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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
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 !
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.