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.

1 comment:

Simon Lewis said...

Loving the day-by-day reports. It all sounds so epic.