My story begins after the completion of the 2013 LEL prologue. This was a 30k trek through London to the start of the 2013 LEL proper. My buddy Chris joined me on the prologue and we saw some lovely London sights as we made our way to the official start in Loughton.
Chris and I took a leisurely pace on the prologue and even stopped for a McDonalds! We reached the official start in Loughton with no major issues. It wasn't long before my wife, daughter and Lin came to greet us.
|Why the worried looks?|
Am not sure why, but SJ, Lunar and Chris all looked horrified at the prospect of me completing this LEL challenge. Did they know something I didn't? Was entering the LEL really not such a good idea?Any worrisome thoughts of my own were quickly dispelled as I gave my daughter some loving. Wow, I really had a happy baby and it would be less than 116 hours until I got a cuddle again (providing all went well). It was just as awesome to meet and greet my wife.
The crew from MadeGood, who would be filming throughout the event, looked less anxious - in fact they looked amused. Tickled pink even! The start had caused all sorts of expressed emotion!
|Will from MadeGood|
During these last moments before the off, we were being filmed by the MadeGood folk. I think they had an added interest in our beautiful girl. I had met a number of the MadeGood folk previously (Walter interviewed me initially via Skype and Jess, Rich and Will had interviewed me at my home). The guy filming now was a new addition - he was called Duncan.
|Duncan filming for MadeGood|
|Duncan and Walter filming the Numpty's|
|Need a final kiss before I head to Edingburgh|
|SJ and Chris commented that at least I didn't look as silly as when I rode PBP 2011|
The first stage of my adventure took me about 100k to St Ives. Almost as soon as I had left Loughton I joined a good number of cyclists. Not all these cyclists were heading for Edinburgh - I had crossed paths with and was sharing the road with a whole bunch of cyclists competing in a London - Cambridge cycle. So many cyclists on the road - unbelievable! Within the first 30k of my adventure I had caught up with some M riders who had left the start 15 minutes before me. By the 60k mark, I had caught up with some L riders who had started 30 minutes before me. Before I had reached St Ives, I had even managed to catch a D rider who had started 2 hours and 15 minutes before! By the same token, I was passed by a few P riders on route to first control. I enjoyed playing games with rider numbers for a while (soon got bored though) and was looking out for P45 and H20 amongst others. The first stage was a lot of fun until I reached the first ascent. As I put pressure on the pedals, whilst the chain was in the lower chain ring, it would make an awful screetch sound and the chain or pedals would spin round but the bike wheels would not. Was not exactly sure what was happening but this continued throughout the whole adventure. I found a remedy, which was not to stand on the pedals whilst in the lower chain ring and keep my backside on the saddle. I was pleased I had found a remedy but was not so impressed I could not stand on my pedals to climb any hills throughout event and my backside would have liked a little more air space too! I checked into the St Ives control at 12.21 p.m. which meant I had cycled my first 100k in about 3 1/2 hours. The good weather and tail-wind put a smile on my face.
The control in St Ives was great, as were all the controls throughout. All the controls were run by wonderful hard working volunteers. My first meal was top-notch!My next stop (control) was 80k away in Kirkton. I spoke with a great number of cyclists during this section. Three cyclists from the Netherlands stood out the most though and will be in my memory for some time to come. These cyclists, which I will refer to as the 'Netherland 3' were comprised of a couple (boyfriend & girlfriend) and their other male friend. I spoke to each of them in turn during this section, chatting for about 30 minutes with each of them (they were taking turns to pull the group along). They informed me that they did all their training together as a three-some and cycled parts of Germany to gain experience of hill climbing. These guys would cycle 6 times a week and the boyfriend was given his bike by the girlfriends parents because he was too fat. The boyfriend managed to lose 40kg! The biggest thing that stood out though was the girlfriend herself - she was cycling this major challenge because it would probably be the last chance she had to complete an event of this nature. She, nor they, spelled out exactly what was 'wrong' with her but it sounded like MS or NMD to me - she had no feeling in her feet and this lack of feeling was getting worse over time. I found these Netherland 3 very inspirational and motivating. The girlfriend was very positive and accepting of her condition, she commented that following her LEL experience she would be happy to just support her boyfriend. I met lots of interesting people during LEL and will attempt to recount stories as I write up this blog. Reached Kirkton at 3.42 p.m. At each control, bikes would be parked outside before entering said control. Then one would get brevet card stamped and signed. Then followed food and shower or bed if desired.
It was way too early for bed and I had only cycled 180k so no need to shower, so I opted for more food! Had planned to take a photo of everything I ate but I soon got bored (and forgetful) so that didn't happen. Suffice to say, a delicious 3 course meal was consumed here at Kirkton!Kirkton control even provided entertainment. They had a full on brass band playing. That was pretty neat. Bizarre but neat!
At the Market Rasen control I stopped to eat as usual. A visit to the toilet here was great too as they were equipped with lots of j-cloths so I made sure I had a complete body wash which was nice. Checking my phone at this control was nice as I had encouraging texts from my sister Jane (who said she had also figured how to track me) and buddy Chris. My wife phoned me here too which was great. I informed SJ of my plans to crack on to the next control because I had so much time on my hands. Before heading off however, I was interviewed and filmed by the MadeGood folk.
Pocklington control was 90k away from Market Rasen. This was another great stretch and led into the night and over the Humber Bridge. My new dynamo hub and B and M light were working a treat. The hub was recharging my Garmin the whole time and providing way enough power to illuminate the front light. Good stuff! Reached Pocklington control at 11.37 p.m. Was real pleased with my adventure thus far and had now cycled 337k in about 15 hours.
Decided to take my first sleep here at the Pocklington control. First I ate lots of food and then I went to the bed control. I had told myself I would sleep for 6 hours or so - how gutted I was when I was informed I could only have a bed for a maximum of 3 hours. Still 3 hours would be better than nothing. My bed was located in a big hall along with another 239 other beds all arranged in long columns. The beds were all air beds with a single blanket. As one could expect, the sound of snoring and farting was commonplace and a general hum hung in the air. With eyes closed I dropped off and had a disturbed on/off sleep for the 3 hour duration I was allowed.
Once I was wide awake again, I had a little to eat and then headed to Thirsk. Thirsk was a reasonable 65k away. Once at the control, I decided to take advantage of the bag drop facility.
When I registered on 27 July 2013, I was given 2 bags for each of the bag drops I had requested. These bags were colour co-ordinated for the chosen controls. The bags were allowed to be filled with 2.5kg of stuff. My bags were filled with clothes, clean water bottles, treats, tubes and a pork pie. I had chosen Thirsk and Barnard Castle as my chosen controls. These bags were transported to the appointed controls by LEL personnel.
Another great thing about the Thirsk control was the fact that it was being manned by my mate Graeme. I had cycled a (failed) 600k event with Graeme in the past and we had loosely kept in touch by following each others blog. Graeme was as whacked as I, he had been up all night volunteering at this control and it was his birthday too! Happy birthday Graeme! From reading Graeme's blog (post event) I could see how busy he was - he would greet about 120 riders per hour! Controllers must be faced with a difficult task - Graeme reported some riders complained of hills, ills and at times spills. Sadly, some controllers would meet cyclists that had decided to abandon. Graeme's account clearly demonstrated how both a controller and cyclist can be affected by emotion. Graeme's account is a worthy read and can be found here: http://balancingontwowheels.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/volunteering-at-lel-2013.html Graeme reported that I looked 'as happy as always and clearly enjoying every minute of the event'. Well Graeme, so did you too and here's a photo for proof!
Leaving Barnard Castle and cycling to Brampton was awesome. This stage was about 82k long and was so very pretty. The infamous Yad Moss was climbed and the views it offered were spectacular.
Another awesome part of this stage was that I was cycling large portions with Terry. Terry was a real nice guy and I had passed him at the start in Loughton (we just exchanged a friendly 'hi' there) and caught him again at a control but was unable to chat as I was on the phone. Anyways, during this stage we chatted loads. Terry said he felt some strange emotion when he saw me and believed I helped him get through the Holl and Back 600k event. If truth be known, it was Terry who helped me get through said 600k event - he proved to be both a navigator and inspirer. I enjoyed Terry's company a lot - he likes real things in life and appreciates stunning scenery and has this great ability of spotting many a folly (well, it was an old bridge on this occasion). Terry likes to tour whilst cycling and his love of what he sees is very admirable. God's creation is truly awesome. In retrospect, this was probably my favourite part of the LEL adventure.
Managed to reach Brampton by 4.54 p.m. and had now cycled some 550k and some big fat hills! The Brampton control was nice and were offering free massages here. Their bag drop facility was interesting...
I declined a massage and did not book a bag drop but fed very well. It was here that MadeGood folk interviewed and filmed me again. Was always nice to catch up with the MadeGood guys. I think I was just as interested in their experience as they were mine. (Rich had made me chuckle earlier, he clearly needed a sleep more than I did).
|Walter and Duncan from MadeGood|
Was a shame I had lost my tow as I was only 20k into this stage. At least I was in Scotland, that felt pretty great! As I continued to cycle, I formed a small group of three with two ladies from South Africa. These were an interesting couple who had come over as a group of 5. As it was getting dark, they were happy to rely on my Garmin for directions rather than follow their route sheets. Suffice to say, I safely navigated us to the control in Moffat. I reached here at about 10 p.m and had now cycled 624k. I decided to use this control as my second sleep stop and slept for a good 7-8 hours. Shoes had to be removed at this control (and some others too).
Travelling to the next control was great. I was heading for Edinburgh, the half way point! This section was relatively long at 81k. My cousin Aid had text me during this stage and wanted to know how my butt was doing. I never replied, but am pleased to inform that my combination of Assos shorts and Brooks saddle were doing the trick just fine. In fact, a number of my friends and family were sending me texts of encouragement which was nice. I reached Edinburgh on Tuesday (30 July) at 8.57 a.m. and had now cycled 705k.
The Edinburgh control was as nice as any and I felt great to have completed my North-bound journey. I chatted with Wobbly for a time here - another cyclist I had met on the Holl and Back 600 (where I chased him to return his forgotten or lost brevet card). Wobbly was interesting in that he rode a recumbent cycle (and so was Walters dad). The MadeGood folk also caught up with me here and I met a new member of the crew - Alex. Alex, like all the other MadeGood folk was a real nice chap. I very much enjoyed chatting with the MadeGood folk throughout and had time for them should they ever want to stop and chat, film or interview me. This was just as well, at most times the MadeGood folk wanted to talk and film just as I was about to leave a control!
|Will and Alex from MadeGood|
I felt the whiskey was a nice touch being in Scotland and all. The cake was informative as well as tasty - it informed me that I only had another 653k to go!
The trek to Eskdalemuir was tough despite being another short section at only 47k. It took me nearly 3 hours to cycle less than 50k between these 2 controls which must help prove the hilliness and windiness of stage, not to mention my tired legs. Reached Eskdalemuir control on Tuesday (30 July) at 3.38 p.m. I saw my friend Peter at this control which was truly great. Peter is one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. The first thing he asked me was how my beautiful daughter was. How nice. I just had to take a picture of Peter in his volunteering role.
Mention was made to how wonderful volunteers were already but I would like to mention it again! The volunteers would help with anything and everything. They would even repair bicycles! I tried to make a point of thanking the volunteers at each control and ask about their experience too.
Leaving Eskadalemuir, I headed for the familiar control of Brampton, some 57k away. I was back in England before I reached the control and it was nice to be in my home-land once again. As pretty as Scotland was, England won!
I reached Brampton at 6.59 p.m. on Tuesday 30 July. I felt this was early and considered whether or not to head to the next control. I was very tempted, Terry had made his mind up that he was going to leave and head for Barnard Castle. I ate much food and then decided not to continue on for the time being as it had started to rain and heavy it looked. I took the opportunity to phone SJ, Chris and my mother and it was nice to chat to each of them. With so much time in hand, I had an early night and slept for a good 8 hours. On waking I think the MadeGood folk caught up with me, or did I just imagine that?!
No, that's it - the MadeGood folk fitted me with a battery operated mic and told me to talk away about the things I see and the things I think. They planned to catch up with me on the road and film me cycling and ask me stuff at the same time (provide prompts). I set off for Barnard Castle and spoke to myself about everything I saw and everything that I felt. I spoke about the beautiful pink fluffy clouds that were in view, made poems about pink sky in the morning, commented on strange place names, likened the hills and fields to patchwork quilts, described the road as a black tar river with illuminous coloured objects sailing through it (cyclists with hi-visability jackets) and so much more including the clouds with the golden lining provided by the sun. This turned out only to benefit myself as it wasn't being recorded as the MadeGood crew were no where near me and had to be in a close contact to pic up the mic. On the upside, the k's flew by quickly. There was some comfort in talking to myself. After so long, the MadeGood folk found me and I had to start talking to the mic again whilst Will shouted out prompts. This was quite difficult as I had done a better job just prior to this. It was interesting to follow a car (being driven by Alex) with Will filming me from the boot space.
|MadeGood filming in progress|
Not long after MadeGood folk had left, disaster struck! I did my usual and had gotten lost. Severely lost! I had taken a wrong turn at Alston and did not notice my error until I hit a dual carriageway some 17 miles off route. I stopped a car and after a chat and consultation with a map had to repeat this same distance back, up big fat hills again. Grr, this had cost me dearly in terms of time, distance and energy. I tried not to panic and made use of some tools I had prepared earlier in case of disaster - that's right, I plugged my ipod into my ears and chilled out. I thought I was back on route but it turned out I was not, I was in Nenthead. I had the choice of turning back again and adding distance but climb the less hilly South side of Yad Moss or continue and climb Yad moss from the East and eventually pick up the road to Barnard Castle. I chose the shorter route but man was it hard! I had to climb a second category climb and ascents of about 20%. Worse still, I was tired and my butt had to stay on the saddle due to the chain slip phenomena mentioned earlier. To remind myself of what I possibly missed, I have included the photo below which I stole from the YACF website. (I did see a rainbow myself at a later stage).
After climbing for what felt like forever (and forever is a very long time) I had reached a summit and then whizzed down a great descent and at last had spotted a cyclist with an LEL number plate!
Whizzing down speedy descents was quite exhilarating. When I finally reached the Barnard Castle control it was 12.15 p.m. on Wednesday 31 July. The control volunteers said I was only 2 hours in hand and there were only 48 riders behind me! Horrors! I told myself not to panic and took a shower, changed into fresh clothes (using my second bag drop) and ate a large meal. The pork pie in my bag (just like the other one) had to be binned because it had gone soft and manky.
I was on a mission now and headed for Thirsk in a speedy style. Thirsk was about 70k away and a head-wind had to be fought the whole way to said control. I reached the Thirsk control by 4.44 p.m. but was a little spaced out. I must have looked out of sorts because the volunteers asked if I knew where I was. I guessed Pocklington then Market Rasen. They laughed and said 'you wish'. Then, just to make my headspace a little more confused they performed an umpar-lumpar type dance to a style similar to YMCA spelling out Thirsk. If I wasn't tripping out before, it sure felt like I was now! After another bite to eat I figured it was best I pushed on again and got out of here!
This stage to Pocklington was vile. The rain was hammering down and my Garmin was playing up. My Garmin wouldn't tell me when to turn and the route was not lit up as it usually was. When I tried to reload course it would take an age to configure itself. I neared Pocklington but just could not find the control and skirted back and forth along the same roads many times. I had to ask locals for directions in the end and eventually found control but had again added significant k's to my journey and added un-necessary time. When I finally did reach Pocklington, I heard a familiar voice say 'hey that's Tim', 'Hi Tim'. It was Andy and with him was Jamie. It was so good to see these guys. I had never seen Jamie look so out of it. These guys were just heading out from the control. I so wanted to join them but food was a higher priority. On the subject of food, I ate so much here. I must have eaten 6 large cookies for dessert too. Man, I had the munchies.
I phoned SJ at this control. SJ was as re-assuring as ever and suggested I sleep here. I was worried about time and felt it would be better to cycle a further 90k before I considered sleeping. As I was leaving control, I bumped into another familiar face - that of Becky Burns. She said she had been chatting to Jamie and Andy and said they had only left like 10 minutes ago. With this information at hand, I chased after them.
My Garmin was still playing up so I chased the bright red light in front of me (a cyclists tail light). I would keep catching cyclists up and would then chase after the next red light I saw. After some time I was cycling with a guy who was looking tired and appeared to be struggling. I felt a need to press on. I knew my Garmin was playing up but had seen road signs pointing to the Humber Bridge. I decided to follow these road signs, knowing they were probably off route but knew they led to the same bridge. Indeed they did lead me to the Humber Bridge via mostly dual carriageway which was fine because the roads were quiet at this time of night.
Once on the bridge I figured I would stop and brush my teeth. As I removed my tooth brush from my back pocket, I saw a cyclist heading my direction. I decided to not bother brushing teeth but follow this cyclist using him in place of my Garmin. This cyclist appeared tired too, so I used my tactic of chasing red lights ahead whenever I saw one. I passed 2 cyclists sleeping on the roadside at one point and wondered if this was Jamie and Andy. I considered stopping to find out but didn't want to lose the train of red lights I was following. Eventually I was cycling with a fast paced group consisting of 1 girl and 2 guys but it wasn't the Netherland 3! Finally reached the Market Rasen control at 2.42 a.m. on the 1 August.
Had another good feed at this control and then hoped to sleep. There were no available beds left, however, I was able to use some duvets. These duvets made a suitable bed for me, so I curled up in my wet clothes and fell asleep on the floor. About 1 hour and 15 minutes later I awoke, my clothes were dry except my socks which remained wet. Just before leaving control, the MadeGood folk caught up with me once more.
Cycling on to Kirkton was great. I cycled much of this section with a guy called Simon P. Simon was a real friendly chap and very informative. He had cycled so many audax events and most shocking of all, he had ridden so many rides on a fixed wheel bicycle. The bike he was using for this LEL challenge was also a fixed! Amazing. We rode as a two-some for hours and must have clocked up many k's. Was glad of the company during this stage as fighting with a head-wind on possibly the longest, flattest and straightest roads in England might have been a chore. The roads we were cycling included Chapel Hill, Holland Fen, Brothertoft and Hedgehog Bridge. Great with a tail-wind (lacking) and great with good company. It was about 68k between the Market Rasen and Kirkton control. I reached Kirkton at 7.49 a.m.
Don't recall a lot about the trip between Kirton and St Ives. Not sure if Kirton was Kirkton either as route sheet had it spelt both ways. As if my head space wasn't confused enough. I do remember that this stage was relatively long, 81k in fact. I also remember it was very very hot. After the event, it was confirmed that this was the hottest day this year. I also remember hearing my wife's voice in my head saying 'remember to hydrate' - so I made sure I drank lots of liquid. Reached St Ives at 12.44 p.m.
At the St Ives control (and those following) I stayed a little longer than usual to ensure I could charge my Garmin using my external battery as the dynamo was playing up. A lot of my bike related components and 'things' did not like the rain. Another menace at this control was that I noticed that my bum creme had gone AWOL. Not to worry, I was able to use another cyclists creme. This bum creme was in a tube so no fear of double dipping! Before I left this control I made sure I ate loads and also covered myself in sun cream. Some folk were complaining of the hot weather and wishing for rain - what was wrong with these folk?
St Ives to Great Easton was an interesting cycle. I cycled for a long period with this American chap who had a bike similar to mine - both our bikes were Specialized S-Works SL3 Roubaix machines. We chatted lots about our family's which helped the k's pass by quickly. This poor American was suffering with bad heels and was struggling up the hills. Am not sure why but I felt compelled to wait for him (figured I'd lose him at the next control). Other cyclists would join us for a while and we appeared to be forming small groups that grew and later broke up only to form again. I don't recall many names of folk but bumped into a chap called Bairdy. I had never met Bairdy before but thought I had, he appeared to be a familiar guy. I think I got him confused with Mr Beard - a possible doppelgänger! We all knew when the control was real near because we spotted the following sign post.
These signs were great. They would always excite me as they were located near the controls and would often have 3-2-1k markers accompanying them. The red signs directed the way to go to the finish in Loughton and route marked that whole stage. First though, I needed a stamp at the Great Easton control which was reached at 6.14 p.m. after cycling 74k from St Ives.
The Great Easton control was, as the name suggests, great! The volunteers were super friendly and everybody appeared to be on a high. Good weather and near completion were all helping to lift one's mood. Just as I was leaving this control I was visited again by the puncture pixie. The super friendly awesome volunteers would not allow me to change my tube - they took my bike from me and promptly replaced the tube and then pumped my tyre up and wished me well. How cool!
So here I was, cycling the last 45k of the 2013 LEL challenge. I was feeling great and strong. At this point I had no niggles and was eager to get to the finish. Route finding was easy, red signs were showing which way to go. A few hills had to be climbed, the sun continued to beat down and the head-wind was as menace as ever. It didn't matter, I was feeling great and a rainbow was painted in the sky. I raced along and then was on a familiar road leading to the control. I stopped because I heard a shout. It was Terry! Terry embraced me with a big man hug and congratulated me on finishing (I actually hadn't yet). It was great seeing Terry (he had obviously finished a while earlier). I sped on to cheers, clapping and shouts of praise. Jumped off my bike and got my brevet card stamped for the final time!
Wow, I had completed the 2013 LEL in an official time of 108 hours and 23 minutes. I predicted I would complete this event in 109 hours before I took part and actually had 116 hours and 40 minutes to complete same. Happy I was indeed! Then I was awarded with my lovely 2013 LEL medal.
AUK will award me 14 AUK points for completing this 1,400k event (actually 1,418k). I actually cycled 1,519k but that's another story. 2.75 AAA points will also be awarded for the hills encountered on route. My actual route (GPX track) is presented below:
My experience didn't quite finish here. I caught up with Walter from MadeGood and was interviewed and filmed for a final time. It was great to be involved with MadeGood throughout this experience and am pleased they were part of my adventure. I wish them every success for the future. MadeGood folk and the things they do can be found here: www.madegood.org
A few additional points I feel I must add:
- I missed my wife and baby (and dog) so very much
- My bike was great. I rode a Specialized S-Works SL3 which performed very well throughout. Only niggle was a slipping chain in low gear with pressure.
- My new wheels were great. I opted for Mavic rims and Hope hub (other hub was a dynamo).
- Garmin and dynamo hub do not appear to like water.
- B and M light was powerful but appeared to flicker when wet.
- Brooks saddle was a must
- Mavic Infinity and Assos shorts were great additions
- I felt 6 months training was essential
- I never used any energy gels
- My kit was great, though I never used leggings, silk socks, thick socks or heavy jacket.
- I found this event A LOT easier than PBP 2011. Many folk said they found this event tougher but that was certainly not my experience.
- I sustained no injury and felt no major niggles throughout event. Post event and I have a sore bum, pins and needles in left foot and 1 blistered finger.
- I met lots of fantastic people
- A buch of cyclists got covered in deer guts when a car travelling in the opposite direction hit said deer
- 1 poor cyclist hit a badger and broke his clavicle.
- Dave Hinde sucks!
- MadeGood rock!
- Advice from a random German cyclist - do not cycle tandem. If you are on the back you have no view and a constant whiff of body odour
- Would I do it again? Sure, if my wife would allow...
Post event I discovered that about 1,000 cyclists started the 2013 LEL event and some 80% completed within the time limit.
My adventure helped raise over £300 for my chosen charity - The Christadelphian Meal-a-Day Fund. Folk are still able to donate to this worthy cause and should you be able to then please follow this link: http://www.justgiving.com/doorideslel
Thank you all for sharing my experience or being a part of my adventure.