4:45 : get up, dress, bicycle ready to go, short check, switch on GPS and here we go. Without coffee or breakfast we head London centre for the prologue of LEL 2013, meeting point Buckingham palace. In the group, like usual, two fellows who have many smart comments but don ´t like to help with navigation.
Pictures, not far from the palace, then we start to Loughton, passing Trafalgar square in a hurry, while the last night owls are lurching home. All in one not that spectacular, as expected, but almost 70km in the legs, wich will become painful later.
LOUGHTON – ST. IVES 99km 4:05:21
getting in touch
“Good morning, Ladies & Gentlemen, you ´re here to do LEL. We have winf from the back, 26 degrees and it will be showry. The tour is on public roads, so take care of yourselves. When did you think to reach Edinburgh?”
Grinning, we start off.
Strong wind from the back is pushing, however, I fear, this will last until we come back. I ´m in a bad temper, have slept pardon- shitty, and the outlook to 100km hilly profile does not make me happier.
Suddenly there are many cyclists around us, not randonneurs, on all different kinds of bikes. A couple of miles we take part in “London – Cambridge”, which is taking place today as a charity against breast cancer.
It ´s an honour.
ST. IVES – KIRTON 81km 3:46
On the banks down on the boglands cycling goes well, small groups form and fall apart again and everybody is struggling to find his own rythm. We find out, that the assistance at the controls is organized commendable. With short queues you get your stamps and loads of good food for everyones taste. My absolute favourite in St. Ives: Lichfields “Millionaires Shortbread”
KIRTON – MARKET RASEN 68km 3:45
Somehow I don ´t find into the brevet. Cycling ´s good, good legs, it ´s just – where is the flow?
Too many thoughts, pushed away but still present, that keep me from getting into the brevet as usual. OK, I ´m never too motivated on the first 200km, but these are over, what ´s going on?
I seem to be blocked, somehow…
MARKET RASEN – POCKLINGTON 84km 8:20
where the hell is Uwe?
I made the smart plan to drive until Edinburgh without sleeping, so I climb on the cycle again at half past nine. Something is weird, I make little progress and bad phantasies take place in my head, accompanied by massive hallucinations, what forces me to several powernaps. Partly I am really despairing, however, the only way out of this lonely forest is my bicycle so I go on. Where is my Uwe? That faithful supporter, who, in desperate situations always finds the right words to say? Who can become that obtrusive, that you get back on your bike just because you can ´t listen any longer?
In tehe dawn, rattling freewheels pull me out of my lethargie, suddenly I ´m riding in a group. Sadly, I report to the leader, that I haven ´t got the slightest idea, what I did the last few hours, all I remember is a huge bridge. “Yeah, ” he nods, ” riding on your own at night is shit.”
POCKLINGTON – THIRSK 65km 4:29
dawn at the horizon
So what? After a filling breakfast, my mood is that much better, that I find something like a rythm, a small group is rolling into the cool morning. I just ask, when we reach Scotland, the answer is more or less reluctant. That means: pedaling, rolling an greet the day with inspiring talks.
THIRSK – BARNARD CASTLE 67km 4:57
The head is still a little hesitant, but I feel very well physically. Only on this road I have to push the bike, because I brake too hard on the mud in the middle of the dip and choose the wrong speed, the 18% uphill are impossible without any drive.
BARNARD CASTLE – BRAMPTON 82km 5:42
Slow & steady
, I told the tourist, who tried to show us something at one of the gains. Halfway he stood there, red like a tomato, pumping like a chafer. The teacher at my side looked me over, before he advised me to have another stop, before going up Pennine mountain, because it looks like incoming rain. 20km beside the river Tee without any shelter. But the wind is in the back, I pedal uphill easily and enjoy the downhill afterwards.
BRAMPTON – MOFFAT 74km 11:25
I ´m in the race!
After a recreative night in Brampton, where I must have lain like body in that schoolgym, I race, highly motivated, direction scottish border. The decision to rest till dawn was dead right. Today I want to get into the city of Edinburgh, and then go back.
MOFFAT – EDINBURGH 81km 4:45
Shortly after MOFFAT, the “scenic road” to Edinburgh begins. Far more than 20km you roll downhill, through green valleys past old manors. My attitude changes: I simply forget the skill to make speed and catch up time, instead I enjoy the ride and the beauty of a foreign country.
EDINBURGH – TRAQUAIR 42km 5:13
A hot shower and fresh suit make a new man of me. The showerrooms were completely deserted, so I maintained myself carefully and now I ´m munching fish&chips. What more can happen to me? We ´re going home!
After I found my way out of Edinburgh, the lovely countryside again amazes me: dreaming I roll up- and downhill, wondering I watch the new sights after every turn and whish myself someone to share. Timelimit? Who cares?
! TRAQUAIR – ESKDALEMUIR 46km 3:50
He ´s sitting at the control in ESKDALEMUIR, arms crossed on his chest, clutching a pot of steaming coffee 20cm below his nose, sleeping. With this mixture of fascination and horror, I watch the big drop dangling at his nose and ask myself , how much it must weigh…Suddenly Martin opens his bloodshot eyes and announces: “I think, there is no sense in you, waiting for me. You better go.” The whole stage I pulled him and was so full of joy about the wonderful sights, that I did not realize, that man is finished. So we go our seperate ways, now, friend, bonne courage and take care! I step out into the ending rain and drive on.
ESKDALEMUIR – BRAMPTON 58km 3.42
Tactic und coalition
Already on the last stage I took notice of that huge swedish guy, who was pedaling up the steepest mountains stoically and is always near me. Now we start talking, I explain my observation, that the nasty head wind came up around noon, the last few days. We decide to rest and sleep in BRAMPTON, to begin the return over Pennine mountain in the morning, reposed and without head wind. The negotiations about the start time , however, are a little too difficult, he is a little too comfortable for me. Anyway…
Reaching BRAMPTON, to my surprise I find, that this is the place, I slept the other night. Could have bet, it was MOFFAT.
BRAMPTON – BARNARD CASTLE 83km 11:07
On top of the hill our arrangement breaks, 608m up. Wide awake, I hurl myself into the descent, because meanwhile I calculated, that my skill of getting below 100h still seems to be accessible. When “Swede Johansson”, that name he was given in my mind, gets himself a second plate of food and starts talking to a compatriot, I set off.
BARNARD CASTLE – THIRSK 66km 4:01
It ´s raining. Eventually I press a button at the Garmin to change the resolution and it dies down. I get completely mad: It was the same way in France 2011, when the little blighter drowned. The next km I ´m phrasing letters I will write to the producer, once this here is over. The imagination of navigating the rest of the brevet in the dark with laminated notes takes me near to desparation. Not far from THIRSK, home of James Herriott, me a british driver and me get lost completely, while he is asking for the way at a car, I restart the GPS, just to show him, it ´s broken. It ´s booting… the empty batteries have recovered for the boot, now I remember, that there had been a warning. Completely forgot about it! Relieved endlessly, I change batteries, boot the tool and put myself on the track to THIRSK. There I am informed, that I have only 4h left till closing of the control, I should drive a little more concentrated. What do they think?
Back in Edinburgh I had to fix the Garmin before, the old trouble with contact of the batteries on bad roads. Practically, in the service parcel of LEL were included two pairs of earplugs. One for the garmin and one for the rider.
THIRSK – POCKLINGTON 65km 4:15
another jolly nightride
I want the 9. I found out, that the strategie with extensive breaks in the dark, where you don ´t get forward anyway, has advantages. I ´ll do the opposite thing again, now, inconsequentially. Espresso, (I brought it, in the country of teadrinkers you never know) and out in the rain, that now hit me too, finally. My luck has been sheer unbelievable. Who cares, in MARKET RASEN, there ´s my bagdrop with dry scrubs, forecast is no more rain from there.
POCKLINGTON – MARKET RASEN 84km 6:32
malfunction same procedure
After about 40km in a short descend,it goes bang: flat on the rear wheel. I ´m so frustrated that I don ´t even get angry: Never Change a running system, what a kind of bullshit. Here I go with a mended tube 1500km to London, just because it was ok. Crystal clear, you jester! The patch is ok, 10cm besides it, there is a peasized, frayed hole, it ´s even worse: the tyre itself is torn at the flank, the tube came out and burst. I mend the tyre from the inside with a couple of big patches, on advice of a welsh rider, I put a ziptie around the dilemma, to keep the tube inside. Then, with half power and slighty floppy tyre, I ride the next 45km. The “9” is gone, the dead straight forest?road demoralizes me again, hallucinations in my head and before my face drive me to desparation. Like on the forward run, the only rememberable is Humberbridge.
MARKET RASEN – KIRTON 68km 7:36
I ´m not only dried up, the local mechanic can help me with an original Schwalbe tyre, what he, admittedly seems to weigh up with 36 £. I decide to have another 2hrs nap, to maintain my depressions and then continue in the cool morning.
What follows is a plain, long piece of road besides a swampy river, unprotected strong headwind, 30 degrees C and not a cloud. Starting off, I had shot the bull.” only a small 300, that ´s what I do every weekend!”. Also I make the main mistake of the brevet: I put the sunblock 50 into my dropbag, to get rid of it.
KIRTON – ST IVES 81km 5:35
Only bits and pieces left,
one could think, but Wind and heat persist, therefor the road becomes very “scenic” again. Neverending, wavy grainfields, narrow small roads full of potholes, turns and ascents. Here, for one time, I really loose control that much, that I bawl at an elder rider, who asks , if we are wrong way: ” Certainly, we ´re wrong! Would have been too easy, just to go a little fu… downhill!”
The poor chap is that astonished, that he doesn ´t dare to talk to me again, my intent to apologize will be forgotten. Pity.
ST IVES – Gt EASTON 74km 5:55
mere endless torture
Dehydration is finishing me. It ´s litre No. 8 and I stop again at a small market to bunker cold water, the icecream, I ´m offered , I refuse in thanks, too sticky, but the push of an icecold coke, that ´s good! Sometimes, this broth is really delicious. By and by, the sun disappears and the wind starts to cool off the burning skin. Is it, like with camels, this anticipating of the near destination, that gives back energy, believed to be lost long ago to my legs? Considering this, I reach the last control.
Gt EASTON – LOUGHTON 46km 2:49
The wild hunt
The rest of the track is not complete on my Garmin. Hence I pick an elder man as a draught horse, wo has a Garmin, too and leads his companion, a young lady with it. At first, they trie to get rid of me, but no way, they ride fluently, just my pace and with my awakening enrgies, this becomes a finale furioso. The young lady is sitting straight up on her cycle, her legs going in staccato, as if she just starded and has not got 13oo km, like us. I more or less know the route from my exploration last week, but it ´s darkening and so I stick to them, between the Lady and the man, whose rearlight blinds me. Like a hawk, she throws herself into the turning descents, about 50m in front of me, I watch the surface in her frontlight and let go in the dark, straight on her line. My personal waypoints(pubs) rush by in almost unbelievable short time, a distant display of fireworks announces us at the destination, as we shout at each other, laughing, then pass THEYDON BOIS, the campsite, I lead into the village, on the long stright road to the school, destination. Shortly before, I slow down, they took me, thanks very much, was great fun, but the end of it is yours, together, father and daughter, congratulations!
A little later, I thank them again, then, exhausted and thoughtful, I roll to my tent.
I don ´t feel like a winner, rather like a survivor…