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LEL 2017 ( London Edinburgh London)- Part-1 : North bound

Life is always a thrill when you challenge yourself with something, which you think is impossible. You never know what that challenge takes you through, until that moment is experienced. Waiting two years for a event is really a long time. There is lot of difference between me, when I registered for LEL as crazy aimless bachelor after PBP-15, and me after two years as a experienced randonnuer and a husband ! I want to share that two year journey in a separate blog later. I will now jump into my journey to London.

26th July 2017 :

After enjoying my first international flight thoroughly, I landed at Cousin’s place in London. Needless to say that I’m amazed by the facilities, neatness and civic rules being followed by everyone. As I approached outskirts I started loving the city even more. More than anything, I loved the way they are giving respect to nature and trees. I purposely roamed around in just a t shirt to get acclimatised. It’s very cold for a south Indian body.

Learning about the campsite at Start point , I shifted there three days before the event. That gave me the opportunity to meet many volunteers and riders. I really felt comfortable to sleep on airbed inside a tent. Outdoors anytime ! I felt happy to do my bit for arranging things at start.

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The Registration day was more exciting , meeting many riders from India and seeing nearly the whole crowd of 1600 participants. More excitement. The day to showcase the skills I acquired over two years is just few hours away now….

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After Registration. Packed Dropbags – Nearly all set to go.
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I liked the way many riders camped at Star point.

Day-1 : 30th July ,2017 ( Distance covered -244 Km)

10.12 am :  All riders in P batch assembled at start point. My heartbeat is increasing. I couldn’t help recollecting all the memories past two years since I signed up for the event to riding six SR’s in a year to spending time away from my wife alone during practice, struggle for visa, research to face the weather, and more over lot of money saved and spent….

I got tears.

I resisted them to hold on inside, but they didn’t stop.

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All set to go.. few minutes left to start.
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At Start point

10:15 am- beyond: The gates were opened and we were off to live the dream. The recce ride previous day gave a hope that navigation is not really a problem as long as mobile battery is maintained properly. Ridewith gps offline navigation worked without any issue. It guided throughout. Me and Mohan did a nearly non stop 50 km, to stop for first time. Reached 1st control (100 km, St Ives) with 3 hours buffer. I liked the country side so far. Though on paper, the route appears flat, it is quite hilly, right from the start. The climbs were also long, which slowed us a bit. It was shocking to see Mayank Thripati reach here in the same time we did , though he started three hours later ! He met with a accident before event and riding with rods still in his leg. I couldn’t properly choose words to admire him.

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Entrance of St. Ives

I enjoyed riding in the Fens (flattest part in UK). As we came close to Spalding, I enjoyed the scenery along River Welland. Tailwinds gave us more comfort. We are surprised to spot Horses, which are size of Giraffes ! We reached Spalding also in planned time ( CP-2, 160 km). Buffer now increased to four hours. Things were so far so good. Apart from the ride, I also thoroughly enjoyed food provided at controls. It was like a buffet.

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Trinity Bridge- Crowland , Close to Spalding
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Me & Mohan ( On his MTB)

As we started to ride into the night, the temperatures also started getting decreased. Though it is similar scenery repeating or same houses all the time, I enjoyed seeing it again and again. I liked the similarity is maintained in building homes. Especially seeing a camping van outside almost every home made me love them more. Pets- they are everywhere. Cute and lovely. There are designated palaces for them to be taken and there was never a worry of being chased by a dog.

Just like these thoughts, time also passed and we are in 3rd Control by midnight. ( Louth- 244 km ). Now there is six hours buffer in hand. I felt like a millionaire ! It doesn’t usually happen in a brevet that you have six hours to spare.

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They ran out of anything vegetarian..I had to adjust with these.

Day-2 : 31st July 2017 :

Why will a brevet be thrilling if everything goes according to plan ? It waits for one simple mistake from you to make the whole thing exciting. So when we had six hours in hand, an hour was spent for food ( he he, I’m talking like time is Money , sometimes time becomes very valuable). Then, my lazy body which became much lazier after marriage demanded for sleep. I know a couple of hours sleep wouldn’t cause any delays and would be rather encouraging. Mohan’s idea is different, he wanted to push as much as we can in first 24 hours, which will make us put significant miles behind and can have a tension free ride for rest of the brevet. Also he had issue with navigation in his mobile, due to which we had to definitely ride together. Now it’s a clash of sleep vs ride. Though it’s a halfhearted decision, I gave respect to Mohan’s experience and we went on.

It’s significantly cold outside. Just an hour or so into the ride we felt sleepy. Keeping some distance from Mohan, I sang songs at top of my voice in a horrible tone. No tea shops, no sight of human, it’s just both of us, moon and corn fields around. Occasional passing of other Randonnuers assured that we are on course. Because the water in bottles is already freezing cold, I hesitated to even wash face. At a place, I was taken away by the kindness of a stranger, who offered us lift till next town, thinking that we lost route and were suffering in cold. We explained him that we are good and only then he left 🙂

It seemed like we rode a lot of distance, but the odo wouldn’t move ! There was no shade even to rest. After four and half hours of riding in cold, we finally found a dry place. Though it doesn’t have any shade, we decided to rest the exhausted bodies over there for 30 minutes. Sometime into the sleep, the curious house owner woke us up and asked the whereabouts. We proudly said that we are cycling to Edinburgh. She offered coffee, but I declined and requested to let me sleep for sometime. When we resumed again, we finally saw a store open. I picked up some bread and ate it. I was not sure if it has to be heated or cooked. Hunger !! We saw other riders also there.

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Humber bridge
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Then we cycled through the famous Humber Bridge. If one has to experience winds , they need to definitely pedal over this bridge. (Humber bridge: eighth longest single-span suspension bridge in world at 2220m, 1410m central span.  It is the longest you can walk and cycle over.)

After some struggle we were there at Pocklington ( 4th CP , 341 km). It took nearly eight hours to reach here. This is where lot of time got wasted and mentally made me feel low about sleep. Though we had four hours in hand now, it didn’t appear so.

I loved Muffins provided there. Even after the event, I brought them almost every day. Also from here, I started to carry an apple from control. The number of apples, I had at end of brevet are countless. Then we started to Thrisk. It is the one the most beautiful and challenging section in the brevet. It is a rolling terrain, but each climb is like a small hill. If we are unable to pickup momentum during a descent , there will be lot of struggle for climbing. We struggled anyway. One has to pass through beautiful arches built as a part of Castle Howard. We couldn’t see the castle in both ways. Our average between controls fell to 10 now. We made it to Thrisk ( 5th Cp, 408 km) with five hours in Hand, 28 hours were consumed overall. Being my dropbag point, I took a bath and changed gear. Again there is Sleep or ride confusion.I think, I slept for an hour here. Couple of hours passed by, which appeared like a fraction of second. We then moved on.

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Mohan Posing 🙂 _ We rode through many beautiful trials like these.

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Except for crossing a beautiful wooden bridge called Whorlton Bridge, I don’t remember much about what happened in between these controls. With two hours buffer time in hand, we reached Barnard Castle ( 6 th CP, 472 km). I met my friend Thomas , from France, who volunteered with me earlier. After food and wearing additional layers for most dreadful section, we left the control.

Day-3 : 1st August 2017 :

Between us and next  control stands the longest and highest climb, The Yadmoss. I have read that it is a ski resort during winters. So the level of cooling can be understood ! Long climbs welcomed us as soon as we left controls. Not sure, if it was cold or exhaustion we were slow. While riding it appeared faster, but on paper we were very slow.  Within 10 kms of ride, I felt very sleepy. Mohan waited for me as I slept for 30 mins , ( in the open again)

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Cobbles at Alston. PC : Elizabeth Hunt – taken from FB.

When we woke up and resumed, it started drizzling and soon turned into a rain. There is an optional sleep stop at Alston. We decided to use that and pushed over the climb, carefully handling descents. One can notice sheep being present all over. Though their sound irritated sometimes during the ride, I became big fan of them now. Alston was (previously) a big market centre. But it appeared tiny and beautiful. The slopes and cobbles made me fear and we walked down the slopes. Check this link for many beautiful pictures on Yadmoss climb and to see variety of bikes used.

As we approached the sleep point, we were shivering. We decided to sleep and opted a bed for an hour. Again, time passed like a second, before I was woken up suddenly. When I woke up, I started shivering a lot. I couldn’t bear the cold. I told Mohan that I can’t ride any longer is such a cold weather. He advised me to have a coffee and assured that it will be alright. It was ! We moved on and reached the last control in England -Brampton ( 7th CP, 556 Km) very close to cutoff.

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A busy place

Headwinds started to trouble us as we crossed border. Long straight stretches made the ride much boring. Only entertainment is route sheet provided by Nick Wilkinson in LEL Facebook group. Seeing that and my odo meter were only ways to pass time. More fields and more sheep. We crossed Lockerbie town. It had some history related to WW -II  and also dating past to Vikings. Some 25 kms later we were in Moffat control , again just making it within time. ( CP-8, 631 km).

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Though we had reached just within time to Moffat, our spirits were not much dampened. We continued to Edinburgh, in a hope to gain some time even though we know there are quite a few climbs on the way. Our minds became relaxed looking at the amazing landscape offered by Edinburgh scenic trail. It is endless shades of green spread all around. Even after 600 kms our legs didn’t complain of any pain, while climbing Devil’s beeftub. It is a gradual ascent. At a place I even saw a rainbow, but my mobile couldn’t capture it. I was delighted as I’m expecting it. Sadly, Mohan couldn’t see it as the background is cloudy and didn’t seem that he believed it either !

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One of my Motivation to be in this ride is this to click this picture.

Life appeared very pleasant till 50 km into that segment. All of a sudden it started raining. It’s a heavy rain. Also the roads which were empty till then , are filled by traffic. The descents were steep , and it is cold to top everything that’s happening. How a brevet can change in moments of time ?!?

Then we had to suddenly join a very narrow Cycling lane for around 10km. Due to rain, the lane is filled with mud and water. It really pissed me off, but only thing that’s in our hand is going ahead ! In this chaos, I couldn’t click a picture of famous Roslin Chapel. It has reference to The Davinci code novel. One of my favourite.

Few kilometres later, my front shifter stopped functioning. Somehow , I managed to ride in a hope to get it fixed near control. As we are coming close to control, route appeared confusing at a junction. While Mohan is patient, I’m getting angry for no reason. Suddenly while getting onto my bike, hood of my front shifter ( left) became loose and was about to fall. Because I ride mostly on hoods, I felt it is end of my brevet.

In anxiety, anger, vain, wet dress, and lot of other feelings we reached control with an hour to spare. Before the ride, I was so excited about the concept of cycling between two countries, and reaching it’s capital on bike. But due o the hurry, I couldn’t properly enjoy the moment. Mechanic fixed the loose hood, but since then shifting became too hard. A stable hood appeared as a luxury during that time than worrying about shifting.  Being drop bag point, bath ,food, changing to dry clothes took 1 hr 40 minutes without realising.We are already using time to reach next control. Damn !

Checkout  Part-2 : Southbound here.

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POWER IT UP – 1200 BRM – MUMBAI – DAY 2,3

Link to Day-1 if you have not read it !

Day 2 :

Atit-Lonavala (Cp-4 , 523 km):- After a 30 minute nap, we decided to move. Yet, some laziness in me prompted me to ask for more rest. Mohan is always a man on move. So I asked him to ride. I took one more nap. This second nap is very disturbing. Also I’m waking up, just by the sound of a freewheel, whenever a cyclist is passing by. I hated thought of wasting much more time. I got ready to ride. It was slow, because of sleep. Also I got hungry. I couldn’t swallow sweet items now, so just managed with bananas and a hot tea at Satara. I’m also feeling sad that I’m missing to enjoy moonlight because of sleep. Here I met a group of cyclists, who couldn’t continue to ride further in 600 BRM. ( It was a multi BRM, with 300,600 and 1200 BRM’s). One of them asked how could I manage to ride alone.I just smiled and went ahead.

But thinking over that question, I wondered why should one always stick with someone to ride ? I always enjoy the peace and calmness when I ride alone. If riding bicycle is freedom, riding alone is the next level. I’m not against riding in group but, riding alone is fun and peace in its own way. In a Telugu movie, hero asks someone – ” you are born alone, can’t you jog alone ?” , I want to put it same way.

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One goes down to give way for another. Moon is going down on west.

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Just before sunrise , at Surur

 

Back on the roads, my goal is to reach Kambatki ghat, which will give me lot of buffer due to descent. I pushed till Surur ( where there was a deviation for Mahabaleshwar, yesterday) and then dragged myself till I descended Khambatki ghat. Some how , I’m not very comfortable with food in that region. The thought of having vada pav for breakfast didn’t sound good to me. I rode till I saw a good hotel. Mohan is already having food there. After refilling tummy with Sambar Idly and discussing about reaching next CP we started riding.

Meanwhile, a small drama happened. Jagadeesh, who is with Anil Uchil at Mahabaleshwar , called me to ask about my whereabouts. I told I’m riding towards Pune. He was surprised saying that, he was informed by Anil that I was DNF . A chill went through my spine. Luckily, it took few more calls to sort the issue, which is name confusion with another rider.

The beautiful sunrise over hill in the morning, turned to blazing heat now. We know until we cross Pune, taking rest will waste time. So we are pushing to the extent we can. A very long down hill at Katraj tunnel lifted our spirits. A good rest to the exhausted legs. I completely enjoyed coasting in that slope. As soon as I entered city, I hated the chaotic traffic. Everything is moving like an excited electron, trying to get bonded,except that reaction will be a disaster in form of accident here, which luckily didn’t happen.

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Katraj Tunnel

Past 50,60 km I have controlled my feelings to taste Neera, but increasing heat and traffic gave me a good reason to stop at a Neera shop. I gulped three glasses back to back. My taste buds are gratified, so does my mind. Mohan went ahead.

I crossed paths with Chandramouly and Kabir. We three stopped for a quick-lunch at nearly end of Dehu road, where we should take a left to join road to Lonavala again. After a talk and giving good rest to bums, we started at our own pace.

Heat grew much intense now. I wanted have one more neera. I know, too much of anything is not good. I already had 11 galsses of it, but I feel like having one more. it was a game between mind and taste buds. As soon as my mind realised that I may not find neera stores ahead, it gave up giving way for taste buds to score.I had three more glasses. I hated that I’m lost to my senses,but it is invetible.

After that, I started feeling sleepy. In that heat, I didn’t want to stop for a break either. So I just pedalled thinking about last year, when I’m at same location after missing many controls, yet trying to finish the ride. I had a lot of buffer this time. In that dizzy mode, I reached Lonavala control and refilled tummy with a Pista Milk shake. Met Mohan once again.

At exit, we clicked few pictures of valley and moved ahead. Since my thin tires are faster, we had to separate before the Bohr Ghat descent. As it is very steep,  I couldn’t enjoy the downhill. All my concentration is on controlling bike from over speeding on steep slopes. 14 minutes for 12 km. I’m at Khopoli again.

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Myself at Lonavala
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View at Lonavala.

To escape from the unbearable heat, I took shelter under a tree. I overloaded tummy with two more glasses of sugarcane juice. It was not necessary at that time, so they started to come out soon.

After some time, I met Mohan again. I felt very dizzy, so I asked him to continue and rested at a bus shelter. I couldn’t sleep. I realised that my mind is looking for excuses to stay off bike. I moved on. I caught up with Chandramouly once again. I couldn’t match his slow pace on Trek Domane (Full carbon) bike. Yet, since I don’t want make any navigation error, I followed his wheels religiously. Traffic pissed us off. After heat, the honking now became unbearable. I couldn’t enjoy the feeling that I have finished the first toughest half. Only sunset over tall buildings eased my mind a little.

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At some signals, he waited for me. We saw Anil Uchil on the way, who clarified once again on DNF issue earlier. Pushing through the traffic, we made our way to Mulund again. It took 38.5 hours to ride the first 607 km. It was an exciting momet ,as I couldn’t finish this route earlier.

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It was really nice of Chandramouly to guide me till the end. Also he offered me stay at his home before brevet. Thanks for all your help.

I emptied my overloaded tummy at secret spice and reloaded with Pasta. Never a deficit with regards to tummy.

I then went on to McD to pack 3*Aloo tikki for early morning, and a Panneer burger to reload carbs for next half. Drinking a coke after ages gave lot of relaxation to mind. I skipped cool drinks, coffee ,tea since two months before this ride.

At Dream residency (stay arranged by organisers) , I took a shower,lubed the bike, got everything ready for next half and  tried to sleep. Mohan already reached here and wad set to rest. Our plan is to start riding by 11 pm.

Alarm did ring at time specified by us, but our bodies tired by riding a lot demanded more rest. When we heard doors being knocked, it was around 12.30 . We got up in hurry and was on bikes in next 10 minutes. 607 km more to wrap up the ride.

Day 3 :

Mumbai -Nashik (CP 6, 758km) -Dhule ( CP7 , 958 km):

As we both started again, we know reaching Nashik ,150 km in 12 hours in not very difficult. Yet, with our own shares of mishaps during brevets and also to ensure that we have enough buffer, we want to reach there as early as possible. Riding after 600 km, our bodies we are not very active, but the rest ensured that our legs were fresh.

Sleep didn’t spare us though. A tea near Thane couldn’t keep us awake. We gave a shot to the best trick that we saved . We spoke ! Spoke till we couldn’t think of speaking anymore, spoke till I lost my throat and couldn’t speak any more. Talking continuously for an hour will definitely keep you awake. I had a Aloo tikki in between,

It was endless up and down till Kasara base. We refilled our tummies to climb the ghat. It was very easy than we expected. I felt terribly sad, thinking about my DNF in this route last year. I thought I will run out of time, I had to climb this and quit after riding 500 kms in a 600 BRM. Damn me. I realised once again that, whatever may be the case, reaching the end point should be only motto for a randonnuer.

The enjoyment of effortless climbing was much intensified with the sunrise, fall colours and the trains that are passing in and out of tunnels. I felt sad that I couldn’t click any of train picture. It was an amazing sight to see train moving in those hills. Ghat is beautiful even in fall. Last time, I was mesmerised with it’s beauty during monsoon. Cycling or not, this ghat is a must visit for every wanderer.

As I rode ahead I wondered about the way nature has arranged itself over different terrains. It was a terribly rolling terrain with slight head winds for last 50 km to Nashik. We took our time. Luckily roads are smooth here, which gave us some comfort. We reached the designated CP, Dwaraka hotel with lot of time to spare. After a lassi and one more aloo tikki, we went ahead as we want to make buffer at Dhule for sleep.

Heat is intensifying. We rode further 30 km and stopped for lunch. Once again, we figured out that thirst is not real but was caused by heat. Drinking too much of water is not a solution. Our eyes found grapes. This region, is famous for them. There atelast 50 shops on either sides of road. Mohan got green one, I brought black. They are very tasty and seedless too ! I wanted to go there once again, just for them.

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Just when the temperature was unbearable, we took shelter at a abandoned shop. Yeah, body demands rest as soon as it knows that we crossed half way. I had to obey it’s command. Terrain is nearly flat now. Bearing the heat and greeting the occasional winds , we reached Chandwad. Enjoying the Chandwad descent, we pedalled ahead till Malegaon.

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Road to Chandwad

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Past Chandwad

I had most tastiest lassi in my life there. The ice cream that guy added in it was much more delicious. I wished just like hard disk space, we can add more place in belly to accommodate such delicacies.I licked till there is no drop left.

Just with one more tea stop, we pushed using our maximum strength at that time, to reach Dhule as early as possible. Winds were acting crazily. Sometimes, they come from forward, then backwards and sometimes sideways. Just like life they became unpredictable.

A long downhill guided us toward Dhule. I’m very eager to reach Dhule as control point is Gurudwara. I have never visited one before nor stayed inside its premises. Though, I know that with this attire and all sweat, mud one cannot go inside, yet I felt delighted just with thought of going to a holy place.

I headed to Langar ( free food offered at Gurudwara) as soon as I reached there. The rotis and sabji ( curry) were delicious and filled tummy. Though it felt tiresome to wash plate  after eating, it served as a great exercise to fingers which were held in same position for long time.

I took a 75% shower, emptied my belly, set everything ready  to ride back. Here for first time, I spoke happily with my parents and wife. My tone gave them confidence that I’m fine and can do it with out any trouble. Yeah, it was just 300 km more.

After the call I realised that , my neck is paining if I’m standing straight. I got worried a little, but then felt that sleep will solve it. It was not solved even after a 2 hour sleep, yet I felt it was alright to move. Mohan and me started again for my first ever epic journey.

A special note : If you are riding beyond 200 Km,depending upon sweat levels, it  will be really helpful if private areas are cleaned once for every 200-250 km. Using a base layer and this cleaning helped me stay away from chaffing which used trouble me after 400 km usually. There was little, but not much. Especially the region around anus is absolutely free of any chaffing, that has let me pedal with much happiness.

Read Day-4 here