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!