So, the next couple of weekends, I won't be able to ride much (next weekend, a 40th birthday party for yours truly and the weekend after, I am away for my actual birthday) - so I was keen to get some miles in. I have had a desire to do a ride up to somewhere on the LEL route and then ride home. I decided on Kirton to give a roundtrip of around 400 km (my actual controls were 424 shortest distance).
I watched the weather carefully all week. The problem with a ride covering such a huge chunk of the country is you need to be watching lots of weather reports across the country. It went from looking dreadful, to not all that bad (quite a bit of rain in the southern end when I set off and windy). It turned out dreadful - but that's spoiling the story a little!
A last minute DIY entry (the real beauty of a great DIY org and online entry etc.) and I got the bike oiled and pumped up etc.
The weather on Friday night was pretty grim. I awoke at 5:30 am on Saturday and the rain was battering off the conservatory roof. This would have been a great opportunity to DNS. But no, I thought I'd wait a while and see what happens. I tuned in to a bit of the F1 qualifying - except they were having their own issues with rain. I should have taken this as a sign!
Around 6:30 I threw caution to the wind and headed out. The rain had eased a little.
Off I went, along familiar (boring) roads - The Uxbridge Road, Denham, Old Rectory Lane to Chalfont. By now it was hammering it down. The unfun-ometer then went off the scale as I punctured. I am quite lucky (possibly because I am light) in that I only get a puncture every 3-4000km (including my commuting bike with tyres that get ripped to shreds on London's glass-strewn streets). So every puncture feels like a big event! Big old flint in the rear tyre - a joy to change the tube in hammering rain! 24km out - the thought REALLY crossed my mind just to head back down the hill to home. I have never DNF'd any audax event or DIY - come close once before, and the temptation was there. But, no, the weather was going to get better later on. So on I went.
Leighton Buzzard and my first stop for food - I was pretty damp by this point. I'd already crossed a number of floods/very large puddles - so feet were damp.
Things got better as I entered Northamptonshire, there was even a bit of sun - and a stonking tail wind - I was cruising along at 35kph at times. Clearly, I knew that I was going to have to face that wind on the way home - and that weighed heavily on me. Another food stop in Thrapston and start getting into the fens. Still that tail wind blasting me along. I eventually had to make a turn to work my way east to Kirton - wow that wind was strong. From flying along, I was now leaning the bike right over to try and deal with the crosswind. But the weather was still pretty good - sunshine! At this point, I thought I'd seen the last of the rain and I just had a monster head wind to deal with. Oh no.
I reached Kirton with darkening skies. A quick photo to celebrate reaching the turning point. I'd ridden 230km in ten and a half hours - not too bad considering leisurely food stops and a puncture.
Well - you can guess what those darkening skies did next! It hammered it down. I'd now turned into the wind. In the fens. Lincolnshire roads have no bends - straight as anything for miles. There are no trees, buildings etc. to break up the wind - there's nothing there at all except fields for miles.
I now knew I was in for a very tough night. I stopped at the Sainsburies in Spalding for a hot drink and a snack - before heading off into worsening weather.
What followed was about the most miserable, challenging conditions I have ever ridden in. I have ridden in worse headwinds, I have ridden in colder temperatures and I have ridden in wetter conditions. However, all three together made life very challenging indeed. Being a pretty little light rider, I am stuffed when a head wind makes itself know.
In the first 100km from Kirton, my highest speed recorded was 27.7kph! My average speed for the leg was pitiful - I was crawling along at 17-18kph most of the time.
The rain was getting into everything. I was wet through. And the temperatures were going down much lower than I'd expected (bottomed out at 1 degree).
Once passed St. Ives - the rain slowed and even stopped occasionally. But I was broken. The leg through the fens had destroyed me. My legs were done.
I was quite amazed by the Lincolnshire landscape - I spent 5 hours riding with a maximum altitude of 6m above sea level! I thought I was going to get a nosebleed when I finally started climbing again! The hills through Essex are not big - but with tired legs, they hurt quite a lot!
The rain turned on and off - sometimes very heavy.
As I was following the LEL route home - I passed through all the control towns. Got me really excited to think about riding this section in August (hopefully in much better conditions!).
Loughton finally reached (but my final control was Stratford) so another 20 km of London riding before reaching Stratford - to find that the Overland trains didn't start for another couple of hours (9:15 first train!!!!). So, I rode over to Bow and jumped on the tube.
This was certainly up there in terms of challenging rides. It was the longest solo ride I'd done - so that's all good. The end stats were 445km on the clock in 24 hours and 53 minutes. Considering I rode the first 230 km in 10.5 hours, the second, shorter return leg took a LOT longer.
Hard to say what I really feel about the ride. I certainly didn't enjoy large parts of it. They were some of the worst conditions I have ridden in. But there were lots of new roads and areas (I'd never really been to the Fens much). Some great roads as well. My route up worked out very well (I learnt a lot about what to watch out for OSM taking you off-road on my DIY 300 in February) and the return bodes well for the rest of LEL - great roads indeed.
So now a couple of easier weeks before the Wessex Series starts (with the Hard-Boiled 300 on the Saturday and the Dorset Coast 200 on the Sunday - a hard weekend with climbing a plenty).
But, for now, sleep and rest and sorting out the pile of damp clothes.