LEL 2017 ( London Edinburgh London)- Part-2 – Southbound

Dry clothes made us feel fresh and we rode with good energy. My odo stopped functioning due to heavy rain earlier before Edinburgh. We are not getting a clue of distance covered. During nights, the hills of Scotland proved to much colder than we actually expected. Irrespective of our condition, sheep are grazing happily and encouraging us with constant ‘maaah’ sound. I like cartoon ‘ sheep in the big city ‘ very much. There was always a smile on my face, whenever I saw a sheep. It helped to relieve some tension.

While ascent was somehow manageable , I shivered a lot during descent. To add to woes, cold air hitting my face is like Lullaby putting me to sleep. A dangerous condition.  I remembered word, I have given my wife that I will never ride if my sleep is not in control. So in that moment I felt riding somehow, in cold is better than standing still in cold. It must be 10°c or less. I again sang in a harsh voice to gain some heat and be awake. Mohan always waited for me, whenever he felt that I’m not following him or felt I might be sleeping on saddle. We reached next control Innerleithen( 753 km, CP-10) , 20 minutes after the cut-off. It’s mid night.

Almost all riders in control are draped in rugs ! Volunteers gave us one each seeing our condition. I felt like giving up riding during nights and wait till light arrives next day. I didn’t feel safe as my bike might go out of control due to my shivering hands. That too with sleepy mind and body,  I feared I might fall in the valley. Once again, Mohan ridiculed my idea of spending anytime waiting or sleeping if we have to make it to end within time.  It was again a tough time : to go with right and tough decision of a wise friend ? or go with my decision of staying safe ! I nearly got tears. Suddenly, Raghavendra Jhala, who is riding strongly till there, decided to quit due to knee pain, and was discussing options of reaching back London in train. I can tolerate pain of being late but not quitting ! So I had a hot coffee very quickly and told Mohan that we should move right away. I wore two base layers, a Jersey and a rain coat over it. Two pairs of gloves and woollen socks under waterproof socks to save myself from cold. I appeared like a big fat bun 🙂 . We started in a flash.

Some of my friends , expressed their opinion that such a level of layering is not necessary. But I know what my body can with stand. So covering myself is really necessary to move ahead. There are light weight and thin cold protection layers, but they are very costly for me  to buy. Might be for Paris in 2019.

Day-4 : 2nd August 2017

Our journey to next control – Eskdalemuir is again a rough one. It was dictated by sleep and cold. There was constant gush of air in ears and sound of river Esk flowing beside us. Even day light didn’t give us much push. Mohan was still checking on me. Inside there was a guilt that he would have been much ahead, if not for me. I moved on with mixed feelings. We reached control ( CP-11, 802 KM) 1.5 hours after the cutoff. I couldn’t control sleep there.  so slept for 1.5 hour. 3:24 am is cut off , we reached at 5:08 am and left around 7:30 am. I realised that it is end of brevet for me within time. There is still 600 km to go ! I know I can make it to end, but not within time. I felt sad about the time I spent about this event, money and encouragement I got from many. I didn’t want to lose without trying. So with a heavy heart, we started peddling back to England.

Our speeds are dampened by growing headwinds. Life appeared miserable with continuous rolling terrain, where we couldn’t gain speed during downhills. We kept the fight on. Though we covered those 60 kms in 3 hours, which is good in normal conditions, it didn’t appear so at that time. We reached Brampton ( Cp-13, 861 km) ,2h 20m after cut off. Because I know there is Yadmoss climb, I refilled tummy and moved on. It was really a struggle.

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Our Expressions convey our sadness 😦

The first 30 km out of Brampton is steady. Weather was good till Alston. Mohan got couple of Coke’s for us to use during the climb. Like last time, we walked over the steep cobbled ascents. During normal weather, Alston appeared really beautiful. I wanted to spend some time with the riders chatting there in  a bus shelter, but I had no choice except to ride. I  looked surprisingly at people having ice cream in that cold weather. As soon as we started climbing Yad moss, the intensity of head winds, which was just alright till then, doubled. Gradually it tripled and then quadrupled. Bike didn’t move, even when gradient is normal. As if the fun is not enough, it started drizzling and soon it turned out to be rain ! Visibility nearly became zero. Almost everyone struggled. Only those who are riding in groups got some relief. Climb appeared never ending. Soon I lost sight of Mohan and every one else. I feared that I went out of route, but it is just a feeling due to loneliness. I stopped quite a few times to check distance in mobile, as my odo is not working anymore due to heavy rain in Edinburgh. It took nearly 7 hours to cover those 83 toughest kilometres of brevet. Reached Barnard Castle ( CP-14, 944 km) 2 h 20m after cut off. This time I made sure I took picture of the castle in that town. I forgot to mention that school, which is the control appeared majestic.

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I was again greeted by my French friend Thomas. It was quite discouraging to hear many DNF stories. I made sure that my mind is just focusing on finishing, irrespective of what I hear, see or challenging conditions I may face. Here I want to make a mention of dear friend Kaviarasu. He started four hours later than us, and missed route for about 50 kms. Still he was on time to every control, much ahead of us and getting proper sleep as needed. It was mixed feelings of jealousy and inspiration at same time.

We moved on….It was again pushing till Next control Thrisk. I felt sad that I couldn’t capture Whorlton bridge even in return. We crossed 1000 kms as we came close to control.  That was a happiness among all miseries. We took approximately 3.5 hours to reach Thrisk ( CP-15, 1008 km). It appeared as a decent time after 900 kms in legs. We are just two hours behind time now. This was my dropbag point. If everything was good, I’m supposed to wear LEL jersey for last 400 kms. As I am behind the clock, I didn’t feel like wearing it. I have dumped anything felt as additional luggage into drop bag and reduced load on bike. Got my bike lubed, while Mohan was taking a nap and finishing his food, I used loo, took bath and went to refill tummy.

It was quite shocking to learn that Mayank and other rider met with accidents. Amol has decided to quit and many others have already quit. Some of fellow Indians lost route and some didn’t knew where they were ! An alarming state. I pathetically requested Mohan , that we should sleep before continuing as we are close to midnight. But after discussion with Amol, we came to know that controls are being closed based on last riders timing and any delay beyond 3-4 hours might put us in trouble of reaching control after it is completely closed. If it happens so, it is uncertain that our ride might not be validated even as a late finish. Also reaching next control is really a big hurdle as we have to cross Howardian hills.

We collected emergency blankets from control. Again with already sleepy eyes and a heavy heart we started for Pocklington. Around 1.5 hours were consumed at control. Still we had around 31 hours in hand for last 400 odd kilometres. It seemed a reality to finish within time. As soon as we got out, we joined a road that passes through a national park. We were already assured that there is no threat of wild animals and there won’t be any stray dogs. So we pedalled with confidence. All the tricks with me are exhausted. I continued a sleepy ride enjoying the darkness. I couldn’t see Castle Howard as it was past midnight. Since it is a fully rolling terrain, so I had to make sure that I was really awake during descents or it would be end of LEL due to a crash, if I sleep.  Determination helped me to be awake and sustain the ride till we completely descended Howardian hills. We took a nap for 30 minutes at doorway of small house in next town.  As it is 3rd night we spotted many riders who were sleeping at random places on roads. We entered into 4 th day and reached Pocklington (CP-16 ,1075 Km) as it dawned. We are nearly 3.5 hours behind cutoff.

Day-5 : 3rd August 2017:

As soon as we got into control, while Mohan is having breakfast and little nap, I once again used loo and took bath to be fresh for day. Still it is only sleep that is bothering me and everything else is fine. I felt Pocklington contol provided best and tasty food. I had a feast there. Once again saw Kavi.

Due to hot water bath or sleepless nights past three days, my body was reluctant to ride. Sometime into the ride , I gave up and told Mohan to go on without wasting time and I will have a nap somewhere and join him again. He told he will wait for me. We started hunting for a place to sleep. A bench on roadside seemed to be perfect  as a bed for sometime. He kept a watch while I slept. After he woke me up , he asked ‘how far should we ride till Edinburgh ? ‘ I was shocked for a second and told we are heading to London ! He laughed and said if my mind is working or not ! Some fun in the tough times !

We moved on. Headwinds are showing their full might. We couldn’t move pedal as we climbed onto Humber Bridge. They are the strongest side winds I ever experienced , since I started cycling. It was a relief to cross that bridge while heading south. We still had around 50 km to ride for reaching Louth ! It appeared daunting to ride in those headwinds. After what appeared to be an eternity, we reached Louth ( CP-17,1172 Km). We are 4.5 hours behind the time now. We had 17 hours in hand to cover 264 kms. Seemed tough but not impossible.

Mohan reached Louth earlier than me. Now there is a fear that controls might close if we don’t hurry. Mohan was very quick and left control ten minutes before me. As I started, my navigation in ride with gps, which was fine till then hanged suddenly. I switched on OSMand app right away . I didn’t realise the surroundings during north bound , but way out of Louth is extremely beautiful. At any moment during LEL, we paid a price to see anything beautiful, in the terms of climbing or by facing headwinds. Now since this place is much beautiful being surrounded by endless corn fields and beautiful, clear blue sky, there are both headwinds and climbs on narrow roads. I enjoyed riding there and pushing myself. My mission now is to catch Mohan.

As I peddled faster, I realised that I could do much better and started working much harder. This brought a smile in my face after long time. It was like, I started riding LEL just now. I was completely awake, felt very refreshing and didn’t stop till I caught up with Mohan. He stopped there to lend a hand to couple of riders crashed due to some confusion. We found those headwinds very tough to ride. Sometime later, our paces were not matching and suddenly, Mohan felt very exhausted he asked me to move on and he stopped at a place to eat. I pushed myself till Spalding. This time, I didn’t enjoy riding through fens ( fens are flattest lands in UK) due to headwinds. I really felt sad and jealous seeing the riders who are taking rest or enjoying sunshine or admiring beautiful scenery. I cursed myself for keeping myself in such a tough condition. Adding bit more to my regret, I couldn’t click the beauty of beautiful channel that is flowing through Spalding. I reached control four hours after the cut off. ( CP-18, 1256 km).

Though I wanted to move right after having food, my stomach didn’t take my side and urged me for a loo. It took bit longer, while Mohan reached ,took a red bull and left in a flash. I’m feeling short of words to describe determination of Mohan. As I started , I felt it was very hot and got irritated due to layers I’m wearing. I had to stop for removing some and adjusting them. Again a delay. Angrier upon self , I moved on.

Finding myself at right side of road or stopping suddenly in front on grass , I realised that I’m riding completely under the influence of sleep. I’m riding beside a channel and it is not at all a place to sleep. I rode just like a  man, who gulped a bottle of whisky. Darkness all around, darkness in my mind, darkness everywhere. I didn’t see any reason to continue the ride, except for finding a place to sleep. When I finally got rid of that Channel and entered a town called Crowland. I informed Mohan and slept on walkway ( platform) in front of a house using emergency blanket. It was most pathetic moment for me in Brevet. I was afraid all along that I might be confused for thief, while searching for place to sleep in that darkness. I woke up 30 minutes after my planned sleep time of 2 hours.

Day-6 : 4th August 2017:

My brain couldn’t co ordinate with instructions from GPS, making it difficult for me to be on right way. I manged to go ahead till I found myself completely lost in a round about, where I met a Hong Kong rider , Hing. He was patient enough to tag with me for sometime. He even helped couple of other ladies ( From Romania ? may be ) to find a place to sleep, when they decided to quit due to injury and pain in knees. I felt very sad for them, to quit after coming such a long way.  He helped me to tag with another rider David, ( Rider no LL14) and stopped as he had to attend his nature call. David, was much patient rider, who is also finding it tough at that moment. Help from random persons like this, will make you love randonnuering more and more. He used to wake me up when I’m sleep riding or going right side of road without my knowledge. He kept me talking and announced, how far we are from St. Ives. I couldn’t thank him enough. When we entered St. Ives control, he told that he couldn’t let someone ride in such a sleepy state. I reached St. Ives ( CP-19, 1317 km). I am 7hr 15 minutes behind the control time. I felt shameful over such a slow ride. Yet I reminded myself that I’m riding beyond 1200 km and moved on.

 I applied coconut oil to butt abundantly and cleaned private parts for every 200-250 km. So there was never any saddle sore. There was some chaffing due to padding , but main concern was inexplicable irrigation under groin due to my movement over saddle. It would prick like a pin and cause intolerable pain till I find a comfortable position.

Because of my unplanned sleep pattern and slow riding, I was now left with two hours in hand  and over  126 kms to finish ride within time. As it is confirmed in every way that I couldn’t finish ride within time, I wanted to atleast finish it by riding till the end.   As I moved out of St. Ives I got confused about route once again at a roundabout, due to which I lost some more time.
Finally, when I was back on route it is the cycling lane to famous Cambridge. I was excited to be there and one of most awaited moment in brevet. Sadly it was during my crisis. One cannot stop himself from being amazed by the Cambridgeshire bus way and cycling lane that is built. ( it is longest busway in world). I enjoyed the scenery throughout.

 To avoid sleep, I started eating the orange candies I carried all the way from India. The routine became bored. I get sleep, bike shakes suddenly, I stop and wash my face ,chew a candy and continue ride. I felt pity on self for this weird situation, where my legs are ready to ride another 500 or 600 kms but eyes doesn’t want to be open at all. This happened till I joined road to Cambridge. When I entered it, I felt short of words to express my amazement. It is beautiful. Riding through cobbles was massage to butts. I stopped in front the main building for some seconds to admire it’s architectural Beauty. The Canals, professors riding bikes in suits, bicycles all over and mainly seeing lot of humans suddenly, it appeared as a different world. I substituted apple for breakfast.

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Cambridge

After some distance, I couldn’t take my eyes off the Audley end hall. It is a beautiful building in a well maintained lawn. I couldn’t take my sleepy eyes off that building. When orange candies are finished, I switched on to Dry fruit bar my wife made for me. I felt sad that I couldn’t make it within time, even with all the efforts she took to make sure that I train well. I regretted over the time we had to spent separately, when I had to go for a long practise ride. I didn’t want to put her down, so I continued with much more enthusiasm.

However fast I ride or whatever hill I climb, I couldn’t see next control. I rode till every part of my brain and body got pissed off yet there is no sign of Great Easton. Roads suddenly became narrow. A new climb appeared after climbing one, with headwinds teasing me all the way. I just pointed my middle finger at head winds and moved on. I climbed till my legs pleaded road to stop climbing up and up. My frustration increased, as I saw great Easton signboard, but not control. That was a tricky situation. Surroundings are beautiful, but I’m in no mood to enjoy.  I gave up looking for it and continued till I saw a tiny school, which is control.I reached  Great Easton ( CP-20, 1388 Km) seven hours after my cut off. I once again felt very shameful. The control was about to close. There is no food left. I ate some biscuits which are left, picked up couple of apples and started on my way back. to Loughton, the start point.

 

As I moved on I saw same scenery again and again. I wondered if I’m riding around the control in sleep, but I was following route correctly. It happened for some 20 kms, till I joined other road. Climbs seemed endless, so are the headwinds. I felt helpless and frustrated about the ever shutting down eyes. I stopped many times. I got hungry, but couldn’t stop anywhere as end seemed closer, but I never got closer. I’m crossing many signboards, but it appeared that I’m no where closer to finish. Meanwhile, there was another climb. Headwinds revolted back on me, whenever I tried to increase my speed. I felt like I was trapped inside a green limbo. I lost all the hope, till I saw a signboard – Theydon bios. It was very close to end and I know it. I pedalled harder, I know that I’m definitely reaching the end to experience the reality I dreamt couple of years ago. Two years is really a long time to wait for something. I came closer..just 800 m to the end. Many riders who are leaving to home are waving at me and cheering me. Many smiling faces and sore butt walks. I crossed the gates of Davenant school, parked my bike and ran inside. I don’t want to delay anymore.

My brevet card was stamped and the man sitting there said that ‘ you have finished the ride, here is your medal’. That’s it, I couldn’t control a sea of tears waiting behind my eyes past few hours. I couldn’t move or take my eyes off the final stamp on brevet card. That man understood the pain, I must have taken to finish the despite lagging behind the time. He cheered me and few people gave hugs. I went inside to see if any food is left. Amol and Nikhil received me and got me some potatoes, coffee. they are very happy that I made it. Tears didn’t stop yet. I cried after a long time. Finally I felt ride is over after I have uploaded it in starva and my tears stopped slowly. I took 6 hours 45 minutes additionally, apart from the allocated ride time of 117 hours 25 minutes.

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I met Steve Poulton and Liangzhi with whom I volunteered before the event. Steve is a mountaineer, who started randonnuering before I was born. He finished 4 or 5 PBP’s and 3 or 4 LEL’s. He had to quit at Barnard Castle this time. He appreciated way I rode with walking shoes and took a picture of my feet. Many finishers, many smiles and many stories of those who couldn’t make it to end. It’s a sea of mixed emotions. It was sad to know that Liangzhi had quit at 1200 , after his brave attempt on Brampton foldie.

I was surprised to see Mohan. I regretted that I couldn’t finish it along with him. Many Indian riders are still there. Now I didn’t feel sleepy. I got refreshed by taking bath and wore the LEL jersey with some pride now. Mohan’s friend arranged a cab for us and we bid adieu to organisers, school and end of beautiful brevet.

In the hurry I forgot my rain jacket there in school. It was gone now. I couldn’t have finished ride without it. It saved me throughout from rain and cold.

Post ride, I enjoyed a beautiful time in Scotland, before coming back to India. A blog on it later. My left hand is not fully functional as event is finished. My little finger was numb and I couldn’t hold fingers closer. Thumb of left leg is also numb. I didn’t want to get rid of them anytime soon, as they remind me of my beautiful journey to new dreams and adventures.

Signing off…till next brevet.
Sayi Rama Krishna.

 

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