golf Course to the last climb before Dalkeith.

Tony & I left Paul behind on this stretch as he had to make an unscheduled stop, but this was again a blessing as waiting at the top revealed the view of where we had just come from. On our return, into the still strengthening wind, and with horizontal rain in our faces, it would look nothing like this. Over the brow of the main climb, the wind was now strong enough that we could freewheel along the flattish but still uphill top section before the view over Edinburgh was finally revealed.

This final descent seemed to last for almost 14km right into Dalkeith which, not a bustling metropolis, was uncomfortably busy compared to the solitary riding we had been doing.

Cutting short the turnaround in Dalkeith, and replacing kit from the bag drop there, we set off back into the gale and commencing rain. By the time we reached the top of the first climb back, virtually an hour had already passed and, instead of a 65kmh blast downhill, we found ourselves pedalling hard to achieve 20kmh. Amazingly, when we reached Innerleithen in the wind and rain, there were still golfers out on the course! Who in their right mind would be still out in that weather?????

As we passed through Innerleithen, the heavens really opened, and the rain became a real problem. Reaching the secret control at Traquair, we went in despite the fact it was only supposed to be a control Northbound, and was due to close at 10p.m. At 9 o'clock we were debating when/if to get back on the road when Ivo, a dutch rider, arrived with news from Eskdalemuir. The control there was rammed with people unwilling to go further against the elements, and we were to be kept at Traquair until the worst of the weather subsided.

Decision made, Paul had the genius idea of combining the village hall seats into impromptu beds, and we headed to an unexpectedly early sleep at about 10p.m. still about 45km north of where I had hoped to be.

Day 3 over
215km with 3,160 metres of climbing
134 miles with 10,367 feet of climbing

Tomorrow would have to be a longer day. If the weather allowed.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

L-E-L Day Two

Washingborough to Alston
323 km and 2041 metres of climbing

5 a.m. in Washingborough came around far too soon and much of the preceding 4 hours was spent not so much asleep as just not quite awake. I made the mistake of having nothing to rest my head upon, and after a night on a hard floor was as stiff as one of the floorboards themselves. At least the earplugs and the buff rolled down over the eyes worked in generating a quiet and dark sleeping environment. This would help later.

Breakfast was taken in the Community Centre, whilst glowering at the rotten weather outside. Foul weather gear again then. The wind had also swung round to be mostly Westerly. Not good. Much of the next section, when not heading North, would be into the wind. Leaving at 5:35, I was already over an hour behind plan, and could not get going. I was bemoaning this at the time, little did I know that it was to save me from much, much worse later on.

Wragby was the first control of the day, a quick check-and-go to confirm that we had added the necessary miles to make up to the full 1,400 kilometres. Then the westerly wind made its presence felt. The Fens have no protection from the wind, and there was plenty of it. Progress felt slow, and worse still was tiring. The total leg of 105km is far too long for me to do without refuelling, and I was in dire straits by the time I got to Kirton in Lindsey where Holt's Stores came to my rescue. This was the first point where I was asked what was going on. People had seen cyclists a-plenty of multiple nationalities since the night before, and were genuinely interested in what was going on. Perhaps next time the Audax UK publicity machine may get wider coverage. Fed, and with well wishes from within the shop, I set off again for Thorne.

It was a long time coming in the wind, and I finally rolled into Thorne at 10:25 where the Danial Webb hospitality machine was efficiency itself. Food was on the table almost before I had sat down, and my tired legs were soon being well refuelled.

I managed to get in and out of the Thorne control in 35 minutes, but it was apparent that I would not make it all the way to Coxwold without some form of mid-section sustenance. A garage provided the necessary sandwich which was later consumed in Sutton on Derwent whilst sitting on a bench beneath a conker tree when the sun eventually came out.

Unfortunately the sun brought with it thunderstorms, one of which broke completely overhead at Bubwith with the lightening and thunder almost simultaneous. What do you do? Keep cycling out in the open? Hide under a tree? In the end I stopped at the side of the road to gear up for foul weather in the midst of rain rebounding up 2 feet off the road. By the time I had my wet weather gear on, it had almost stopped. The wind was still horrid.

Shortly before Coxwold, the hills start again and at this point I started going better. It seems that I don't do 'flat' that well since my style is to coast or freewheel often to get small recoveries among the effort. You can't do this on the Fens into the wind. Nonetheless after a stinker of a hill at Crayke, I was glad to see the sleepy village of Coxwold in the distance. I finally rolled in there at 15:36, just over an hour and a half behind schedule.

Frankly, at this point I felt like packing. The 190km of Fens and wind had really taken their toll and I was very very tired. Coxwold control were ready for this and administered Coca Cola and Pasta, together with other carbs. By the time I had climbed out of the village, and checked in at home once I got a phone signal, I was ready to go again. The next section, though hillier, was only 52 km to Middleton Tyas.

It was also eminently forgettable. I remember almost nothing of this section except being in company for the first time. Problem is, I can't remember who. By this point the brain was on the way out. However, I apparently took this picture near Newby Wiske. Looks more like France than Yorkshire. Full feed and leisurely stop required. Arriving at Middleton Tyas, I was fed quickly and put back on the bike in next to no time. So much for the leisurely stop. It was already 19:45 and I still had 75km to go over Yad Moss to Alston before bed.

The first section just seems like a series of small climbs and I was surprised to find the legs actually stronger as the ride progressed. Just as well given the state they felt they were in at the end of day one.

On this section, you can see the Pennines looming in the distance for quite some way out, and by the time you reach Barnard Castle, you can tell you are in for a workout. Given that it was also already dusk, this workout would be in the dark.

Middleton in Teesdale seemed to be miles from Barnard Castle, and it was already way past 10p.m. before I got there, with all the Yad Moss Climb to come. In retrospect it was probably best that I couldn't see how long it went on for.

The road past High Force was a noisy place, not from traffic but from the sounds of rushing water from the River Tees below. It must be a real sight in daylight. It was around here (I think at the High Force Hotel) that I caught sight of Paul, Rider 121, with whom I would ride a lot of the later sections. He was suffering from an attack of the dozies and was sitting down to snooze and recover before tackling the remainder of the climb. The only steep section of Yad Moss is near Langdon Beck, and it was here that a Dutch rider passed me and disappeared uphill. Some distance further on, with about 3km of the climb left, I could still see his rear light blinking in the far distance. On went the MP3 player, and I went after him. Even in "Lance Mode" spinning like mad, I couldn't catch him by the top, but was only about 500m behind him. At this point one of the most memorable points of my ride happened. As I came over the top of Yad Moss, I got into my best impression of an aero-tuck and went after him.

Descending Yad Moss following the snaking rear light of the bike in front round the bends at 65kmh, in the dark, at almost midnight, with Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" blasting from the MP3 - priceless!

He was surprised when I passed. Not by the fact that I passed (he had a rear view mirror) but by the fact that I was still dressed in just bibshorts and cycling jersey. He was wrapped up like it was December. We both arrived at the Alston control at 00:01, as the spots of rain started falling more heavily. Bikes were hastily chucked on the grass and panniers removed. Inside the Outdoor Centre was a haven of warmth and dryness. Just as well. At 00:03 the heavens opened with torrential hail and even higher winds. Now that's what I call good timing.

It took another 10 minutes to gather enough coherence to find my Brevet Card and check in, and a further hour to eat drink and be found a bed. But I was found a bed. A real one with duvet mattress and pillows! Unashamed luxury for the next 5 hours.

Day 2 over
323 kilometres and 2,041 metres of climbing
201 miles and 6696 feet of climbing

Tomorrow we were going to Scotland, and its hilly up there

L-E-L Day One

Lee Valley to Washingborough (Lincoln)
216km, 1489 metres of climbing

Not surprisingly, I didn't need waking by the alarm on Sunday morning, the adrenaline doing a pretty good job on its own.

Breakfast was at least a civilised affair, with all of the obligatory faffing having been done the night before, and all the equipment etc already loaded into the car. GPS behaved itself and faultlessly delivered me to Lee Valley YHA by just after 10 a.m. I was still concerned at this point by the total weight of bike and kit I would be carrying but by now it was far too late to jettison anything else.
The necessary "before" photograph having been taken, my wife departed back for home, leaving me to kill the three hours up to my start time.

I managed to do this by checking out the weird and wonderful bikes on display, both those seemingly homebuilt

and those lacking a certain something (eg a seatpost)

This was the only time I would see any of these, they left before me and I never caught them up.

2 p.m. came around very quickly, though it was apparent at the start that these were the 'rump' of the riders, the higher density groups having already left. This was confirmed just 5 km from the start, on the climb to Brickendon Woods where I found myself already riding alone with the back of the group occasionally visible where the road was straight for long enough. This first section was fairly rolling, if not hilly, and I did find the hills difficult to judge. Sure I could have blitzed up them out of the saddle, but what would that mean for the rest of the ride?

Riders from the following start groups came (and largely went) before the first stop at Gamlingay (not obligatory, but they had CAKE). I arrived there almost an hour ahead of plan worrying that I might have gone out too fast.

This worry didn't stop me going off head down for Thurlby a further 86km North at a high rate of knots. Again riders passed and disappeared, and I was mostly on my own. The following wind dropped as evening approached, and drizzly rain started about an hour short of the destination, getting gradually heavier as the control approached.

King Street, south of Thurlby is a dead straight section of road for about 10 miles. On this section I collected a group consisting mainly of french riders, or rather they collected me and then sat on my back wheel all the way to the control. No matter what speed I did, they just sat there. Thurlby was reached at 20:20 now almost 2 hours early, but by now I was feeling ominously tired.

Thurlby Control, like most, was excellent but most memorable for serving Strawberries & Cream to all riders in exceedingly never-seen-at-Wimbledon large portions. Suitably fortified, I joined many other riders in donning foul weather gear for the section north to Washingborough, and set off into the gathering gloom in a disjointed group of about 20.

This group fragmented over the drags to Sleaford, and by the time I reached the town I was on my own again. Sleaford was not the easiest place to navigate and once I had negotiated the town onto the long straight roads of Lincolnshire, there was no other rider to be seen all the way to Washingborough. And it was tipping it down.

Miserably, I ground my way into Washingborough at 00:01 thoroughly bedraggled and dog tired. I had already decided that any time ahead of plan would be used in additional sleep, and with the rain forecast to continue well into the next morning, decided to take even more time, being woken at 5 a.m. Decisions made, and well fed, I retreated to the floor of the sports pavilion to get some rest.

Day One over
216km in the day and 1489 metres of hills
(134 miles and 4885 feet of climbing)

Tomorrow was scheduled to be my longest day

How many?

Noticed the deliberate mistake, in that I got all of the dates on the plan one day wrong?

Of course, the event started on Sunday 26th, not 25th, and finished on the 31st.

Ooops! Not an auspicious start.