Monday, 24 August 2009

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.

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