It takes some guts to show up at an international randonnee and strike out on a journey of 881 miles into a land you have never seen. Now that’s what makes it exciting!
LEL was a fantastic adventure and many asked me why and I can’t say why, other than I just knew that England was calling me, I had to go. Going alone would not deter me; I was determined to tackle it no matter what. I had trained, I had studied and I had researched, I was prepared and I was mentally ready.
The journey begins. Saturday at registration was a fun time, seeing the US contingent, seeing old friends, making new friends like Mr Wobley who actually rode with his umbrella!
There were many kinds of bikes, like the elliptigos, there were three and two completed the entire distance.
And velo mobiles, these guys were fast!
My start time was 6:15, before all my friends. I would have liked to ridden the Prologue from Buckingham Palace to the start, but the logistics were a little tuff and I thought it best to concentrate on getting myself to Edinburgh.
Pushing out I was very apprehensive about riding on the left ok I was terrified. Of course I couldn’t hang onto a group long so soon I was enjoying the English country side with riders passing me often, I didn’t care I was riding my bike in England.
Need to make a phone call? These famous phone booths are everywhere.
Thru the most beautiful villages, some with red streets.
First control was St Ives 90 km, all the controls were in schools, water was outside, get the card signed, find a bathroom, look at the queue for food, always too long, forget that, fix bottles, futz with my stuff, get the hell out of Dodge. This would repeat many times.
Stephen, this Dews for you! Caffeine keeps me going, its usually a Monster but I like a Dew too.
The rolling countryside hills were charming, next stop Kirton, found a good riding companion from England but lost him outside of Kirton. Heading north we soon came to the flatlands, really flat, flattest land in all England, close to the east side of the big isle. We rode along a river and many irrigation canals for maybe 60 miles, I really enjoyed it.
Suddenly I saw the 2 most beautiful elegant swans in all the world followed by three of the ugliest ducklings you have ever seen, I regret I didn’t turn back for a pic. I was to ride on and admire many beautiful swans for many miles but no more ugly ducklings.
The English cattle looked exactly like they were supposed to look – English, (No worries – It’s a cow thing)
My plan was to eat once or twice a day so at Market Rasen I planned to eat, but no the riders were queued far too long, I got fruit and nuts and pushed on. All the food in the controls was free and it was fine I guess but I didn’t care much for it, I liked the noodles. Mostly I drank my Spiz and was really glad I had it. Three scoops in each bottle and a fruit powder caffeinated thing, I really wanted some ice but they don’t seem to know the meaning of ice here. (Texans would croak here). Many of the controls required you to take your shoes off. And of all things to carry, me the self-professed weight weenie carried slippers for the controls, I know you won’t believe it so here’s the proof. I was later to wear these slippers walking up hills several times telling myself we are not in Kansas anymore. And notice I have learned not to leave my cycling shoes on the ground, Dan.
The most important people of all: THE VOLUNTEERS!!!!!!!
These guys were terrific and they were everywhere. And sometimes I saw the same volunteers coming and going and you could tell they had not slept either!
We owe our ride to the volunteers, they were outstanding.
We began to ride on the tiniest roads you have ever seen, some roads are about 10-12 feet wide, and when a car came I stopped to let them pass.
The countryside was gorgeous; words cannot tell you the beauty of England.
My goal was the Humber Bridge before dark, it’s a huge beautiful bridge and the volunteers were there to show us how to get up the cycle way, many thanks. I was still seeing cyclists and following my Garmin for navigation, forget the route sheet I had no luck reading it. I eased into Pocklington about 11:00 ish where I had my first drop bag and planned to sleep. I got about 3-4 hours sleep on an air mattress and a blankie, I didn’t sleep much but I rested well. My bike was a little crankie on shifting and a nice volunteer was helping me when Dave Minter walked past, I was so excited, he adjusted the barrel shifter and in no time I was ready to roll. I saw Patrick but I missed leaving with him and Steve but I found Leslie and Susan from Oregon and we rolled out at dawn. We knew the hills were coming and they did not disappoint, soon I was dropped off the back to continue my slow journey up up down up up. Some climbs were 17% that was my first walk, one of many yet to come. Out of the blue there is a giant gorgeous castle – Castle Howard, incredible view. This shot was just a corner fence.
I caught the girls at the next control in Thirsk and we departed together, they are great partners for me, I can usually hang with them and they know how to get in and out of controls. On to Barnard Castle.
Susan and Leslie in the downtown hustle and bustle where we stop for drinks.
We prepare for the biggest longest climb, over Yad Moss, the goal for the day is to conquer Yad Moss and we did just that! It was a long slow climb up. We regrouped at the top for the celebration pics.
The view where we were going toward Alston.
Then we zoomed down to a cobblestone road 18% decline thru Alston where we made a quick stop and then on to Brampton. I had a drop bag in Brampton and the girls didn’t so they got out before me so I hung around and ate with Judith.
Somewhere along the way during the day I saw the movie guys and talked to them some. Here is a pic of them taking a pic of me riding in way too much traffic for this nonsense. (Don’t forget the driver is on the right side!)
The goal now was to get to Moffat for some sleep. But first we came to the Scotland line; yeah I had made it to Scotland. Rob from South Africa and I were riding together and we exchanged cameras and laughed at the others coming in, we said you have to wait for the next rider to get your pic and then he waits for the next.
The next town was Lockerbie, yes where flight 103 went down, wreckage was strewn over 50 square miles and 11 homes were destroyed. 270 lives were lost. I didn’t get there in time to see it in daylight, sorry.
Rob rode ahead and I rolled into Moffat with a nice young English man after we had a coke and chatted with a nice Cop. The girls were going to sleep just 2 hours but I planned on 3 hours sleep in Moffat before the big climb out of there before daylight. It was a long foggy way to the top, I underestimated that climb!
But after the climb up it was a beautiful ride thru the Scottish countryside complete with a small village store that sold Monster where I met a young man from the US that was writing a magazine story while riding LEL.
The next landmark is Edinburgh, yeah the half-way point. It’s not a turn around because we go back a different way to Brampton. As we near the city a low rider bent comes by and we begin a long descent, I let it go and hung with him down down around and down, I see 66kph, pulled up to a stop and he says, “You descend well!” We arrive in town in the morning traffic and its bad but I am getting used to riding on the left. I look for the girls and see them leaving town, they are 20 minutes ahead of me, I’m closing the gap. At the control I do another interview for the movie and then I’m off to catch the girls. Well after a whole lot more of terrible traffic, going up and down big hills in town, I begin directing traffic from my bike so I know I’m getting more comfortable.
Traffic in Edinburgh.
Southbound out of Scotland we get off on some real small roads but that’s ok with the busses and trucks, they just keep coming, watching them pass each other was breathtaking. I was in a big mix of riders at this point we were stretched out as far as you could see. Mr Wobly came by on his Bacchetta and we tried to chat but the traffic had me going Oh Shit too much. We climbed up into the Scottish moors, I call them mountains, we got a little shower or two, and rode along up into the hills, it was gorgeous, and then another fabulous descent and then another.
Along the way we passed many sheep.
I finally arrive Tranquer and then Eskdalemuir and I catch the girls. We leave and the film crew is back. This time they do lots of filming right in front of me and I have a live mike on me. This is where I rambled on and on about anything and everything telling lots of stories about rando riding in Texas. The crew is filming from the trunk of the car as I follow.
We stopped at the border for pics in front of the Welcome to England sign.
Before this we had had a brief 5-10 minute shower each day, but we could see the clouds building and sure enough 10 miles out of Brampton we got soaked!
Finally we arrive Brampton for the overnight, where I plan to connect to Wi-Fi and send tweets and pictures and get a good rest. To me the next day is strategic; I need to cross Yad Moss and all the giant hills into Pocklington and push on to Market Rasen overnight to set the stage for a 150 mile last day, so to me day 4 is critical. I planned a 4 hour sleep and leave about 3 but the girls wanted to leave at 1. I canceled my Wi-Fi plans and I think I slept 2 hours and woke and got up and left with the girls. While at Brampton Richard the volunteer lubed my chain and checked my air, many thanks. I didn’t take time for interviews or tweets its all business now, big day ahead.
The three of us push up and out Brampton lots of hills going up to the climb to Yad Moss. We plan a stop in Alston where the girls hit a public restroom, I tell them I’ll wait at the top of the cobblestones. I get off and change to my ruby slippers and walk up the 18% cobblestones, pull over and don my shoes, eat a snack and wait, where are those girls, finally two lights appear and I push out, shortly ahead another really big hill, I’m pushing up and the two lights catch me, hey you were supposed to be my two girlfriends, the guys say sorry we’re not girls. I’m on my way so I push on and up the climb to the summit as the dark turns into day. Yad Moss is easier from this direction and I had heard those reports but didn’t believe it. Great view from the summit, wave at the ski lift and then an easy long descent where I had to put on my last jacket. My battery pack ran down and I stopped to change it, the girls must have passed me because I pulled into Barnard Castle and there they were dismounting.
Then on to Thirsk and then on to Pocklington, this is where the really big hills are. My pace went downhill badly as I walked up and up many hills. But there were always others walking too.
The forest around the Howardian Hills.
Kids riding double in Thirsk.
Kirk from Sweden.
Do not ever go around the railroad crossing arms, these trains are moving really fast, blink and they are gone.
It began to rain as I neared Pocklington in rush hour traffic, not my favorite part of the ride. I spotted Judith and Dave at the control, they were helpful as I went thru my last drop bag and planned the last 50 miles in the rain to Market Rasen and planned my needs for the next day. I picked up dry cloths and kept them dry while I continued in my wet ones. I chased Judith and Minty out of town thru traffic and settled in for a wet night, I wanted to get back over Humber Bridge before dark. Along comes Rob and me him team up for the night leg. His neck is hurting him badly and I dug out my codeine from my neck pain days and gave it all to him, sadly it didn’t fix the pain for him so he suffered in. Kirk from Sweden joined us on his bent, he could ride like a gazelle. Before we got there we had a real posse of riders. I had a real bad leg, in the dark in the rain I couldn’t see well and had way too many “oh shit” moments, that means I’m out of control and heading for the ditch, most times I can bring it back, I just look like a drunk, sometimes I have to pop out collect myself and start again. But we made it! And the rain was over! I got 4 hours sleep and ate some really yummy Swedish cereal and pushed out before dawn. Just a little 150 mile day ride with a lot of flat terrain, some rolling hills, and an early finish in the sunshine in London, well that was the plan, sounds simple. I can remember now there were warnings something about the return was harder, I failed to heed the warnings and failed to prepare my game plan. But the day started glorious with victory in sight. Except there was a headwind, no matter, flats and headwind and I’m in my element, so I push on. Funny all those groups that passed me for days did not pass me today, I would come upon groups riding easy and chat a bit, pull a bit, yell “London by sunset”, look back and they were gone! And then it got warm, well hot by British standards, and then “boiling”, I thought it was still warm. I had run out of sunscreen so I kept on my long tall wool socks and long Capri shorts, after all it was only warm. I did get out some more electrolytes; I’m not a complete fool.
Back thru the flat sections and here is beautiful field of cabbage.
Here is a thatched roof house.
I came upon the guy riding the eliptigo, and chatted with him. There were three of them and they started together, but they had to begin riding their own pace which split them. He was catching a lot of headwind. His biggest problem was hot foot, he suffered badly with his feet. But he said he made it up all the steep climbs without walking that’s fantastic!
Riders were really slow now, but soon we got past Kirton and back to the hills, only now for my lack of preparedness, the different route in had the most God awful hills I have ever seen, they became relentless, up and down, up and down, over and over for miles and miles thru tiny villages on tiny roads. It was incredibly beautiful if you could enjoy it, I was not! I was tired of walking up hills! My plans for an early sunny finish became one of can I make it? Well yes I knew I could make but when? Finally I got to Great Easton and I took a long break, Leslie came in and we teamed up for the finish along with a few more guys, one from Brazil. The last 28 miles were manageable, not many “oh shits” and I didn’t walk much more. We were way past dark, well 4 hours later than I planned but we dragged in to the finish at 11:00, proud to have made it.
The almost complete card, time to turn the baby in.
Leslie and I celebrating.
A few notes:
LEL should only be done with a GPS, don’t think you can learn to read their route sheet and their road signs, I was determined to learn how for a few hours, then I gave up and followed my purple line, I can’t tell you how much I love my Garmin, it’s worth any cost and any weight it requires for batteries. I used a AA Duracell pack and I had another in each drop bag, so I could charge my phone or my IPod. At one point I thought I lost all my charge and I almost panicked.
Our weather was great and sunny for the start, each day we got a 5 to 10 minute shower. Day three we got a soaker just before Brampton and day four we had several hours of light rain into the night but the temps were pleasant and I was never cold. Others will say it was hot the last day while I would call it a bit warm. We had southerly winds all 5 days so we got to enjoy the headwinds back, but they were light indeed, by Texas standards.
The controls were great, all in schools with plenty of food and services. I didn’t care much for the food but since I didn’t maintain myself on their food that was ok, I drank my Spiz and supplemented with English food that was a little weird for me. At almost each control there was a gym with inflated mattresses that were very comfy. I arrived each might early enough to get a bed so it was terrific. After the first night I could sleep, by the last night I could sleep hard. The volunteers were terrifically nice and helpful, we love them everyone.
Hats off to the LEL team, they did an incredible job running a first class event. I watched Facebook and YACF before hand and any information you could think of was there. I knew more about this ride than any other grand randonnee I have done, and I’ve done several. It provides you with a warm fuzzy feeling to know so much about what you are getting into before you fly over the pond.
The flat fairies were out in full force to threaten riders. I often saw riders on the side of the road and I wondered when it would be my turn. I was lucky to have avoided them completely, course I did buy two new Gatorskins along with a complete checkup on my bike before leaving home. My thanks to the Gators and my LBS, Trinity Cycles in Fort Worth.
Riding on the left:
This was my biggest fear, it was terrifying at first. We got out of town really quick so I began to learn out in the country. The biggest thing is you have to learn to look right at intersections for oncoming cars. I forgot twice on the first day, first time I had plenty of time to stop but the next time it was close and scared me big time I was almost pancaked, I didn’t forget again. I began to repeat “hug left, look right”. I would say this often. As cars would approach from the front I would constantly re assure myself I’m on the left where I belong. I constantly watched my mirrors. The European riders don’t wear mirrors at all. I have three, one on each side of my bars and one on my helmet.
When you ride a bent and get off, guess what…………Nothing hurts!
And that’s really true, my knees and left Achilles tendon are a little stressed but not injured.
I do have one injury……..I sunburned my bottom lip so bad it infected and I have raised blisters and scabbed over oozing sores on my lip and it hurts, I know that’s pathetic and TMI.
Almost forgot to mention, the roads were wonderfully smooth.
Good bye from the Houses of Parliament on my rent a bike.
And good bye to the Queen in Buckingham Palace!
I think the best way to judge an event is to say, would you go back……….and the answer is……………….I can’t wait!!!!!!