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London Edinburgh London 2017:
The full English adventure with extra adventure
Ride Dates: July 30 - August 4, 2017
by Bob Goodison

"Holding on in silent desperation is the English way" (Pink Floyd- Time)

LEL has been a goal of mine for as long as I've known of its existence, and now, thanks to Susan's perseverance and patience, jumping through the hoops long after I had given up, getting me registered, and getting fees transferred, it was really going to happen. Learning from my PBP mistake, I booked three weeks off work, so we had almost a week in London before, and an equal time to travel around England afterward. Shortly before we were to leave, Susan (again, the brains of the outfit), discovered that our airbnb for before the ride was at 65 Walpole Rd Walthamstow, not 65 Walpole Rd, Woodford, as I thought it was. My planned route to the start was now not quite so simple! We arrived at Heathrow exhausted, then figured out how to navigate tube and bus to our "home". This included a long walk dragging the bike case. Once again, the Ritchey had traveled as regular luggage, no questions asked. However, I had tested positive for explosives at the airport in Kamloops. Good thing we left lots of extra time.

Bike assembled, I decided to take a ride to the start to test things and make sure I knew the way. AAAAGH! The Garmin would not progress past the loading maps screen, and it kept turning itself off. I couldn't make it turn on without plugging it in to my auxiliary battery, and even then it would do nothing, other than eventually turn itself off. In frustration, I gave up, and we took the tube into London to spend the day doing touristy things. Using google maps, we made a rough route sheet to get me to the start. Next morning, I tried it again. No luck with the GPS, but I found my way to the start area, turning the 25 km round trip into 35. OK. At this rate, I had better be prepared to turn my 1400 km ride into 2000! We went back into London, did more touristy things, and visited a few bike shops. Susan found me a great merino jersey for £35! At another shop, it was suggested that I take the Garmin to Cycle Surgery- a Garmin dealer, to see if they could help me.

The next day was the day before registration. We went back into London, GPS in my pocket, and found a Cycle Surgery location near Buckingham Palace. They were able to do a hard restart on the unit, and re- installed the route for me. The only problem was that it only worked for about 3/4 of the route. From the Humber Bridge South, it showed a straight line- a glitch that didn't get fixed until the next day, when I had no computer access to update it. No problem, I thought. I'll just navigate the last 350 or so km using the route sheet. Hah! I mentioned to the shop staff my navigational issues and the fact that many roads had no signs on them. I was told that they took down the signs for WW2, and no one had gotten around to putting them back up. Then it was off to the pre-ride party at the Salt Quay Pub. Lots of familiar faces there- Luis and Carol Bernhardt, Etienne, Bill Watts, Mark Thomas, and Jan Dembinski, whom I had met at the Cascade last year- I had almost run into the back of him, as he rode up the Washington Pass composing a sonnet about the headwind. Good food, good beer, good friends.

Finally, registration day. We met up with Etienne, Michael, Mark, Luis, and Ken for the Team BC riders and Volunteers group photo. Michael was not feeling too confident, having been dealing with ongoing health issues all season. Missing was Carol, who was volunteering at the start and at Innerleithen. Also missing was Meyrick, and we had no idea at that point whether or not he had arrived in London. Lots more familiar faces. Registration done, drop bags sorted, we then had to find someone named Dave- Susan's ride up to Barnard Castle where she would be volunteering. Thanks to a perfect description of him by the organizers, Dave was found. We hopped on a double decker bus for the trip back to Walthamstow. Susan got some pictures of Etienne and Mark through the bus front window as they rode back to their hotel.

My ride to my 10:15 start was uneventful, and I added no extra distance. I had a second breakfast at the school with the most famous rider there- John Morris, the North Carolina rider in the photo on the LEL brochure with the rainbow. Michael had the same start time, Mark 15 minutes later. Compared to PBP, the start was very calm and relaxed- no lines (sorry, queues), very little fanfare. I started off fairly fast, riding in a group with a couple of riders in Brompton World Championship Jerseys, (not on Bromptons), and a local named Will, who I wound up spending most of the day playing leapfrog with. He would pass me, then stop to fiddle with his floppy bikepacking bag, and the whole process would repeat itself. It made me appreciate my Carradice bag. The first control was at St. Ives, and by the time we got there my average speed was just under 28 kmh. I had a good meal of pasta, and was just leaving as Michael rolled in. He seemed to be having a good ride so far.

A few kms later,as we started across the fens, it started to rain, first lightly, then more heavily. Riders were pulling over in large groups to don rain gear, but I took a look at the sky and wind direction and took my chances. Sure enough, six kms later the rain abruptly ended and it was sunny once again. There was one rider stopped putting on a jacket at the base of a small hill, less than a hundred metres from where the rain ended. So much time can be lost this way. I caught a group, and was considering passing them and continuing on, when suddenly the pace picked up, in a big way. Now I was just barely able to hang on to the group, led by a rider who I heard speaking an Eastern European sounding language I couldn't identify. He pulled us for at least 20 kms. I commented to a woman (Helen?) in an Audax Ireland jersey that I was at the edge of my ability and didn't think I'd hold on for long. She said she hadn't ridden that fast since she quit racing, and that we might as well hold on as long as we could and put some time in the bank. She was riding with full panniers, and holding her own as we rocketed on at 35+ kmh. Eventually I dropped off the back, but briefly caught back on when the group had to stop at a railway crossing.

After controlling at Louth, it was into the Lincolnshire Wolds- beautiful scenery, quiet, narrow roads, steep hills. On many of the hills, there were sand bins at the side- the more sand bins, the steeper the hill and vise versa. The hills of LEL are either long or steep- never both. Darkness fell and I was starting to get pretty tired, when I suddenly found myself at the Humber Bridge. The excitement of reaching this milestone vanished any traces of fatigue. The engineers responsible for this masterpiece should come to North America and show us how to make a smooth bike lane across a bridge. It was perfect. Shortly before reaching my first sleep stop at Pocklington I felt my rear tyre going flat. Fortunately, I was approaching a large roundabout with a street light on its grassy center. Perfect place to fix it. I couldn't find anything in the tyre, so just put in a tube and continued to the control. My plan was to sleep here if there was a bed, continue to Thirsk if there wasn't. Of 400 available beds, only 200 were in use, so after a meal, a shower and fresh clothes I went to bed- on plan and on schedule.

After breakfast I continued north, through the Howardian Hills (massive rollers), through Castle Howard, to Thirsk where I had sent my first drop bag. I swapped out my spare clothes for fresh and enjoyed another great meal. I was surprised to see Ken Bonner here- he had started more than five hours ahead of me. His ride was not going well. He had missed the control by 25 km, and had to backtrack. The added distance had put him at a bit of a time defecit. I figured he would easily make it back though, as the organizers had said they wouldn't disqualify any riders late at intermediate controls, as long as they made it back up by the finish. Not too much further up the road I had my second flat. This time (now with daylight to help me see it) I found a small, sharp, triangular piece of flint. Problem solved. Not. Another flat a few kms later. Down to one spare tube. Somewhere along the line I wound up riding with Eric Larsen. This also surprised me, as he had told me he had a 7:00 AM start, so I hadn't expected to see him. I always enjoy riding with Eric, even though he's a bit stronger than I am. Also in our happy group was a Dutch rider (Jorg? Bjorn?) and another Brit named Dave. Eventually we got separated again- he had a 100 hr limit and needed to go faster than I did. I had a clumsy moment, turning one road too soon, then getting into soft mud at the road edge while making my corrective u-turn and falling on my right knee, hip, and elbow.

By the time I got to Barnard Castle, blood from my knee was running into my sock. My elbow was a little less bloody, but my hip had a goose egg and I was concerned it would seize up when I stopped. Susan was off duty when I arrived, and was waiting for me. She patched me up, I ate, bought a couple more spare tubes and continued north. The next landmark of note was Yad Moss- the famous ski hill! I really enjoyed the gentle climb, with beautiful scenery and perfect weather. A long gentle descent led to the famous steep downhill cobblestones of Alston. Halfway down, there was an ice cream truck. How could I not stop? I sat on a bench, watching riders go by on the cobbles as I ate my ice cream, with a local-ish rider who was eating a Belgian cake. He had an extra one that he gave me, so I ate that, too. MMMMM!

The organizers had provided two choices from Brampton to Moffat- hilly or flat. I opted for flat, on an easy, quiet road that paralleled a major highway. It was probably the most boring part of the ride, but enabled me to put a bunch more time in the bank. I still got to Moffat later than I had hoped, and by the time I had eaten it was nearly 9:00 pm. The route sheet said "climb over Devil's Beeftub". It was another long, gentle climb and I loved every minute of it. It gradually got darker as I climbed, but there was still enough light to enjoy the stunning views. At the top, the moon was out, and there was not an artificial light to be seen. I passed a few riders, but was mostly alone in this section. Magical. Then, there was another long, gentle descent towards Edinburgh. A badger crossed right in front of me to add to the experience. Here, I ran into a problem. The bike path I was on deteriorated to wet dirt. There were lots of fresh tracks, so I thought I must still be on route, until it got narrower and narrower, before petering out all together. I turned around, and immediately met another rider- a Brit on another Ritchey Breakaway- who had done the same thing. With his help, I found the route- parallel, and only about 20 meters to our left. We continued into the control together. Time for another meal, shower, sleep, and replenish from my drop bag. I talked to an American who somehow had not known that his chosen start time had given him only 100 hrs to finish, and had given up on finishing within his time limit. I now had about 17 hours in the bank, and it looked like I might crack 100 hrs. I slept about 3 hours- not enough, but it was really noisy in the sleeping area.

The ride to Innerleithen was beautiful, with quiet roads lined with heather and sheep. Carol wasn't on duty when I reached the control, so I told them to tell her "Hi from Bob" and had a bowl of porridge. Eric was there, so we rode together towards Eskdalemuir. I was having some issues at this point- I had serious indigestion that Pepto Bismol wasn't even putting a dent in, and I was really, really sleepy- and it was only mid-morning. Because of this, I didn't enjoy this section as much as I should have. I decided a table nap was in order at Eskdalemuir, but they said " beds are upstairs, it's quiet, there's no one up there". Perfect. A great 1/2 hour sleep cured the sleepiness, and helped a bit with the indigestion.

At Brampton (I think, or was it Pocklington? It's all a blur now) I had lunch with Eric, and Alan Parkinson, whom I had met at PBP. He had dnf'd due to his rear derailleur going into his spokes and had made the transition from rider to volunteer. Then, back through Alston and up the cobbles. I followed a Dutch rider who had only two gears due to a shifter failure. He flew up the steep climb. Yad Moss was just as beautiful on the way south, but there was another highlight. The infamous Drew Buck had set up his camper van at a pullout and was serving up refreshments. A coffee and slice of gingerbread was exactly what I needed. Thanks, Drew!

Approaching Barnard Castle from the north, I was treated to a great view of the sun setting on the castle, and I was thrilled to see Susan again. Always prepared, she had some high powered antacid that did the trick. I rode out towards Thirsk with Eric, a girl named (Georgina?) , and a few others. I would have liked to have gone a bit faster, as I was getting cold and sleepy, but was concerned about getting lost. I solved the problem by repeatedly dropping back until I could just see their lights, then sprinting back. That kept me warm and awake. After my sleep I continued south. There was an optional control in the beautiful village of Coxwold, and although I didn't need to stop, I decided to do it anyway- go for the whole experience. I had a bit of trouble finding it, as there were no bikes outside. The volunteers were happy to have a visitor and spoiled me with fresh coffee and baked goods. It was hard to leave.

Going back over the Humber bridge- this time in daylight- I may have recruited a new BC Randonneur. A touring rider, on his way to Russia, who lives less than 150 km from me in Winfield. Small world. After the bridge, however, my ride began to fall apart. This was where my GPS tracks ended, and navigation by route sheet was frustrating at best. More than a few missed corners, but eventually I got to Louth. I left Louth following two riders who knew the way, but they were stronger than I was, and I was soon dropped and completely lost. So lost. And losing daylight. I finally resorted to just punching in Spalding as a destination, and letting the GPS take me there, as Audax UK rules allow riders to use any route they choose between controls. Things got worse. "Turn left on gravel road," Mr. Garmin said. Gravel road was a muddy lane into a field. "Turn right on gravel road", it said. This one was a pair of tractor tracks. OK, backtrack to the pavement. Switch to map screen. Find my way to A16. Follow A16 south to Spalding. Sleep.

We had been warned of headwinds going south across the fens, so I was happy to catch a United Nations group of three- Jason, an American who lives in Korea, Ken, a local boy who had timed out on the 100 hr group, and Graziano, a larger- than-life Italian. Into the headwinds- which weren't really that bad, but apparently got much worse later. I pulled for a great deal of the way to St. Ives, in exchange for the rest of the crew doing the navigation. It was especially helpful as we neared the control, as traffic was backed up due to an accident, and Ken led us there via other roads. Riding flat ground into the winds, holding the same body position for so long, took its toll on my knees, and I took a longer break at St. Ives, breaking up the group.

Part of the route south to Cambridge was along a guided busway- a multi-use paved path with concrete rails for the buses. I had sort of joined up with Ken again, but I had to stop- could not resist the overflowing bushes of ripe blackberries. Ken came back to see what had happened to me, and soon he was shoveling them into his face also. Sooo good. We leapfrogged a few more times as we negotiated the crowds of Cambridge pedestrians, then got separated again. A couple more wrong turns, and a brush with stinging nettles on my left shin as I pulled over to allow a bus to pass got me to Great Easton, the penultimate control. A coffee, and some more food, and off again. The route sheet said there were arrows all the way to the finish. No more navigation needed. My legs felt fresh. I was starting to develop a saddle sore, but who cares, I was all but done. I could finish off the last 48 km in a couple of hours! Wrong! I missed an arrow, overshot by 6 km, finally found the route, and took 3 hours to do 48 km. However, I did get to see fields of lavender no one else did.

Susan was waiting for me at the finish, with Carol, who was waiting for Luis. I retrieved my bike case, and started disassembly. All went well, until I tried to remove my pedals. Although I had only used a 6 mm Allen to install them, they were too tight to remove with said wrench. Several people tried to help, but all we achieved was breaking the Allen. Graziano to the rescue! He found someone who had a pedal wrench, and had them off in no time, earning my eternal gratitude.

Epilogue: Susan and I took a taxi to our motel, then went to the only nearby restaurant for food and a beer. Next day, after retrieving drop bags, we took a train to Cardiff, where we spent two nights before renting a car and travelling randomly north, then east, finding great things not in any tourist guidebook. Highlights included Castle Acre, and a classic car show in a Welsh sheep pasture. Favourite beer of trip: Brains Black

A few random notes:
Cheryl told me this was her favourite ride, but I noticed she never went back to do it again. Now I understand. It is not easy. It IS beautiful, and very well organized with great support and excellent volunteers and food. If we have ridden together, and you had to wait for me, or you kept up with me, DO THIS RIDE. If I waited for you, think twice. You may finish within the limits, but to have to ride too much of it in the dark to do so would be wrong. There is so much to see. Also, it is far too easy to lose time to navigational blunders. One thing I should have done was to take the time to type the route sheet into the BC Randonneurs route sheet template, giving me a larger font and a more familiar format. I took full advantage of controls, neither dawdling nor rushing. Total of three flats, no more after buying spare tubes. I rode with a triple chainring. A double would have been fine. Wouldn't have missed that big ring a bit. Initial reports indicate about 55% finished within their time limits, 10% outside their limits, 35% dnf.

It rained every day of the ride, but never for long (for me- others weren't so lucky).

Wildlife: Badger, rabbits, hare, weasel, flattened hedgehogs. Favourite sections: Devil's Beeftub, Edinburgh to Innerleithen.

A huge thank you to Bud MacRae, for storing our car, and valet service to and from the airport.

Go to: Bob's LEL Photos (92 Images - flickr)
Go to: BC Riders at LEL
Go to: London Edinburgh London home


August 19, 2017