After some debate I thought it would be a good idea to write my memoirs covering the highs and lows of the London Edinburgh London Audax completed. The idea to allow me to look back on in years to come when my memories have faded and to share a bit of my journey.
A bit of background on the event. LEL as it is known is a world famous (amongst endurance cyclists) audax ride covering over 1500 km (957 miles) in distance, prestigious wise the only ride in the world exceeding this is Paris Brest Paris (one for next year maybe!) which is the oldest cycling event in the world. Although not a race there is a time limit of 125 hours to complete in order to be validated by Audax UK, to break this down it is 12 km/hour including all stops for food, sleep, toilet and general faff time.
It takes place every 4 years with around 50-60% British participants and the rest made up of like-minded folk travelling from all over the world to participate to make up the expected 1800 starters.
Having been delayed by 1 year due to covid the event seemed to come round quicker than expected. Having had some decent training earlier in the year, the 2 months leading up to the event I had not really had many long days in the saddle and a couple of holidays beforehand, I felt apprehensive about my lack of training and knee pain I had on my last audax previously.
There was a contingent of 6 of us from Aberdeen doing the event and we had a WhatsApp group for planning etc. Nicola, Matt, Ray, Lawrence and Dougie were able to bounce a lot of chat and banter to enable me at least to be a bit more confident that I was prepared in what I needed. This was great as some of us had not met each other, thanks to Ray as the conduit for this!
With registration on the Saturday and an early start on Sunday I travelled down by flight on the Friday afternoon as Lawrence kindly offered to take my bike down for me.
We had all booked into Debden campsite beforehand so was great for us all to eventually meet up as one. On the Saturday we had a leisurely day with registration and doing our own thing, myself and Ray chose to have a leisurely pub lunch then an afternoon of watching a bit of local cricket in the savage heat of London in the middle of a heatwave. This heat became a theme of the week.
On the evening we got back together and had a nice carb rich meal in a Zizzi Italian restaurant. I felt we were all fairly relaxed but if they were anything like me, they also had that nervous feeling in the pit of their stomachs for what was to come in the coming days.
After a couple of cans of beer (to help me sleep :)) I got settled into my little bike packing 1 man tent and before I knew it Ray was waking me up at 5am. Good sign that I got some sleep, this would be my last real sleep for some days.
Having meandered down to the start, a short 5-minute ride away, for a 7:45am start, we were all good to go, except for Nicola had who headed out at 6am.
During the brief we were told a 3-hour 20 min extension had been granted last minute by Audax UK to the original 125 hours due to a diversion North of Brampton which included 2 additional major climbs (major was an understatement!) and the forecasted extreme heat.
This concerned me as my flight back home on the Friday meant I could not afford the luxury of the additional time.
After the brief, our wave of around 50 riders were off, low key and no fanfare we exited Debden school and away we went on our merry way.
Team assembled for the start
We all had our plans and schedules, some more loose than others, but there was not much talk of riding at what pace or with whom. In what seemed almost immediately, the climbs started and Matt and I found ourselves out in front of the others.
After the initial climbs we settled into some lovely rolling back roads and a group of around 15 developed and we found ourselves settling into a nice brisk pace, this basically carried on for the first few hours. The early sun shining down at a nice early morning temperature and getting ahead of the game early doors all felt good.
We soon found ourselves at the first Control of St Ives after 100 km feeling rather pleased with myself. There was an abundance of volunteers awaiting with big smiling faces and plenty of encouragement. We were informed where to get our Brevet card stamped, where the food hall was and offerings to get our water bottles filled up was all fantastic. This turned out to be a constant throughout the ride.
Having had a breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and beans and a bit of faffing we were on our way again. Next stop was Boston at 89 km.
From here we soon found ourselves into the flat lands of the Fens, these we heard to be notorious for winds as so flat and no hedgerows for shelter. It turned out we had a slight head wind but not enough to hurt us too much, but the heat was now starting to bite, being out in the open with no shelter and not a great deal to look at apart from fields and the odd wind farm, my spirits started to dip for the first time.
Things started to get better for me as we hit the canal ways which had lovely single-track roads with next to no traffic, they went on for some miles. We caught up to Nicola, which was a nice surprise and had some chat before she urged us on, she was conscious not to want to stop our flow. It turned out for the rest of the day, and some other days, she was always just behind catching us up at stops!
After several hours of riding, we hit Spalding and found a petrol station which we swiftly stopped for a break and found some shade, cold Lucozade, Magnum and a bag of crisps. Nicola followed us in a few minutes later. A good 20 minute rest and with smiles back on our faces off we went.
Ice lolly stop for Matt, Nicola and me.
Things quickly turned a short while later when we approached a busy A road crossing. We spotted the blue flashing lights of a police car and an air ambulance some way off, as we got closer a policeman stopped us said, in his words, “one of your lot has been hit by a HGV and not looking great for him.” This came as a reality check, in a bit of shock we turned around to find a way round the road closure as the air ambulance took the guy away. We plodded along in a sombre mood all the way to the next control of Boston, arriving at 16:11.
Arriving at Boston the atmosphere was not as bad as I had imagined, and a marshal gave us some favourable news that the guy had got away with just a broken arm and concussion.
After a bit of faffing we headed for the food hall, can’t actually remember what was on offer here but this turned out to be the first place with what essentially was a meal the size of a school child’s portion. A few grumbles were made and away we went not really feeling satisfied with the food intake.
The next stop was Louth, after a relatively short section of 53 km. This section turned into more rolling countryside and was pretty non-descript through the Lincolnshire Wolds, only real recollection is relentless afternoon heat and drinking blood warm water, not the most interesting of sections and was happy to arrive at Louth at 19:33.
Louth and Typical Control Scene
Louth control was a local community hub with once again an abundance of volunteers waiting on you hand and foot with big smiles. The food was the first one of remembrance with breaded chicken escalope, rice and soup. Had discussed with my mum and dad about possibly meeting me at Malton the next day, but I was in good time and knew I would be in Malton quite early. With this in mind and the fact my uncle had taken ill a couple of days earlier, I didn’t want to burden them, so I phoned them to say not to bother. I was in no rush to leave as I was comfortable in my surroundings but knew I had to leave to get to Hessle and not undo my good progress.
The next leg was 58 km long and this was when the hills started to kick in. The good news was it was now late afternoon with the sun falling and a cooling in the air. After an hour the sun was fading and darkness was descending, the hills kept coming and eventually the light was gone. I had my first sense of tiredness kicking in, I had over 270 km in my legs already, in mostly 30-degree heat. The kilometres now passed at a snail’s pace and I was willing the lights of the Humber bridge to come into view for what seemed like an eternity, but Matt and I kept each other going. The progress we had made earlier in the day had now disappeared, I knew my stop for the night was just over the bridge, but every hill was zapping any strength I had left. This stretch was my first mental challenge, starting to question myself over my reasoning for doing this. I tried to focus on what was happening back home, wondering what they are up to, trying to focus my mind elsewhere even if made me a little emotional.
Eventually the bridge lights appeared and with encouraging words between us our mood lifted and we headed across the bridge and were guided into Hessle school at 23:18.
We had 2 bag drops where the organisers send any items you wish (2.5 kg max) to 2 places, Hessle being one and Brampton being the other. My thinking was these are my sleep over places.
So having got some lukewarm, very average small portioned food down me, I picked up my drop bag and was pointed in the direction of the showers. It turned out that hundreds of other folk had the same idea as me so there were queues to the block that had the showers and sleeping quarters. Once in the shower block the whole place was in 2 inches of water and streaming out the door into the corridor. Too tired to do anything else, I had a shower which was warm and managed to get some fresh cycling clothing on by standing on the benches, my reasoning was at least I’d be dry and clean and will give me a quick getaway in a few hours time.
Following this I got myself in the queue for a bed at around 1am and I was told I got one of the last ones available. I was asked what time I wanted to be woken and told that 4 hours was the maximum I was allowed due to the amount of folk coming in wanting some sleep, I said 4 hours please! The volunteers had a system of bed numbering and giving folk a prod in the shoulders to wake you at the given time. Beds consisted of an airbed and 1 blanket within the school hall with 1 foot of space between others in all directions, the echo of hundreds of exhausted cyclists snoring was something to behold. Putting in my earplugs I got my head down, after 30 minutes I realised this wasn’t happening. I could still hear the hum of snoring, my heart rate still elevated, and mind racing, sleep would not come. I made a visit to the toilet, nearly falling onto folk whilst trying to tiptoe between beds and I thought at this point, should I just get back on my bike and crack on instead of heading back into the chamber of snores? I had planned for 5 hours each night, which turned out to be far too optimistic, so I gave it one last chance. I estimated I probably got a little over 1 hour of actual sleep before I awoke myself a little after 5am, probably just before I got my prod in the shoulder.
After tiptoeing out of the hall I proceeded to the canteen and forced some more food down me, which was the same mediocre food as a few hours before and caught up on the group chat. It turned out my friends behind us arrived in the early hours and could not get a bed so just got some food and headed onwards, they were now a good distance ahead. I handed my drop bag back in and headed to the toilet before I headed out, not sure how best to describe this next bit but with hundreds of adults descending on the school and eating loads of calories during the day and needing the toilet at the same place, every toilet ended up blocked and well, let’s just say there was layers.
Eventually after a lot of faffing with bags, bike and generally procrastinating so I didn’t have to leave, I bumped into Matt, we eventually left Hessle sometime after 6am. Over 6 hours in the control and around 1 hour sleep, not good. Brightside was I was about bang on my schedule and my body was feeling good apart from lack of sleep.
Next control was Malton, 67 km away. We started off at a leisurely pace through the Yorkshire Wolds, speaking to others on route who all seemed pretty positive with their progress. We got to Malton with no real dramas, only thing of note was Matt’s saddle kept slipping so needed a few quick stops to adjust it. Arriving at 10:15am I was ready for some nice breakfast carbs such as scrambled egg on toast with some bacon for protein. As it turned out they only had Porridge and cereal, I was not happy so I left in disgust knowing we would pass what I thought was a Sainsbury’s express. Matt needed to charge some electronics, so he stayed on to have the porridge and charge some devices, said we would catch up on the road.
The next stage was not only the longest at 113 km but the highest ascent in climbing required of the whole event, at 1215 m. To my dismay, the route took us on a back road straight out of town and the next chance of a stop was over an hour away in Helmsley, straight onto the back foot in the hardest section, not good. I arrived in Helmsley around lunchtime and a petrol station appeared, I pulled in seeing dozens of bikes and riders sprawled about getting food down them as they felt the same as me about the Malton facilities. My memory of this is a group of Americans picking everything up and asking, “hey what is this and what is that?” I suppose we would say the same thing in an American ‘gas’ station!
After topping up my water, getting the last pork pie in the station, crisps, Lucozade, a nice cold protein shake down me and a 5-minute blether with other riders whilst looking out for Matt passing, I felt good to go. No sign of Matt so headed off.
I had gone for no more than 1 minute when I got into the lovely square of Helmsley and I spotted Lawrence and Nicola in the same jerseys they started in the day before, needs must with no sleep!
This put a massive grin on my face to see them and I made a swift U turn to head for them. I Asked where Ray and Dougie were, apparently Dougie was just setting off to get a head start and Ray had called into the poshest looking pub in the square for a number 2 to our amusement! This frequency of needing a number 2 is standard for our Ray!
Seeing these guys gave me a massive boost and we rode together until the climbs out of Helmsley started and we eventually settled into our own rhythms once more.
I found myself following Lawrence, or at least trying as he was solid on the ascents and flying down the descents. The hills turned into vicious short steep up and downs of 20-25% gradients as we hit the North Yorkshire moors. We struggled up the climbs and saw more and more people pushing their bikes up each climb we passed with 30-degree heat beating down on us.
Had a great one liner from a person from Asia that kept me going, “this would be a struggle if it was not for the beautiful purple heather and countryside, absolutely amazing.” I felt taken aback as I had taken for granted the beauty around me and knew this was close to my childhood back yard. Feeling proud we pushed on.
Beautiful purple heather over the North Yorkshire Moors
At what appeared to be close to the crest of this part of the moors we came across a group of riders stopped by the single-track roadside. It transpired at a lovely croft house with a gorgeous outlook over the countryside, the family was out with a hose pipe from their deep well offering to fill up our water bottles with lovely fresh cold water. I was straight in with fresh bottles and with a cheeky request to put water on my head and down my neck they obliged with a “of course no problem”, this was a massive energy and mental boost. Lawrence and I set off on the decent with a smile on our faces enjoying the more downs than ups now.
Sometime later we came across the 1st of 3 secret controls, he idea of these is that it stops any potential short cuts from the mandatory route. There were a few grumbles about this as it was at the bottom of a big climb but after some chat with the ever cheerful and friendly volunteers, they said the local community centre was open halfway up with more volunteers giving out drinks and there were toilet facilities. All I will say here is Lawrence and myself enjoyed what was for us, full luxury facilities to clear the bowels! Feeling chuffed and relieved we set off once more, I just hope Ray behind us managed to make the most of these facilities!
The next section was a bit of blur, purely because no major hills, dramas, and Lawrence and me chatted away and time seemed to fly by. We soon arrived into our next port of call of Barnard Castle at 17:25.
This control turned out to be the best so far, lovely historical private school with plentiful lovely food, we got stuck in and was it good to get out of the sun for a while. Having checked on the messages I saw a message from Matt saying his gear cable had snapped after Malton but as he is a well prepared man he had a spare, all fixed and back on the road.
Once fed and watered and had a little chill out time we headed out and bumped into the rest of the team just coming in. All good on their side just very tired. So off we went for the last leg of the day to Brampton, 83 km away.
It was well after 6pm now and knowing we had the diversion and additional climbs we were in for a late finish. The heat of the day had now gone, and we made steady ground heading steadily up into the Cumbrian hills. We eventually got to the closed road sign for Yad Moss and turned right towards Chapel Fell. The task ahead soon became apparent as we could see what looked like ants well into the distance crawling and zigzagging up the long and steep road ahead. Giving ourselves a pat on the back, a breather, and a photo opportunity of a stunning sunset, we headed off again on what was a long steep decent where I clocked my fastest speed recorded at 48 mph! We soon got to the bottom with excited smiles on our faces agreeing that was bloody scary but fun!
Almost at the top of this one!
The smiles soon faded as darkness descended and seeing now red dots in the far distance, we had another unexpected climb which took everything out of me. Me being stubborn I was not wanting to give in and walk, this is deemed as failure! Lawrence seemed to breeze up the hill which I put down to his higher gearing than mine, not because he is a seasoned strong racing snake!
After having another breather at the top, off we headed into the darkness knowing there was now more downhill than up through to Brampton. We eventually reached Brampton, exhausted and hungry at 23:22, coincidently just 4 minutes later than the previous night.
After being greeted and brevet card stamped by the ever helpful and cheery volunteers, we headed to the canteen for some more under portioned food. Following this I gathered by drop back and headed for the showers to find yet again towels were all gone and instead I was given a thin tea towel type thing that wouldn’t dry an arm. Once eventually dried and fresh gear on I headed back out to the main corridor, the place was littered with folk sleeping and every socket was taken with charging phones, lights, and bike computers. I have a Dynamo wheel on my bike but I knew it was not enough to charge everything so this was a worry to me and also noticed my phone had no signal or internet so could not phone or text home. I worried that Sally would worry, at least she was following my progress on the event website where they post the time we arrive at each control point. I guiltily headed for the marquee where the sleeping quarters were located knowing I would get a row when I eventually got a signal. I soon discovered why so many folks were sleeping in the corridors as the marquee was very cold and with just 1 blanket, I could not get warm, and the blanket kept slipping off. A lovely volunteer noticed this as I was close to the door, so on several occasions she tried to wrap the blanket under me, bless her.
After a few hours still freezing cold I gave up and got up. I headed to the canteen to find a long queue for the food, not what I wanted in the early hours and dead on my feet. I noticed Ray and Nicola sat down looking rather worse for wear (I’m sure they won’t mind me saying!).
Eventually getting some half decent bacon, eggs, beans and toast I sat down with them to learn Nicola also couldn’t get any sleep and Ray had not long arrived and again no sleep. Others I hoped had better luck and were getting some much needed sleep somewhere. I could not finish my food as my appetite was not there, major concern knowing I was not getting enough proper food down me. With nothing else left to do, no sleep, not enough food in me, phone not working, electronic devices running low and dawn not yet starting to break I headed off on my own in a rather glum mood. Unbeknown this would be the last time I saw any of the team for the rest of LEL.
Next stop was Moffat after another 74 km ride. The first few hours passed slowly and even with all the layers I had on, I was still cold and started to realise my saddle sores were starting to bite, I was needing to stand up very regularly to give myself some relief. 2 highlights of this stretch were doing a master reset of my phone and hey presto it was working again and reaching the Scottish border at Gretna. Taking a photo at the border sign and sending to family gave me a psychological boost. The sun started to rise, the gear started to come off and after drip feeding myself cereal bars I was starting to feel better.
The border heading North
Arrived at Moffat at 09.29 noting my back was very sore, putting it down to the extra standing out of my saddle for the saddle sores. Once off my bike noted how hot the sun now was, amazing what a few hours can make to the temperature in a heatwave.
Walking into the canteen I was like wow, the food on offer here was amazing, so much to choose from and really delicious. Having finished my food, including apple crumble and custard, I was for the first time feeling full and satisfied despite not being able to sit up straight due to my sore back. Smile back on my face though I headed outside to find a quiet shaded spot and phoned home, was lovely to speak to Sally and she didn’t give me too much of a hard time over not being in contact! Last thing to do before heading off is to fill up water bottles with fresh water and apply electrolyte tablets, which are required to help replace lost fluids and salts through sweating. To my surprise I could not find my tablets, concluded that I must have left them at Brampton, another concern knowing I could get very dehydrated in this 30 degree heat with a long stretch ahead and not likely to get anymore tablets until I return back to Brampton. With no other option I had to head off.
Next control stop was Dunfermline 111 km later. Almost immediately I headed up the famous Devil’s Beef Tub, this is a long 7 mile steady climb into the southern Scottish hills, not the hardest of climbs but again with heat beating down in the early afternoon it was a struggle.
However I was awarded with some lovely views looking back to the south in the direction I had come. Once over this, it was a lovely decent down into the small village of Broughton. I found a congregation of cyclists and a very small village shop, this was a nice unexpected but much needed little shop to get a nice cold can of Lucozade and a Diet Coke down me, especially having no electrolyte tablets and my water being warm and tasting more like blood than water in my now manky bottles.
Devils Beef Tub
Next stop was Biggar and my main stop for food before heading into Edinburgh. I found a Spar and with my steak pie, wrap, crisps, water and full fat coke I found a shaded spot out of the sun and chilled for a good half hour chatting with locals and other cyclists passing through doing the same.
From Biggar I again headed straight up into more hills, from here the top was pretty flat with no shelter and I was feeling hot and bothered. After an hour or so of willing the sight of the Forth bridges, with this encouragement, I knew a long decent was ahead of me into Edinburgh and onto the old Forth Road Bridge. Once onto the bridge there were plenty of cyclists coming back the other way giving each other plenty of waves and encouragement, silently cursing them wishing I was the one coming the other way.
Having come off the bridge I had a few miles of short sharp ups and downs and quickly became very frustrated in the effort and time needed and wondering why on earth they have made us do this route up into Dunfermilne, and not somewhere actually in Edinburgh.
Eventually after many riders passed and my smile fading with each passing cyclists I arrived at the school. Coming into the bike area all my frustration evaporated as I saw my lovely wife Sally standing there smiling at me, this was a total surprise as she made a last-minute decision to come down to give me a big hug and encouragement!
After a bit of chat and whilst I went in search of the food hall, she went to a bike shop just round the corner to get me some new bike bottles, as with days in the heat they had become very manky, and electrolyte tablets. 10 minutes later she appeared back with both, was worth the time to visit just for that I told her!! Feeling much perkier having seen Sally and her pep talk for me to carry on and chilling for longer than I normally would, I knew I had to set off.
The situation I was in was I was halfway, so all downhill now eh! The reality was it was now 5pm on the Tuesday and I only had 2 full days left to get back to London by lunchtime on Friday. I was about bang on schedule, but I knew I would only get slower the longer it went on and if the typical prevailing wind transpired, I would be facing a head wind all the way back. If the wind got up, a major bike mechanical or body continuing to deteriorate as it had the past 24 hours, I was going to fail.
Setting back off to Innerleithan 81 km away and a battle to get through Edinburgh, I was in for another late night. Once back over the Forth Road Bridge (reciprocating the encouragement to others coming the other way), I had a decision to make, the organisers put this as a free section to chose as you wish, either use their recommended route taking in the cycle/walking path, parks and tourist sights or choose your own. I had done the touristy route back in March so I knew this would be slow going. I plotted a direct/shorter route on roads beforehand, but it was rush hour. 50/50 decision I decided to go for the shorter route as was short of time and this turned out to be the right choice.
Although the roads were busy and hillier there were cycle lanes on around 90% of the route. After a good 45 minutes of stop start through traffic lights, I stopped off at a Tesco petrol station for drinks and food as I knew this could be my last chance until the next control and always good to get out of the sun. Soon after I joined the given route that the vast majority had taken and got chatting with folk I had not seen, and it appeared it had taken them far longer than myself to get round the city, so this gave me a massive boost knowing I gained at least 1.5 hours.
The next few hours were quite pleasant, chatting with a few folk whilst the sun was now starting to set and the temperature reducing. We soon started steadily climbing into the hills heading south with a magical sunset back over the city, peaking the hill as the sun disappeared as if by magic. Soon we were descending and after a short while had to stop to put on my gilet and jacket as it suddenly got very cold with the darkness fully upon us and wind chill from heading downhill. Not long after, we arrived at Innerleithan at 21:16.
With 266 km in the legs since my last sleep, I had another major decision to make, either crack on or get some sleep. The next stop was Eskdalemuir after another 49 km but they had no sleeping arrangements so the next chance of sleep would be Brampton another 59 km after that. After some faffing and getting my electronics all on charge, the control was not overly busy so I had jacket potato and beans and I felt pretty exhausted so decided to get my head down for a few hours.
Having had a good solid 3 hours sleep I arose, had more jacket potato and beans and was on my way at 2am. This was make-or-break day and I set myself the target to get to Malton, some 305 km away and over the worst of the climbing.
With every item of clothing on I set off but soon found myself tired, cold and wet in the freezing fog conditions. The going was very slow as felt like I was riding through custard in these conditions, what on earth am I doing in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black and what felt like going nowhere. After a couple of hours I was now also getting hungry. Going through a little hamlet I found an old red telephone box which was now being used for a library, so I got myself inside and had some time out and got some fuel down me whist the odd cyclist probably feeling exactly the same as me trickled past.
Begrudgingly I left and went on my way, after what felt like an eternity, I arrived at Eskdalemuir at 05:24 as a hint of daylight had started to appear through the freezing fog.
The control was in a lovely little community hall run by locals and even at this ungodly hour they were so polite and helpful it just made me feel more alive. The food was also abundant with soup, pasta, rice, and cakes. I sat cold and shivering tucking into soup and then some pasta. I had to step over numerous folk laid on the floors under blankets trying to get some sleep whilst escaping out of the weather. This would definitely have been me if I had carried on last night.
Sometime later, fed, watered and warmed up I headed back outside into daylight but the fog remained. Next stop Brampton after another 59 km. This stretch was very non-descript with not so freezing fog and not much to see so plodded on until around 08:00 when eventually the sun broke through again, with all the wet weather gear stripped off I arrived in Brampton at 08:55.
This was my drop bag point again so after some bacon, eggs, beans and fried bread I had a shower and change of clothes. Feeling a lot better about everything I set off for Barnard Castle 84 km away.
This section can only be described as brutal where I had to go back via the diversion to avoid the Yad Moss road closure. The route started off lovely with gentle rolling countryside before reaching Alston, knowing what was to come I stopped off at a Co-op with the American group I chatted with back in Helmsley. The heat was once again on our backs so I sheltered in the shade with a Magnum ice cream, Lucozade, bag of crisps and the usual refill of water bottles. I had a bit of usual chat on how we are feeling and what was to come before setting off again..
The 2 big hills including Chapel fell lay in front and within 30 minutes I could see the first climb with cyclists either zigzagging their way up or walking. As it was around midday and the heat as hot as it had been all week, I knew this was not going to be easy. About halfway up I grinded to a halt and reverted to walking. I’ve been on a few climbs where I’ve had to stop for a rest then carry on, but this was a first, I could not physically turn the pedals. About 30 minutes of pushing into a stiff breeze eventually I got to the top, my back was now in agony with further damage now done, only made to feel a little better by the beautiful view on offer. With pain killers down my neck, I set off again, knowing I had another climb, this turned out to be not quite so bad but did have to walk the final bit. Was greeted by a guy at the top to fill up my water bottles, he had unfortunately had to pull out a few days previously as could not get food down him, but wanted to help others out, true to the nature of the event.
Relieved that the worst of the hills was now over, I plodded into Barnard Castle once again at 15:27. Noticing that the controls are getting a little quieter on the way back south, I got plenty of food down me and felt totally drained in mind and body. I decided to get out the midday sun and have 2 hours sleep since I started the day at 2am, the volunteers showed me to the dorm and I asked them to wake me in 2 hours.
Feeling a little better and having got a bit more food down me, I set off for the 112 km leg to Malton. All started off really well with beautiful country lanes, the route back different and flatter than the vicious up and down route in the other direction and a beautiful sunset helped. True to form things didn’t last, darkness descended, and the hills arrived back. I found myself very much on my own as I had been most of this leg in pitch darkness and repetitive hills which I had not expected. My enthusiasm of a decent arrival time before some much needed sleep, turned into a very slow slog up hill, after hill, the worst part not being able to see how far the hill goes up nor down nor where the next one starts. Just when I was at my lowest there was some faint light up ahead and some clapping, it turned out to be a father and 2 sons out at the end of their driveway in the middle of nowhere clapping the sporadic riders going past and offering water top ups. Having said my thanks and turning down the offer of water, due to the kindness and my emotional state I spent the next 10 minutes crying my eyes out for no other reason than being emotionally shot and the act of kindness.
Eventually arriving at Malton at 23:53, 304 hilly kms completed for the day, I arrived completely exhausted and found my fine motor skills had gone. I realised my brain and body were not functioning in unison as I dropped my water bottle and could not pick it back up nor think what I needed to do. This resulted in me sitting on the floor and taking 5 minutes out to gather myself, I realised that my hands were now numb, and the feeling was not coming back. After managing to get my shoes off I trudged into the school to get my card stamped and get some food down me before heading into the dorm to get my head down, I knew I had just 1 more full day left if my body and soul could hold out.
Managing a decent 3 hours sleep I got some breakfast down me and set off at 05:50 for Hessle, next to the Humber bridge, 67 km down the road. Still dark and a bit chilly with fog once more, it was slow and steady as I was feeling groggy. I was trying to summon up the optimism that no more major hills are in front of me. This leg was unremarkable or maybe just blanked out, I arrived at Hessle at 08:51 with the fog lifting just before what was to be another 30 degrees plus clear blue-sky day.
One of the last hills heading south out of the North Yorkshire Moors
Hessle was my bag drop control, so I took advantage of getting a nice shower and change of clothing in a much quieter environment than heading north. This did me the world of good, with suntan lotion lashed on I was away in a much better frame of mind. Next stop Louth at just 58 km away.
This next leg turned out to be a slog of too much looking down at my bike computer willing the miles to turn over quicker than they actually were. My only real recollection was pleading with the road to provide some tree coverage to get out of the searing sun and veering over to the opposite side of the road to cower behind hedges whilst pedalling when the quiet roads permitted.
Arriving at Louth at 13:16, this control was one of the few that was not a school but a community hall, I found this stop to be one of my favourites as volunteers aplenty wanted to look after you with tons of smiles and encouragement and plenty of tasty food. Looking around at the abundance of bodies laid in any quiet corner and shady spots outside grabbing some sleep, I debated about getting my head down for a few hours to avoid the midday heat but having had some chicken escalope and rice and the volunteers giving me a boost, including filling by bottles up with ice cubes, I decided to crack on. The next leg was the shortest to Boston, 53 km away.
This was very much uneventful, once again I found myself getting teary and emotional when a random stranger clapped me going past with some lovely encouraging words and also enduring the longest flattest straightest boring(est) road I’ve ridden to get into Boston town.
Arrived at Boston Academy school at 17:18, feeling more drained then anything, I went to get some food. I was told I could only get 1 sausage, one scoop of mash and a few veg with a smidge of gravy, I politely said I’m not a school pupil and I had ridden 177 km so far today with more to go and will need more than that, I was told they only had enough for that amount. Not best pleased but didn’t make a fuss! I knew Spalding was around 37 kilometres away so I could stop at the petrol station I’d had an ice cream at with Matt and Nicola on the way up, in what seemed like an eternity ago now and wondered how they were getting on.
The WhatsApp group messages were a bit less often now, exhaustion kicking in for all of us.
I set off at 18;06 for the last leg of the day to St Ives, 89 km away. Soon after setting off I started having the belief that I’m not only going to finish but in the designated time, this must be the reason for the butterflies.
Having put myself in a happy state of mind the strangest thing came over me, I remembered for the first time since before we started from London that it was my birthday today!! Weird that all the time in the world and all the emotions but it never occurred to me that it was my birthday.
Arriving at the petrol station in Spalding I treated myself to an ice cream, my favourite crisps and a big muffin to act as my birthday cake and chilled for a good 45 minutes in the now pleasant late afternoon temperature. Feeling pleased with myself and messages sent off to the group and family I set off once more.
Happy Birthday to me
The next few hours turned into probably my happiest few hours, a few messages back from folk, cooling temperature, flat roads and finally a tail wind I could feel was benefitting, I put my headphones on and listened and sang to my favourite playlist with a combination of smiles and tears, I glided along the lovely canal lanes to a beautiful sunset. Once the sun had set, I had a bright full moon to help me along and arrived at St Ives at a very respectable 22:09 and 267 km completed since setting off from Malton.
There was a certain buzz about St Ives, everyone was feeling the same way as myself in that the end was in sight and I had some good chat with folk whilst I got some food down me. I can’t recall what I had here but it was average at best but that didn’t matter now.
Knowing I had until after 3pm the following day to finish and with just 118 km to do, I headed for the dorms to have a planned 5 hour sleep.
Having had a decent 4 hours sleep I found myself awake and still nervous about finishing in case I had any mechanicals, so I got up, had some cereal and was on my way at 04:55. Saddle sores aplenty, back far from great and my hands worryingly numb but I didn’t care, I just wanted to get going and get finished.
The last control before the finish was Great Easton, 70 km away. Setting off was nice and leisurely, following the trainline and no fog in the early hours. Just after sunrise we entered Cambridge with the route taking us through the centre. Navigating Cambridge at this time of day turned into a lucky break, the air was clear and bright, with nobody around at this time of the morning. I found myself riding along with a small group of Chinese riders, helping them with the cycle lanes and road rules. We were able to take in the stunning churches and historic buildings, I have not been to Cambridge before but what a beautiful place and put this down as a place to revisit as a tourist.
I then headed into the countryside into twisty up and down back lanes through gorgeous historic villages, arriving at Great Easton at 08:08. The place was another lovely little village with the control a lovely little primary school. One of the best controls saved for last, volunteers taking and parking my bike for me, charging my phone and bike computer and offering sun cream. I sat down with a lovely wholesome chicken casserole on one of the tiny, small child’s chairs in their canteen!
Looking around, every person now had a massive grin on their face, knowing just one last push to go. Suntan lotion applied I was away with a grin as wide as everyone else’s.
Last push was just another 48 km to where it all started at Debden Academy. I soon got in with another small group and found talking away discussing our journey the time soon went by, lovely back roads continuing for much of the way.
The last few kilometres folk gradually and naturally went into their own bubbles, if like me it was to take stock of the journey just about to be completed and to try comprehending the enormity and burden that had been put on body and mind.
Debden – The End
Crossing the line just after midday I finished the 1519 km in 123 hours 28 minutes, well within the permitted 128 hours. Job Done!
Crossing the line was a strange sensation, no fanfare, just a few polite claps from riders, friends and family waiting for loved ones to finish and some congratulations and small talk from the volunteers whilst stamping and taking by brevet card. I actually felt numb, no break down in tears which I thought might happen or elation, just numbness.
Once I got my brevet card sorted and medal on, I had a tap on my shoulder and it turned out to be Ray’s partner Jo, this was a lovely surprise to have somebody there to speak to. Jo had volunteered that day to help out whilst she waited for Ray to finish, I still apologise to Jo to this day for my lack of comprehension in body or mind!
The others all followed in later that day, sporting similar stories, scars but memories to last a lifetime.
Will I do it again, at the finish it was a definite no, weeks later was a maybe, months later with body on the mend it’s now a likely :)