I'd slept well at Edinburgh. I'd had a great shower, got dry clean clothes (another drop bag was here) and managed to get a good 4 hour sleep. It was fairly quiet still at the control, with many riders probably stopping a control or two earlier. A bit of breakfast, some slightly moist clothes and I was ready to head off into what looked like a mixed day.
Whilst I was getting myself ready for the off, Mel Kirkland told me of his 7 punctures on the way up. I counted my blessings that all had gone well so far.
2.25km from the control, and my back tyre was flat - the Kirkland curse had been passed on to me!
It was so demoralising, there I was all fired up for the return journey and within minutes, I was busy fixing a flat.
Fixed and off I went again. I started to feel a little wobbly. No, a lot wobbly.
I was getting the knock! How could this be? I actually hadn't eaten that much the night before - I'd been a bit too focussed on dry clothes, shower, bed. Breakfast hadn't been massive either. I shovelled one of my two emergency gels down my throat, along with a few Haribo.
And off I went again. This wasn't proving to be the best start to a day ever.
We started on a beautiful climb on the outskirts of the city, and suddenly things got a bit soft on the rear tyre again! Another flat! KIRKLAND!!!!!
It was a different cause to the first flat - not me being daft. In fact, I swear that this was a piece of bone in my tyre. Presumably caused by all the roadkill getting mashed up on the road.
Fixed that, and now I was really not enjoying the day. Luckily we were about to enter one of the most picturesque parts of the ride, through Traquair and Eskdalemuir. Beautiful climbing through the forests, just spectacular stuff and more than enough to take my mind of the first 20km of the day.
Traquair control is legendary in LEL terms. Cakes, porridge and whisky!
I enjoyed some porridge and cake, but I didn't partake in the whisky. I sort of regretted it afterwards. I don't drink, but I should have had a wee dram - it is traditional.
Leaving the control and seeing the sign for London and I thought the big smoke felt a very, very long way from here, and not just in terms of distance.
Through more forest and hills - sadly with the addition of some pretty hard rain now. It was still very pretty though.
Eskdalemuir is another famous control. In this little town, there is a Tibetan monastery that I believe actually used to be the control on the very early LELs. Nowadays it is in the slightly larger community hall (but still not very big). In the 2009 version of LEL, I believe this was the scene of much carnage as this is where people ended up during/after the massive storms.
It was bad today, but nothing compared to the war stories from that year.
Alexander from Hackney was at the control and had discovered a large crack in his rim. He was trying to source a new rim over the phone for somewhere near Brampton. I've always been lucky with mechanicals on rides - I like to think that it's because I am good with my maintenance (but that's not really true), it's most likely down to the fact that I am light and not that hard on bikes.
Off into the rain. It was easing a little.
Brampton came soon enough - we were back on the our outbound route now after the loop through Scotland. So familiar controls and people - always good.
I was offered some choices of food at the control, and pretty much fancied all of them, so I ended up with something like a bed of macaroni cheese, with some mince/gravy on top, with a sausage on top of that, crowned with more cheese.
It all worked for me!
I wanted to feed up as now we had to cross Yad Moss again - it didn't look as bad from this side, but still a long climb for sure.
Off I went and before too long, I came into Alston. I was, frankly, bursting for the loo, and a sit down job at that. So spying some bikes outside a pub, I dived in. I found George Hanna, Mel Kirkland, Simon Gent and Julian (sorry didn't get the surname) coming to the end of pint 1. I ordered a pint, of orange juice and lemonade and some crisps before heading to the loo to attend to more urgent needs.
Upon my return, pint 2 was being ordered!
How they tackle big old climbs like that with 2 pints of bitter in their bellies, I will never know, but it doesn't seem to do their pace any harm.
I drank my drink and wished them farewell.
George's bike - now that is the sort of thing that makes you cry with joy - to see someone who's been through the most terrible things and to come through and be able to enjoy life - inspiring stuff.
The climb out of Alston on the cobbles was a bit much for my jangled hands - so I walked up the last part of them. They are pretty, but can easily catch a wheel in them.
And before too long the climb up the backside of Yad Moss was in full swing. It really wasn't too bad from this side and I reached the top quite quickly. What follows is a very long, gentle descent - easy miles!
At some point before Barnard Castle, Sam from Dulwich Paragon caught up with me. I knew him by sight, I'd last seen him when I was serving food at the end of the Severn Across 400km ride in May. It was nice to have company and Sam is a good strong rider, even with the 24 hour TT in his legs from the weekend before.
We were both dreading the nasty climb into Barnard Castle that we remembered from the northbound trip. We should have looked at our maps better, as this time we bypassed the hill in order to arrive into town with a good view of the castle.
I was pretty battered at this point - my feet were in agony. I had put on waterproof socks for the day. I normally only use those with other shoes, but I hadn't wanted to carry overshoes on this ride. They had made the tops of my feet very very sore indeed. Sam gave me some Ibuprofen gel - it was actually the only painkiller I used on the whole ride, so not too bad really.
After quite a long stop, we were off again - aiming for Thirsk for sleep. The pain was getting better in the feet.
The 'highlight' of the section was an attack of the corn flies - as we approached the end of the stage, we were hit by yet another rain shower. As soon as this stopped, out came thousands of thunder flies. They were bouncing off our jackets and faces, getting in our eyes and mouths. Every few seconds myself or Sam would have to spit out yet another fly. We passed other riders who'd smartly got buffs over their faces - but we pushed on. It was just awful and we were pleased to reach Thirsk around 11pm.
As I came into the control, I was surprised to see both of my flip flops on the lost property table. Someone must have picked up the one I dropped in the Howardian Hills and brought it to the control! I was so pleased to see them - I'd spent 600 km balancing strangely in toilets and showers. Now I had some indoor footwear again!
Thirsk was my bag drop, so a shower and clean clothes for the final legs. The control was fairly empty, so beds were not an issue at all. I settled down around 12:30 and slept until 4:30.
Up and at them for the last day - I had around 28 hours to tackle the last 400km and arrive in London within my self-imposed 96 hour target.
Sam was up, along with Mel Kirkland, Martin Lucas, George Hanna, Simon Gent etc. - we were all to roughly stick together for the final day, which was a real pleasure to ride with a great bunch of riders with masses of experience.
Slowly but surely everyone got things together and we were out the door into a very mucky looking day.
The ride to Pocklington was quite hard work as we lumped and bumped over the Howardian Hills - this section was lovely and great to see in daylight this time. Castle Howard and it's associated monuments were very pretty. I really enjoyed this section, with some nice hills, and slowly the sun came out and it was really quite a good day now.
Just before Pocklington, I was chatting to Brian who was in the group. A very nice chap from Georgia, USA riding a massive Cannondale - he joked we should swap bikes - I doubt I'd have even been able to straddle his bike, let alone ride it!
Into Pocklington and some good food and chatter. We agreed to leave en masse. I had a short chat with mattc (who was running the control along with his sister), good to see him.
As ever, when trying to herd a group out of the door, we were a little raggedy leaving the control, with some people waiting around for the less-organised to get their lives in order!
Off we went.
After around 10km, we were very strung out - but Julian managed to wrap his chain around his machine in some kind of spectacular style. This also led to the question "Where's Brian?" and some of the tail-enders reported that he'd had a very low speed coming together with a curb, then a parked car (he'd been looking down at his Garmin rather than where he was going) - being a fairly large chap, this shunt had managed to snap his forks. He was fine, but had turned back to the control to sort things out. I saw him at the end (where he admitted it was all his fault and he'd been a bit silly) - he'd got back on the road reasonably quickly (within 3 or so hours) thanks to a local bike shop. I am sure it cost him some good money, but if you've already gone to the expense of flying to the UK etc., I know I'd have paid whatever to get the bike back on the road when you're only 350km from the end.
The leg to Market Rasen was our last lumps before Essex - and we seemed to be going along at a good pace.
By the time we reached the Humber Bridge - it was starting to rain again. We crossed the bridge - taking it steady and being courteous to the pedestrians etc. - apart from a Spanish? rider in our group who insisted in shouting and hollering at the top of his voice every time we approached a group of pedestrians - it was pretty embarrassing as Sam up front was being very courteous and slowing our group down well in advance of passing people, saying hello etc.
We stopped under the bridge to put on rain jackets - it was quite wet now. But, almost as soon as we left the shelter of the bridge, it stopped!
At some point, I ended up on the front, and must have been feeling pretty good as the pace upped a little; then, at a junction across a main road, Martin Lucas slipped past me. Even with a cracked rib, he slowly upped the pace (Martin is a very, very fast rider who I very rarely get the chance to ride with as he is so strong - he was in some discomfort and having a hard time when climbing out of the saddle (he was on fixed, so no choice really)). Before too long, we were flying along at a merry old pace. It was all good fun and felt great to have a couple of Willesden riders leading a nice big group into Market Rasen.
As we sat eating our grub (a full roast dinner with beef and pork - it was great, apart from the roast potatoes which were a little hard work with plastic utensils!), people were expressing admiration and concern at the speed Martin has dragged us along at!
All too quickly, we were back on the road for what was quite a long leg down to Kirton. Martin slipped onto the front, and a few people were concerned that he might be too fast, so I popped up to the front and rode alongside him to hopefully moderate his pace a little! I ended up on the front and stayed there for a good old pull - I felt very strong at this stage. It was also starting to rain, at first gently, but then heavier and heavier. It was warm, so I pushed on for a while, but it got too much and I had to stop and put on my rain jacket. A few of the group who I didn't know, shot on ahead - fair enough, but our group was a little fractured now - so the train slowed a little coming into Kirton.
We were all pretty soaked when we reached Kirton. I was also a little mentally drained and spaced out. I knew I needed a slightly longer break than the others here - so, with sadness, I watched them go on without me - it had been a great time riding with them.
I regrouped and picked myself up and headed off solo.
This proved to have been an error. Into the flatlands, in bad weather, with a headwind. It was a struggle!
I rode the section from Kirton to Loughton overnight in March - one of my most miserable times on a bike. I didn't feel much better on this journey!
My mind was full of calculations on whether I could do this ride in 96 hours. I knew I was getting tired and needed a short sleep. How short could I manage etc.? I knew it was now tight to finish in time (do remember that the total time allowed is 116 hours - so I was never in danger of finishing out of time - I just had this obsession in my head with 96 hours).
Along the stage, there was a pub by a crossroads - there was George and Simon having a pint. I stopped for an orange juice and some peanuts. Also there was a young chap who we'd been chatting to at Kirton. It was his first ride over 240km, and he'd only been using clipless pedals for a few weeks - one of his knees was in agony, and he was holding a bag of ice on it! He was in plenty of time, so we suggested he get to St Ives and rest up properly.
George, Simon and the other rider (who's name I never got) headed off and I finished up my orange juice and watched other riders pass.
Night fell and I plugged along to St Ives.
St. Ives was an excellent control run by Arabella and Marcus and had plenty of volunteers I knew (getting back towards the south east now), great to see Terry and Sue etc.
Mark Brooking of Willesden was volunteering there, and had got the beers in for Willesden riders - so there was quite a party atmosphere. Hummers and Postie turned up - amazingly I hadn't seen them all ride, and here they were.
At this point, even though I do not drink, my resolve nearly crumbled - what does this 96 hour thing matter anyway? Sit here, have a laugh, get a good sleep and then into London mid-morning with this crowd. Perfect.
But no, I was determined to make it in 96 hours. So, I requested a bed for an hour and got a little sleep.
I hoped it was enough to see me through until Loughton. Having ridden the section before, I knew that the St. Ives to Great Easton section was actually quite hard with some tough climbing to come.
Off I set, after either hallucinating or actually seeing Mark Brooking dressed as a Gruffalo?!?!?
I got a little lost leaving St Ives and ended up doing a short bit of main road bashing to tack back on course - no big deal, middle of the night so very little traffic. A few late night pub revellers looking bemused though.
I was in good spirits. I'd got around 100km to go and a good 8 or more hours to do it in. Easy.
The hills were harder than I remembered and I was getting desperately sleepy. I was in a bad way again. I knew I was getting to be dangerous on the bike, so had a short rest and 10 minute nap in someone's driveway.
By now, the beginnings of dawn were happening, which always provides a lift, and indeed it did.
It was going to be a good sunny day (in the end, it turned out to be the hottest day of the year!) and I slogged my way down to Great Easton.
I was a bit dazed and confused when I arrived there, but it was good to see Tom the controller there along with other faces I knew like Redlight.
I needed it - and they provided it.
It was a great little control with lots of sweets and biscuits, it was like a kid's party. I couldn't help but eat a few tonnes of biscuits for breakfast.
I felt more alive now and knew I'd got it in the bag with an hour or two to spare.
The final leg to Loughton starts taking you through a more populated part of the world again and it felt a little alien to suddenly be surrounded by traffic after 4 days of quiet roads.
It was also getting very warm indeed, and I had to stop to strip down to just a jersey - and this was at 7am!
And before too long, I was into Loughton via a couple of short sharp lumps.
I had done it! Into the school gates and parked up my bike. I checked into the final control at 94 hours and 35 minutes. That was very pleasing. I had ridden the near-900 miles to Edinburgh and back in under 4 days.
Greeted by Richard Phipps, stamped (and brevet card not returned - always a sad moment when you realise you won't see the precious thing you've been holding for 4 days, until at least a few months have passed), medal awarded, hands shaken, medal awarded and off to see Charlotte who'd set up her studio to take photos of returning riders. Can't wait to see the results of that - I am sure I looked awful. She also took a closeup portrait, which will look even worse I don't doubt!
I soon felt a wave of tiredness washing over me and found a corner of the gym and a gym mat and crashed out for an hour or so. Before too long, the volunteers were in to convert this into a property dorm - so I gave them a hand and then headed off for the shower to wash away the muck and grime along with the weariness.
The day was getting very very hot now and I spent it cheering riders in, chewing the fat and snoozing a little.
I wish I could have stayed all night as the atmosphere was great and it was great seeing people finishing and realising what they'd accomplished. I was very pleased to have not been out on that day though - it was hitting 35 degrees and people said the headwinds across the fens made it feel like riding into an oven! Grim.
A few photos of bikes and people from the finish:
And finally - the stats - 1425km ridden, 61 hours on the bike, 94 hours 35 minutes total time and 9300m of climbing - all hard work
I will also write a post on my overall thoughts on the ride and what's next - but that'll do for now!