28 August 2009

London-Edinburgh-London 2009, the epilogue...

LEL - The Epilogue...
I had finished LEL2009 in 105:30 hours. After I got my final stamp in my brevet card and had handed it over to the controllers they handed me a little pack. Ooooh, joy of joys - there was a sandwich and a beer in it! Maybe it would be a Golden Best or something equally refreshing? Unfortunately it wasn’t an English beer but some diluted Belgian water called Stella Artois. Regardless, I sat down on a bench with some of the other riders from the US. One of them was John Ende, famous at least in US randonneuring circles for passing a kidney stone during Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 and continuing his ride after having been hospitalized due to the passing stone. Despite the weather he had had an easier ride this time around... 
We drank and ate our sandwiches and generally drifted off mentally in various directions. I was feeling a bit fuzzy from sleep deprivation, but not really tired or sleepy as such, just fuzzy all over. It was also a *very* nice feeling to have completed the ride and although I was way over my initial 96 hour target time I was nonetheless very pleased finishing Thursday evening. This meant I could sleep the entire night, have a big breakfast and then take off for London and get 2 full days in town before heading back to Seattle Sunday afternoon.
But all that was for tomorrow. Now a more pressing need started to become apparent - showering. Last time I was in a shower was Sunday morning. It was now Thursday evening so it had been 4.5 days without showering - and 1400 km of cycling inbetween. While I certainly had been wet for some of the time I’m not sure that it really counted. I went to the counter and asked for the key to my room, got it and started walking my bike towards my lodge.
Then Dave suddenly appeared. I had been wondering how he had finished and how he felt. I imagined that when I saw him he would be well rested, as in Coxwold he was some 15 hours ahead of me, so I figured he would have finished late Wednesday evening or very early Thursday morning at the latest. But his tiny eyes looking at me didn’t really indicate that he was overly rested. He had finished late Thursday morning, some 10 hours ahead of me, so I had made up a lot of time on him towards the end.  He had been riding in various groups most of the way and things had been going so well that although he had planned for a nap in Dalkeith (riding non-stop there), he had continued on with other groups going south, all the way to Coxwold. Coxwold. 1021 km after the start. Without sleep.
I had a hard time comprehending that. I was hallucinating mildly after ~600 km. I couldn’t imagine what another 400km would have done to me. But Dave could tell me: He had been seeing all kinds of stuff the last hours before coming into Coxwold. People on the road that vanished into thin air when he approached them and stuff. Much like cheap drugs. He had slept at Coxwold for a few hours and then continued on in daylight (early Wednesday morning). But the 1021km without sleep had worn him down a bit so progress had been slow the last 400km. The last 68km from Gamlingay had taken him 4-5 hours, riding together with another Dane, actually. Anyway, he made it, but not as much ahead of me as I would have thought. 
Dave suggested we had another beer or two and I was all up for that! He went to the bar to get them and I parked myself and my bike outside on a bench - the weather was really nice now! We drank and talked about the ride; both of us agreed that it was one of the hardest things we had ever done. I decided it was time for a shower; it had been 4 1/2 days since my last shower and I had cycled 1401 km since then. While I had been wet a lot in those 4 1/2 days I hadn’t had any soap to go with the wetness and it felt about time. Consequently I went to my room, which I was sharing with a couple of Italians who had finished Wednesday morning, some 36-40 hours before me. They did look fast... They said they had to get up at 3 Friday morning in order to catch their plane and that they didn’t hope that they would wake me up. Reassuringly I informed them that I really didn’t think that would be possible. 
I then had a quick shower and Dave and I went to the nearest pub for a few more beers and general evaluation. I had 6 packs of chips (crisps for UK readers) as well. An hour or so later I started to feel the impact of the last 4-5 days effort and we broke up in order to head to bed. A couple of riders rolled in as we walked through the gate to the hostel. Well done! 3 minutes later I was fast asleep.
At 6.45 or so Friday morning I woke up again, in a completely empty hostel room. I hadn’t heard a thing when the Italians had left and I had spent 7 hours or so in deep sleep, which felt really good. So I got up and had another shower (2 in 12 hours!) and then headed off for the breakfast room. On the way I met Dave, who was surprised to see me. He thought I would’ve been off in la-la land for much longer. It was probably the thought of the English breakfast that had awoken me - since it was included in the price for the room there really wasn’t any reason to miss out on it...
There were not too many riders in the breakfast room so we had no problems finding a place to sit. Only the sitting itself was a bit of a problem for us - turned out that also Dave had some issues with general wear and tear here and there... A rider who had just finished a few minutes earlier sat down next to us. It turned out he was a cop and that he was living in Wales. His first job had been in Bangor, of all places, so we talked about that for a bit. It was his first grand brevet and he was very pleased to have finished. So was I. This was my 3rd ride of 1200km or more and the finish always feel the same - tremendous satisfaction and a great sense of achievement. Add to that a slight sense of feeling peckish  and you’ll understand that I was very pleased looking down at my plate, eyeing my breakfast, which was steadily disappearing from my plate!
After breakfast it was time to get the bike packed up. Dave was flying out Saturday morning, so if we could make it into London for the afternoon we had time for several pints in the very pleasant (now!) summer weather.  An hour or so later we had both bikes in the boxes and checked out. There was a train strike so we had to take a taxi to the next station over, in order to get on a train operated by a non-striking company. British taxis are great! We had 2 bikes in boxes, I had a huge duffelbage, Dave a backpack, and then we had 2 smaller bags each. It all fitted inside the taxi, together with us without problem - that would not be possible anywhere in the US, where the trunk (boot for UK readers) always has a funky bump in the middle where the spare tire sticks up. Whoever came up with that car design was certainly not a bicyclist!
Anyway, 20 minutes later we were on our way to Liverpool Street Station and from there we went to Paddington where we both dropped of out bikes in the left luggage section. Then we checked in to the hotel and then out to find 1) lunch 2) beer. We ended up sitting in a pub in Covent Garden for 5-6 hours all afternoon before going for dinner in a Steak House back at Paddington Station. Then we said good bye to each other as Dave was off for Canada next morning at 7:00 while I was meeting with a friend coming to town for the day from Portsmouth. So that was really the final end of LEL for me.
Covent Garden view
A quiet pint (or 5...) in sunny Covent Garden!
Dave in London Chinatown
Dave in front of London's Chinatown

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...). 
I would have liked to make it to Middleton Tyas at 969km for the 2nd ‘night’ (i.e. 2nd sleep period), and I wasn’t too tired to do that, but the weather prevented any further riding that night. If I had made it to Middleton Tyas I figure that I could have slept 4-5 hours and then be quite well-rested to ride the last 432km in one stretch. 
It is also possible that riding 633km in one sitting was too much, but once I noted the rapid cooling down in Alston I was very determined to not ride in the night (especially w/o my gloves) and was determined to get to Eskdalemuir as fast as possible - together with everybody else, as it turned out... (My buddy Mark from SIR arrived at Eskdalemuir around 19.00 Monday evening and, due to back problems, decided to sleep there. He later told me that when he went to bed there was only one other rider sleeping there, and that when he got up and left in the early morning the place had ‘changed a lot’!!)
Anyway, the way things unfolded I’m not sure I would have done anything different, except try to get in the early start group. If I had been on the road 5.5 hours earlier I could have made it to Eskdalemuir in one go for Monday evening, instead of Tuesday morning. I could then have had about 5-6 hours of sleep until 4am or so, and therefore be on the road 2-3 hours earlier than actually was the case. This in turn would’ve enabled me to get all the way to Middleton Tyas for my 2nd sleep stop, probably early Wednesday morning, instead of being hunkered down in Alston for the night. With 4-6 hours of sleep in Middleton Tyas it would not have been unreasonable to try and make it back to Lee Valley in one go (only 432km) and be back Thursday early afternoon. 
Regardless, even the best laid plans for a long randonnee are susceptible to weather and you end up improvising. In the end I am quite glad that I managed to get 633 km in the first day; that gave me a comfortable time cushion as I met a lot of people in Eskdalemuir that had started in the 8:00 start group. And I know from previous 1200km rides that I usually only need 2-3 hours sleep to recover enough to go out again for 18 hours of riding, so I was never really worried about fatigue. During this ride the worst enemy was the sleepiness (first night, and the approach to Eskdalemuir), and tremendous boredom on some of the stretches. 1400 km is a notably longer ride than a 1200 km. There are 1600 km rides in Germany and 2000km rides on Vancouver Island in Canada. I don’t dare think what they are like. A 2000km ride would take about 7 days, maybe only 6 full days of riding... 
I think I will stick to the 1200 km rides as maximum distance in the future. I now have a 1200km (or more) ride in 3 different countries (USA, France, England) so I only need one more 1200km ride in a 4th country to earn my second International Super Randonneur award - hopefully that will happen next year!

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