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.......


Paul/Sarah said...

Hope you enjoyed your holiday and are feeling recovered. I really enjoy reading your postings, you have a fluid pen. Are you planning your next big ride? Found a picture of Tony on the start line, recognised the Brooks jersey, and a great video of Pete, the guy I finished the last two sections with. Have not found any pics of you yet but everyone had beards by the end so were in disguise !!

Datameister said...

You are in the current edition of Arrivee. Fame at last

Andy said...

Wonderful to read your report of LEL, especially that awesome picture of Ettrick flooded!

I was caught on the road to Eskdalemuir in the night before, and scared myself witless trying to make it through.

I'm still putting together a ride report from my adventures (almost done - some 4 months later). :D