Getting off the saddle after 1436 kilometres felt like I had just been released from prison. Don’t get me wrong it was amazing and epic and long and hard and lots more. I knew what I was taking on because I’ve seen riders at the end of Paris Brest Paris ride who could bearly walk let alone cycle, which is what our fellow Crestie Ron looked like when he finished this event.
A damp 5am start with little sleep fellow Cresties Sabrina, Twig, Siobhan & Marie saw us off. My seven year old creaky Shorter was chosen for the task with fitted saddle bag, new Hope wheels and wobbly mudguards, the forecast wasn’t promising. We rode all day, the plan was to reach Northumberland at 477k for our first overnight stop! Well it’s mind over matter, continuous bodily evaluation, feed, expend, refuel with whatever is bunged in your pockets and bottles until the next control stop. How far could I go until I needed sleep? That’s how it worked for most of the 1436 kilometres. It all sounds grim and I paid good money to do this.
The hills of Essex and Cambridgeshire entertained us to our first control at St Ives. Then came the Fens;100kms of straight flat roads, I knew we were in for it on the return journey with the forecasted south westerly wind. On through Lincolnshire then Yorkshire and Northumberland, 477k completed by 2am. A much needed shower, change kit, eat and drink all that one could manage, charge Garmin and take care of any other business before my allocated two hours of deep sleep. Awaken by a shake of the shoulder by a complete stranger was enough to wake the dead. 45 precious minutes to make sense of the world, eat and drink, reprogram the next route onto the gps and we were back on the road before 6am.
Day two was the toughest, grinding to a halt on the Scottish borders. Beautiful scenery but a grim half an hour. I consumed my emergency bag of jelly babies, thanks for those Twig, also nuts and raisins and a gel as I needed a hit. This miraculously worked and I slowly recovered to arrive in Moffat for yet another tasty three course meal. This perfectly timed refreshment prepared us for the long steady climb out of Moffat. A swift paced group of riders formed together with a most welcome tailwind and steady descent to our half way point in Edinburgh. By-passing the fringe festival our stop was a school in the suburbs. Eat, drink, about turn, head south, only 726k to go.
A rolling climb with the sun setting over Edinburgh was at times spectacular. Darkness fell and on a long fast descent a hare decided to have a race with me, speeding along in the glow of my headlight. I tried to overtake but the hare accelerated, I slowed so he slowed, accelerated so did he, this seemed to go on for minutes although I’ll guess it was only seconds. The eventual overtake happened so we both bid a relieved farewell.
The night became cold so an overnight stop at the next control at Innerleithen became inevitable at a respectable 11pm. Commence body replenishment. Shower, food, drink, text to tell all of continued endurance, three hours sleep, hearty breakfast.
Day three was my best riding day. Misty, drizzly rolling Scottish scenic hills to the English border and through Cumbria, then a climb over the Pennines where I met Neil and Matt who I rode with on and off all the way to London, great company, thanks chaps. I felt much better today, we rode hard heading south through Northumberland to Yorkshire arriving at Polkington for our third much needed sleep. I treated myself to four hours this time, Ron decided to roll on into the night with Matt for some insane reason.
I left Polkington with Neil at 4am, I had 29 hours left of my 100 hours time limit to do the last 350k, easy. My lethargic body struggled all the way to Louth. More food and caffeine and off we went again. Then came the Fens, block headwind across the straight demoralising flat lands. Mind over matter, gels, coke, marathon bar, pasta, rice pudding. Every rider who made it across to the control at Spalding had developed strong views about the Fens, it was brutal after 1200k. I was by this point enduring an increasingly painful seating area, thanks for the Neurofen Neil. We approached Cambridgeshire and the hills returned and from there it was a fairly pleasant rolling run in to London which included a bit of through and off with some fast lads who one would not assume already had 1300k in their legs.
Myself and Neil stopped and I popped my head around the door of the Fighting Cocks pub in Saffron Walden to see Simon Keen and half of the Bishops Stortford CC having a midweek club pint, sureal to see familiar faces after the epic ride I was within and about to finish. I would have loved a pint but onwards we went.
On to our penultimate control stop at Great Easton where I saw Chris, Twig and caught a glimpse of Ron who looked less fresh than the lads I had been riding with earlier, maybe the missed four hours sleep had taken their toll having had no sleep since Scotland. I could see Sabrina inside and gave her the biggest hug, She had ridden in a deluge to Great Easton to meet me, then rode the last stage back to the finish in the driving rain, heroic commitment from a fellow Crestie. Twig and Chris had gone on to guide Ron’s wavering passage to the finish.
At 1am having been on the road for just over 92 hours – Euphoria, we arrived at the final control at Loughton to a most welcome cheer from the reception of volunteers, very amusing. A sureal end to the biggest ride I’ve ever done, definitely my most memorable, so far.
LEL was amazing. I’ve brushed some of the bad bits under the carpet and remembered the good and some of the tough bits. Northumberland and Cumbria were tough but beautiful, then the rolling hills to the Scottish borders where the scenery turned to stunning countryside all the way through to Edinburgh and back to the English border.
The organisation of the event was excellent, the volunteers at every stop couldn’t do enough for the riders. The food and drink on offer was all home cooked and perfect riding fodder, although at times I was unable to eat but needed the energy for the next leg. Force feeding myself at times, five meals a day plus copious flapjacks, teas, jelly babies isn’t easy to get down.
At Brampton I saw a fellow whose inhibitions seemed to have temporarily escaped him, reaching into his shorts applying what I can only assume was Sudo cream to his undercarriage, in a busy corridor in full view of the general LEL public. The few coherent passers by found the scene amusing.
Training for 2017 LEL, January to July 7230 miles or 11632 kilometres
1436 kilometres, 11777 metres climbed
23 stops so 23 meals consumed and probably about 46 teas & coffees
Saddlebag contained spare shorts & vest, waterproof, gilet, arm and leg warmers. Garmin charger, battery to charge Garmin, 2 tubes, patches, multitool. Had no mechanicals.
Bag drops contained one spare kit in each, one spare tube, 1 spare front light, batteries, 3 bars & two gels. Locations were a little optimistic at 477k and 840k, planned two sleeps but had three (total 9 hours).
Phone battery lasted just with one extra battery.
Lights; Cateye 1200 used at 1/4 power so it would last. Cateye 300 as back up. The pair got me home, just.
LEL 2021; extras to take; Neurofen, more jelly babies.