Brampton control – dark o’clock
It was a bit before midnight, and I was wide awake. I remember the advice of all those audax articles I’d read: if you’re not actually sleeping or eating you should be riding. Lying here contemplating the ceiling didn’t seem to qualify as any of those, so I with a quiet squeek, I slid off the mattress, gathered up my things, and headed out of the dorm. There was an impressive queue for beds, and the volunteers seemed very happy to have mine back a couple of hours early. I made for the canteen.
I was surprised to find it so busy, and even better they had plenty of food on the go. I forget exactly what I chose, I vaguely seem to recall several slices of toast with butter and marmalade, and of course a couple of cups of strong sweet coffee. There was definitely some form of meat on there too – although whether it was sausage or bacon now escapes me. I remember sitting there feeling rather full and happy though. Waking up early had largely preserved by time buffer, I would still have around 4 hours in hand by the time I left. More than that though, I was really starting to enjoy riding at night and was looking forward to climbing Yad Moss in the dark. I remembered from reading one LEL account that there was likely to be a treat in store waiting for me. And later in the day, with luck, I’d be crossing a fairly significant milestone – my Garmin was going to click over to four digits, and I would see it clock up 1,000km for the first time ever. This time last year I hadn’t even ridden an imperial One Tonner (156km). It seemed quite incredible how far my training had brought me. I was getting ahead of myself though, there was riding to be done before I could tick off my first thousand.
The reality check didn’t dampen my mood though, my body was very definitely sore and aching, especially my neck, but I’d rested pretty well and my energy levels and enthusiasm for the ride were still strong. I was confused though. My fresh lenses were in, but I just couldn’t seem to see properly from my right eye. I decided it could be faulty lens, and tried another one. My vision was still blurry, but maybe a shade better. I decided it’d probably settle down, returned my tray to the serving section, and stopped by the snacks and coke machine on the way out.
There was a whole section of cereal bars that I gave a very wide berth. I’d picked up a couple on the way up, and somewhere during between Traquair and Eskdalemuir had bitten into one. The effect was what I imagine it would be like if you bit into a packet of those little crystals they pack with electronics to keep the humidity out – the inside of my mouth and my tongue were immediately stripped of all moisture. I was sufficiently hungry that I ate the whole bar, but it took the best part of half a bottle of water to wash it down. Clearly these were actually cereal, and meant to be eaten with milk.
I headed out via a toilet, to freshen up. I would treat myself with a shower at the end of today, to be nice and fresh for the last day back to London. For now, wet wipes and a spray of deodorant would have to do for keeping the worst of the odours at bay. It was a token effort, but better than nothing – and clean shorts plus a liberal application of Sudocreme would keep my nethers happy. With teeth brushed I was all done and walked through the control out to the bike park. My vision was still blurry – I hesitated, still wondering if it would clear itself. Realising how risky it would be trying to navigate dark lanes and avoid potholes with less than full vision, I turned back into the control and sat at a table to try and resolve the problem. I was about to ditch the lenses completely and fall back to my regular spectacles when I noticed something odd – when I took the right contact lens out my vision was perfect. I was just contemplating whether I had discovered some magic formula for correcting eyesight through long distance cycling when a much obvious and simpler explanation struck me. Whilst in the canteen, I must have put in the new lens without taking the old one out – I had two lenses in one eye. Having removed one from my right eye, there was the confirmation – another one lay beneath it. I smiled, and then laughed out loud, and then told the nearby controllers exactly what a klutz I had been. They laughed too. I might have got enough sleep to be able to ride again, but my mental faculties were, like my vision had been, rather foggy.
For some reason I had imagined I’d be the only one riding at this hour. I was wrong – several other riders were at the water station filling up bottles and preparing to start out. We chatted in hushed tones to avoid waking sleeping riders in the camper vans now parked all around this section of the school. It must have been nice to be a supported rider, but it didn’t seem fully in the spirit of the event to me. Canteen food and packed dormitories really seemed as much of the experience as the riding itself. I guess not everyone feels that way though, preferring some home comforts.
In dribs and drabs, riders were wheeling out of the control into the darkness of the early morning. I joined them.
Time of departure from Brampton 00:25 – my earliest start to a bike ride ever.
I passed quite a few riders as the road wound up through the town. For the first time I’d put a thermal vest on, figuring that it may get quite cold on the high ground over The Pennines. At this point though, I was getting rather hot and sweaty working my way up the climb out of Brampton. I unzipped my jacket fully, and then decided to re-attach the zip just for the first centimeter so it could be more quickly zipped back up if the descents proved chilly. At the top of the town I recognised the sharp right turn over the railway crossing. Rather bizarrely, there was a crew of workmen performing some form of maintenance. They seemed just as surprised to see me, and presumably a number of other cyclists out at this hour.
The town behind me, darkness closed in all around the lane, aside from the large pool of bright white light from my two headlights: the dynamo powered Edelux; and the lithium-ion powered Super Lezyne. I was rather pleased how well my lighting had worked out – I could see far ahead, and also pick out road surface details well before reaching them.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. What the heck was the eerie sounding noise to my right. Luckily the more familiar sound of sheep “talking” immediately answered the question – one of them must have a cold and was coughing repeatedly. Phew, for a moment I had nearly needed to find a place to change my shorts.
I remembered that the road to Alston was predominantly uphill, but aside from a couple of short sharp climbs, the gradient seemed gradual and made for easy pleasant riding in the still and quiet of the morning. Immediately over the top from Brampton we even had a nice stretch of downhill before starting the long haul proper to the distant town, it’s lights now occasionally visible far off ahead. A sliver of moon peeped through a bank of white clouds just marking the dark outline of the hills to the left that in around an hour’s time I’d be climbing up and over. Along and up the road rose, very occasionally a car passed by, a stark contrast to the heavy rush hour traffic from the journey northbound along this stretch. I passed two or three small groups of other riders along the way, each time with a greeting and some small talk before riding on. In places the road was very wet from the night before. Tempting as it was to splash gleefully through the puddles I took care to steer around them in case they hid lurking potholes. The last thing I felt like doing was trying to fix a broken spoke and true a wheel in the pitch blackness.
Eventually, after one last rolling climb, the tranquility of the lane faded behind me and the yellow sodium glare of streetlights announced my arrival into Alston. Before setting out I’d made two decisions: if the garage was open, I’d stop for a coffee and something to eat; the other was that I wasn’t going to attempt riding up those cobbles, I’d treat my legs and walk. The garage was shut, so that was one of the decisions nullified. Dismounting at the bottom of the high street, I clicked and clacked my way up the pavement – my cleats made a deafening din in the silence of the sleeping town. Reaching the market cross, I decided to stop for snacks to make up for the lack of coffee. As I wolfed down a banana and a snack bar, and sipped on my half coke and water mix several of the riders I had passed earlier came through – most of them bravely riding up, albeit most on the pavement rather than cobbles.
Fully fed, I was content to walk the last of the cobbles and the short 14% stretch of tarmac to the top of the town. I didn’t feel like trashing my legs for the sake of a hundred meters or so when there was Yad Moss still to overcome. Back on the bike, the steady climb began and within a couple of turns the magical moment I had been looking forward to was right there, in front of me.
The rising moorland to my immediate left had a scattering of cloud over it’s top, with dim rays of moonlight peeping through. And up ahead, snaking up it’s side was a ribbon of red fairy lights, twinkling all the way to the top of the hillside. The line of lights rose up and up into the sky, it was impossible not to think of the words of Stairway to Heaven looking at the hypnotic dancing lights. It was hard to believe I was actually here witnessing this scene from LEL folklore – except in real life it far exceeded what I’d read about and imagined. A lump formed in my throat, and I felt a dampness in the corner of my eye. Must have been the cold morning air, couldn’t possibly have been a tear.
The chain of lights rose up the hill, and one by one the red light at the head of the snake wavered, and then blinked out as it’s rider reached the top and swung left. I sat and stoked. The gradient was a little steeper than from the other side, which suited me perfectly – I was enjoying the swifter ascent, pushing an easy cadence somewhere around the middle of the cassette. Before long, the line ahead of me had shrunk to a handful of lights, and soon after it was my turn to flicker and fade across the top of the moor. It was mentioned to me later that I forgot one thing – to look back from the top before descending, and see the same string of fairly lights but this time a dazzling chain of white climbing up from the town below.
The earlier than planned start meant I would be running downhill in the dark after all. A cautious descender at the best of times, I was glad of the new brake blocks. It may have been premature to replace them, but it was one less thing to worry about picking my way slowly down the long winding road. Another drawback of the early hour was that I missed out on the view of the white barn, which I’d stopped beside for a quick pee. Susan’s wonderful photo (right) from later that morning shows what I’d missed out on.
Before riding on I ferreted around in my saddlebag for anything warm to put on. The exertion of the climb out of the way, plus a sweaty thermal had left me cold already. At least I had long fingered gloves, but for some stupid reason I overlooked the cycle cap. Most body heat leaves through your head, and this could have made a few vital degrees of difference. It remained unworn though, and I paid the price. The next 20km or so of riding may have been beautiful, as the night slowly gave way and the sky lightened from back through shades of navy to blue. It was mostly lost on me though – I was absolutely freezing. At first it was just my body, but slowly it spread – and by the time we reached Middleton-in-Teesdale again I’d pretty much lost all feeling in my feet. I needed to get to the control to warm up.
I stopped in the middle of the town confused. I turned back a few meters and then spun around again. The GPS track and printed route sheet definitely took us to the right, which also most definitely was not the route we had come northbound. A fellow rider was stopped, and we conferred briefly on the forking path. We agreed that this was definitely the planned route, and so headed off on the mysterious diversion. I alternating standing sprints and sitting pedaling a rapid cadence. My speed picked up, and the pretty lanes and towns flew past. The extra effort started to warm my core nicely, but none of that warmth was getting down to melt the ice blocks that had replaced my feet. It certainly was a very scenic route, and since it followed the river valley towards Barnard Castle, aside from a few short rises, it was considerably less hilly than the route we had taken on the way up. It occurred to me that perhaps the route planners had chosen this route to be easier on weary legs, but a couple more kilometers down the road I came across what I suspect was the real reason for the alternate route. A lovely old bridge crossed the river we had been following and straight ahead was a massive old stone wall with turrets and fortifications. This, I presumed, was the castle from which the town got it’s name, and the stunning entrance it made must have been the reason the planners had routed us back this way. Again, thanks to Susan’s photographic diligence for capturing the picture I had failed too.
Our different route this time took us back up the main street, going straight over the traffic island by the Market Cross. This time the town was largely deserted though as I rode through and wound up the last hill to the control. I was cold, and my feet were numb. I needed to get inside and get warm.
Barnard Castle – 05:34, distance ridden: 933km
Slipping out of my shoes, I had lost all sensation in my toes. I hobbled inside to get my card stamped. It felt as if I was walking on my ankle stumps – there were no feet there any more, at least none I could feel. I wondered if this was what frostbite felt like. I sat at an empty breakfast table, two cups of hot tea, and a steaming pile of food, hoping at least some of that warmth would find it’s way down my legs. Michael sat down opposite me. I had seen he and Kerri-Anne at Brampton the night before, but they had ridden through and slept here for the night. He mentioned something about Kerri-Anne not being ready to get up yet. I sensed he was a little out of sorts, I guess after 900 kilometers and not much sleep we were all a little out of sorts.
We were also short on conversation too. Feeling suddenly sleepy, I bade him well and shot Yoli a quick messagoe to let her know I’d reached the control but was going to have a quick nap before riding on. The dorm staff allocated me a bed, and a wakeup call for around forty minutes time at 7am, and showed me to a vacant spot in the dim light of the dorm. To give some impression of the dorms I’ve included Michele Bonicelli’s photo (right) of the Barnard Castle dorm. It was half empty, I guessed most riders were up and on their way. Sleep came almost instantly, and just as quickly it seemed I was been woken again. The power nap had done the trick though, I felt mentally and physically refreshed. I stopped in the canteen again for a quick coffee. The snacks were rather limited, but I managed to snag a banana and also filled my pockets with Bourbon biscuits and custard creams. I was a little bemused to see Michael and Kerri-Anne were still there, at a different table in the far corner. It made me feel a little better to see I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed relaxing occasionally and eschewing efficiency for a good linger over an extra cup of coffee.
Feeling fresher and warmer, I set about the routine tasks in preparation for riding: Garmin on; turning route sheet to next page; stowing brevet card and phone in bar bag; filling bottles; and a final quick check over the bike. I was ready to ride out for Thirsk.
Time of departure from Barnard Castle 07:23 – last leg this side of 1,000km
At this stage the tone of LEL changed for me a little because, aside from a few hundred meters of different route back out of Barnard Castle, every leg south from here until St Ives would be a retrace of our wheel-tracks north. It took away a little of the adventure of not knowing what sights lurked around the next corner, but in return it brought a different reward: the joy of seeing the scenery again, but from a different perspective. Knowing that the Bowes Museum or the wooden bridge would be coming up again soon did not detract from the beauty of seeing them for a second time.
I was struck too by something that I had noticed on the way north – how often the lanes through this part of County Durham and North Yorkshire took sudden right angled bends. One of these many turns occurred at the top of the road after crossing back over the wooden bridge. I imagined that the course of these lanes must be following the lines of ancient field boundaries, something I had commented to Emmerentia about over that first leg, except here those turns seemed much more geometrically defined. The route wound past the training track we had stopped at, horses still out being exercised by their owners, and on under the A1M and back through the pretty little town of Middleton-Tyas.
I forget exactly where, but at some point on this stretch I finally warmed up. I stopped to remove my jacket, also taking the opportunity for a pee, and a quick snack on the provisions I had snagged from the Barnard Castle control. I’m not sure why it seemed so humorous at the time, but I messaged Yoli with the pictures right and left, and the caption of “picnic LEL style“. I seriously doubt she found it nearly amusing as I had, although she did ask me about the Bourbon biscuits. These had been a childhood favourite of mine but apparently their delights never reached South Africa children.
Around another of the ninety degree road swings, somewhere after the diversion for the unfortunately timed road repairs, I heard a familiar voice. It was Wobbly, although I forget if he had caught me up or I had caught him. Either way, our relaxed pace and the quiet roads into Thirsk gave us more of a chance to talk than we’d had further north near Traquair. We chatted on a range of topics through the leafy lanes – Wobbly’s experience of traffic had been rather kinder than my own, he’d found very few incidents of cray driving. A significant part of our conversation was around PBP. I had mentioned that LEL may have taken away some of the physical adventure of PBP in terms of how my body might cope, but it hadn’t removed my interest in being involved in the oldest bike ride in the world. Wobbly shared his experiences of several PBPs (I forget exactly how many), and his views confirmed the other aspects which still inspired me: the sight of all those riders taking part, especially their chains of lights; and above all the amazing welcome and hospitality in the villages. It was great to hear all of this again first hand. It was great to enjoy such good company over the last few kilometers to the control.
Safely parked up, I asked Wobbly to snap a picture of me clocking up my first ever 1,000km on a bike. I was proud to have completed it, and to be wearing my club shirt to honour the occasion. It’s a good job that the photograph doesn’t really convey how grimey and bad smelling I was by this stage.
Formalities completed, we headed inside to have cards stamped and scout out food. The canteen was as deserted on this visit as it had been busy on the way north – distance, variety in riding speeds and sleeping plans having now spread out the field of riders. Food was in plentiful supply, and I was sorely tempted by the sight and smell of a delicious looking curry. I prevaricated for a few moments, before deciding that whilst tasty and filling, it may not be the wisest choice with long hours of saddle time ahead. Instead, I opted for the more predictable but probably safer option of pasta, fruit, cake, and of course sweet tea.
Learning from my mistake at this control northbound, I made sure to stock up on supplies before leaving the control. Jersey pockets and bar bags stuffed with crisps, bananas, and cereal bars, I set off again, ready to tackle the last significantly hilly leg before the terrain gradually smoothed out southwards.
Time of departure from Thirsk 11:38
It didn’t take a lot of mental calculation to realise that my sleep stop today was unlikely to be anywhere further north than Market Rasen. With the thought that I would see the Humber Bridge again today, and be back-tracking along lanes ridden on my first day, it was tempting to start thinking towards London. My body may have been tired and sore. My neck may still be causing a fair degree of pain, but to be back well within the limits of that first day and with a full day’s riding time available it suddenly all seemed relatively straightforward. I had to force myself to stop thinking ahead, and focus on Pocklington and the leg at hand.
Luckily the riding soon became arduous enough to banish thoughts beyond the immediate road in front of me. Immediately after we’d crossed the A19 again, the road started to pitch upwards back over the Howardian Hills. I remembered enjoying long stretches of free-wheeling down into Thirsk, but hadn’t quite appreciated how long and steep some of those descents had been. Just the opening salvo back to Coxwold had me sweating and gasping, and cursing my foolishness for even contemplating the word “straightforward” on a ride of such dimensions. Being a 17% slope, I had never intended to attempt riding up out of the other side of the muddy dip where I’d met Michael and Kerri-Anne on the way up, and dismounted as soon as the trouble rose up ahead. A couple of other riders were much braver than me, although at least one smiled and agreed with my comment that I’d conceded to my legs pleas to give them a break. Somewhere just before or after this was an interesting little stone circle to the side of the road, fenced off and marked with a plaque. As on the way up though, I totally failed to either photograph it or even stop and read what it was all about. Hill climbing and sightseeing score for this stretch: zero!
I did though manage to snap a picture of Castle Howard on the return route, albeit it’s rather dim and distant in the picture. Very shortly before this, I’d stopped at the top of a sharp climb to gather my breath and transfer the contents of my jersey pockets into my stomach. I’m not sure what exact landmark had caught my eye, but some feature must have stood out from the way up and I knew it was pretty much the last of a seemingly endless procession of steep ups and downs. Exhausted, I stood shaded from the hot afternoon sun by a leafy forest, my bike propped against a gate. The crisps and banana did not last long, but it was enough to put some energy back in the body, or so it seemed.
The slight slope back to the roundabout in the middle of the Castle Howard is just out of sight at the top of the road in the picture above. Which is a shame, because this was the exact spot my LEL took it’s most dramatic shift. Despite it’s gradual gradient, I found myself spinning my lowest granny gear, and struggling even in that. I was fairly sure I wasn’t dehydrated, but took a small swig of both plain water and electrolyte bottles just in case – it was pretty hot, and maybe I hadn’t been drinking enough. My head was foggy, and I couldn’t put my finger on the root cause – I knew I’d been eating well, and the gas tank didn’t feel empty either. Not dehydrated, not out of energy, but here I was slumped on the bike and struggling. I tried to ignore it and just push on.
There were a few small rollers still to get over, the first back up to the obelisk, after which there was the hazardous crossing of the A64 to negotiate. It was much busier at this time of day than the early morning on the way up, but negotiating it was still not that unpleasant. The next few kilometers took us back along the narrow, potholed and gravel and mud strewn lanes around Buttercrambe, and gradually something else became evident. My neck was not just painful any more, it was excruciating. It was affecting everything, but most significantly my riding position, which had become hunched over and slogging. The relief of probably the last climb of any real substance, also brought a much less welcome apparition: a sharp pain that would dominate every moment and pedal stroke from that point forward. It was as if someone had wrapped a steaming hot towel around my throat and was tightening it to the point of throttling me. My neck muscles quite literally gave way and my head nodded forward. I could hardly summon the strength to look up and see the road ahead.
Pocklington was less than 15Km ahead, but I wasn’t sure I could make it. For the second time that day I was almost in tears, but this time they were from pain. For the first and only time of the ride, I switched one of my handlebar displays over to indicate distance. I needed something to hang onto to show that I was making progress, to count me down to the control and some relief. I kept hoping for one of my riding friends to come by, heck, I kept hoping for any rider to come by. I just wanted someone I could ask to stay with me until the the control. I wasn’t entirely sure of my safety riding alone. I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t going to pass out if the pain got much worse. No one did come past me, but eventually, at the pace of a snail, the kilometers counted down. Finally I reached the outskirts of town, and managed to guide myself to the control, largely on auto-pilot I suspect since I have no recollection of any details apart from agony, and the sight of the gutter. Over the course of one leg my LEL had gone from the elation of crossing 1,000km to abject despair. I wished I could take back the word “straightforward” and break it’s curse.
Pocklington – 15:39, distance ridden: 1,063km
Everything about my arrival at the Pocklington control southbound followed pretty much the same routine as every one of the previous controls: brevet card stamping; food; tea; phone call home. The only difference was how I was feeling. For the first time on the ride I was in real pain, and my spirits had hit a properly low point. I forced myself to focus. Despite the feeling, my ride wasn’t over yet, and when I described how things were to Yoli, I also laid out to her the only plan which made any sense: eat; take pain killers; get some sleep to rest muscles and recover some strength; and avoid making any decisions until after I had woken up and assessed things. I wasn’t sure I would be able to carry on, but that wasn’t a decision I needed to make yet.
This time, the proper dorm at Pocklington had plenty of space. I hadn’t realised it was actually over the road from the main school, although now the rows of bikes parked some way distant from the control that I had noticed coming in northbound made sense. There were actually two bike parks, a few hundred meters apart. I headed across, parked my bike, and was shown to a mattress in the hall. I was one of only a handful of riders sleeping. Despite being broad daylight, my body clearly needed rest. I barely had time to stretch myself out before I was unconscious. Whilst I was sleeping, a rather weird thing happened. Phil Whitehurst for some reason snapped a picture of the Pocklington wake-up board. Without realising it, or even knowing my rider number, he also captured my wake-up time recorded there – bed -1D, 6pm, C71. We’d swapped many messages online, had failed to meet in real life, and now our paths crossed again, but only in the most unlikely virtual sense.
I woke twenty minutes or so ahead of my wake-up call, gathered up my bag and possessions, and padded quietly over to the dorm volunteers to let them know I wouldn’t need my wakeup. Before exiting the dorm, I took a quick detour to the bathroom. I didn’t want to waste time showering, but I did have a good freshen up with a decent splash of water, wet wipes, and Sudocreme for the vitals. I’m not sure if it was the sleep, cold water, or minty taste of toothpaste, but I left the dorm in considerably better spirits than I had entered it a couple of hours earlier.
My saddle had tell-tale drops of water all over it, and the roads had a glossy sheen – it had rained heavily whilst I had been sleeping. The sky was still grey, and it looked very much as if more rain was to come. I rode back to the main control to top up with coffee. I don’t recall what the state of the canteen food was, but my appetite was not huge, so I grabbed a couple of cups of coffee and some snacks for the next leg. I seem to also remember there were some muffins or cakes that I washed down with the coffee before setting out. When I had arrived at the control earlier I’d heard comments about “the bulge” – the main plug containing several hundred riders, with only a control or two separating them. When I had arrived I was ahead of the bulge, but I sensed that I was now either in it, or even towards it’s tail. Not that it really mattered, all that was relevant was that although still painful, my neck was sufficiently recovered to ride on. And with it, my spirits had lifted too. I headed out of the control into the damp, dark, grey evening light.
Time of departure from Pocklington 18:07
The prospect of a wet night time ride to the next control didn’t really worry me. In fact, the cooler air was something of a relief. I knew it would be easier to deal with riding through pain if I wasn’t also hot and bothered. At some stage I remember seeing Vicke again at the control, although I forget if she was arriving or preparing to leave. I’m not even sure if it was as I was heading out, or crossing from the dorm to get coffee. I do remember somewhere through the main part of Pocklington seeing a rider who’d had a minor incident with a car. It wasn’t clear what had happened, but they were exchanging details and one mirror of the car was hanging loose, suspended by it’s electrical wiring. It seemed as if the rider and their bike were unhurt, and the situation appeared in hand so I carried on.
Not long after leaving the control, Vicke and I met up again along the road. By that stage the rain was setting in properly, the roads were covered in water, and rush hour traffic was becoming busy, throwing up regular spouts of spray and dirt as watery tail lights rushed passed us. It wasn’t especially pleasant, but fortunately it was fairly short lived too. I gave up trying to ride in my Rudy Project shades. Despite them being photo-chromatic and clear in the dim twilight, the rain was making them just too blurry to see the road ahead clearly. A wet, and occasionally gravel spattered face was preferable. Coming up to a natural stop at a T-junction, Vicke offered to dig out some Codeine for me. In fact she had two packets of different strengths, both of which I gratefully accepted – taking the stronger one immediately. Vicke mentioned being a little nervous about a wet, night time stage with a long way still to go to the control. I was nervous about the state of my neck. Riding the rest of this leg together seemed a perfect solution for both of us.
Although the main hills were behind us, the road still continued to rise and fall. I remember clearly the pylons with their red warning lights from the journey northbound, and that from their it was mostly downhill to the Humber Bridge. I’m not sure Vicke was entirely convinced of my recollection, but the uphills were a slog on the recumbent, so I think it was a relief there might be at least some respite ahead. DFs (diamond frames) and ‘bents (recumbents) don’t make natural riding companions, the former being fairly fast uphill and slower downhill, the latter being the reverse. With my poor physical condition though, I was slow enough uphill and managed to hang on through the downhills to make the riding work. Before long we were in the outskirts of Hull and crossing a notable main road roundabout that presaged our run down into the park around and underneath the bridge approach.
I’d remembered there were public toilets in the park, although I was somewhat sceptical they would either be open or in any way usable as I watched over Vickes ‘bent and she made over to them. No comment was passed on their condition on her return, but they had at least been open. After finding our way around one set of car park railings, involving a detour into the bus rank for me, we were confronted by a very locked gate barring what I seemed to remember as the circular route up onto the east cycle path. We stood confused for a few minutes, and conferred with several other riders who came by. It was obvious our only choice was the west cycle path, but I couldn’t remember if that had an option to rejoin our route southward over the other side. For some reason, I had in mind the west path involved a different route from there. I put this out of mind. It didn’t really matter whether it did or not, clearly the west path was the only option on this night back over the bridge so we had no choice but to wind up the path to our left which soon rose out of the woodland and onto the bridge.
At the top of the path, we saw what would have awaited us had we tried to take the east path – a couple of guys were precariously climbing over high railings. Their bikes were safely over, but the personal equipment needed to sit comfortably on their saddles seemed at considerable risk of being impaled. Somehow they made it over, and we all started over the bridge together. One of the riders we joined was one of the Cox brothers, I don’t recall now if it was Grant, Gavin or both. The crossing was no less stunning than northbound, but in the rain and grey it wasn’t quite so photogenic. Looking down, there was a large green buoy that I took to be a channel marker, although it looked as if someone had painted a small boat to create it. Over the far side was what looked like the remains of a brick works. I wondered if it was a remnant from the construction, or an industrial site that pre-dated it.
Before long, we could see a circular path winding around and under the bridge. It was a relief that my memory of the route had been wrong. As we wound under the bridge, we passed a local gathering of youths and their souped up cars. Despite being quite a crowd and a line of maybe twenty vehicles it wasn’t at all threatening. In fact I seem to remember friendly greetings and banter as we passed, especially at the sleek and unusual site of Vicke’s ‘bent – not something I suspect was often seen pedaling through this part of the world.
The few turns through the town alongside the bridge were almost the last in daylight, and before long I had both my dynamo light and Lezyne headlight on. I had already warned Vicke that the rolling hills would not be done until Market Rasen, but I’d forgotten quite how long and rolling some of them were. At some stage we stopped for a snack and leg stretch by a farm gate, and were joined by a couple of other riders whose names escape me. One of them was also riding a ‘bent, a German guy I think. They rode with us for quite a way, but we got split up by one of the rises or bunches that came through in the gloaming. If I hadn’t been in the tail when I left Pocklington, I was pretty sure I was now. As at the control though, it didn’t really seem to matter. Switching the distance indicator back off, I’d gone back to my process of arrival time estimation, which had us on track to be at the control around midnight. That should allow time for food, shower, and sleep, and still be away with a couple of hours in hand and a relatively short last day of riding.
The road rose and fell, the last showers of rain passed over, and the time ticked down to our arrival. The codeine had not removed the pain, but it was significantly eased. I’d also found a few unusual ways of holding my handlebars that allowed me to sit much more upright and take the pressure off my neck – steering with finger tips was one of the better ones, as was just wrapping a couple of out stretched fingers around the bar. At times too, I also sat forward off the saddle and half resting on the top tube, which allowed me to arch my back almost straight and remove most of the effort of holding my head up
Sod it. A moments lapse of concentration and I’d failed to steer around a puddle hiding a sizeable pothole. Nothing seemed broken in my drive chain or wheels, but something had come loose. What was it? I switched my headlamp on, which had hardly been needed so far on the ride. Glancing down, it wasn’t long before I spotted it. The mount for my Garmin was clearly visible, and the Garmin itself was not. It had been rock solid through many awful roads, but finally had found a bump large enough to shake it loose – something I had read at least one other rider complain of with this device and mounting.
“Crap, I’ve lost my Garmin, it’s flown out” I called out to Vicke, and circled back. I guessed I must have traveled around 15 to 20 meters beyond the point of hearing the noise. There were a couple of likely looking potholes around that spot. I scanned the grass verge – nothing. The headlamp was just not bright enough, so I unclicked the Lezyne headlamp, leaving the bar extender now completely empty. The side of the road was now floodlit brilliantly, but my frantic scanning was revealing nothing. The grass was quite long, it could be sitting hidden down in there anywhere – as hard to find as a wayward drive into the long rough. I was beginning to panic. I might have had printed route sheets, but part way into a night stage was not really the point at which I wanted to start having to use them. I calmed myself, told myself to search more thoroughly and methodically. Almost immediately, I saw a dull grey rectangular shape nestled a few centimeters underwater in the silt at the bottom of one of the potholes. I couldn’t believe my luck at finding it, but I also wondered just how waterproof these supposedly rugged devices really were. Could they survive a heavy fall followed by total immersion for the 15 or 20 minutes it had taken me to find it? I didn’t wait long for the answer – the moment my hand started to raise it up, the puddle lit up dimly from the faint glow of the screen backlight.
“I’ve got it, it’s still working!” I called out. All I needed was it to stay working for the next few kilometers to the control. If needed tomorrow, I could navigate by route sheet in daylight.
The Garmin did stay working. Market Rasen was not far, and with one last hill out of the way we rode into the outskirts of the town. I remember joking to Vicke that maybe the “Rasen” in the name came from the fact that the town was raised up from the surrounding countryside. For all I knew perhaps it was. The left turn into the school was a welcome sight for both of us. For Vicke, the wet night time ride was done. And for me, I’d managed to keep going through the pain and get one more leg further along. We’d reached the control.
Market Rasen – 23:38, distance ridden: 1,153km
Inside the control, I realised how wet it had been. My shoes and socks were soaking. With nothing that could be done about that, I got my card stamped and went for food. The roast dinner looked a bit grey and unappetising. Remembering a fish and chips counter from the journey north, I went around the end of the canteen counter and to my delight it was still there. I loaded up, also adding pudding and custard from the adjacent station. Vicke joined me at the table and commented the fish looked the better option. To be honest, it wasn’t the best I’d ever tasted, but with liberal ketchup, it more than hit the spot, especially the chips.
Afterwards I checked the bed situation – plenty of space was the response. Vicke booked hers straight away, but I fancied that shower I’d promised myself. Stopping by the bag drop, I made for the shower. A communal shower with only cold water was not really the indulgence I had hoped for. Rather grumpily I donned the last of my five shirts – The Sufferfest. With the pains of my body, it seemed even more apt now than when I had packed it imagining the possible exertions of the ride. Only the fourth and final card from home was enough to cheer me up. Yoli had already let slip it was a card Ben had handmade, but that did not diminish the surprise or the smile.
After a quick brush of teeth, I returned my drop bag and went to get a bed. Or rather not. I had made a fatal error by not reserving a bed earlier – all the beds and blankets were gone. To make matters worse, it seems I could have booked one, and then gone and showered. I kicked myself for such a basic mistake. For a moment I was lost, not sure what to do. Eventually I wandered back to the bag drop area. They had gym mats on the floor, and already several riders were asleep on them. There were no blankets, and no system for wakeup calls, but the mats were surprisingly comfortable. If anything, they were actually nicer than the blow up mattresses.
The drop bag volunteer was extremely helpful, and a few minutes later came by to confirm what wake-up time I wanted. He was making a plan for a manual system for wakeups. They’d also found blankets too. Things were looking up. Moments later, things started to look down, in a big and rapidly downward way. I started to feel slightly light-headed, a feeling which spread rapidly into a full-on feeling of nausea and faintness. I rolled over a couple of times, desperately hoping I’d find a position that would ease it. I failed. Eventually I realised I couldn’t just lie there, with a significant chance of either passing out, being sick, or worse both. I’d always regretted not being able to play the guitar, and I had no intention of meeting the same end as Hendrix but without ever enjoying his talent.
I dragged myself and my bags up and went back to the drop-bag table. I explained my condition to the volunteer and asked if he minded me sitting propped against the wall behind the control desk, so he could see if I passed out. He inquired a few times about how I was doing until eventually I gave in and said I thought maybe I needed to see a first aider. Very soon my blood sugar was being checked and confirmed OK – I think I may have mentioned something about it and made them think I was diabetic. That misleading risk out of the way, the first aider checked my pulse, arranged me some sweet coffee, and from somewhere magicked up a large and extremely comfy duvet to wrap myself in. By now, I was certain this was the end of my LEL and muttered something to him about “London-Edinburgh-Market Rasen” not having quite the same ring. I remember very clearly his reply that it was still a heck of an achievement, and not to give up until I’d had some sleep, he’d seen a number of riders in my condition and many of them had managed to carry on after a good rest. They were kind words, but I really couldn’t see any way I would be able to continue. I looked at the sea of yellow drop bags around me. I’d used the words “gutted” many times in the past, but this quite literally felt like having my insides ripped out. My spirits and LEL collapsed around me.
The first aider watched over me for a while, and before leaving organised another volunteer to keep an eye on me so I could sleep. At some stage before drifting off I noticed something – the new jersey was a slightly tighter racing fit, and my stomach was so swollen it formed a bloated bump restricted under the stretched material. I unzipped it, and a huge wave of relief spread over me and the nausea abated a shade. With the imminent risk of covering the wooden gym floor in vomit averted, I slipped into unconsciousness.
Photos courtesy of author.
White barn and Barnard Castle photos courtesy of Susan Otcenas.
Barnard Castle dorm photo courtesy of Michele Bonicelli
Pocklington dorm board photos courtesy of Phil Whitehurst.