Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day Bimble

Boxing Day. Slightly hungover and feeling overweight I was keen to get out on my bike to burn off some of the season's excesses. What's more, after days of foul weather it was finally sunny.
I decided to do a short ride of  30 miles, although, as is often the case the route was a bit hilly. I'd had a  cold so I was taking it easy. Cycling on Boxing day is great, there aren't many cars about and those that are have drivers who still seem to have a bit of Christmas cheer.

The recent storms had caused lots of damage and at one point the road was completely blocked. Fortunately I was able to climb over the tree and continue

It was nice also to see so many people out enjoying themselves. This was a mass hockey match, that they have been playing every Boxing Day for over 30 years.

 There was also quite a crowd, watching these Morris Dancers.

 When I got home, I remembered to hang my Christmas present up. My son Matthew coined the phrase when he came home once with a load of friends and I was sitting around in my cycling gear, a disgusting sight apparently.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Autumn Glory

Having driven back from Wiltshire yesterday I was stunned by colour of the trees in the late Autumn we are having. I though it would be a good idea to cycle down to the national Pinetum at Bedgebury. Never quite sure how to pronounce this but I think it is Pie Neetum. The weather forecast was reasonable, with even the promise of some sun and no rain. So I decided to take my new Trek Domane bike, which I promised myself was for dry and sunny days only!

I think I was kidding myself, because although it wasn't raining the roads were wet and I soon had a wet backside courtesy of not having mudguards. This was a small price to pay for being able to go much faster than I do on my other two bikes which have them, as well as luggage racks, all of which add to the weight.

I left  home on my favourite route past Rochester Castle and the Cathedral then along the back road to Aylesford via the village of Eccles. It is a great road, without much traffic and some really good views.  It was a quite a cold day, but once I got going I was reasonably warm and eventually just as I got to the village of Goudhurst the sun came out. This was the view looking North
Ducks enjoying Autumn Sun

Bedgebury is a very popular place for mountain bikers. This is the first time I have seen one of these before, a fat bike. According to the rider they are great fun and I can image they are quite good in really muddy conditions.
Fat Bike
 After a quick stop for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake I left to ride home. The mountain bikers were queuing to use the jetwash and both them and their bikes needed it.
Queuing for the jetwash
 I took a short diversion so that I could see what I had come to Bedgebury for. The full glory of Autumn. It was a pity that the sun had gone in by then, as this would have added to the picture.
Autumn Glory
 I also spotted these two stunning trees.

And these two. I was cycling very slowly, up  a steep hill and they were just staring at me inquisitively. It looked like they had just been shorn, which I thought was a bit cruel as Winter is just about to start, but maybe they get to stay inside.

I stopped briefly at Yalding to watch these kayaks. The water is a real torrent here and this looked pretty good fun.

Here is a  map of my route. I did 65 miles and averaged over 14 mph.

I track all my riding using an application called Strava.

This is a great tool for comparing your ride against previous ones. Although I have never done this exact route before I have done several parts of it before. Because I was on my lightweight Trek bike I broke several personal bests for climbing up some of the hills.

So much for only using my bike on dry days! It was filthy.

Apparently the best way of rehydrating yourself is with beer, well someone told me this once so I am going with it.  As recommended by my eldest, this Abbye beer from France supplied by our local deli (Aldi) and very nice it was too.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Castles of Kent 6th Oct 2013

For 3 years I have been doing a challenge, along with several friends to ride at least one 100 mile ride every month. I quite often do the my ride with others but for various reasons this October I was on my own. There is a regular charity ride around Kent called the Action Castle 100 mile ride. I had done the route before and didn't like the fact that it used quite a lot of A roads, presumably to make the navigation easer. So I decided to plan my own alternative which would use much quieter roads.

My route

Here is a picture of the route. I had planned this around visiting the following castles along the route. Upnor, Cooling, Eynsford, Lullingstone, Hever, Chiddingstone, Penshurst, Tonbridge, Old Soar Manor, Rochester. From door to door the route was planned to be exactly 100 miles, although I did need to do a short diversion to add an extra couple of miles, when I got near home.

I left home just after 7.00am. Considering it was October, the weather was surprisingly warm although it was misty the forecast was for this to burn off by mid morning.
My first stop after leaving home was a local viewpoint, which has great views of Rochester. Unfortunately the whole of the river was shrouded in mist. I then carried on to Upnor.
Upnor Castle

It is difficult to see the Castle close up from the North side of the river, but you can see it in the distance in this shot.  This stretch of the river is famous for  being the site of the successful Dutch invasion in 1667. 

I then headed out towards the Isle of Grain and the village of Cooling. This is famous for being the the inspiration for the opening scene of Great Expectations.  The castle is famous locally for being owned by Jools Holland. Parts of the Castle are also used as a wedding venue and I have performed magic there a few times.
Cooling Castle

After leaving the Isle of Grain I headed West towards the Darent Valley. This is one of my favourite areas, with stunning views and quiet roads. This is the village of Eynsford and the ford, which people still use all the time, as you can see from the damp road.

Eynsford Village

Eynsford Castle
I have never visited Eynsford Castle before, as I am normally following a tight schedule, but today I was having a bit more of a relaxed ride. Not much to see really, but I've ticked the box. Just down the road is Lullingstone Castle. I don't think this is open to the public, but I got a glimpse through the trees. Apparently Henry VIII stayed here.

Lullingstone Castle

After leaving the Valley I had to climb up the Greensand Ridge. This is always a tough ride, whichever way you tackle it. I was passed by loads of cyclists who were descending at speed. Of the course the situation was reversed when I went over the top and down Toy's Hill. This is one of the most popular climbs in Kent and is very tough and again, there were lots of cyclists slowly making there way up. I was surprised by another cyclist who was on the wrong side of the road for some reason.

I was hoping to see Hever Castle so I could take a picture, but the man on the gate wanted £12.50 just for entrance to the gardens, so I gave that a miss and took a picture of the Gatehouse.

Hever Castle Gatehouse.

They were much more welcoming at Chiddingstone Castle. No charge to get in and a really nice cafe. This was the perfect place to stop as I was exactly half way through the ride.

Chiddingstone Castle

I was now on my way home, just another 50 miles to go. The next castle I was due to visit was Tonbridge, but on the way I passed Penshurst Place which is over 600 years old and apparently was built so it could be defended, so a sort of castle.    
Penshurst Place

I followed National  Cycle Route 12 from Penshurst all the way to Tonbridge. Parts of the route were more suited to a mountain bike, but it was a pleasant ride and it was great to see so many families out cycling together.

Tonbridge Castle

 After Tonbridge I had to climb up the Greensand Ridge again. The route took me past Ightham Mote,which was very busy with visitors enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. I was tempted to to stop for a cup of tea, until I realised just how much extra hill climbing would be involved.
Ightham Mote

I was particularly taken by this view, which gave me a chance to stop on a very steep hill called the Hurst. If you look closely you can see lots of pheasants as well as the sheep.

I stopped at the Cafe in Yalding for cup of tea and some lemon meringue pie. Great fuel for the remaining 20 miles back to Rochester.  I am so used to seeing Rochester Castle that I forget to take a picture as I went by. I had to take this from my front door step.

Rochester Castle
All in all this was a great ride. The weather was fantastic, the vast majority of car drivers were considerate and I learnt a little more about my County.

Friday, 26 July 2013

London to Edinburgh and back

When I got back into cycling in 2009, I remember being proud of myself when I managed to do my first 50 mile cycle ride. I had done this sort of distance when I was much younger and lighter, but doing this when you are overweight and touching 50 was a whole lot harder. However, over the last four years I have had a typical male mid life crisis and rather than getting a sports car and dressing inappropriately I have got a bike (well more than one actually) and have been wearing tight Lycra clothing.

As I have got fitter I found that I had regained my ability and enthusiasm for endurance sports . To celebrate my 50th birthday I cycled from Lands End to John o' Groats and I have continued since then by regularly completing one or more 100 mile rides every month. As I met more cyclists I started to hear about Audax  . It all seemed a bit crazy when I heard of the impossibly long distances people rode, with little or no sleep, but strangely it appealed to me. A ride with other people, but doing your own navigation, fixing your bike if needed, battling the elements, fighting self doubt and pain! Madness of course, but after doing a few rides I realised I had found the perfect sport for me, particularly as so many of my friends and family have often told me I am mad.

For anyone doing Audax in the UK, the premier event, which is held every 4 years is London-Edinburgh-London (LEL). A 1400km ride in just under 5 days.  When I first heard about this, it sounded impossibly difficult, but as I spoke to people who had done this before I soon realised that they were reasonably normal people. Well ‘normal’ is probably stretching it a bit, but people of all shapes, sizes, ages and genders appear to have managed this, but the largest demographic appears to be men in their fifties, just like me.

Doing LEL had been at the back of my mind for some time and in 2012 I decided to do half of the route (London to Edinburgh) to see how I would get on. I managed to persuade my friend Ross to accompany me. It was a difficult ride, but I learnt a lot about what was required and we managed to ride the 700 km to Edinburgh in around 50 hours. At the time I didn’t want to ride a bike again, ever, but time is a great healer. So by January 2013 when the entries for LEL opened I decided to go for it.

Ross climbing Yad Moss, the toughest climb on LEL

2013 Preparing for the ride

My preparations for LEL took several months. After lots of cycling in May, June and early July I didn't ride my bike for nearly 3 weeks before the ride due to other commitments. However this hadn't stopped me worrying or thinking about LEL. I purchased several items including some new lycra shorts, socks, waterproof trousers, saddle bag, battery packs for charging my GPS and Phone, some replacement parts for the bike, sun cream, hydration tablets for adding to my drink. Most days I got home wondering whether my latest purchase had arrived, or whether I had got one of those dreaded cards informing me that my package was in some inaccessible depot miles away. I have to say that I was very lucky and  only had to ask my wife Angela to visit our local sorting office a couple of times.

I had some ambitious plans for training for the event and had intended to ride most weekends from mid March onwards. However I injured my knee during a long ride to the Tiptree Jam Factory in Essex. I wasn’t fully fit and this was the first time I had been out for a ride when it was sunny. I was also riding with a group of faster and fitter friends and rather than take it easy, I foolishly tried to keep up. A visit to the doctor didn’t help as she simply suggested I should give up cycling. So I paid for some physio sessions and took things more easily and eventually the knee pain went away. The diagram below shows my monthly mileage. I was hoping that from March onwards I would be doing over 500 miles a month and by June would be doing over 800 miles.
My training log for 2013

As you can see I didn't achieve this, but finally in June, I was able to up the mileage and I started to get my confidence back and believe I would be able to start and maybe even finish.

I've seen quite a bit of the country this year. This map shows all the rides I have done in 2013. As you can see I have pretty much done Kent! But I've only done about 4 rides outside the South East. The ill fated ride to Tiptree, a ride to Leicester, another ride to Belvoir Castle in Nottingham and finally a trip across Belgium to Brussels, which involved as much beer drinking as it did cycling.

My 2013 Ride History

Anyway, there is not much more I can do to get ready, other than make sure the bike is running well and I have packed everything I need to keep me going for 5 days.

You can track my progress here

You can also read some updates on my twitter feed.

Final Preparation
In an attempt to ward off any mechanical problems during the ride, I decided to fit new tyres, new bottom bracket and chain. Here is my bike on Saturday morning, all ready to go. The night before I had taken it for a short ride of 5 miles to make sure it was working fine after adding the new parts.
My Bike

I've had the bike for over two years now and have made a few additions and changes to improve it . I replaced the saddle with a British made Brooks B17, which has a design more than 100 years old and I find supremely comfortable. Although this is a subject much argued by cyclists, some of whom find these saddles torturous to use, I suspect I just have the correct sized backside. The bike is a Titanium Van Nicholas Yukon, but I have got rid of the rather tacky stickers that were supplied with it originally, so it is quite anonymous. I have also had a dynamo front wheel added that lights the way  at night, but also allows me to charge my phone and gps. The water-bottles have branding from two of my most favourite drinks, Irn Bru and London Pride..

Early on Saturday morning we drove over to Loughton for Registration.  I was prepared for this to take quite some time and had heard some bad stories from similar events about big queues and poor organisation. However the LEL team had really thought through the process and because they had lots of volunteers on hand it was very quick. Within an hour I had received my rider number and cycle top and had deposited my bag drops.  Each rider was allocated two bags that they could use to contain spare clothing, parts etc. and these could be sent to any two of the 13 control points along the route.
Bag Drop at Loughton

Day 1. London to Market Rasen  174 miles, 280km. Riding time 15 hours including control stops of 2:46

The Prologue

I managed to persuade my wife that it would be a great idea for her to come and see me off for the Prologue ride from Central London at 6am on Sunday 28th July. About 400 riders had elected to do the optional 20 mile ride from London. I sold her on the idea by the promise of a stay in a nice hotel in London with a night out. Unfortunately we ended up in a Travelodge near Waterloo Station! The room could quite easily have doubled as sauna; no air-conditioning and windows that wouldn't open more than half an inch. We were up early and out of the hotel by 5am and as a result of the heat and subsequent lack of sleep I had a banging headache. Not the best preparation for the day ahead.


Danial Webb, the organiser had managed to persuade the authorities to close the Mall to allow us to have a group photograph. I was at the front so ended up holding one of the banners. It was brilliant to see so many people from around the world who were really excited about seeing the sights of London.  The route didn't disappoint as we went past the Palace of Westminster, Nelson's Column, St Paul Cathedral and also got lots of views of Tower Bridge and other iconic sights.

Before the event I had been discussing the ride on Facebook and discovered that two of my fellow riders had been in the same part of the Army as me; The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). We rode together for some of the route into Loughton.

Julian Parsons left on the recumbent and Dave Greenwood on the right, both sporting REME capbadges

Breakfast at Loughton
The prologue wasn't part of the official route as such, so when I arrived at Loughton I had plenty of time to have a good breakfast. This was a typical scene at all the controls where hot food was available 24 hours a day.

And they're off!

My official start time was at 9.15am. Riders were being sent off at 15 minute intervals between 6 and 10.30 to ensure they were well spread out along the route. As I took my place in the starting pen with 30 or so other riders, I was still nervous about whether I was really fit enough and whether my knees were going to be OK. But as soon as we got going, the adrenaline started flowing and I was caught up in the excitement of riding fast in a large group. The Essex countryside was fairly hilly and after a short while the group had broken up and I was mainly riding on my own, although I was constantly passing other riders and also being overtaken by others. We were very fortunate to have a tail wind all day and this was particularly welcome as we entered Cambridgeshire and the terrain became much flatter. My average moving speed was 15.1mph all the way to Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, a distance of 155miles. When I arrived it was just starting to get dark and I had a decision to make. The next control at Pocklington in Yorkshire was over 50 miles away. If I left quickly, I still wouldn't get there before 3am and I also heard that there was a shortage of sleeping spaces as so many people who were up to 3 hours ahead of me had decided to stop there. I had really wanted to get north of the Humber on the first day, but reluctantly I decided it made much more sense to get some sleep and I managed to get nearly 4 hours, before getting up again at 2.00am.

Sleeping accommodation at Market Rasen
The sleeping facilities might not look much but they suited me fine. A blow up mattress that was very comfortable and a couple of rough blankets. But when you've been awake for nearly 20 hours and working hard it is quite easy to sleep.

Day 2. Market Rasen to Brampton  188 miles, 303km. Riding time 16:45 hours plus control stops of 3:37

Humber Bridge
Over the Humber

After a quick breakfast I left the control at 2:30 in the morning. A Japanese rider who was unsure of the route asked if he could ride with me, but then elected to follow me at a distance of about 100 metres. Maybe I smelt! Anyway he eventually overtook me as we climbed up on to the Lincolnshire Wolds via Walesby Hill. This was the first big hill of the ride and certainly puts paid to any rumours that Lincolnshire is flat. 1 mile long with a height gain of over 300 feet. By the time I got to the top I was fully awake and nicely warmed up. The next thing to look forward to was crossing the Humber on the Road Bridge. I had last crossed this the previous year on my first ride up to Edinburgh and the views are wonderful. This time the Authorities had specially opened the East bound cycle path, although I was too early to see the actual sunrise.

However as I climbed the hills north of the Humber I was greeted with the most stupendous sight. Of course the morning red sky  was a warning for what to expect later in the day.
Sunrise over Yorkshire
I arrived in Pocklington at 06:41 just in time for a good breakfast. The stories I heard about people having to wait for sleeping spaces and then being awoken early to make way for others made me glad that I had decided to stay the previous night at Market Rasen.

The next part of the route from Pocklington went through the Howardian Hills around Castle Howard. This had some of the steepest hills of the whole route and I don't mind admitting that I walked half way up one of them. The scenery was fantastic though. For quite a few miles I rode with Chuffy Simmonds, who was also riding his first LEL. It was nice to have some company, particularly as I had been feeling a bit sleepy. He was having some issues with his bike making a creaking sound and we had a discussion about possible remedies. (More of this to come)
The shop in the picturesque village of Terrington proved to be a popular stop for many of the cyclists. I had a nice rest stop and enjoyed an ice cream and a drink as I watched some of the other riders passing through.  This is a group of riders who had come over from India. Our paths crossed quite a few times during the day.
Team India passing through Terrington
The previous year when I cycled the same route we arrived at Thirsk in blazing sunshine. This time was different and the rain foretold by that red sunrise started to pour down as I arrived. I stayed for about an hour at the Control hoping that it was going to stop, but there was no sign of any let up, so I put my waterproofs on and set off in the pouring rain. It's never an easy decision during the Summer whether to put a waterproof top on. If it is too warm you run the risk of getting just as wet from perspiration and even Goretex is not as breathable as the adverts might have you believe. Fortunately after an hour or so the rain started to ease off and the sun came out again and I was able to pick up the pace again.

Bikes come in many guises

The rules of LEL are that you can use any wheeled vehicle provided it is human powered. There were quite a few recumbents of various sorts where the rider lies down such as this:

 Or more sophisticated like this

 But the prize for really unusual has to go to these. The Elliptigo riders. This was a massive challenge doing LEL on these and everyone was rooting for these guys. Although at the point I overtook them one of them was really struggling and unfortunately had to withdraw. Although Alan and Idai finally both finished in time.

By the time I arrived at the next control at Barnard Castle in County Durham I was feeling tired and hungry and was thinking that I might have a rest before continuing over the biggest climb of the ride over the Pennines. Fortunately I met an old work colleague John Hopper who has done LEL and other rides before and advised me that it made more sense to carry on whilst I still had daylight. After a quick meal I followed his advice and set off again.  As I left,  I thought back to a conversation I had had with John several years earlier when I had asked for advice on buying a bike. He had recommended that I buy an Audax bike as it would be more flexible than a lot of other road bikes. At the time I had no idea what Audax was, but I remember him telling me about sleeping in bus shelters and riding ridiculously long distances. I seem to remember thinking that he was mad! Fast forward 7 years and here I was.

Over the top

I left Barnard Castle at around 6pm with just over 50 miles ahead of me, including the big climb over Yad Moss in the Northern Pennines. It was a lovely evening and the early headwind that had proved tough going had eased quite a bit. Having done the climb before, I knew what to expect and I remember that it went on and on. Never too steep, just long. However, I am not sure what happened but I just seemed to get on a roll and before I knew it I was at the top.
Me at the summit of Yad Moss
Picture kindly taken by one of the Team India riders
The ride down was even faster of course and this was even better as I was riding into a magnificent sunset

Cumbrian Sunset

 I had been cycling quite a lot alongside Italian rider, Marco Peccatori. We didn't speak much, but it was great to have some company and I was to meet him  a few more times over the next couple of days. Here he is in the Village of Alston, which is the highest town in England at about 1000ft above Sea Level. The main high street is cobbled and is a nightmare to ride on. I have to admit that I broke the law and used the pavement as I cannot afford to lose any more fillings.

After Alston the road continues mostly downhill to the town of Brampton. I was lucky to get in with a group of 3 riders who were pushing along at  a really good pace. Despite feeling very tired, I was able to stay with them and do my fair share at the front and I finally pulled into the control at Brampton at 11pm, but only after riding around a car park several times looking for the entrance. It seemed that a few other riders had similar issues and it was good to see that the organisers had fixed this issue with more signs and a volunteer at the actual entrance by the following night. I was desperate for some sleep and after a quick shower and meal I was in bed by 11.45, with a plan to have just 3 hours sleep.

Over my meal I had met my friend from Kent, Bob Watts. He was on a similar schedule to me so we agreed to set off together in the morning. The sleeping accommodation was much more crowded than the previous night and although there was the promise of a wake up call, I was concerned that this might not happen, so I set my phone alarm to wake me up at 3am. It never ceases to amaze me how the simple act of doing this seems to set up some internal sort of alarm and I woke up on my own at 2.55.

Day 3 188 miles, 302 km. Brampton to Brampton via Edinburgh. 21:22 hours, including control stops of 3:15 hours.

Scotland welcomes you
Hardly refreshed and still very tired, after a short breakfast Bob and I met outside in the pouring rain! Not the best start to the day, but I decided I wasn't going to wait much longer so put my waterproofs on for the next section to Moffat which was 46 miles. After around 10 miles we crossed the Scottish Border and fortunately the rain had started to ease off. We had to stop for the obligatory border crossing photo.

The Audax riders hotel
Since starting, I had developed some pain in my left hip, which was slowing me down as I had to try and stay as upright as possible. I was also still really tired and felt that I was starting to fall asleep whilst riding. After fighting this for an hour or so I decided I really needed to have a rest. I probably could have fallen asleep anywhere, but when I spotted this bus shelter I decided it was ideal.  I laid down on the hard concrete floor and fell asleep almost instantly. I probably only slept for less than 30 minutes, but it did the trick and I was able to get going again, feeling much better. The rest and some Ibuprofen had also helped with my hip pain and I was able to join in with a group of riders from Ireland who were making a good pace. It was a dull misty morning, but as I approached Moffat the sky started to clear and it looked like we were set for a really nice day. As befitted being in Scotland I had 3 bowls of porridge for breakfast and was feeling very refreshed and ready for the challenge ahead as I left. 

Outside Moffat is the famous Devil's Beeftub a well known climb and this was my third time up the hill so I knew what to expect. Although it is a long climb of nearly 8 miles, the gradient is fairly consistent and I have found the best way of approaching this, was simply to select one low gear and then just keep pedalling at the same pace all the way. The views from the top help to make the climb worthwhile, but the best reward is the 15 mile downhill stretch. The previous year this had been spoilt by having to ride into a headwind, however this time the wind was behind me so it was possible to maintain an average speed of around 18 mph for this section without much effort, which helped a little with the continuing pain I was experiencing in my hip.

Half way home and a nice surprise

The remainder of the ride into Edinburgh is a bit of a blur, but at this point I was really just motivated by the fact that I was nearly half way through the ride. Before long my route joined with the Southbound route and I started to get waves of encouragement from all the other riders who had just departed the control at Edinburgh.
Bob, Ben the Dog and me.
My greatest surprise on arrival was seeing my old friend Bob waiting for me. He knew I was doing the ride and he worked out what time I was due to arrive and had decided to come and greet me. This was such a nice thing to do and it really gave me such an unexpected motivational boost. We had a quick catch up whilst I wolfed down some more food and drink and got ready for the journey South, which so many of my friends had pointed out to me was 'downhill all the way'. As well as being bouyed up by seeing Bob, I was also pleased at the progress I was making as I was now 4:40 hours ahead of my schedule. Of course the 'downhill all the way' was a complete lie. In between Edinburgh and Brampton were a series of very picturesque but challenging hills and I was facing a distance of 90 miles and over 4,500 feet of climbing before I reached my intended destination for the day of Brampton, where I had started nearly 11 hours earlier. The plus side was that the weather was really pleasant, the traffic was fairly light and the scenery was stunning. The minus side was that my bike had developed an annoying creak that occurred with every pedal stroke. Such things are the bane of many a cyclist and a quick google search sat in the comfort of my home revealed over 400,000 results for the search "bike creaking". Was it the saddle, the pedals, the crank, the bottom bracket, my knees? Who knows. Unfortunately I just didn't have the time or the tools to rectify it and in the end I drowned out the noise by listening to my radio.

Losing my appetite

My next stop was the control at Traquair where the volunteers had laid on a fabulous spread of food, that included some lovely cakes and even some single malt whisky. Unfortunately, I had lost my appetite and really didn't fancy eating much. You would think this would be the last thing that would happen when you were doing so much exercise, however this appears to be a common problem. Of course if you can't eat, then you will soon run out of energy and suffer the dreaded bonk (not what you're thinking). There is no simple answer to this issue. What I have found to help, is to make sure I am drinking large amounts and also to keep eating small amounts of things like sweets or cereal bars almost constantly and then to eat very liquid foods like soups, fruit salad, puddings with custard etc.  Looking back I think I hadn't been drinking enough, possibly because it had been raining quite heavily. So despite being surrounded by lovely food and helpful volunteers all I managed to eat was a bowl of porridge and a small slice of cake.

Meeting the monks

I met up with Bob Watts again as we cycled onwards to Eskdalemuir. The rain was starting to ease up now and we were rewarded with the most fabulous rainbow
Double rainbow near Eskdalemuir
Statue of Buddha in Eskdalemuir
 As we entered Eskdalemuir we were greeted by the sight of several Buddhist monks making their way between the various buildings of the the Kagyu SamyĆ© Ling Tibetan Monastry I stopped to take this picture and met the other inhabitants of the village; the dreaded midges.  The volunteers at the village hall control point who were standing outside on the road directing the cyclists were having a terrible time with them, particularly as the sun was now going down. I didn't waste any time getting inside, where there was plenty of home made food on offer. Luckily I had regained my appetite and managed to have a good meal that would keep me going for the final 35 miles to Brampton, where I was hoping to get some more sleep.

Banksy and Boosh

It was just getting dark as I left Esdalemuir for the final leg bag to Brampton and I had been given some advice that there was a faster alternative route if I followed the A7 Trunk road rather than then official route that followed the old A7, but was a bit more circuitous and hilly. At peak times, riding on the A7 would be a nightmare as it was like a motorway but at 11pm at night it was empty, straight, smooth and fast. This was  a very worthwhile diversion and I made good progress to Longtown, but I still had about 10 miles to go and I was getting desperately tired.

It sort of crept up on me, so I didn't realise what effect it was having.  The first thing I noticed was that the wet patches on the road were starting to take on the look of Banksy cartoons. I remember thinking how great this was and that it would make a super photograph. I was then undertaken on my left side by a small recumbent bike about the size of a shoebox. I remember thinking how strange it was that the rear lights were green rather than red. Clearly not thinking how altogether weirder was the fact that I had been undertaken by a small shoebox sized bike. The next think I saw appearing from the damp patches was the skeleton face from the Mighty Boosh. At this point I think I must have suddenly realised how near I had come to falling asleep on my bike and luckily I was able to stop in time and get off and start walking. I jumped up and down a few times and had something to eat and just about managed to wake myself up again. I was a long way from anywhere and when I looked up to the sky I was able to see the Milky Way really clearly, which I never really get to see in the South of England. I also saw a shooting star (well I think I did, but of course I might have been hallucinating again.)

After getting over my sleepy patch I finally arrived back at at a very well signposted Brampton at 00:50, desperate for sleep, but pleased to have got through such a tough day.  I also had just over 6 hours in hand, so I was able to have nearly 4.5 hours sleep before getting up again.

Day 4  Brampton to Pocklington 131 miles, 210 km. 14:12 hours including control stops of 1:5 hours.
I was up early and after a good breakfast I left Brampton at 6.45am. I was still just ahead of schedule and my plan was to get to Market Rasen on the other side of the Humber by the end of the day.  I was now towards the back of the field and was riding with my Italian friend Marco who was suffering from a bad knee. My hip was still hurting so neither of us were going that fast.  One of the most interesting bikes was this 1920s French bike being ridden by Drew Buck. He was dressed in traditional French outfit complete with beret.   The bike is fairly heavy, so this slowed him down quite a bit and he had been managing with just the odd catnap. It was a great effort and he was ahead of schedule when I spotted him having a break in Middleton.

Drew Buck and his amazing French bike.

The leg to Barnard Castle was a tough one, because I needed to get over Yad Moss again, but the weather was great and I made good progress arriving at the control with 1:30 in hand. I only had  a brief stop as I wanted to keep building up some spare time, so I could afford to have a sleep at night before the final day.

About half way into the next leg to Thirsk it started to rain heavily. I put my waterproofs on and just kept going as there was no sign of any respite. However there was  a plus point as the bike had stopped making creaking sounds. I assumed this was due to the slight lubrication effect of the rain. Anyway it was a blessed relief to not have the constant noise and I felt that I was making good progress. By the time I arrived at Thirsk I was 2:30 ahead of schedule and despite being tired and in pain was feeling optimistic about finishing the ride. I met up with Bob Watts again and he had been considering taking an alternative route that would avoid the Howardian Hills. This really appealed to me as this had been a tough section. The alternative would take us along the A19, which is a busy fast road, but it was also relatively flat. It was easy to see why the organisers had not sent the main route this way as it would have been mayhem to have hundreds of cyclist on both sides of the carriageway mixing with impatient car and truck drivers. However, with just the two of us, it wasn't too bad and after a section of about 8 miles we were able to move back onto some quieter lanes. We finally arrived in Pocklington at 9pm just as the sun was setting. Although I had intended carrying on and getting to Market Rasen we were both concerned that it would be difficult to get a sleeping space there and we both decided it made more sense to have a sleep now and leave early in the morning for the final day.

Day 5 Pocklington to Loughton  220 miles, 353 km. 24:54 hours, including control stops of 3:24

I decided the maximum sleep I could afford was 3 hours and asked to be woken at 1am although yet again I managed to wake up of my own accord. I looked over as Bob got his wake up call, which he ignored and later had no recollection of when they woke him again. It was a drag getting started again after so little sleep but after a quick breakfast we managed to get back on the road by 1:50, which put me 1 hour behind schedule. Bob and I were joined by Hans Jo from Germany, who had lost his regular riding partner and hoped we would be able to provide some local expertise. Yet again we were able to take advantage of lack of traffic by speeding along a dual carriageway to Market Weighton and we made good progress towards the Humber Bridge, which came into sight when we were still several miles away.  I was starting to feel really tired again so decided to have a quick nap and I found an ideal picnic table in the country park just before the bridge. I realised how tired I was when I managed to feel asleep without even removing my helmet. 
Picnic Table Bed
I must have had a good 30 minutes nap before I woke up because of the cold, but this had done the trick and I felt much more awake as I crossed over the bridge just as the sun was starting to come up, almost exactly 3 days and 500 miles after I had crossed in the other direction. As I climbed up to the Wolds I was lucky to meet up with another rider, Bruce. We were able to pace each other for a long section which helped to pass the time, we also had a good chat about our experience of the ride so far. He had had a much more interesting ride, crashing in the Howardian Hills on the way North which damaged his front wheel. One of the volunteers at Thirsk then lent him a wheel and arranged for his wheel to be repaired and delivered to the next control at Barnard Castle. I thought this really summed up how good the volunteers were, going well beyond what could ever have been expected of them.  Bruce had then discovered outside Edinburgh that his frame was cracked. Again after lots of help from various people he had managed to find someone who was able to weld his frame so he could continue. He had used up all his spare time, but was now back on target to finish.
The retreat from Moscow
I arrived at Market Rasen and was now up on my schedule by 1 hour. I was feeling confident now because I had enough sleep and was also making good progress. However some of my friends who were tracking me on-line were worried because they hadn't had an update since I arrived at Pocklington the previous evening and they thought I might be slowing down a little, which was might have been because of my on-going hip pain.  The control at Market Rasen was almost deserted when I arrived at 06:45 and the departing hordes like a retreating army had eaten most of the food, leaving only toast, jam, muesli and reconstituted dry milk, From this moment on I realised that food shortages were going to be the order of the day, because the Controls were due to be closed during the day. Fortunately I was lucky to be greeted by my friend Andy Alsopp whose book Barring Mechancals told of his epic but eventually successful struggle to complete LEL  4 year earlier. He had been helping to run the Control and had access to a secret bottle of milk, which made my breakfast palatable. He was also able to help me in my confused and tired state as I tried to get my phone charged up. Thanks Andy.  I had a longer than planned stop, which I think was due to being tired and not very organised. but at least I was able to drop some unnecessary clothing and lighten my load for the final few legs South as this was one of my bag drop points.
The Market Rasen Control starting to look a bit more relaxed. The extremely hard working organiser Danial Webb is in the background. I saw Danial so many times at different places I think he may be omnipresent.

I can’t really remember too much of the leg from Market Rasen to Kirton but the day was starting to warm up and it was turning out to be a very nice day. Having slept in a bus shelter and on a picnic bench during my ride, I was much more impressed at this impressive sleep stop chosen by one of the riders. I've no idea who he is, but I hoped his sleep was enough to get him through the day.

The Best Sleep Stop of LEL 2013
The last 20 miles to Kirton were tough going as the temperature had already climbed into the mid 20s and the road was dead flat. Most people would think that a cyclist would welcome a lack of hills, but riding on the flat can be harder, particularly if there is a headwind. You have to keep pedalling constantly, otherwise you come to a complete stop. It is also hard to do anything other than just sit down and pedal, so this puts more pressure on your backside.   A few hills enable you to stand up on the pedals and take the pressure off and the downhill sections gives some relief from the pedalling.
I arrived at Kirton at around  noon and I was pleased that I had managed to gain over an hour on my schedule. I knew that the next section was going to be tough going. I had another 50 miles or so of dead flat terrain to cover.  Furthermore the day was turning out to be the hottest of the year.  This extract from my GPS shows just how hot and flat it was, averaging over 30 degrees. 
The wind had also increased and someone even likened it to cycling into a hairdryer blowing at full speed. I spent a fruitless 45 minutes in Spalding finding what turned out to be the most unhelpful cycle shop imaginable. I was hoping they may have been able to tighten up my cranks and bottom bracket, to stop the creaking which had got worse. The manager of the shop said there was nothing he could do to help and also wouldn't let me make my own  adjustments in the air conditioned comfort of his shop, as  “this is a showroom, not a workshop”   Postscript:- when I got home and had access to the right tools it took me less than 20 minutes to fix the creaking, by lubricating and refitting my crank, bottom bracket and saddle.
Hanno and Bob on the flatlands
We were all riding the similar Van Nicholas Titanium bikes
Outside Spalding I met my friend Bob and our new companion Hanno and we rode together for a while, but we were mismatched in speed, so we didn't stay together and ride in a group, which in hindsight might have been a good idea to give us some shelter from the wind.

Cold shower time
By the time I got to Whittlesey  I really felt like I was overheating. I had been drinking plenty of fluids including taking electrolyte replacements, but I was worried that I could succumb to heatstroke. Seeing a sign for a leisure centre I decided to go there and see if I could cool down. I was tempted to pay for a swim in the pool, but in the end I settled for putting my head under the shower for a while, although I ended up using the tap as the shower was actually warm. This short break and the cooling down really helped and after some more food and drink I was on my way again on the final stretch of the Fens.
The road south was horrible and by this time it was rush hour so there was lots of traffic and the drivers were very impatient and I had a number of close passes. My heart was in my mouth a few moments later when I was overtaken by a number of police cars and an ambulance. I was sure that this was going to be a cyclist and as I got nearer my worst fears were realised. There was one cyclist lying on a body board being treated by paramedics and another group of riders were being interviewed by the the Police. With some relief I was informed that the riders were not seriously hurt and I was asked to carry on by one of the Police officers.  I was pleased when I finished later in the day to be told that although two riders had to visit hospital, they were now back home with no serious injuries. I don't know the cause of the accident, so won't speculate, but in the aftermath, the rest of the cars who overtook me gave me a welcome and very wide berth.

Finally about 10 miles from St Ives there were finally a few hills to enjoy and provide some relief from riding in the same position. With a few miles to go I met up with my friend Darrell who I had last seen on the way out of Edinburgh and we had a good chat all the way into St Ives.

Midnight Rendezvous

Midnight rendezvous in Thaxted
I was about 1:30 hours ahead of schedule now and I knew that the worst part of the day was over. Although it was starting to get dark as I left, it was also getting a bit cooler. I have very good lights on my bike, so riding at night isn't an issue and I now had just under 75 miles to go and more than 10 hours left to do it in. Earlier in the day one of my friends from work, Pete Burns had contacted me to let me know that he was hoping to see me as I went through his village of Thaxted. I underestimated how long it was going to take to get there partly because I was relying on the prediction made by my GPS, however as I got nearer to Saffron Walden the route became really lumpy and my average speed started to drop. Pete had been sitting in the village watching the riders going through and had even helped carry someone's belongings to the next control when they had a problem.  He had been considering going home, thinking I had been delayed when I finally turned up just before midnight. It was tremendously motivating to see a friendly face in the middle of the night and very kindly he had bought me a few sweet treats and also some iced drink, which was the coldest I had all day. Pete is a keen cyclist and also a very strong endurance athlete, being one of the few Brits to finish the notorious Swedish Island to Island race Otillo. He admitted to me that he was really taken with the idea of doing LEL and I seem to remember he might have even committed to doing this in 2017 (hopefully I wasn't hallucinating again.)

After saying goodbye to Pete I had a fast ride to the penultimate control at Great Easton, where it began to dawn on me that the end was in sight. I had also caught up with several other riders who I had seen briefly over the last few days. I only stopped for 30 minutes which was just enough time to grab a bite to eat and discuss the best option for getting to the finish. There was a faster route available that avoided some of the small lanes and hills, but unfortunately I didn't have this loaded on my sat nav, so I would have to rely on someone else with a route sheet or a map. In the end I decided to use the normal route and this proved to be a wise choice as I later heard reports that people had issues navigating the faster option and had taken longer anyway.  

Overtaking on the final leg
Once I got started again I felt really strong and really started to pick up the pace. I had plenty of time to spare, but I also found that going fast was a good way of avoiding feeling sleepy. The last leg was 27 miles and I managed to maintain a moving average of over 13mph, which I was very pleased with considering the darkness, my lack of sleep and general fatigue. I overtook several other riders, many of who were clearly very tired and I even saw a few sleeping by the side of the road. The group of riders in this picture were from Ireland and I had last seen them on the road to Moffat where I had ridden with them for a few miles.

Earlier, my wife Angela had kindly offered to come and pick me up from the finish and the thought of seeing her again really helped motivate me to keep the pace up and before I knew it, I was sprinting the final couple of miles into the finish.  My ride was over and I had finished with 2:50 hours to spare. As I handed my control card over for validation I was handed my finishers medal and directed to the canteen to get some much needed refreshment. I met up with Angela and was able to catch up with Andy Taylor-Vebel who had finished earlier and also with Lise, Andy's wife who had been working as a volunteer.  It was also great to have a chat with my friend Martin Brice who had started LEL as a rider and finished it as a volunteer and probably had less sleep than me the whole week.

Tired but happy.
Picture courtesy of  Lise Taylor-Vebel

Part of my motivation for writing this account of my ride was so I could remember what I went through, just in case I think of doing this in 4 years time. It is amazing how quickly I can forget the difficult times and only remember the fun parts and the joy of overcoming the challenge. 

So would I do it again?  It only took about 2 weeks to think I would. I had considered helping with the event as a volunteer, but I think I may have actually persuaded Angela to take my place, so I can do the ride.

Will I do anything different next time?  I will lose that stone that I failed at this year and I will also do more training. This should help with the hill climbing and my overall speed. I may spend a little less time at the controls and I will definitely get off my bike immediately if I see any graffiti forming in puddles on the road. I will also start earlier so I don't feel like I at the back of the field the whole way round.

Some Statistics
Distance travelled        900 miles
Feet Climbed               25240 feet
Moving Time                 70:24  hours
Time spent at controls 35:42 hours

You can see my route here:

Route North from London to Edinburgh

Route South from Edinburgh to Lougton

And here are all my  LEL Photos