3 years after I rode my first ever Audax (a 150km out of Bushey) and started to hear about the really long stuff, here it was, the one I had planned to ride from the very start. When I first started, I was struggling to get around a 200, I had discounted the idea of riding PBP as I couldn't even conceive of riding a 300 at that point. The fact that I'd be 40 in 2013 meant that LEL appealed and I had decided to ride it before I even decided to ride PBP in 2011! After a strong season, I had few real concerns for LEL. I knew I had the fitness and the equipment choices to be able to ride the 1400km. I'd almost not got very excited about it - until the last few days really.
DAY 0 - Registration
I'd offered to help out with registration, along with my girlfriend, so we were at Loughton nice and early on Saturday morning. The atmosphere was brilliant - there were loads of volunteers (almost too many as we twiddled our thumbs a little because the process of registration was so slick!).
It was brilliant fun to meet so many riders, from all over the world. There was a real buzz about the place and we enjoyed the day loads.
Everything was superbly well organised, from registration to bag drops, to picking up shirts etc.
We got some time to wander around and meet other riders and look at weird and wonderful bikes. Cass was delighted to meet the Long Island Randonneurs, as she is a Long Islander herself. Their jersey with Montauk lighthouse on it was really nice - I said I will have to come out and ride one of their brevets when I am next there!
Audax always attracts some weird and wonderful machines. As one of the few cycling disciplines that has no rules against recumbents, velomobiles etc., there are a significant number of these sorts of machines.
I was surprised by some of the really blingy carbon machines - lots of very deep section carbon rims with very low spoke counts, electronic gears and even tubs. Wouldn't be my choice for 1400km of British roads - but they seemed to get around with no more troubles than the rest of us (though there were several failures of Di2 setups due to flat batteries etc,).
After everyone was registered, Cass and I retired to our hotel around 16km away.
Day 1 - Loughton - Thirsk
We set off early to reach Loughton and grab some breakfast etc.
We cheered off some groups and then got ready for my start at 9:30am. It was already getting pretty warm, but we were expecting a reasonable tailwind.
Before too long, I was off. I quickly found some other riders who were moving at a good pace and we started to ride at a decent pace.
Before too long, things got a little hectic with the convergence of London-Edinburgh-London and London-Cambridge for around 8-10km. It was an unfortunate clash with hundreds of riders of wildly different abilities battling for the same bit of road. It was pretty frightening at times as suddenly someone on a mountain bike with half-flat tyres would wobble over into the middle of the road.
I was glad when the routes diverged - hopefully not too many LEL riders followed the Cambridge riders, or vice versa!
It had blown apart the larger group and we were a bit stringed out for the remainder of the stage to St Ives.
Into St Ives, some quick grub - I was well up on my time predictions already, the tail wind was helping out nicely.
Into the flatlands and some decent groups again.
At Crowland, I briefly stopped as my parents had been stood cheering riders for a couple of hours. Nice to have a sit down and chat with them. It was all going well so far.
By Kirton I'd caught up with the Hackney boys who'd I'd ridden with a lot this year.
Some massively fast riding now up to Market Rasen - I got ideas a little above my station and pulled a huge train along at 35-40kph for some serious distance - it was a giggle, but pushing hard for such a long time did actually cause me some knee pain.
It had been a lovely day, warm, but not over the top. The tailwind had kept the pace high for most riders.
Night fell and over the Humber Bridge we went - I love crossing huge bridges, so it was great to tick this one off.
Pocklington (330km) was always going to be pretty busy. It was the sensible place for many riders to sleep. The queues for food weren't too bad, but the queues for beds were already building. I certainly wasn't stopping - I had a plan to reach Edinburgh before a proper sleep. I hear it got very busy later and was full of riders sleeping under tables etc.
The night was warm and I pushed onto Thirsk - primarily solo now. The section to Thirsk is quite bumpy through the Howardian Hills.
I also got my first bit of rain and put on the rain jacket shortly before Thirsk.
I was into Thirsk (400km) in around 18 hours - by very far my fastest 400km to date. I was 4 hours up on my predictions and already had around 14-15 hours in hand.
The only bummer was that one of my flip flops had fallen off my bag (I hadn't strapped them back onto the bag well enough after having got my jacket off the bag). I was annoyed - the flip flops would help with going to the loo etc. and avoiding wet floors (virtually every control was shoes-off). I rather abandoned the remaining flip flop in the shoe area.
I had planned to take a short nap at Thirsk, but I was so far ahead of my schedule, I decided that a 2 hour sleep would be more than possible. I also had a bag drop here, so had a good clean up and changed my shorts. I booked my bed and got a couple of hours of fairly poor sleep to be honest. I was tired, but not tired enough.
As I woke up and breakfasted, I saw the Hackney boys arrive and they booked in for some sleep. Good to see them and they looked very cheerful still!
Day 2 - Thirsk to Edinburgh
The day looked a little murky as I set off. I was now very solo, there were not too many riders on the road.
It was quite a tough day on paper with some reasonably lumpy bits around Barnard Castle and Moffatt.
Leaving Thirsk early in the morning, I passed a Horse racing stables with a short track. It was magical as 4 beautiful race horses galloped alongside me for a few seconds. The noise of the horses was quite incredible.
One of the scenic highlights of the day is the wooden suspension bridge at Whorlton - really nice:
There was also the disturbing site of someone with shorts about 2 sizes too small - not a wheel you'd want to follow for long:
He was spotted later in the ride - still in the same cheeky shorts:
As I approached Barnard Castle, it was now getting properly wet. I was glad to reach the control and get under cover. This didn't bode well for the next section over to Brampton, via the largest climb of the ride over Yad Moss at over 600m.
It was really chucking it down, and I was glad to rest up a while and get some good food in me. Chris, Lindsay and Ian rocked up as I was thinking about heading off - luckily I stayed and chatted a while as the rain got even worse.
It sort of eased and I slipped out and straight into the hills.
The climb up Yad Moss isn't too challenging, it is very shallow, but very very long for the UK. It was enjoyable, the weather wasn't too bad at this point.
From the top, it's a great descent - sadly, I got a speed wobble again - this is the second one in a couple of months. It can only be down to the new wheel I have built up front. I need to sort that out.
It started to rain again, and by the time I reached the cobbles of Alston, it was very wet (I walked down them, I didn't fancy tackling them in the wet!).
Into Brampton, and all was still going well.
The section from Brampton to Moffatt was a bit of a grind. It did feature the border crossing:
It was the only dull section of the entire ride. The old road just followed the motorway (or rather the motorway followed the old road).
The only light relief was stopping somewhere near Lockerbie for an ice cream.
A young lad of 8 or so asked me if I was in a race, and I told him it was a special sort of race. He wanted to know if a) I was winning and b) was Chris Froome riding. I explained I wasn't winning and that this kind of race was a bit too long for Chris Froome. He switched tact and asked me if I rode in the Tour de France!
He told me he could ride 20 miles on his bike - I told him to keep at it and headed off.
The control at Moffatt was lovely to reach and see some of the Audax Ecosse riders who'd helped and ridden the Mille Alba 1000km last year.
I now knew I was going to reach Edinburgh in good time, certainly before midnight and that was very pleasing.
The climb out of Moffatt (Devil's Beeftub) was lovely - best climb of the ride I think.
The whole stage was nice, apart from the skies, which were getting darker and darker. A few short sharp showers led up to the most amazing shower as the sun was beginning to go down. Shower isn't strong enough, but it was not a thunderstorm.
I lasted only 15 minutes or so, but the amount of water that came down in that time was just unbelievable. Those 20 minutes ahead of us got nothing, and those 20 minutes behind us rode through hub deep flooding. I was absolutely soaked (bottom half anyway). But at least it was warm.
As quickly as it started, it stopped. And the sun came out.
The light was amazing - it was purplish and there was a double rainbow. Beautiful. I didn't take any photos as I just wanted to push onto Edinburgh now.
Being so far North, it didn't get dark until we were rolling into Edinburgh at 22:15. 37 hours for 700km - I was very pleased indeed. I had really lived by the 'race out' mentality - was I now going to 'tour back'?
Food, shower, dry clothes and to bed for a good 4 hour sleep before heading home.