10 August 2009

London-Edinburgh-London 2009, part III

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).

Cot # 29 - mine for a wonderful 6 hours of sleep in Thorne!

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.

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