29 October 2009
15 September 2009
28 August 2009
It has now been about a month and I have been thinking about the ride quite a lot. My daily distances were 633km, 261km, 216km and 291km. So apart from ‘day 1’ (which was really more like 2 days) the distances were very moderate. I would have liked to see a more even distribution of the mileage, but the weather also came into play. It took forever to get from Eskdalemuir to Dalkeith and back, despite the fact that it was only 166 km for the round trip. I then made it into Alston on midnight and due to the storm it was impossible to go any further unless you were a complete lunatic (all randonneurs have a bit of that in them, I think, but not enough to put you into outright danger...).
13 August 2009
LEL 2009 - night four and day five...
After more than 7 blissful hours of uninterrupted sleep a friendly controller awoke me at 3.30 Thursday morning and reluctantly I got out of bed. When you have booked a cot and a wake-up time there is unfortunately no time for a lie-in, as another rider is waiting for your bed. Two minutes after I was out of my bed another rider was already in it - guess s/he needed it more than I did... I got the contacts in and brushed my teeth again (just because I could!), then went for breakfast and coffee. After that it was time for a quick lube of my miserable butt and at 4.30 I was off towards Washingborough, 74 km down the road and 1184 km from the start.
I had set off right at the crack of dawn and I only needed lights for 15-20 minutes. I passed the pothole where I had had a flat and sidewall destruction on day 1 - this time I anticipated it and easily rode around it once I spotted it. It was a beautiful day, with fluffy Cumulus clouds on an otherwise blue sky. Way out in the horizon the sky turned grey but at least for now there was nothing but dry, fresh air and the open road ahead of me. Even the wind had died down and on top of that the route was now turning ever so frequently, so that even when there was a head wind it really wasn’t for very long. I was anxious to get down to Washingborough, as there would only be 217 km home to Cheshunt from that control - normally an 8-9 hour ride, but I was aware that it might take a bit longer today...
Looking back over my shoulder I could see the outline of a nuclear power plant, clearly visible above the flat landscape. As the km’s disappeared behind me it would become smaller and smaller, a nice visible assurance of my progress. Dark skies accumulated to the left and right of me, but the road ahead passed right through the only bright part of the morning sky. I could see 3 or 4 rain showers to the left and right of me but I was in the dry! If I had been superstitious I would have taken it as a good warning of an easy last day. Half an hour later I was glad that I was not superstitious, as a black cat ran across the road in front of me while looking annoyed at me - perhaps for cycling too fast so that it had to speed up its crossing half way over in order not to get run over?
Somewhere on the route I passed a sleeping randonneur - he had pulled over in a bus shed and was sleeping standing up, leaned against the wall of the shed, with his hand on the bicycle seat to support him. The bus shed was just opposite from a terrace of houses with people having breakfasts and getting started on their day. I bet they all had a good story to tell when they came to work.
Not long after I was on the outskirts of Lincoln, and only 8 km or so from the Washingborough control. In Thorne I had heard some people talk about some roadwork or some such in Lincoln, and somebody mentioned something about a diversion. I hadn’t paid too close attention as I figured it couldn’t be that difficult since it was only 8 km from the control - how many possibilities could there be for diversions that close to a control? Turned out that Lincoln is a rather big city with many, many roads going in all directions. There was a signed diversion, including some signs for LEL riders, but I must have missed one of the more important ones, because I found myself climbing a monster hill for 10 minutes or so. After that I saw a sign advertising the road to Skegness on the A15. I knew that I had to be on the A15 but I was absolutely sure that Skegness - being on the North Sea coast - was not the direction to go, so I turned the bike around and zoomed down the hill I had just climbed. Bingo! There was the correct A15, and it had only taken me half an hour or so of wasted time to find it. 15 minutes later I rolled in at the Washingborough control.
It was still relatively early morning, around 8.30 or so, so I had all reasons for a 2nd breakfast. To my delight there was plenty of bacon, mushrooms and everything else a randonneur could desire. Lots of coffee too! Mark, whom I had met at Thorne was there as well, having his 2nd breakfast. There were not too many riders there, and I figured I was in between the majority of the riders that had stayed at Washingborough overnight and the majority of the riders that had stayed at Thorne.
A couple of Italians pulled in shortly after me. They were always a magnificent sight - all dressed in their national randonneuring jersey, all in white shorts (after 4 days on the road! How many sets of spare clothing did they bring?), all with clean legs and arms, and all with perfect hair, even after 1184 km? Must be the pasta or the coffee at home... (My hair was actually looking OK, but that was because after 4 days without a shower I could set it any which way I wanted and it would stay that way even when the helmet came on).
Soon I was back on the road, headed for Thurlby 67 km ahead (and at 1251 km from the start). The first 25 km were ridden in pleasant winds in the sun when - more or less without warning - I was hit by a tremendous shower while out in the open with nowhere to go and nowhere to hide for the wall of water that came down. I pulled over and got my rain gear on in seconds but I still became soaked - but at least the water in my jersey would heat up during riding when enclosed in my rain coat... Two minutes later I could stop and take it all off again, as the sun was now out in full force. Gotta love the European summer!
The rest of the distance to Thurlby was spent drying out and putting on and taking off rain gear in anticipation of a severe shower, but none materialized and I pulled in to get my stamp around lunch time - perfect timing for lunch. However, there now was a glitch in the organization as the controllers stamping me in told me to go inside and find something to eat - quickly, as they were running out of food!
I hurried inside and the delicious pastries from day one were certainly gone. Fortunately they had cheese sandwiches, soup, and plenty of cakes provided by the lovely ladies from Thurlby Methodist Church. Thank you very much - they were great with and without a bit of custard!
I once again ran into Mark and another british rider (Peter?) who had foot issues. Not trench foot (like me), but rather the opposite as he had developed a set of big cracks on his foot sole. The nurse controller came out and looked at him and told him that he should drink loads of water and orange mix before taking off as the cracks in the skin were due to dehydration. Wonderful sport!
I sat around for 20-30 minutes or so and then took of in the early afternoon for the penultimate control at Gamlingay, 86km down the road and 1336km from the start. Soon after my departure there was another funkiness in the cue sheet, where I fooled around in an intersection for 5 minutes before a man in a parked car stuck his head out and yelled ‘They all went that way’ and pointed in what I thought was the wrong direction. But it wasn’t, and I was back on track, pedalling at a relaxed pace of 25-28km/hr in a slight breeze - the vicious headwind had died down and occasionally there now was a tailwind!
On the downside was that the landscape was now becoming hillier. The flatlands of North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire had given way to sections with short, but steep climbs and long-ish descents - the hills that we had encountered on the North bound journey, but now in reverse. They didn’t bother me too much - except for a few brutally steep ones - but I imagined that some of the later riders would curse the hills this close to the finish...
Regardless, progress was quite good and late in the afternoon I finally found myself Gamlingay - the last control before the finish at Lee Valley Youth Hostel! The controllers looked a bit worn out, which was no wonder once you thought about it. The control had been open since early Sunday when the riders departing at 8.00 had passed through. Later in the day my start group had passed through, and probably only a couple of days later return riders started to show up. So it had to be manned and kept tidy for almost the entire duration of the ride.
Anyway, I didn’t really pay too much attention to the tired controllers, as I was myself feeling a bit tired of it all by now. Happily I got some soup and some sandwiches and sat down with a big glass of orange mix and ate my last dinner on the road. I was dreading the last bit a little - in 2007 when riding PBP the last stretch had had the exact same distance as what I was facing now and back then I though it had been a very, very long haul to get back to Paris. I was wondering if I would feel the same this time - this close to the end you really just want to get it all over with and have a shower (which I really needed now, after more than 4 days on the road!)
Therefore I was soon on the road again, riding along in the later afternoon sun, the wind calming down, the clouds opening up and the grey skies fading away. It was delightful to ride the last 65 km back home to Lee Valley, apart from a slight fuzziness on the cue sheet in Hertford, 15 km before Lee Valley, where I briefly ended up on a dual carriageway going in the wrong direction. Oh well, back along the sidewalk and then off towards Cheshunt. 8-9km later I saw a sign saying ‘Cheshunt’ and 20 minutes later I rolled in at Lee Valley Youth Hostel, to the applause of the finished riders, organizers, friends and families sitting outside enjoying a well-deserved beer. I parked the bike, walked inside and handed over my control card for my final stamp. I had completed the 2009 London-Edinburgh-London bike ride in 105:30 hours!
10 August 2009
LEL 2009 - night three and day four...
Fortunately, night three was over rather quickly, as I slept most of the night under the coffee table. I woke up a few times - like 1.50, 2.30, 3.08, 4.15, 4.45 when riders were getting up and leaving and walking past me on smelly feet. Despite the fact that I was under the table their feet were only inches away from me when the walked down the stairs so...
Around 4.45 I noticed that there was an empty sleeping bag, belonging to the control, on the floor so I quickly took possession of it and draped it over my - still wet - wool jersey and body. My towel was dry by now, but the lure of the sleeping bag was irresistible. Even a king size bed in the Sheraton never felt soooo good! I then had another hour of super high quality sleep before I decided to wake up a final time, head downstairs and look for my shoes, helmet, rain coat, booties and rain legs. Cleverly I had draped the items over a range of chairs downstairs and it took 10-15 minutes to locate all of my possessions and make sure I had everything. Then I was out the door, found my bike under the canoe and was off towards Middleton Tyas @ 969km.
It was full daylight now, but the remnants of last nights storm was still blowing around - so still lots of headwind. However, it was only a few km to the top Yad Moss (598m) and then there was a ~25 km long desecent down towards Middleton-in-Teesdale. This was a lovely stretch, despite the headwind which made the downhill a little less faster than it would otherwise have been. In the end it didn’t really matter. I’m riding a Roberts Audax made of Reynolds 953 and it performs really well on long stretches with headwind. Is it because there is a tiny flex in the frame that helps you get around the dead spot a bit easier? Or is it just because of the fact that the riding position in the drop bars is really quite comfortable, even for extended periods of time? Don’t know, but the fact is that I usually ride very well in a head wind.
It was neat to notice how the landscape changed: When leaving the grassy hills in the heights around Yad Moss and Alston the landscape started to get more small-scale relief and small valleys etc. appeard, together with lush (no wonder, with all the rain!) forests. I knew that before the end of the day I would once again be riding on the flatlands of Yorkshire and it was a neat thought that I would traverse this many different types of landscape formations in daylight so that I could properly see the differences as the relief died out and gave way to flatness.
Anyway, that was still several controls and many km’s ahead. Right now a more urgent need was apparent: I had also forgotten to pack a toothbrush and -paste and it was now more than 3 days since I had brushed my teeth. They started to feel woollen so I made a stop in Barnard Castle and got what I needed. Then I continued on past the Bowes Museum and further on to Middleton Tyas, which was only another 20km or so away.
Upon arriving in Middleton Tyas I went straight for the toilets in order to brush up. 3 days of randonneuring food that had accumulated between my teeth were exchanged for a generous helping of Colgate Whitening Control, and sporting my new smile I went to check in with the controllers and get my card stamped. They didn’t notice my sparkling smile, but unaffected I went for the food section and placed my order, then sat down with a randonneur from the US and another from the UK. We chatted a bit while eating our breakfast/lunch/dinner - depending on when you got up a meal at 11 in the morning could be any of the three.
I thought for a bit that if this had been a ‘normal’ grand randonnee, then there would only be a bit more than 200 km to go, no biggie. However, because this was LEL there was more than 400 km to go - so still quite significant, and around 17-20 hours of riding time + breaks. I felt a bit depressed about the thought as I was starting to get a bit bored with the constant riding, stamping, eating, repeat. This was really a very long ride indeed!
Anyway, the bike wouldn’t ride itself and the control card back to Cheshunt, so I had to do it. Consequently I got up and left, grabbing a couple of cookies on the way out the door. Then it was back on the road and down towards Coxwold, which was only 53 km further away, at 1021 km from the start.
En route I had a slight misnavigation at a sign pointing towards Scorton, but I was ahead of the cue sheet, which demanded that I should rode 2.7 km before turning right. I, however, decided that a right turn here would do, but it quickly became apparent that my road led to nowhere except an old abandoned church and so I decided to turn back, retrace and pay attention to cue sheet and distance. Presto, I was in Scorton in no time. Memo to self - interpretation of the cue sheet author’s intentions is always difficult...
The landscape had flattened out a lot and I did enjoy the ride through the farm lands of North Yorkshire (or was it because I felt some strange connection to this land which - rightfully I think - should belong to me and other Danes descending from the great Viking invaders). There was still a headwind (obviously), but it wasn’t raining non-stop, mainly drizzles and sprinkles now and then. Most of the time I rode in my wool jersey and arm warmers. Before I knew of it I was back in Coxwold, where a few days earlier I had been photographed with all the dignitaries of the town when I set off for the ride up north.
There were no such dignitaries upon my arrival this time. In fact, there was hardly anybody there. It was weird walking into a control with more controllers than riders. A rider was sat down here and there by a table, but in general it was wide open. I was sure that a lot of riders were ahead of me, as I had left Alston a bit late (around 6-ish) and a lot of riders had left that control between 4 and 6. Regardless, I went for my drop bag, and pulled of my wet socks and put on a new pair of dry ones - aaahhh, my feet liked that! I also went for the vaseline, as well as for my 2nd spare tire. I had been carrying the tire from day 2 (the one with a stone in it) as a spare but now it was time to ditch that properly and carry a proper spare tire, one that would work right away. I spent 20 minutes or so getting my bike ready to go, as well as getting my butt ready to go, then I washed up and went for the food and coffee.
They had an awesome homemade crumble at Coxwold, it was so good that it didn’t really matter that the custard was Tesco’s premier quality (which is still pretty damned good custard). There was a control somewhere on the route that had homemade custard, but I forget where it was. Regardsless, the crumble was good and so was the hot food and the bacon sandwich I had before that. I chatted with a controller who spotted my rain legs; he had a pair himself and really liked them. I concurred - I still can’t understand why they are not being used a whole lot more. They are great in the rain and cold and will always keep your legs and knees warm and dry, regardless of the conditions.
In Coxwold I also noticed they had times for previous riders, updated at 10.30 Wednesday. By now it was early afternoon, and I looked for names I recognized, either in person or from newsletters and blogs. I noticed that Dave had passed through 10 minutes past midnight, some 14-15 hours ahead of me, so I figured my estimate of him being 24 hours ahead of me back in Cheshunt was still correct.
However, unless I got my sorry butt back on my bike and pointed towards Thorne, the next control, the gap would be even larger. So I collected my belongings (i.e. helmet, gloves, shoes, booties, rain coat), got it all back on, pulled out of the control and started out in the stretch towards Thorne, 89 km ahead and 1110 km from the start.
Strangely, I have very few memories from the strecth of road between Coxwold and Thorne - perhaps I was more tired than I thought at the time? Or was there just not much to remember? I do remember being more and more bored with the entire ride, though, and wondering if I’d ever do a ride as long as LEL again. I passed by the petrol station where I had had the sidewall/broken valve incident a few days earlier and was pleased that I had added more than 700 km to my ride without getting seriously into trouble with flats etc. Such was my state of mind, but I lightened up a bit as I pulled into the Thorne control with plenty of daylight to spare - it was only around 19.00 Wednesday evening.
I got my stamp and sat down to eat. Opposite from me was the Brit I had chatted with in Middleton Tyas earlier in the day. His name was Mark. We talked about plans for the night and the day. My ideas was to continue to Washingborough, 74 km down the road and then sleep there. I figure that if I left in half an hour I could get 1/3 or maybe 1/2 of the way before it got dark - now that we were riding south again it was noticeable that it became darker lighter than in Scotland. Mark’s plan was to sleep in Thorne, as he had slept in Washingborough on the way out, and hadn’t been to impressed with sleeping on the floor there.
It was so early here in the Thorne control that no cots had been booked yet, so there were 40 luxurious beds available. I wavered. If I slept in Thorne I would get AAA+ accommodations, but I would have 300km to London. I had plenty of time to spare before the finish Friday morning, but I really wanted so badly to finish Thursday afternoon/early evening - 4 days on the road was enough, no need to make it into 5 unless mechanical incidents or accidents demanded it.
On the other hand, if I left for Washingborough immediately I could be there around mdinight, sleep 6 hours, and then I’d only have to ride ~230 km the last day, starting at 7 or 8 in the morning - easy peasy! But I would have to fight for sleeping space with probably quite a few other riders. Oh, the decisions the randonneur faces towards the end of the ride and the lure of the blankets must be weighed against the desire to just get it all over with...
In the end the lure of more than 7 hours of sleep in Thorne won me over. If I went to bed at 20.00 and up at 3.30, then left at 4.30 I would get 7.5 hours of sleep, avoid night riding completely the last night and be able to leave at the crack of dawn, thus easily finishing the last 300 km before night fall.
That did it! It enquired with the friendly controllers and 5 quid later I had been issued cot #29 and a blanket to keep me warm. What a difference from the hard wood floor and the lukewarm towel in Alston!! Since I was the first in the room, I was able to find space to hang my socks, jersey, rainlegs and rain coat so that they could dry out (did I mention that it had rained on and off during the day? There was also a headwind, which had worked up the sweat, in case you wondered).
Around 20.00 I had finished my night preparations - I even had time to brush my teeth for the 2nd time that day (luxury!) and take out my contact lenses. Then I laid down on the cot, draped the blanket over my sweaty bibs and undershirt. I had developed some initial trench foot due to my feet being enclosed in neoprene booties inside the shoes all day long. It was great to be able to stick them out under the blanket and feel the air circulate amongst my toes. Then - once again - I fell asleep.
09 August 2009
LEL 2009 - second half of night two and all of day three...
I fell asleep in a window sill at the Eskdalemuir control Tuesday morning at 3 am, after 45 hours without sleep. 2:45 hours later I woke up again, just in time for breakfast. I looked around and couldn’t recognize the place - where was everybody? When I had fallen asleep the floor had been *packed* with riders everywhere, to the extent that it had been hard walking around without stepping on a sleeping rider. Now, I was almost alone in the room, save for a few other riders who obviously had slept in.
I sat up and decided to lie down for another few minutes, just to maintain an ever-so-small illusion of a lie-in. It did feel good, though, and 5 minutes later I sat up for the second time, determined to get out of ‘bed’ and on to the road. I had a quick cup of coffee and then I walked out to try to find my shoes and my helmet in the hallway. A few minutes later I was all dressed up and ready to go. I filled my water bottles and then I was out the door, making a left turn out of the control in the direction of Edinburgh. As I was leaving the control I had a look at the skies - they were steel grey, apart from a tiny patch with somewhat less grey (off-white?) clouds. A friendly controller spotted me looking at the clouds and cheered me up with a ‘It’s clearing up!’ Summer in Scotland...
Anyway, I got the body going after a few km and got back in the rythm. My butt was starting to let it self known by now, and I was keen to get into a pair of new shorts - waiting in the Edinburgh drop bag, only some 83 km up the road (literally up!) I was also keen to apply some more lubrication to the grinding body parts in contact with the seat via the shorts...
The landscape was really quite beautiful, with lots of rolling hills and long - very long - ascents, followed by just as long descents, from one valley to another. On top of this there was a nice tailwind, but no sun so it was rather chilly and I rode with my arm- and knee warmers on, as I had been doing for essentially the entire ride, apart from a few hours Monday afternoon (when I used sun screen!)
After 45 km a man in a kilt unexpectedly appeared on the road and gestured at me to make a right turn in Traquair- a secret control! It turned out that this was the alternative sleep stop that had been provided to relieve some ‘sleep pressure’ on the Eskdalemuir control - to no avail, obviously... I rolled in and had a quick stamp in my card.
When I turned around I heard somebody call out my name and I looked up to see Mark Roberts, also from SIR. He had been in the 8am start, so 5.5 hours ahead of me, and had been spending the night in the Traquair stop. He had had some serious problems with his back the entire season and had not had time to get a whole lot of riding in. But he was a very experienced randonneur so he had decided to come over and give the ride a go anyways. I asked him how he was doing and he said his back was killing him on the uphills and the downhills - not the best situation when there was about 300 km ahead before the road flattened somewhat out. He had decided to go to Edinburg and DNF there, then take the train back to London. I felt bad for him, but then again, he would see the entire route and complete half the ride, so would still have lots of memories and experiences from the ride. And an excellent excuse to come back in 2013...
I started to run into a somewhat steady stream of riders returning from Edinburgh, thus some ~100-150 km (5-8 hours) ahead of me. Some of those had been in the 8am start Sunday morning but on a long uphill I spotted a downhill rider greeting me - that was Dave, on his way back from Edinburgh to his 2nd visit at the Eskdalemuir control. He looked fast and I reckoned he would be back in London ~24 hours ahead of me. A few minutes later I spotted Rick Blacker from SIR, going downhill on the homestretch very fast. Rick had started at 8 am, and was riding strong. He was definitely more than 5.5 hours ahead of me. We shouted a greeting to each other and then we continued on!
Me at ~650km
I stopped quite frequently on this stretch to take some pictures of the landscape and the sheep, which were abundant. There were not quite as many sheep as there had been in Wales when I lived there, but there was still a good number of fluffy white dots on the hillsides in almost any direction. To some extent it felt like home (when home was Bangor in Wales) and brought back the memories of many descents from Llyn Ogwen towards Bethesda - a very nice 8km descent if you should feel so inclined...
After a long ascent that crested in what seemed to be a cut in the hillside the road took a sharp right and I found myself looking out over the flatlands (at least that was what it looked like from above) below me - and Edinburgh in the horizon! It was now just a matter of pointing the front wheel in the downhill direction and coast some 15km into the halfway point at Dalkeith rugby club, on the outskirts of Edinburgh!
After a *fabulous* 15 km of coasting, during which I met many return riders slogging their way uphill towards Eskdalemuir - in a strong headwind - I arrived at the halfway point in Dalkeith @ 716km around 11.30 am Tuesday, some 46 hours after the start. This didn’t really promise too well for my initial plan to try to be back in London in 96 hours. It wasn’t that I was feeling tired or sleepy - as weird as it may sound the 2:45 hours of sleep in Eskdalemuir helped a lot on my sleepiness. It was more the fact that I was looking into something like a 450 km stretch of more or less constant headwinds until I came back down towards Thurlby or something like that. That could turn out to be a bit of a drag in the long(!) run...
Dalkeith - halfway!
Anyway, I got my stamp and my drop bag. Then I set out to find the showers in order to - not shower, as I had also forgotten to pack shampoo etc. in my drop bags - but to change my bike shorts, which I had been wearing since Sunday morning. It felt *really* good to get everything out in the open for a few moments until the new shorts came on, together with a huge helping of vaseline on the chafed bits and pieces. Then it was back into the control for yet another lunch and a bit of chilling before it was back on the bike. Mark pulled in and came over to sit down and chat for a bit. He had just handed over his brevet card and DNF’ed; now he was planning to have a lunch and the roll the 12 k into central Edinburgh and the railroad station, then let a friendly railroad company take him and his bike back to London.
After another 10-20 minutes or so we bid each other farewell and I walked out the door to my trusty steed of steel, ready to begin the return trip to London. The first 2 km went well, then I incredibly took the wrong turn in a roundabout and discovered my mistake at the end of a very long downhill 5 km later. After a few moments of #$@$%@ I crossed the road and slogged uphill to the roundabout and the correct exit. This wasn’t the most promising start on the return trip... After having made the correct exit in the roundabout I found myself on familiar roads and, reassuringly, a steady stream of riders coming towards Dalkeith.
The uphill from Dalkeith wasn’t really so bad initially, it was more the constant headwind, which would accompany me for the next 300 km or so that was annoying and slowed progress down quite a bit. 10 km out from Dalkeith I made a right turn onto the road that would eventually lead me back into the highlands I had been riding through the same morning, but the feel was quite different now, with the wind in my face riding uphill. I found myself crawling along at a mere 10 km per hour or so and decided that I needed some more speed in order to get anywhere. So I started pedalling more determined in a slightly higher gear and found, as so often before, that going faster was easier than going slow. I was now ‘cruising’ uphill at 15-18 k/h and felt a bit more comfortable on the bike in the higher gear and low in the drop bars - although my butt was now really quite painful. Oh well, it would only be another 700 km in agony before it was over.
As I approached the summit of the ascent the wind increased in intensity and it started to sprinkle a bit. I stopped to put on my booties and rain coat, then proceeded towards Eskdalemuir in increasingly ominous-looking clouds. The wind was really quite strong and at times I had to stand up an pedal on the downhills in order to move the bike forward; rather depressing when there was some ~660 km left of the ride. As I crested one little pass after the other I could see riders ahead of me, slowly moving ahead towards Eskedalmuir in the headwind. Very few were riding in groups, most were riding alone, as I did. One exception was a large group of riders coming up from behind on a descent, screaming along doing 30-40 km/hr which, considering the state of the road (lots of small gravel) seemed a bit risky to me. As they passed me the front rider yelled out ‘HOLE!’ and the entire group jumped left and right around a massive pothole, easily 0.5 m in diameter, in the road. Would have been an interesting sight had one of them gone into it...
After a couple of hours I made it to Traquair in mid-afternoon and stopped for a few minutes to use the toilet and re-apply some lubrication on my worn out butt. Then I grabbed a few cookies and headed for Eskdalemuir, which I reached in reasonable style around 17.30 - some 11 hours after I had left it. It had taken me that long to ride 166km, and I had spent less than an hour in Dalkeith, so 10+ hours to do 166km (plus the ~10 k detour), half of which was in a very strong tailwind - it looked as if it could take a while to get back to London!
I sat down in Eskdalemuir for another dinner, and also treated myself to a Coke from the controllers. A tired rider sat beside me, waiting for a cot to be ready. He was constantly nodding off but after 10-15 minutes he was told that a bed was ready and he left. He was replaced with an Italian rider who apparently wasn’t too excited about the food (which at Eskdalemuir was veggie chilli, jacket potatoes with fillings and cheese, and rice pudding - I loved it). Maybe in Italy they’re being treated to pasta and pizza on their brevets?
Shortly before 19:00 I was back on the bike, headed for Alston, now at the 894km mark. It was raining rather steadily now, and the wind was increasing - still right in the nose. 7 km outside of the control I encountered a rider still en route for Edinburgh - that would be a lot of work to get home to London before the closing Friday morning. The oncoming rider was leaned over heavily to the right, to compensate for the head wind coming at an angle at that particular stretch. I wondered if I did the same when I was riding in a head wind. My legs felt good and despite the headwind I was doing 22-26 km/hour more or less constantly. Soon I started to catch up to some riders that had started ahead of me and it gave me the energy to put even more power into the pedals to fight the wind. I was soaking wet from rain and sweat (in an ironic twist, I washed my rain coat a few weeks before departure, and then forgot to treat it with water repellant, so it was less waterproof than usual, but still a whole lot better than nothing).
The advantage of being this far north was that daylight lasts until 22:30 or so. The dark skies made the fall of darkness come a bit earlier than that, but I was nevertheless happy about being able to get 2/3 or so of the distance to Alston covered before it got completely dark. And it did get completely dark. The last 30 km to Alston were far away from any towns or villages and I was completely and utterly alone in the pitch black night, in the pouring rain, with a - by now - gale force wind right in the face. It was almost surreal riding along on the road, which felt as if it was gently climbing for miles and miles. It was very twisting too, and no matter which way I went there was a head wind. Some people go down mentally when they encounter conditions like that, but for the most part those exact conditions are what I was used to from Wales in the winter time. Still, I was surprised to see me being able to maintain a 22-24 k/h speed on most of that strecth. The only part that felt really long was the last 4-6 km into Alston proper. I spotted the street lights from far away (first light apart from my bike lights in almost an hour!) and thought I would be there in a flash. But the road kept going up and down, twisting and turning, without the lights getting seemingly a whole lot closer. Frustrating!
Finally I made it into Alston and it was now only a 3 km climb out of town up towards the outdoor centre. There was a section with cobblestone in the centre of town which I walked, but then it was back on the bike for a 14% section - uphill - in a gale force head wind... I spotted a couple of taillights in the distance and I seemed to gain on them very fast, despite me going only 6-9 km/hr. It turned out to be a couple of randonneurs walking up the hill in the pouring rain. I passed them and pressed on upwards and 10 minutes later I pulled in at the Alston control. Upon arrival it took forever to find a parking spot for my bike - hundreds of bikes were parked and strewn all over the garden and grounds - a sign of hundres of riders inside. Finally I managed to find a prime spot under some canoes and went inside.
I got my stamp just after midnight; it was now officially Wednesday morning and the controllers informed me that I would be given 2 hour time credit due to the horrendous weather conditions and because they wouldn’t have riders trying to ride across the Pennines in the middle of the night in this kind of weather. Understandable, it was pitch black dark outside and the rain was hammering on the windows. I had dinner and then enquired about the possibilities for a place to sleep. The earliest bed would be available at 3.30 am, which was 2 hours away. I decided that the hard wood floor would be an excellent alternative and asked if they had any blankets. Nope. But they did have a towel that had been in the dryer for about 15 minutes so it was still very moist, but at least it was a lukewarm moist. I went upstairs to the lounge above the dining room where dozens of riders were sprawled out on the floor. Some of them had sleeping bags from the control, the lucky bastards... Guess this was the reward for being in the 8.00 start - getting to the controls early and get the beds and blankets before the lazy 13.30 starters...
Anyway, I looked around in the darkness and tried to determine a spot that wasn’t occupied by a sleeping/snoring cyclist. There were no such spots. Then I spotted a small, square coffee table next to the stairs. If I curled up in fetal position (foetal position for UK readers) I might just fit underneath it - it would have the added benefit that nobody would walk on me when they got up later in the morning. I tried it and the table had just the right size! It was 1.30 am Wednesday morning. I laid down on the comfy hard wood floor in my wet bike clothes, draped the moist, now not-so-lukewarm towel over me and fell asleep.
07 August 2009
After getting my stamp I headed directly for my drop bag where I had dry socks (fabulous to feel the dry fabric against my soaking wet skin) and a dry wool jersey - the famous blue SIR issue! I then managed to buy a spare tube from the control, so now at least I had 2 tubes to get me to Edinburgh and back. Then it was time for some personal hygiene and after applying a deliciously large ‘helping’ of vaseline in strategic locations I sat down for lunch. At Coxwold they had rhubarb crumble with custard... Another memory, from my time as a scientist on board various research vessels in the Irish Sea or the North Sea, appeared - yum! They also had delicious sandwiches, but it was the crumble that I was looking forward to - it was A-mazing and I felt quite invigorated and ready to tackle the next stage towards Middleton Tyas at 463 km, only another 52 km up the road.
Chilling at Eskdalemuir...
It was difficult to find a place to sit and have dinner, but Michelle and I managed to find a corner of a table that wasn’t being used for sleeping by an exhausted rider. We sat down for a quick late night dinner, giggling at the sight of the other riders in all thinkable sleeping positions around us. During dinner the tiredness hit me hard and I needed to find a place to sleep - fast - before I collapsed. The window sill suddenly looked like an excellent option as there was simply no floor space left inside the control. Somebody had put a chair up there (for what reason?) but I lifted it out and placed it on a table. Then I laid down on the window sill, which was quite deep (hoorah for thick-walled stone buildings) and wide, rolled up my raincoat as a pillow and looked at the clock. It was 3 am Tuesday morning so I had been awake for about 45 hours and had ridden 633 km since the start Sunday afternoon. Then I fell asleep.