Sunday, 20 August 2017

20 Aug: Sunday afternoon ride to Newmarket

Greg Writes: And it came to pass that on the twentieth day of the eighth month a bike ride occurred. Though not exactly starting with a census it had the required rider registration process to begin with as nine intrepid souls joined Greg for the Sunday afternoon ride from Brookside. Two Simons, Phil, Jeff, John F, Lalli, Mark, Tom and finally Bob.

Census time at Brookside

We set off up Trumpington Street using the new cycle path – a great improvement since we no longer fear being "cardoored" at the start of the ride. ("Editor's" note : Cardoored - a new verb declines as: I car door, you car door, he hospitalises. Transitive, very transitive...)

After a brief swerve into Bentley Road Greg self-corrected and we took the next left into Barrow Rd. There is a car joke in there about moving from a Bentley to a Barrow but I can't quite find it... (try harder – Ed.) There is always an Ed on a CTC ride, apparently – even if sometimes just a virtual one!

We came through the gap onto Porson Road and thence to Long Rd and the busway.

Through the gap

We wove our way through the ever expanding Addenbrookes site and emerged via Red Cross Lane onto Wort's Causeway.

Bob observed that he might be dropped on the hill but, like the US Cavalry, Greg assured him that "No one would be left behind". We would wait at the top.

This we duly did – where the time passed pleasantly enough as Phil regaled us with tales of Sky Box problems. Ah the joys of being a Newcastle supporter – not only the endless despair of the football but also the technical challenges of recording the match. Still Phil was hopeful that his wife had sorted things out for him and the "Lads" undoubted triumph over the newly promoted Huddersfield journeymen would be a chance to watch his team winning for once... the hope, the hope...

Phil speaks, Jeff yawns...

We set off once again – surprised on the downward rush to Fulbourn to have Bob fly past us and lead us briefly. We went on the usual Fulbourn and Wilbrahams route – stopping briefly to admire the finest cottage garden that Wilbraham has to offer.

Cottage Garden Magnificence

We then turned due East and headed off towards Six Mile Bottom. Once again we agreed to wait at the top – giving Greg a chance to declaim in his best Mid-Western accent (which is v similar to his worst one…) "See y'all at the Cemetery Crossroads." He was amused...

Cemetery Crossroads

Whilst we waited at the crossroads for the last rider to finish the hill Jeff was able to fill us in on his new WMD. Apparently he had been wearing his overshoes for the previous 3 weeks. Given that at this stage the sun was out and it was a balmy 22C the thought of the foetid contents of the overshoes being revealed filled us all with horror. Something about this threat made us all keen to get ahead and we duly picked up the Balsham Rd and headed further "Into them thar hills."

Jeff and his overshoes

Phil refused to indulge us by checking either the score or whether the Sky box had been successfully reset by the Domestic IT Department and so we were simply left to guess the current state of play: 3-0, 4-0, who knew? The hope was what drove Phil on.

We powered ahead enjoying the rolling hills as we came into the Newmarket environs and Horse Country (no, no more Western jokes - Ed.) There was a brief halt whilst a strange sound from Mark’s rear end was investigated. A bent derailleur cage was diagnosed and duly sorted. So much better than Diocalm.

There was the slight matter of a further haul up past some rather swanky stud farms on Woodditton Road and then it was the fast descent towards Newmarket. Eschewing the tedium of the straight route Greg threw a sharp right at the first opportunity and we duly waited there for the group to reform. Both Phils' score and Jeff's socks provided conversational centrepieces until a few minutes later we spied Bob speeding past. He spotted us at the last minute and swerved right to rejoin the group. The initial ten was briefly eleven as Keith had been with the all day group earlier and was returning home and found us. We then duly cycled through the back streets together to arrive at the Palace Road Tea Room and Horseracing museum just after 3.30pm.

The weather was pleasant enough to sit outside for some – and Jeff's thermonuclear socks were definitely not likely to be permitted inside a confined space.

Coffee indoors – note Jeff is banished outside

Greg chivvied everyone along after thirty minutes, proclaiming that there were now no more hills for the return trip.

We went briefly down the High Street before making the earliest possible right turn and picking up the backstreets to avoid the traffic. This brought us out on Hamilton Rd and the private road through the stud farms where we could smell the money.(So much sweeter than socks - Ed)

Greg had to remind the group that the incline they were tackling at that moment was definitely and categorically a figment of people's imaginations and was not a hill – the illusion not helped by a pedestrian crying "Keep going, nearly at the top".

We crossed the road onto the cycle path – Greg facilitating the manoeuvre by holding up the traffic. Then down the path and through Exning on NCN 51.

Once out into the countryside we had the rather tedious flog on straight roads – briefly running close to the noise of the A14. This was a chance to do some committed spinning and stretch the legs after coffee. Simon was "recovering" from his inaugural 200km Audax on Friday (Chapeau – or should it be Stetsons?) and was keen to have a bit of a go for a mile or two to loosen the muscles. This was duly accomplished with him and Greg leading off the group.

We all stopped and reformed at the end of this single road – with a brief discussion about route options. The original plan was maintained and we set off towards the Swaffhams. Bob left us at this stage and we then went through Bottisham and headed towards Quy.

With a most opportune photo moment appearing we discovered a pub that referenced Jeff's Sartorial Contributions – and he duly posed with said "Socks" on display. He has threatened to include a statement item of clothing at all subsequent rides but this may just be attention seeking. Phil was still moaning about the football so with Jeff showing off his clothes and Phil grumbling it was absolutely clear that all was well with the world.

Socks appeal

Further departures from the group occurred as we neared Cambridge and the remaining cohort was brought to an abrupt halt in Fen Ditton by Greg complaining of a rubbing on his behind. It rapidly transpired that this was due to Extreme Fatigue – his pole had sheared due to overuse. This is a cycling failure for those who may have thought otherwise – see photo!

Extreme Fatigue

Emergency repairs turned his cycle mounted pack into a backpack and the ride resumed.

Though Fen Ditton and onto the Stourbridge Common and, like a dodgy Agatha Christie novel, we duly started losing people on by one. The groups eventually had dissolved by Riverside as people found their way home after the required 40 miles of fun filled action.

Do remember to ask Phil when you see him about the score and how his team is doing – he will be delighted to give you all the details of their 1-0 loss to Huddersfield. "Away The Lads!" Greg Tucker

Download this route (GPX).

20 Aug: Sunday ride to Stradishall and Hawstead

Nigel writes: Today was another warm, dry, late-summer's day: excellent conditions for a gentle bike ride that headed in my favourite direction from Cambridge: east into Suffolk. The number of riders waiting at Brookside was relatively modest for a Sunday ride: eight members including me, though our numbers would swell when more riders joined us at coffee. Our leader today was Ray, and he started today's ride with a short run down to Addenbrooke's and the relatively short climb over the Gogs to Fulbourn,

Climbing the Gogs

We continued through the Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom where we started the long climb to Brinkley. There was a slight breeze today, but for this part of the day it was behind us and pushed us gently along.


Between Brinkley and Great Bradley

The tailwind must have assisted us more than we realised and we arrived at Cafe 33 a quarter of an hour early at 10.45am. Several members were already there and more arrived after us, and by the time we were ready to move on our number had risen to a dozen.

After coffee at Cafe 33, Stradishall

The next stage of today's ride took us deeper into Suffolk to the Maglia Rosso cycle shop and cafe at Hawstead. Once again the wind pushed us along and we arrived there slightly early at 12.45am. This was probably just as well because although we were almost the only cyclists some of had to wait rather a long time for their food.

The road to Hawkedon


After lunch we turned west for Cambridge. Whereas our outward journey had been broken by an intermediate coffee stop, our return journey was an uninterrupted 50km (32 mile) stage directly into the wind. I arrived home just after 4pm, having cycled 117km (72 miles). Nigel Deakin

Download GPS track (GPX).

Friday, 18 August 2017

18 Aug: Cambridge Shipping Lanes 200km Perm Audax

Simon writes:There is a fairly inescapable axiom, which says that it's impossible to do anything for the first time more than once. Whether it be reading a book, running for president or swimming your first mile. Our club committee members are aware of the value of this fleeting moment in a cyclist's adventures for its beacon of inspiration and encouragement to those up-and-comers, trepidatious of challenges that they haven't yet attempted. Whether it's stepping up a gear from the entry-level Saturday rides with Ian, Julia (and Flo) to a Sunday afternoon ride, leading your first club group ride, or as in this case at the age of 52, riding your first 200km audax.

Our club Secretary, John R, had invited me to join his group for the debut of Nick Wilkinson's permanent ride of the Cambridge Shipping Lanes 200km Perm Audax to Shotley Gate between the Harwich and Felixstowe estuaries. Despite more names being invited on the mailing list our group consisted of just John, Mike P and me.

John chose 7am to start outside the Nat West Bank in St Andrews's Street in Cambridge. This proved to be well-timed for several reasons.

Firstly it avoids the bulk of the morning rush-hour traffic, secondly it affords an extra hour to cope with variable conditions before the onset of nightfall, but not so early as to put us back in Cambridge before the afternoon rush hour traffic had thinned out. Friday was also a good choice as many head away from work earlier to complete their frantic blinkered journey so we didn't have to meet them.

Tiredness is definitely an underestimated hazard and worth being aware of when having to meet irritable, impatient commuters.
This latest addition to the list of CamAudax permanents is a charmful route of peaceful, gently rolling country lanes, just like most of our club touring rides - only more of it!

You could take an hour for lunch, a half hour for morning and afternoon tea breaks and still complete it within the 14 hour time allowance at a very steady 11 miles per hour average cycling pace.

There is much to be said for pacing yourself from the start instead of wasting energy inefficiently bolting from the off, but as the weather had presented us with perfect warm sun and a tail wind we comfortably averaged 23.5km/h, bringing us to our first coffee stop in Lavenham at 9am.

Predictably all the cafes were closed but rescue was in hand as there is a delightful cycling-orientated café called Café Como on the A1141 just 2km south of Lavenham, which we reached by 9.20am.

It stands in the grounds of a country house with several cycle hanging bars and no need to lock up. They even provide a track pump for our use, showers if needed and our refreshments were accompanied by a carafe of chilled water which we used to top up our bottles. Their playful Italian Spinone made several appearances under the less than due diligence of children helping in the café in their school holidays. They have set opening times but might well open on demand for a group booking.

On we sped until reaching the Shipwreck pub in the car park along with several dry-docked sailing boats at Shotley Gate. This was our control point and had to buy something to get a control receipt.

The Shipwreck at Shotley

We ate lunch looking over several container ships moored along the line of loading cranes, the odd small jelly mould (fibre glass boat) following the line of cardinal buoys that mark the deep water channel.

At Shotley

The wind had changed since we last checked the forecast and can even be said to have changed to a head / side wind for the journey home.

John loves to recall the memory of a Club Christmas dinner ride to Bourn Golf Club and my saying that I couldn't keep a pace into the wind. Look where we are now, I can ride 100km into it.

In Boxford however, disaster struck. We were descending a gentle incline on a road sheltered with tree cover. John was in front and I heard him warn of two potholes. Mike behind him managed to avoid the first but landed his front wheel into the second.

Beware deep potholes

The wheel stopped dead and his momentum was focused on the welded connection between his head tube and down tube, which split the frame and deposited him on the road in front of his bike, which then sort of landed on him.

I had left a greater than normal gap between us but still couldn't stop without losing some control. My first thought was to get Mike off the road in case another vehicle descended upon us but had to lift his bike off him first, where upon he was able to stand, having sustained only grazes.

It seemed such a devastating shame for the incident to write off Mike's prospects of completing the audax and our sincere condolences go to him.

Tree-sheltered lanes, beautiful though they are, harbour several hazards of which we should all be aware. Firstly they are dark and the loss of light can make visibility suddenly very poor. Secondly they don't dry out like open roads which can cause slippery green growth and rotting leaves in the middle, rain water often drains from the banks either side in to the road and carries shingle with it. Lying water also promotes the road surface to suffer freeze thaw in winter and hence the potholes that we encountered, so do be vigilant and cautious especially whilst being carried away downhill. Spread out, slow down and leave greater margin to accommodate these hazards.

This left just the two of us to do the 12km to Sudbury for the third control point. Costa Coffee provided this with tea, milk, energy bar and the chance to refill water bottle for the last time.

We were 35 miles from home and I'd say this is where my normal energy reserves started to run out. It rained on and off which compromised the circulation in my fingers and we got slower and slower until reaching Cherry Hinton road, Hills Road and finally the last control point at Nat West Bank again.

Still we had done it in 12 hours 20 minutes which John said was good going and even being a more seasoned audaxer said it had felt a little tough, which makes me feel encouraged.

Would I do it again? Yes, in a weeks' time as it happens, for the Suffolk CTC's presentation of the Mildenhall bike festival 200k audax! You don't have to do a "200" as your first either. They're running a 50km, a 100km, a 160km (100 mile) and a 300km. These rides are known as "Calendar" audaxes, and unlike "permanents", are filled with hundreds of participating riders and packed with the exciting buzz of convoys, groups and control point cafes where everyone you meet is making the same intrepid journey. Simon Gallaway. Photos by John Ross

If you'd like to ride this "perm" yourself, full information, including how to enter, is available on the CamAudax site here.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

17 Aug: Thursday ride to St Neots and Thurleigh

Edward writes: Our ride today was always going to be at the top of the distance we do on Thursdays with a trip out to St Neots and Thurleigh in north Bedfordshire. We had quite a bit of overnight rain and the forecast reckoned it would stop by 9am and then an improvement as the day went on. As it turned out the forecast was almost spot on. In the city, with Dr J at the helm, there were seven riders and out in the country we had eleven under the guidance of Sheila, today's leader. With almost twenty miles to coffee we took a more or less direct route through Harlton, over the A603, through the Eversdens to Bourn.


Haslingfield to Harlton


One feature of the day was the wind which was in the south-west and in the morning against us, but this would augur well for the journey home when it would become stronger. Bourn was followed by Caxton, Great Gransden and the climb up to Waresley which is not unfamiliar territory to those who ride out on a Tuesday.


By now the clouds had started to disperse and with it the temperature went up causing layers of clothing to be removed. A few minutes after 11am we arrived in St Neots and the Ambiance Cafe for our coffee break. The cafe has recently opened-up the end of the building and created a new serving hatch which helped to speed things up. Also new was the arrival of a miniature railway and a group of adults seemed to be getting the most enjoyment.

The city riders left about ten minutes before Sheila's group, apparently to take a more undulating route than ours. When we did start we went out of St Neots to Eaton Socon by a series of cycleways which was more preferable to taking the main road. With the urban St Neots behind we entered an extremely pleasant part of the ride passing through an agricultural countryside which showed there was still much for the farmers to do; last night's rain being just another setback. We passed through Upper Staploe, Bushmead and Little Staughton and then Keysoe Row.


Great Staughton Church

Sometimes the wind made it heavy going but this didn't take anything away from such a well-crafted route which we were all enjoying. We went round the perimeter of Staughton airfield and this brought us to Thurleigh and a few more minutes to Scald End Farm for our lunch break.

Preparing to leave Thurleigh

The city group, as expected, had already arrived and by the time those with sandwiches had gone inside they were still waiting to receive their meal. In fact it was quite sometime before their meals did arrive. This is a nice place with a good menu and an extremely pleasant owner who actually offered some refunds to compensate for the delay. Sadly, though, they seemed a bit overwhelmed by our sudden influx which was a shame as to reach here had taken us through such lovely countryside.

Leaving Thurleigh

Finally, a group of seventeen started our return leg at 2.20pm (John had left earlier with a smaller group going via Kimbolton), and after a brief spell into the wind, and as we started to turn towards the east, the wind began to be in our favour. This leg took us through Ravensden and onto the very edge of Bedford. On David W's authority I can record that we saw a hobby flying low over the fields! After a bit of manoeuvring under the A421 and the A1 we reached the cycleway which, of course, is the former railway alignment between Bedford and Sandy. Once out of Sandy we were now into more familiar roads through Everton and Gamlingay.



With the following wind we moved along rapidly and covered the five mile stretch through the Hatleys in double-quick time. Croydon and Arrington came and went and we went into the grounds of Wimpole Hall, Orwell and Barrington which left for those going back to Haslingfield a climb over Chapel Hill with the riding ending at 4.45pm and a most enjoyable 66 miles. Thanks to Dr John and a special thanks to Sheila for such a good route and coping very well with the burden of leadership.
Edward Elmer

Download GPS track (GPX).

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

16 Aug: Evening ride to Lode

Nigel writes: Tonight was a classic late-summer evening ride, a relaxed jaunt into the hills east of Cambridge. Joining me at Brookside to enjoy the warm, dry weather were Paul, Dimitris, Camille, John, Neil, Tom and Seb. Our route this evening was a familiar one, possibly the best short loop you can have close to Cambridge. This involved heading out of town along Hills Road and then, after a short diversion around cycleway works near Addenbrooke's, over the Gogs to Fulbourn.

Seb was on his seven-speed Dahon this evening and and told me at the start that he wasn't planning to ride with us for long. Nevertheless he still stayed with us to the top of the Gogs before turning back for home.

Hills Road, Cambridge

After this initial exertion we continued along the flat through the Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom. From here Paul took a shortcut along the A1304 whilst the rest of us carried on up the Brinkley Road climb as far as Cemetery Crossroads, turned left for Dullingham, and looped back towards Swaffham Bulbeck.

Balsham Lane, Dullingham

After a short loop around Commercial End at the back of Swaffham Bulbeck we made our way to Lode, arriving at The Shed at 8.20pm, just before sunset. Paul was already inside the pub and we all went in to join him for drinks and food.

Preparing to set off after dinner in Lode

Afterwards we turned on our lights and returned back to Cambridge via Quy, Fen Ditton and the river. I arrived home just before 10pm, having cycled 52km (32 miles). Nigel Deakin

Download GPS track (GPX).

Sunday, 13 August 2017

13 Aug: Sunday ride to Thaxted and Little Chesterford

Nigel writes: Today was the day of the club's Summer Barbecue, so today's all-day ride was rather shorter than usual, with a later start, a later coffee stop (rebranded as "brunch") and bringing us to Andy and Sarah's house in time for the start of the barbecue at 2pm.


Today was also a glorious sunny day: after a couple of weeks of cool and changeable weather, it felt as if summer had returned at last. John R was our leader today, and he led our group south-east out of Cambridge along Hills Road towards Addenbrooke's (where a short diversion was necessary to get past some cycleway works) and along the A1307 cycleway towards Wandlebury.

Wandlebury Hill

Wandlebury Hill

After the short climb to Wandlebury we dropped down the other side and continued along the same cycleway to Babraham.

Through the grounds of the Babraham Institute

This was my first time out with the club since my return from LEL a week ago (see Alex's excellent write-up), and it was something of a relief to discover that I was still able to ride, and that my cycling muscles were still working normally.

From Babraham we continued to Abington and pressed on south, through Linton, Bartlow, Ashdon and Radwinter, arriving in Thaxted at 11.30am. Here we stopped for "brunch" at Parrishes Restaurant, where a large table was waiting for us.

After brunch in Thaxted

After a very pleasant, leisurely stop in Thaxted we set off once more for the relatively short stage on to the BBQ, with John taking us west to Henham before steering the group north through Thaxted and Saffron Walden to Little Chesterford. We all arrived at Andy and Sarah's house a little before 2pm.

This afternoon's barbecue was one of the most enjoyable social events organised by the club that I can remember. The food was excellent and plentiful, the weather perfect, and a large turnout of members made this a very pleasant and sociable occasion.

Barbecue at Sarah and Andy's

About two and a half hours later John started rounding up riders who wanted to ride back with him to Cambridge, and I took the opportunity to tear myself away from the plentiful food and drink and start the short journey home. We took an easy, direct route via Ickleton, Duxford and Whittlesford, and I arrived home at 4.40pm, having cycled 56 miles. Nigel Deakin

Download GPS track (GPX).

Saturday, 12 August 2017

30 Jul - 4 Aug: Alex's London-Edinburgh-London

Alex writes: I entered London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) in September 2015, just 18 months after I had starting cycling, and with only a handful of 200 km audaxes, and one 300 km audax, to my name.

LEL is Audax UK’s flagship grand randonée event; it takes place every four years. The goal is to ride from Loughton, on the outskirts of London, to the outskirts of Edinburgh, and back again. This year’s official course was 1440 km (895 miles) and was mostly out-and-back, except for the northern end (a loop in Scotland) and the southern end (which has dog leg via Cambridge on the return). I would have 117 hours and 5 minutes to complete the event.

LEL provided a long-term cycling goal for me to aim for, and with help and advice from my audax mentors Nick W (of this club and Cambridge Audax) and postrestant (of Audax Club Bristol), I slowly worked up to tougher challenges: audaxing every month to achieve a first super randonneur series (of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kms) in 2016, and then a second series this year including a gruelling Easter Arrow which usefully previewed a portion of the LEL route.

By the start of LEL I had built and fettled a bike and kit specifically for it, had developed a spreadsheet model so I was comfortable with the “maths” of the event, and had accumulated 9,000 km in my legs for the year. I was as well prepared as I could be. It would, as ever, be nice to be more powerful and less heavy – I’d have to hope what I had, was enough …

Four of us from CTC Cambridge were riding the event: me, John S, Nick W and Nigel. Since Nick, Nigel and I had similar start times we got the train together from Cambridge to Cheshunt and then rode to the event start in Loughton. This 12 km route has a hill in the middle of it and the three of us took a different approach to this pesky steepness: Nigel scampered up it with his usual high-cadence, I followed more slowly and Nick (riding fixed) walked.

Since we had registered the day before, all there was to do today was to wait for our start times, get scanned in to the starting pen, and then set off. Nick started in the 12:15 wave, and Nigel and I were underway at 12:45.

Nick (in red) departs as one of the 12:15 group

Loughton – St Ives (99 km)

I was keen to follow the advice of Vélocio at the start, particularly his 6th maxim:

“ Ride within yourself, especially in the first hour. ”

And so I was quite pleased when I noticed I hadn’t started my satellite tracker as this gave me a good excuse to stop and let the other riders in my group go ahead while I turned it on, relieving any pressure to “keep up”.

Even so, it wasn’t long before I found myself riding with a group of French riders wearing Paris-Brest-Paris gilets – a sign, I thought, that they knew what they were doing. Strangely though they had a habit of caning themselves up every incline and taking every descent gingerly on the brakes – the very opposite of energy-efficient cycling. Annoyed, I bustled past to ride more sensibly but found every red light at every junction and road works was against me, so they would always rejoin me, chatting away. As this happened a fourth time at a level crossing (inevitably, a two train wait) it started raining and my mood blackened … I felt I was making poor progress and that this didn’t augur well for the ride as a whole.

But by Much Hadham we were back on familiar roads, and as we passed Standon and joined the B1368 I felt confident I knew what to do to get full speed from the road, being familiar with its every ramp, dip and bend. Now the rain had passed and with a nice tailwind I pushed the pace up and felt I was leaving the London doldrums behind, getting back on schedule.

Before long I found myself riding with a rider from Oxford named Chris, one of whose distinguishing characteristics was his apparent need to carry milk with him (whatever for?). I showed him the shortcut under the underpass at Fenstanton, and – on emerging – was hailed by John J enjoying a pint with Sue at the King Bill. John pressed a pint into my hand a took a photo (does this count as outside assistance?). Feeling encouraged, I pressed on to St Ives.

At the St Ives control both Eva and Ian D were volunteering. It’s the volunteers that make the ride and it’s often said their task is as hard – or maybe harder – than that of the riders. Certainly seeing what I saw throughout the event, I can believe that, even if – right now – everything seemed calm and orderly: optimistic riders chatting excitedly, looking fresh.

St Ives – Spalding (61 km)

Ah the good old Fens - with a firm tailwind the going was good, the skies big and the dusk rather attractive. This was nice and easy!

But the Fens were lending us time; and part of me wondered if they were going to want to collect on that debt later, as a mistake in my tweet of the time hinted:

Spalding – Louth (83 km)

The departure from Spalding was frustrating – again with every traffic light in town against us and bikes seemingly incapable of triggering the under-road sensors.

After a while I teamed up with Ivo Miesen, an audax ancien well-known for his photography. He had bought a proper DSLR and “a selection of lenses” on the ride with him and this fascinated me – I’d love to be able to combine photography and cycling and Ivo’s answer seemed surprisingly simple: bring the kit with you and just suck up the weight.

Chatting away and riding at a nice pace, we found after an hour or so we’d accumulated a substantial train behind us. We dropped back for a well-deserved spell sitting in, but the peloton suddenly increased in pace and splintered. I passed most of these riders later, stopped for a breather to recover from their fast pace. It never ceases to amaze me how many audax riders ride inefficiently.

It was now properly dark. The Fens gave way to the Lincolnshire Wolds, and we turned off onto the lanes for some “scenic” cycling (I later learned Nigel had cannily eyed the turn off and wisely decided to stay on the main road).

Before long we were climbing quite sharply, up Red Hill. Feeling distinctly un-heroic, I dismounted the steep bits and walked them in a bid to preserve my legs.

I arrived at Louth (@245 km) at 00:45, 12 hours from the start and nicely on schedule. I ate some tasty savoury mince and prepared to push on. Many riders were evidently treating the first 245 km as the day’s work done, and for them it was now bedtime. But not me – I was treating the initial part of the ride as a 600 km event, not a 200 – so was not planning a proper pause until Brampton. Circumstances meant I had taken a lucky decision too, as the pressure on the Louth control caused it to run out of both food and sleeping space shortly after I left.

Louth – Pocklington (97 km)

It was now 2am, and time to deploy Nick’s route hack familiar from the Easter Arrow. Rather than following the official route, this takes the (fast, flat) A18 bypassing the Wolds. At night it’s okay, but during the day it’s suicidal. Now, with hardly any traffic, it worked well and I was crossing the Humber Bridge at blue hour with Schubert playing on my Bluetooth speaker.

Humber Bridge at blue hour

Then, north of the bridge, more route hacking on main roads to go via South Cave, cutting out both climbing and distance. I paused for a pee and took a photo of the bridge as day broke.

Humber Bridge at dawn

I arrived at Pocklington at 06:45. The plan was to have two hours of refreshing sleep and press on for a proper break at Brampton.

I thus had my first experience of LEL sleeping: I ordered a bed, specified a wake-up time and was shown to an inflated mattress with a blanket, one of many in a large matrix in the sports hall. I lay down, pulled the blanket over my head and duly went to sleep.

After half an hour or so I – along with the entire dormitory – was rudely awoken by a chainsaw: tree work outside. With no chance of further sleep I’d have to hope half an hour would suffice.

At breakfast I bumped into Nigel (who had slept better) and we set off together …

Pocklington – Thirsk (67 km)

At first everything seemed very familiar, riding briskly with Nigel on attractive roads in sunny weather. But as we reached the Howardian Hills I felt my energy levels were dropping and my pace slowed. I stopped at the top of a hill to eat some snacks and watch other riders struggle up.

The Howardian Hills are quite challenging, with the grounds of Castle Howard providing a pointy switchback past its various monuments and buildings. The terrain thereafter is also decidedly lumpy and I found myself struggling, more than I thought I should be.

At Thirsk I wondered whether I was getting too tired and should try to sleep, but no – that would mean getting behind schedule: I pressed on.

Thirsk – Barnard Castle (67 km)

We were now heading northwest, and the wind – which had turned westerly – was distinctly unhelpful. The terrain remained, as a riding companion put it, “bloody hilly” and down every sharp descent I found myself thinking anxiously this would be a climb on the return route.

My speed dropped and dropped – 15 km/h … at this rate I’m not going to make it. Now the voices started: I could get a train back. What about a hotel? And a nice meal? What about stretching out between clean sheets and listening to the wind howl outside knowing I’d made a wise choice to abandon?

But then I remembered Nick’s advice on the train down: that a major reason for failing was trying to stick to a plan when circumstances changed. I resolved to abandon my intention to press on to Brampton and to try sleeping at Barnard Castle instead to see if my problem was simply tiredness, and that “a tired randonneur is a slow randonneur”.

I arrived at Barnard Castle at around 18:00, ate a huge meal, got a bed and fell instantly asleep. On waking, without thinking, I donned my gear, strode straight to my bike, set the Garmin, swung my leg over and set off.

Barnard Castle – Brampton (82 km)

To my delight my power was back. I pressed the pedals and sped forward satisfyingly: cycling was fun again. My moment of crisis had passed and from now on I never once thought I might not finish – I knew I could use sleep to regain energy as if by magic. My new approach was now simply to assess at each stop whether I was tired enough to sleep, or perky enough to ride on. I could still use my plan as a guide to the times I should be hitting at controls to be on track for a completion within the overall time limit.

It was just as well my power was back, as this stage features the headline climb of the event, over Yad Moss (a climb featured in one of Simon Warren’s Greatest Cycling Climbs books).

As I began the ascent darkness fell. The Yad Moss climb is actually pretty benign, with no steep gradient for any distance: one can just sit and spin up it. At the top, though, the weather worsened. As I crawled forward into a gusty, sleety wind, my meagre pace barely enough to power my flickering dynamo light, the moon shone down balefully on my efforts from half behind an ominous black cloud. I had to laugh: why would anybody do this for fun?

It's dark, but my Garmin tells me it's nearly time to descend Yad Moss

And after the climb, a sharp descent to Alston (England's highest town). I went for maximum speed, hoping no sheep would suddenly appear in the road to test my brakes!

Alston provided a rest-stop – not a full control but with food and sleeping facilities. I called in and was very warmly greeted. The kitchen was offering a number of snacks, including peanut butter on toast. The idea of this really appealed and so I had two rounds and a steaming mug of tea. Life was good.

Out then into the night where I was accosted by a Thai rider who had lost his companions and so his means of navigation. (It amazes me how many riders on LEL had absolutely no means of navigational aid, either electronic or paper.) Could I guide him the 30 km to Brampton? I happily agreed and we sped off into the black rainy night.

The route was twisty, fast and fun and my “good deed” in guiding my new companion was repaid when he noticed my satellite tracker had fallen of, and rode back to retrieve it from the road. Grateful, I upgraded my makeshift means of attachment with safety pins into a more secure cable-tie arrangement.

Soon we caught up with the main group of Thai riders and my wheelmate rejoined them, waving me on. I sped ahead – feeling strong still – and teamed up with a German rider for the final few kms to Brampton.

Brampton was ram-packed with riders strewn all over the floors: I was glad I had, by chance, avoided it as a sleep stop. It was well before dawn when the exit crush would begin, so I took breakfast in the quiet canteen and prepared to set off again. As I made my way out of the building I bumped into Nick and Nigel, who had both slept here. I said I’d see them on the road, filled my bidons with (foul tasting) water from the Brampton hose, and set off, destination Scotland.

Reunited in Brampton

Brampton – Moffat (75 km)

It was still dark as I set off and it was drizzling. Still, I felt content and snug in my (marvellous) Rapha Brevet Insulated Jacket. This is a flat transitional stage and I made good progress, soon arriving at the Scottish border as dawn broke.

I pressed on through a number of unprepossessing concrete-y roadside strip towns the Scots seem to favour. At one point a sleek red deer sprang out in front of me. It was another country.

Border raid

Nick had warned me before the ride about indigestion, handing me a strip of Rennies. I had doubted I’d need this with my iron stomach but now was experiencing a few sicky burps so sucked a Rennie with thanks. I’d need to watch my eating.

Before long a heard a bicycle bell pinging behind me – it was Nick! He was pedalling strongly and after a brief chat he powered ahead while I continued at a more sedate pace.

As we approached Moffat the landscape became more hilly and interesting and the grey sky began to break up suggesting a nice day was ahead. I was starting to feel tired again and reckoned – in line with my new dynamic tactics – I was in need of a nap.

At Moffat Nick, Nigel and I again coincided. I checked the online tracking to see how John S was progressing, only to see he’d abandoned. This was saddening: I’d been following his progress up the course and was fully expecting to be overtaken by him at some point. I wondered if he’d been through the same sort of crisis I had after Thirsk.

I also checked the weather forecast and saw south-westerly 70 km/h winds forecast in East Anglia for Thursday. I held the phone up to show Nick and Nigel and we exchanged knowing glances. As flatlanders we all understood what this meant …

Nick and Nigel set off for Edinburgh and I made for the dormitories for a one hour nap, which I found invigorating for the next leg …

Moffat – Edinburgh (80 km)

This stage begins with another headline climb: the Devil’s Beeftub. This, again, is a kind one, consisting of 310 m of ascent over 10 km with a very even ~3% gradient. I found myself riding with Chris again, who I hadn’t seen since Fenstanton and who was looking good, happy he was newly supplied with milk (I wondered again – what for?). I treated him to a Scottish joke (“Does Sean Connery like herbs? Only partially.”) The sun had now come out and the light on the hills was spectacular, as was the gentle descent which went on and on after the summit.

As we closed in on Edinburgh I noticed an enticing looking food shop. I stopped with some fellow riders and went inside. There was all manner of treats: biscuits, cakes and sweets. I chose a tub of ice cream (“It’s the best” the shop girl assured me) and some oat flips to enjoy in the sun. This was perhaps the high point of the ride: I felt I had time enough to indulge in a treat, the weather was summery and the landscape interesting. What fun cycling is!

What wasn’t so nice was the road surface, corrugated like the surface of a concrete brain. I felt glad to have wide, low-pressure tyres and a comfy frame but even so it was unpleasant.

At Edinburgh I was greeted by Pichy, a member of our Easter Arrows team, who had abandoned LEL due to knee problems and converted himself into a volunteer. I had taken 52.5 hours to get to Edinburgh and had 64.5 hours for the return. “You’re laughing” said Pichy. This was encouraging.

Duly fortified with a lunch of fish in cheese sauce followed by sponge and custard, I set out for the return leg.

Edinburgh – Innerleithen (46 km)

After heavy traffic to leave Edinburgh I soon found myself on very quiet lanes heading into the Borders. At the control this stage had been talked of as “rolling” but clearly this was a strange Scottish (rather than East Anglian) use of the word as the Thaxted Road this ain’t – but rather terrain which required long winchings up 200m ascents followed by full aero-tuck descents.

The weather was changeable with occasional rain showers heavy enough to need a waterproof. But in compensation the scenery was fantastic: the light played on the hills and I spied orchids and buglosses by the roadside. I felt pleasingly that I had traveled somewhere different.

The light was beginning to fade as I reached Innerleithen for a warming meal (though I eschewed the haggis pakoras on offer). It was now cold enough for me to don merino knee-warmers for the first time in the ride.

Innerleithen – Eskdalemuir (58 km)

This stage continued with more Scottish-style “rolling” landscape (i.e. a set of three 300 m peaks). Early on on this stage I was passed by a large ACME (Audax Club Mid Essex) “train” led by veteran audaxer Tomsk – however they were moving just a tad quicker than I fancied and I was enjoying riding solo rather than keeping up with others, so I settled back and plodded on at my own pace.

Route profile between Innerleithen and Eskdalemuir

I was treated to a pretty pink sunset over the looming hills, and soon thereafter found myself cycling in the dark beside a rushing stream. I stopped to faff with my helmet light and was instantly set upon by a cloud of biting midges. That would teach me to stop!

At the Eskdalemuir control there was a faint sense of panic in the air as riders decided whether to sleep here or press on. I was determined to get back to Brampton to complete the day’s loop and so after a tasty bowl of soup set off again into the night …

Eskdalemuir – Brampton (46 km)

This leg started with what felt to my tired legs like a stiff ramp, but thereafter the climbing was much easier than in the previous Borders sections, and overall it was downhill to Brampton. In the dark and in my tired state I hit some potholes during fast descents, jolting my hands and arms and testing the strength of my wheels: I wouldn’t want to get stuck out here with a mechanical.

From the very wet ground there had obviously been heavy rainfall lately, but now the weather was calm with only a light wind. I remember spookily quiet roads with long stretches of wet, pitch black tarmac studded with cats’ eyes stretching far into the distance.

I was more than 60 hours into the event and had slept for only 3½, and in my sleep-deprived state my mind started playing tricks on me. The trees seemed to be reaching out to grab me, out of the corner of my eye I saw long grey fingers withdrawing themselves into drain covers, and then in the distance down the road a stick-figure devil sketched with lines of fire stood brandishing a pitchfork. Suddenly a voice behind me said “hi!” and I shouted in shock – a cyclist had crept up behind me. “Sorry” he said – but the startle had brought me to my senses and I ground out the final kms to the control, now seeing that the devil ahead was merely a bike’s tail light reflected in the wet road.

I arrived at Brampton at 04:08 just as many riders were beginning to get up for their early starts. I secured a bed for a couple of hours and went straight to sleep.

Brampton – Barnard Castle (83 km)

After a sleep and a breakfast of bacon and eggs I met up with Chris again and we agreed to ride together. Morpheus had worked his refreshing magic once more and I was feeling good, enjoying passing other riders – for the first time in a while – and getting out of the saddle to power up the ramps on the way up to Alston. At Alston, Chris paused for supplies at the garage while I pushed ahead for the re-climb of Yad Moss. Usually I reserve my Bluetooth speaker for the night, but for this climb its use seemed merited, and Toscanini’s rather truculent recording of Mozart’s 39th Symphony seemed apt for the task. Nearing the summit I spied a van in a lay by with a couple of chairs. It turned out to be legendary audaxer Drew Buck’s pop-up café, offering free tea, coffee and flapjacks to LEL riders.

Drew Buck provides respite

This was lovely – except only black coffee was on offer and I really prefer mine white. But then Chris appeared up the hill. Got any milk? I asked. “Of course” he said, squirting some from his bidon into my cup. Suddenly the whole ride seemed to make sense.

I’m not sure exactly what was in Drew’s “magic” flapjacks but the rest of the climb went by very nicely and the pay off was a long descent to Barnard Castle. A few knowledgeable locals clapped and shouted “well done” and a local cyclist insisted on shaking my hand at a junction – it was a great stage – capped-off by finding Nick at the Barnard Castle control. We chatted and checked the weather forecast for the Fens – it was still for strong winds, but no longer for gale force ones. Hard work then, rather than an impossibility …

Barnard Castle – Thirsk (67 km)

As I left “Barnie” it was raining steadily enough to need a waterproof. I crossed the wooden bridge at Whorlton feeling much more cheerful than when I was last here and pressed on. The descents-turned-climbs I had worried about on the journey north proved to be no problem. After Yad Moss and the Scottish Borders they just seemed insignificant.

Before long the rain eased and gave way to bright sunny weather. I felt the need for a hedge-break and started looking for a suitable stop, when I saw a chalk board by a farm pointing to a “Cyclist’s loo” sporting the LEL logo.

Cyclists' loo

I stopped and was ushered to an outhouse by a couple who then offered me tea or food. I demurred except for taking a couple of sweeties – then Nick passed … I hailed him and we all chatted for a while about the event, which had been publicised on local radio so prompting this useful pit stop.

Cyclists' loo

Nick powered ahead but we coincided again at Thirsk, where I tried without success to have a one hour nap. My mind wouldn’t switch off and after half-an-hour was telling me it wasn’t worth going to sleep now. I got up, unrested, and met with Nick and a number of ACME riders in the canteen. One word was on everybody’s lips: “A19”. This trunk road offered a way to bypass the Howardian Hills, saving all the climbing and 8 km of distance. The general idea seemed to be to turn onto it and follow the signs to Pocklington – you can’t go wrong. They said.

Thirsk – Pocklington (67 km)

And so I found myself riding south on the A19 in heavy rain. This is a major road, but by now the traffic was light enough that it could pass me respectfully (I was, I hope, nicely visible with a large dynamo tail light, a supplementary rear flasher, pedal reflectors, reflective detailing on my clothes and 3M reflective tape at various points on the bike). After a while the rain stopped and the moon shone brightly, making the going quite pleasant. I fired up the Bluetooth speaker and listened to some Beethoven symphonies, thinking cheerfully about the laney climbing I wasn’t doing in the Howardian Hills.

But a few symphonies later, doubt creeps in: I’m nearly in York – where was the turn off? I looked at my phone to find Nick had texted me a perfect routesheet to get to Pocklington using the A19, and that I had missed the correct turn and gone too far! I fired up Google maps and asked for a “car” route to Pocklington, got back on the bike and turned round. The irritation I felt seemed to unlock more energy in me and I found myself cycling quite fast. Again, I had to laugh: here I was zooming around the major multi-lane A-roads of York’s bypasses, unsure exactly where I was and burning time – but I was enjoying it.

Let's just draw a veil over this, ok?

Eventually, after a couple of mis-turns, Google got me back on course and onto the A1079 (familiar, again, from our Easter Arrow). I arrived in Pocklington to find Nick well into his meal – he’d come here, navigating optimally, with others in a pace line. And then I saw Nigel, who was breakfasting after a decent sleep. Once more, the Cambridge three were re-united.

Pocklington – Louth (97 km)

I knew this was going to be a tough leg and so it proved. By the time I got to the Humber Bridge (are the authorities actually trying to hide the way onto the cycleway?) I was beginning to feel very tired.

As the sun came up I felt an attack of the dozies coming on as my eyelids started to want to close. To try and shake it off I swigged from my caffeinated bidon, got out of the saddle for some spurts of speed, looked at the sun, and shouted to myself. It worked, and before long I was just tired but without that dangerous feeling that sleep is imminent.

I was using Nick’s route hack again to take the A18 and it was in truth a little late for this, as towards Louth the traffic started building: alarmingly fast and heavy. This was not good cycling, but I was at least making progress.

As I arrived at Louth at 07:40 I saw Ade, a cyclist with whom I had ridden much of the Bryan Chapman in 2016, about to leave. He looked fresh. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “I am galactically tired” I said. I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but somehow it was accurate.

I went straight to ask for a bed. “Do you want to have a shower or brush your teeth?” I was asked. “No I need to lie down immediately” I said – such niceties could wait.

After a good two hours of clammy sleep, and a wash and brush up, I went to the canteen for a meal and found Nick. He was looking a little worse for wear and having trouble with his contact lenses. He showed me his legs: the muscles around his shins, used for “pulling up” when riding fixed, looked red and angry as it they wanted to burst through the skin. I felt vaguely guilty: following Velocio’s “ride within yourself” mantra had left me feeling well-preserved. I set off for the push across the Fens, sure that Nick would overhaul me soon …

Louth – Spalding (83 km)

As I made my way outside, a gust of wind blew a couple of bikes off their railings with a clatter. There was no doubt about it, this was going to be a windy day, and the Fens were going to collect their debt to us of an earlier tailwind – with interest.

In no mood for scenic routes now, I headed straight out of town on the A 153 for Horncastle. This road turned out to be surprisingly quiet, and is an efficient way over the Wolds with just a couple of sharp climbs. But the wind was severe, making progress extremely slow. By the time I ridden the 20 km to Horncastle I was only averaging 13.6 km/h.

Pro tip: When it's like this in the Fens, don't go cycling

Is it really going to take me 5 hours of headwind grind to reach Spalding from here? I wondered. (Answer: yes).

Part of the problem was my legs. Any pedalling at all induced a feeling like the build up of lactic acid during strong efforts. So I was constrained to a repeated sequence of pedalling until the discomfort became too much to bear, then coasting to a quick halt in the roaring headwind. This was not an efficient way to make progress. At one point a large peloton of Spanish riders came by. They had been a feature of this LEL, riding briskly as one, constantly talking loudly, and displaying plenty of posing prowess when stopped at junctions. I latched on for a while, but their pace was too hot for my legs to handle and I reluctantly fell off the back. I stopped, exhausted by the roadside and realised my legs were hot: I was still wearing the knee warmers I had put on somewhere in the Scottish Borders a couple of days ago. I removed them and rummaged in my tri bag to find the remains of a packet of salted almonds, which I devoured hungrily. Assessing the situation, I could see that my progress was slow, but I had time in hand and so as long as I kept going, I knew I could make it.

As I approached Spalding I began to feel stronger, and the “lactic” feeling in my legs drifted away. I hypothesize with hindsight that I needed salt, and that the almonds had done the trick, but I can’t be sure.

Nick arrived at Spalding shortly after me and we compared notes: we knew if we could reach St Ives we’d have beaten the headwind. It wasn’t going to be pleasant, but it was doable.

Spalding – St Ives (61 km)

On the road from Spalding my legs continued to feel better and I was now able to progress into the still-howling wind at a more workable 16/17 km/h – making time! Progress was helped further with bouts of teamwork with other riders, and by finding that a high-gear, low-cadence effort seemed to work well by “smoothing out” the buffeting of the wind and allowing a steady grind forwards.

It was getting dark as I reached Wyton, by which point I felt I had finished my arduous traversal of the Fens. I was surprised to hear a voice from the side of the road exhorting me to “keep the pace up”. It was John J! We rode together into town and I bounced the control, just popping in to say Hi to Eva.

St Ives – Great Easton (72 km)

John and I rode together along the busway towards Cambridge. It was uncannily like the end of a typical club ride, only I had 1,300 km in my legs. I realised comparing our riding styles that my pedalling was metronomic and weak: I was running on reserves. At Swavesy John J was replaced by John R and we continued along the busway to Histon, me burbling away with various LEL tales.

When I was left at Histon I continued on aiming for home in Cambridge: I was planning to have a sleep there. My mind was playing tricks again and I began to suspect I was on a new part of the busway which had been built while I was away.

Closing in on home I was nearly taken out by an unlit cyclist on Coldham’s Common – which would have been an ignominious end to the ride – before turning onto the final roads leading home. Again I began to suspect I had taken a wrong turning – somebody had replaced my usual roads with ones I had never seen before!

And when I got home I found my family had been replaced too. Formerly showing no interest whatsoever in my audax activities, this new family (thanks no doubt to the online tracking) was full of talk about about time-in-hand, moving averages and the finish time in Loughton. Slightly disconcerted, I grabbed a bite to eat, had my first, much-needed, shower of the ride and slipped into bed for a couple of hours.

When the alarm went, I woke from the deepest of sleeps, totally disoriented, but quickly remembered what needed to be done. I put on fresh kit and by 02:00 was on my way. This gave me around 8 hours for a nice leisurely run down the final 90 km to the arrivée via the Great Easton control.

Past Cambridge station on the busway I saw the light of a stationary bike ahead. What’s this? I thought – a mugger? But no, it was Seb! We rode down the busway to Great Shelford together where I bade him good night and rode on alone. At Saffron Walden I deviated from the official course to take the B 184 (Thaxted Road) for a more direct route. Everything was so quiet – I only saw two cars between Cambridge and Great Easton.

At Great Easton I caught up with Nigel who, like me, had stopped in Cambridge for a sleep. Nick, having found a new lease of life, had passed through some time earlier. The end was now in sight, with no time pressure. I ate some rice pudding, fruit salad and slices of swiss roll and – for the first time in days – fresh coffee. Ahhh.

Great Easton – Loughton (48 km)

The final run into Loughton saw a glorious golden dawn, showing off the Essex countryside at its very best. I worked over the undulating terrain steadily savouring the experience and replaying the events of the past days in my mind.

Before long it was time to cross the M25 and shortly thereafter to reach Loughton. Rounds of applause, pats on the back, photos and finishing medals.

Ready for the final stamp

Nigel and I caught up with Nick, snoozing in the sun. It had been quite a tough ride, but we’d done it.

Tired but content

I’d finished with around 90 minutes in hand. I’d been moving for 77.5 hours and stopped for 38, of which around 9 hours were sleeping. The total distance cycled was 1,432 km (890 miles) with 10,800 m (35,400 ft) of climbing. Strava stuff is here.

So that’s this year's long ride done. Next up for me: The Emerald Isle 2018!