LEL Day 3

Moffat control dorm – sometime before dawn

I don’t remember exactly what time I had asked for my wake-up call, I’m guessing it would have been around 4:30am, giving me an hour or so to eat and get ready for riding again. Whatever time it was, I slept right up until the volunteers visited each of the mattresses on the same round of wake-ups. Still groggy with sleep, I lay for quite a few minutes before hauling myself up and gathering together my things – this time much more neatly organised in one small tidy pile tucked at the foot of the mattress.

Already rather slow to get up, and with the showers fairly busy, I decided not to waste more time. I ducked into the large disabled toilet next to the dormitory, and did a quick body wash with a combination of wet wipes, soapy water, and a couple of hand towels. For the first time I had experimented with sleeping in my contact lenses, which my optician had told me would be OK for several days if needed. It seemed to have worked well – my vision was fine, and my eyes now fully awake, weren’t sore. Last order of business was a quick brush of the teeth, and a change of shorts after a liberal smearing of Sudocreme over anywhere remotely tender, and surrounding areas just for good measure. I was ready for food.

Today’s breakfast delight was a sort of thick ham slice, but with the taste of sausage – a bit like the sausage patties in a McD’s muffin. It hit the spot perfectly, and I was tempted to go back for seconds. I probably should have, but the coffee machine had my attention and got the return visit instead. Ready for the day, I made my way back to the hall to recover my shoes and head out to fetch the bike. I rode it back to the glass doors of the canteen hall, to save time visiting the water fountain with bottles. Whilst the Garmin was booting up, I quickly wiped down the chain and ran some fresh lube over it. I wasn’t really sure of the benefit of this – the chain was now thick with road gunk, and was really in need of a decent clean. I figured the Teflon might add at least some lubrication to keep it turning and shifting.

Chores all done, I made a quick call home to Yoli before heading out. I had messaged the night before to let her know I was safely at Moffat, but it had been way too late to speak. I was about to set out for Edinburgh, the halfway spot where we turned southwards. It was exciting to be starting on N9, the last northbound leg on the Garmin and I was eager to share the news. I was very glad that Yoli completely understood this feeling, and the call left me uplifted as I rode out from the control, ready for the morning and day 3 of my LEL adventure.

Time of departure from Moffat  05:22 – a damp and misty dawn slowly breaking.

Backtracking to Moffat high street, the route then split from our ride in the night before, swinging to the right and taking us through the centre of town. The morning was damp, and once through the town the road immediately started to climb up into grey shrouds of mist hanging over the hillside in the still air. The volunteers at Brampton had mentioned that before Edinburgh we climbed up and over the interestingly named Devils Beef-Tub. A quick glance down at the route sheet clipped to my handlebar confirmed that this was in fact the start of that climb, which would peak at 403m somewhere up ahead. It didn’t shed any light on what a “beef tub” actually was, or why Beelzebub had chose this patch of Scottish countryside to store his.

Not far outside the town a red traffic light stopped me at a single file section of road works. Sadly, with such poor visibility, the opportunity to admire views whilst paused was wasted. The interruption did have a concertina effect though, and starting out again I was suddenly not riding alone, quite a number of other riders were now around me. I noticed with amusement one of the guys was riding what looked like a largely standard Giant TCR Advanced. I made a mental note to tell my friend and training partner Penny about this. As someone already almost bitten by the audax and long distance cycling bug, I wasn’t sure she would thank me for the revelation that her new race bike was clearly capable of these events.

As the altitude on the route sheet suggested, it was neither a long or especially strenuous climb to the top of the hill, and we were soon rolling along a ridge, and dropping down into a long and very lovely valley beyond. Although the roads were still wet, the mist and clouds were clearing and the views were breathtaking. In the valley to our right was a series of reservoirs, and at some point on the road we passed a sign denoting the source of the River Tweed. The river  started as nothing more than a narrow brook in the bottom of the valley, but it’s waters grew rapidly as the road descended through the valley. Shortly before Broughton, the infant river swung away left and we parted company. My limited knowledge of this area’s geography was sufficient to tell me our paths would inevitably cross again at some stage later that day – we would cut back south, whilst the river would continue it’s way eastward to the sea at Berwick.

Somewhere along this stretch of road was a rather strange sight – an old slightly run-down building, covered in Save The Crook Inn signs and banners, and details of the next fundraising event. I wondered what the history of this building was to make it worthy of saving, and whether it was a private or local community project to save it. Either way, it seemed a simply delightful setting for a rennovated and revived inn to offer it’s hospitality. I wondered if sometime I would come back through here touring with family and perhaps get the chance to stop in there for a meal or a stay. I knew Yoli would adore the scenery we were riding through, and very much hoped there would be a chance to share it with her some day. Definitely not in winter though – it was clear that this could be  a very bleak area in harsh weather. Wherever the road was flat, the surface was quite badly broken up, evidence I guessed that winters up here were icy cold. I was glad to be here in such pleasant weather, the early morning damp now having given way to a warm sunny day.

Leaving the open moorland behind us, we were joined by a busy road from the left, signposted Edinburgh in the direction we were heading, and Glasgow back the other way. With the same unfortunate timing from the Alston to Brampton section the day before, we hit this stretch of road at peak time. Clearly the Scottish rush hour drivers were not to be outdone by their southern counterparts. We were unfortunate enough to be surrounded again by an array of mundane cars, vans and lorries attaining speeds and cornering so hard they may as well have been racing around Silverstone. In my head, I started to write a book entitled It’s All Your Fault Clarkson – the central premise being that half of the UK now thought they were The Stig, thanks to watching too many episodes of Top Gear. Clearly, it was not exactly a scientifically provable fact, or even a vaguely plausible premise, and the risk of being sued for libel was consequentially rather high. Whatever the real cause of the maniacal frenzy to get to work at all costs, I did think it was a shame that some of our riders had flown across half the planet from countries as far off as Japan, only to be nearly forced off the road by a succession of lunatic drivers in an unfathomable hurry to reach the boredom of their desks.

In a lay by to the right hand side of the road was a van, which judging by the throng of riders around it must be serving tasty delights such as bacon rolls and coffee. I was half tempted to stop, but the lure of Edinburgh and the halfway milestone was too great. On the road just beyond this, a new hazard was lumbering slowly into the road, whilst chewing on some grass. Someone had left the gate to a field open, with one cow already in the road, and two more about to follow. I gave the animal a wide berth, eyeing it carefully should it start and decide to charge me. It did occur to me that karma should really ensure one of the speeding drivers met this beast and ended up in the ditch. It’s not nice to wish ill of others though, especially the poor cow.

The road continued largely straight although it rolled down and up considerably as we approached our destination. To my left I suddenly spied a very distinctive butterfly shaped outcrop of rock, I was pretty sure this was Arthur’s Seat, a well know Edinburgh landmark and one which Yoli and I had climbed up on one of our first dates. Somewhere we have a self portrait, complete with cheesy grins and arms holding the camera to prove it. At the top of one hill, I was even more thrilled to see another familiar sight from that trip – the chimneys of a power station on the coast south of Edinburgh. It’s hard to portray the romance and meaning of this sight to anyone else. On our last day in Edinburgh, we’d driven down the coast, and starving hungry had pulled over to buy chips from a van. They were perhaps the best chips we’ve ever eaten, and the backdrop as we sat eating them were those chimneys and that power station.

Countryside gave way to suburbs, and the road dropped steeply down to the suburb of Lasswade on the Esk. At the bottom, as we turned left, other riders were coming back past us and up the hill to the right. Clearly we were close to the control, and neither the ride there or back was going to be flat. We were quite large bunches of riders now, in both directions, and as we passed under the Edinburgh bypass the morning was starting to get quite hot, adding to the work of climbing the last hill, up and over before dropping down to the control.

Edinburgh – 09:31, distance ridden: 705km – HALFWAY!

We were here, in Edinburgh, halfway. It should have been a wonderful moment, but strangely it wasn’t. It was hard to pinpoint why – perhaps because we weren’t really in Edinburgh, we were in a school car park on the outskirts of the city somewhere. Maybe that was a factor, but the real reason was that halfway meant we had it all to do again. Except this time we would be starting out sleep deprived, with battered bodies and tired legs. And once we left this control, we would be tackling one of the tougher sections of the ride. It promised to be extremely scenic, but the climbs would be a test for the legs and spirit.

Putting that out of mind, I headed in to the control for sustenance to stoke the energy reserves. I forget what the hot dishes were, but remember there being a sizeable queue and none of them really grabbing me. So, after stopping by a table to grab sweet tea, I made for the other end of the counter, which still had cold breakfast food laid out. Filling plates with toast, and bowls with Weetabix I headed to the nearest vacant table, slowly slumped down and proceeded to stuff my face. The toast was especially good, smeared thickly with butter and marmalade, a whole packet per slice – double what I’d normally have lathered on. The tea was good too and, following what was rapidly becoming routine, as soon as the first cup was gone it immediately got refilled. Passing the counter again, I noticed that the breakfast items were now almost all gone – “just in time” I thought to myself, swiping what remained of the toast as I went by.

Appetite satisfied, I now desperately needed a loo before heading out. And that was where I really started to get frustrated. On the section of corridor with showers, practically every toilet was either flooded, blocked, had no paper, and in some cases all three. The control had been busy, and I imagined the volunteers must have been rushed off their feet, so I did my best to mention it politely and without any hint of grumpiness to one of the volunteers as I headed back to the canteen. Luckily, hidden away in a different corridor off the hall was another male toilet. Judging by it’s super clean state, it had either not been found by many other riders, or had recently received a visit from someone on cleaning duties.

The food hadn’t really lifted my mental slump as I stood outside filling bottles from the hose and preparing to ride out. I forget whether I called Yoli or just messaged her, but I let her know about my low spirits and got a cheery response back telling me half was done, keep going. My mood wasn’t helped by the volunteer at the gate who, on seeing my C plate, chirped something along the lines of “you’re a bit late aren’t you, most of your group are long gone?“. He was just being friendly, but it wasn’t really the thing I needed to hear right at that moment. I told myself it may be true, but I had several hours in hand still over when this control would have closed for me. It didn’t cancel out the sudden faint sound of a clock ticking somewhere in the distance though. I focused on the road ahead, and tried to banish the idea from my mind. There was plenty of time still.

Time of departure from Edinburgh 10:22 – spirits flagging.

The route initially doubled back on our path in, passing so many swathes of riders on their way in to the control that my right hand spent more time in the air waving to them than it did on the bars. It made for a couple of quite interesting wobbles on the descent back down to Lasswade. Once the paths had split again, the route took us predominantly upwards through a succession of urban areas, suburbs of Dalkeith I guessed judging from the fact that every left turn seemed signposted there. We briefly dropped down to cross a river on a bridge with single track traffic due to roadworks. It was a pretty little section, which then climbed back up again and took us onto A7. Luckily this was a shortish stretch as the road was extremely busy with trucks, buses and traffic. The road was wide, and in places even had a narrow cycle lane, so none of the traffic really bothered us, but it was noisy and not especially pleasant. The cycle lane wasn’t always a good call either – being occasionally festooned with litter, broken glass and dog shit. It reminded me of home. I wondered if cycle lanes everywhere in the world were magnets for detritis.

The riding became immensely more enjoyable after we swung right off the A7, and found ourselves on green and pleasant quiet country lanes again. My mood lifted too. The weather and riding were good, we’d turned for home, and we were heading into a part of the route I had been greatly looking forward too. At this point I enjoyed some excellent company and conversation with a young guy who’s name now totally escapes me – sorry! I remember his bike was blue, or at least I think it was, and he had Tri bars fitted, which was one of the topics we chatted about. The road swung right and started a long steady climb upwards. We both commented that it was a very pleasant gradient: steep enough to work the legs and lungs and climb at a reasonable rate; but not so steep as to make you out of breath and unable to talk. I remembered hearing that the route to Traquair was basically one big uphill, followed by a similarly long downhill. I mentioned this to my riding companion, with the thought that perhaps this was the uphill part.

Soon after we passed Vicke again, and I said “hi” and introduced her to my riding companion. She was making a steady pace up the hill, and after a short catchup on our respective progress we pushed on. On top of the climb, a patch of dark storm clouds finally caught up with us and a heavy downpour started. I stopped to put on my jacket, and another enjoyable stretch of riding company was over for the time being. It seemed likely we’d meet up again at some stage, judging by how often I was finding myself riding with the same people. The shower soon passed, and as the sky lightened the countryside all around  opened up – we were flying down a sweeping descent through some of the most stunning moorland scenery of the ride so far. I heard any number of birds of prey calling out over the moor, and by one gate a group of birdwatchers were stationed with telescopes. They’d only just set-up though, so couldn’t tell me what the birds I was hearing were.

My shoulders and neck were starting to really trouble me again, and I pulled over to take an Ibruprofen. Vicke stopped briefly to check I was ok, having easily caught me with the ‘bents much greater downhill speed. I started off just behind her, and we chatted a bit about the magnificent surroundings as our bikes whizzed along. Along that stretch, at least two or three groups of heavily laden touring cyclists passed us going the other way – clearly nothing to do with LEL, and probably curious why all of a sudden they were seeing so many other riders.

I was right about the previous hill being the “one big climb” of that leg, were were soon in the quaint little town of Innerleithen. I had also been right earlier that we would meet up with the Tweed again, crossing the now rowdy adolescent river as we rode through the town. On a sharp right hand bend not far from the control, I came across another ‘bent, in fact the identical model to Vicke’s, except this one was yellow. The rider immediately commented to me how odd it was to see his name on the back of someone else’s bicycle. It transpired that Wobbly‘s (his YACF name) real name was RobW, the YACF nameplate mounted on the back of my saddle bag. After both enjoying a laugh at this coincidence I mentioned that I wanted to get to the control because of my neck, and sprinted ahead. Luckily, it was no more than a kilometre or so further on, and with massive relief I slid off the bike and into the control. My spirits were much improved over leaving Edinburgh, but my body was not.

Traquair – 12:57, distance ridden: 747km

There must have been a slight disconnect at the control desk – my brevet card showed the correct timestamp, but I found out later on that the rider tracking showed me as having arrived 2 hours later. Yoli and I had swapped messages by then, so she’d already figured out the mistake.

Formalities done, I began the now familiar forage for food. The principal goal this time being to hunt out the source of the amazing looking slices of cake I had seen everyone sitting outside eating. It didn’t take long to locate them, and they were plentiful – the volunteers even urging me to take a couple of slices. Sadly, I had to pass on the Glenlivet. A tot of it would have been the perfect addition to my coffee, or even better taken neat. But I didn’t dare risk it with the combination of pain killers and lack of sleep – it seemed an almost ideal combination for triggering a falling asleep on the bike incident.

I found a space at one of the tables outside, and joined the other riders enjoying slabs of the excellent cake. Susan, Leslie and Vicke had all arrived at the control and were also enjoying the hospitality, as well as being in various stages of sorting out bikes. It became clear that Leslie had suffered a nasty mechanical with her machine. It transpired she had sheared a chain ring bolt on the last section. There had been a rattle for some time, and on tightening the bolt it had broken in half. The consensus was that in fact the reason for it being loose was that it had already broken, and the attempt to fasten it had just revealed the lurking problem. It was a serious problem – the chain ring bears the full force of the pedal stroke, and Leslie being a strong out-of-the-saddle climber would generate a considerable load through the plates and their retaining bolts. Whilst still working at present, any further damage could end her ride.

A very helpful volunteer was contacting a bike shop in Longtown, but the call took a while and the outcome was uncertain. Between us and Longtown were at least three long, stress inducing climbs. The girls had little choice but to push on carefully, and I wished them luck as they started out. I polished off a second cup of coffee, and after the obligatory top-up of bottles was on my way not long afrer. I was seriously hoping the rumours of three more big climbs proved false. My neck was considerable more painful when working uphill, regardless of whether sitting or standing to climb.  

Time of departure from Traquair 13:21- cursing missing out on the whisky

My hopes were dashed within metres of leaving the control, the road immediately rose upwards. Clearly this was the start of the first of those three climbs. Soon after I found myself in the company of fellow riders from South Africa, the Cox brothers. At the timing of writing, I remember Grant’s name but his brother’s totally escapes me (thanks to the wonders of Facebook I was able to refresh my memory later, his name is Gavin). I had been introduced to them both in Market Rasen which makes it doubly embarrassing. Clearly my resolve to make more of a social effort at the start had been overtaken by the more basic needs of keeping body and mind going. As we rode along, I remarked to the guys that I would never moan about South African drivers again after the experience of those two stretches of road with rush hour traffic. The guys agreed, they’d had a couple of similarly scary experiences during the ride.

I had just learnt that one of the guys was nursing a loosened crank bolt that he couldn’t get tightened when we caught up with Susan. It was worrying not to see Leslie, nothing ominous though – she’d pushed on ahead a short way, but was sitting spinning in her small blade rather than risking standing or using the outside blade and adding further to the strain. We chatted about how it would probably be fine to get to Brampton, where I remembered the mechanics seeming very well equipped and capable. Susan explained that the initial symptom had been a clicking as Leslie pedaled, and this was still worryingly present. We considered the risk that with the load now spread across only four remaining bolts, another could shear which in all likelihood would then cause the drive-chain to shatter damaging other components as it did.  It was concerning that perhaps the reason for it still clicking was a second bolt on it’s way out. I suggested that maybe we could zip-tie through the hole in the plates. It wouldn’t carry a huge load, but it might help keep the plates locked together and spread some of the load off the other bolts. Agreeing it was worth a try, we left the guys and sprinted off up the road to suggest the idea to Leslie.

When we caught Leslie she seemed open to any solution that may help, so we pulled over to the side of the road and whilst Susan hunted for zip ties, I looked for my Leatherman to cut them. Unable to find it in the mess of a saddlebag, and with the time pressure that Leslie would still need to find a mechanic with a bolt, I grabbed my multi-tool which had a sharp knife that would do. Playing around with the ties, the best option seemed to thread one each side and fasten them as tight as possible with the locking ring of the tie on the outside so as not to snag the chain path on the inner ring. I must confess, I was rather pleased with the finished job. A rider the girls knew, Victor, pulled alongside and inspected our handy-work and gave it a thumbs up too, with words to the effect of “yep, that’ll hold fine“.

I offered to stay riding with the girls as we set off again, but they declined – asking me rather to check when I reached Brampton to see if the mechanics had or could source a replacement bolt. Susan said the name to me twice, TA Cyclotourist, I’d never heard of it before but I knew I’d remember it. With that sorted we parted company again, and I rode on. One hill behind me now, there were still those two extra hills lurking somewhere on the road ahead. But for now, we were riding with lush summer meadows, babbling tarns, and patches of forest either side of the road. It was simply divine, albeit the road was quite narrow. Somewhat too narrow for one elderly couple, in their boxy new silver wagon. Impatience got the better of them, and rather than sitting behind a group of cyclists ahead until a passing place opened up, they pushed through with the offside wheel on the verge opposite. Unfortunately, they had not only misjudged the width of the road, they’d also missed or ignored the “sunken verges” warning signs. There was a sudden piercing screech of metal and plastic meeting tarmac at speed, accompanied by sparks, a burning smell, and the sound of parts breaking. I felt slightly sorry for them – these weren’t the lunatic racers we’d encountered earlier, and yet they had clearly done some damage to their vehicle. I’d have happily stopped to help them inspect it, except they drove off, presumably embarassed by the whole thing.

I commented on the incident, and the lingering burnt smell to one of the riders near me. And yet
again, I’ve totally forgotten his name despite us riding the majority of the rest of this leg together. We had a lively and entertaining conversation too. From memory, I think he was also on a Titanium frame, or perhaps was aspiring too one, I forget exactly which. I do remember singing the praises of my custom Burls frame, and also how reasonably priced it was for a truly custom, made to measure frame. We rode the long straight of the high valley until it became clear we were soon going to need to climb out, in one direction or another.

My riding companion commented the river to our left was still flowing back past us, so the climb must be up ahead. I couldn’t fault the logic, and sure enough we gradually climbed up and out of the valley, the road opening up to a spectacular view down a new valley, this time with a river flowing ahead and downwards to our right. At this point I have run out of new superlatives to describe the view, the vista before us was simply off the chart.

On the descent through the valley a couple of large, double jointed forestry trucks squeezed past us. There had been quite a few signs about this road being open and maintained thanks to the forestry industry so I guess we couldn’t really complain. We were the imposters here enjoying the benefit of the road they were paying for. Without their industry, it’s possible there’d be no incentive to keep this magnificent thoroughfare open.

As we reached the bottom of the valley, we came upon a sight I’d been looking forward too for the whole of LEL – the Buddhist temple at Eskdalemuir, almost totally out of place with the surroundings, but also strangely at home in such a tranquil setting. You couldn’t really see the temple from the road, and my legs really did not want to detour. Fortunately Phil Whitehurst was less lazy than me and at least snapped a photo of the Buddha. It was something Yoli had asked me to do and I had totally failed at, through a combination of sore neck, needing a loo, low camera battery, and other weak excuses.

A few meters down the road, and a small greeting party signaled us to turn off right into the control, warning us of the loose gravel as we swung past.

Eskdalemuir – 16:03, distance ridden: 794km

As I headed in to the control, Susan and Leslie were just arriving at the mechanics station. One of them swung around with a big thumbs up. It seemed a remarkable piece of luck in such a remote place, but clearly they’d discovered a bolt that would do the job. Maybe TA Cyclotourist components were more common than I was aware of.

The control belied it’s small, scout-hut sized presence with a wonderful welcome, clean loos, a table with some kids selling drinks and snacks, and a canteen that made up for it’s limited dimensions with some of the tastiest looking and smelling food of the whole trip. The soup and pasta looked wonderful, and the bread was freshly baked and still warm. I was slightly sad not to have also had a pie, but with such limited space I understood their need to ration riders to one choice of main.

I sat enjoying my food, and I think was joined by my riding companion from the stretch to the control. I do remember all of us at the table commenting on the fabulous hospitality and food. Especially the bread. Juice and coffees downed, I stopped by the snacks table on the way out. It was only around 50km to Brampton, and I’m sure I could have survived on water and electrolytes, but coke and choccies were very tempting and it also felt good to be showing my support for their efforts.

Self and bike topped up, I swung out of the control. As I was leaving, I inquired roughly where I’d be likely to pick up a cellphone signal. Langholm seemed to be the consensus. It wasn’t far down the road, and checking the time should be ideal for a call home.

Time of departure from Eskdalemuir 16:36

The route-sheet showed a warning for a stretch of road that had been discussed at length on Facebook and the YACF forums. The now infamous potholes near Westekirk Bridge. They were something of a disappointment sadly, many of them having been repaired. The road was a little rough, but instead of us taking to mountain biking territory we just juddered along for a few hundred metres of corrugated surface.

Even in my sleep deprived state, I knew we’d only overcome two of the three hills claimed for this route, and soon after the rough stretch I could see the road angling up the hillside to my left in one long rising traverse. It was actually a fairly easy and straightforward climb apart from the last two or three bends where the gradient pitched up sharply and had me spinning my small blade.

By the time I reach Langholm it was clear that the climbing was done, and it would now be a largely downhill run to Brampton. The pain from my neck was really becoming a bother by now, so it was a relief to stop for a call home and know that when I resumed riding after, it should be a less taxing stretch. It was great to chat with Yoli, she was having dinner with her parents and I got the usual brief chat with Ben too – “Hello daddy, yes, love you too” – followed with a faint “bye” shouted from a distance, the phone now back with Yoli. I needed to have a serious chat too. For the last couple of kilometers, my strategy for the rest of the ride had been worrying me, I didn’t want to try for Barnard Castle today – my neck wouldn’t take the climb, and the descent at dusk or after dark with an injured body seemed a needless risk. The problem was, I would arrive at Brampton very early, and my close time for the control was around dawn the next day. So I couldn’t afford a nice long sleep there either. Whichever way I did it, there was some serious night riding coming, and I was going to eat into my current buffer of 4 or 5 hours by at least a couple of hours. I’d decided the best option was a quick sleep and a very early start from Brampton, this approach having the benefit of missing the rush hour on the road back to Alston. If timed right, the descent of Yad Moss should also be in the first light of dawn too, rather than racing down in the dark

I explained my ride tactics to Yoli, and that also now I’d need to keep pressing on, often riding and sleeping at strange hours of the day which would most likely disrupt our flow of calls and messages. She told me it was all fine, she understood. I’d got this far and needed to ride my own ride and get the job done. She also passed on some of the amazing messages of support the she had been getting from friends and club mates on Facebook and by email. A lump came to my throat when I heard how many people were following my progress, some quite literally studying maps and the rider tracking system. I might be riding solo often, but I was far from alone. I thanked Yoli for being so understanding and asked her to also say thanks to all those supporting me. My phone battery was not in great shape, so we hung up and I turned it off to save some battery life. Since turning for home at Edinburgh, that faint ticking had become louder. Time and ride planning were starting to become a constant companion in my thoughts.

The remainder of the leg I stood and charged as hard as I could. I just wanted to get to Brampton, eat and sleep. We followed alongside the A7, occasionally joining it, until a familiar sight came into view – Longtown, where our path had diverged off to Gretna Green on the route north. Somewhere just before there, we crossed the border and another stone block marking our return to England. My phone was off sadly, so I rode on towards the town and the bridge back over the Esk. We were just a few kilometers from Brampton, but the weather had decided we weren’t going to get there dry. Fortunately at the first sign of storm clouds I’d donned my jacket, but the lashing rain which accompanied us into the control still managed to seep through. A small line of damp and soggy riders stood at the control waiting for our cards to be stamped.  The heavy rain confirmed my decision, I’d sleep out the storm here and start out early tomorrow.

Brampton – 19:38, distance ridden: 851km

I went to grab my drop bag, but before doing so asked the mechanic his opinion of my brake blocks. I didn’t fancy descending Yad Moss in the dark without having them checked. He commented that they should be ok, but he could clean or replace them. I felt guilty asking them to waste time cleaning them with so many bikes to attend too, so opted for the quicker replacement option.

Back inside the control, I sat for a few minutes sifting through my bags replacing batteries, swapping clothing, and digging for new contact lenses. The AA and AAA batteries I was removing weren’t dead, I just didn’t want to replace them in the night if they failed. I asked around if anyone needed any, and was immediately relieved of them by another rider with a grateful smile. Finally I found my third card from Yoli and Ben. With a dying phone, this and the final card might be my main link back to home for the next couple of days. A smile immediately spread across my face. It was a picture of Ben eating mealie pap at a chalet in Die Hel on one of the last day’s of this year’s camping holiday.

I was intercepted by one of the volunteers on my way back across the car park, and the drop bag went straight into the back of a van destined for London. Any concern about waiting around for drop bags was clearly unfounded, they’d be home long before I would. As if to re-enforce the LEL efficiency, my bike was handed back to me before I’d got back inside – brake blocks already changed, and bike checked over. Amazing.

There was really nothing left to do but eat and sleep. I seem to vaguely remember a sausage of some form, and I’m certain there was pudding. The volunteers manning the dorm board quickly got me a bed allocated, with a 02:00 wake up time noted down. And with that I entered the dorm. It was the usual ritual, and I was quickly lying flat on my back, enjoying stretching out. Before I drifted off to sleep, I remember hoping that at least one of the film crews had thought to put a microphone in the one of the dorms, preferably this one. I have never in my life heard anything like it – the snoring and farting volume was off the chart. Closing my eyes, I could easily have imagined myself on the Serengeti. A million wildebeest would have struggled to compete with the human symphony around me. Sleep came easily, with an amused smile on my face.

Click here to continue to Day 4

Photos courtesy of author. 
Chain ring repar and Traquair and Eskdalemuir road photos courtesy of Susan Otcenas. 
Budda photo courtesy of Phil Whitehurst.

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