London-Edinburgh-London was on my mind as I cycled home on Friday 23rd July.
by Mark Black – HWCC’s Uber-Audax-Rider
Saturday I collected my cycle from Saddle Safari in Marlow safe in the knowledge that my bike had been given a full service and was and ready to go! All I had to do was to check my kit; have my last meal of beef burgers and salad before departing for High Wycombe station. Dark clouds loomed as thoughts passed through my mind.
I cycled a leisurely pace; and once at High Wycombe station purchased a single adult ticket for Cheshunt as researched by my daughter Rowena. The route was High Wycombe – Marleybone Station – Liverpool Street – Cheshunt.
Within two minutes I was departing High Wycombe and shortly arrived at Marleybone Station. I am an anxious traveller with regards to public transport but on reflection there was nothing to fear. Cycles are not permitted on the London underground and so I cycled via Pentonville Road and City Road from Marleybone to Liverpool Street. The ride was highly enjoyable as the sun shone and city folk went about their everyday business. On arriving at Liverpool Street I boarded my connection within 5 minutes. I met Peter; who was also riding LEL. Without warning another entrant appeared at the carriage door advising that we were on the wrong train. A little commotion ensued before boarding yet another train. Whilst departing the platform we were informed that the former train had no driver. What good luck! On reaching Cheshunt we were a few hundred yards from the Lee Valley Youth Hostel. Just a few minutes later we were given our room keys and I swiftly took a shower before cycling once again; this time to find a restaurant in Cheshunt.
It was 23:00 when I returned to room 205.Eight to the room. Peter and I slept on a mattress on the floor as the other six occupants had bunk beds.
Waking at 08:00 I went for breakfast. Ate well; maybe too much? Still I felt good and now just rested until 13:30.
I am in love with my ASSOS Airblock 857 Early Fall Jacket as it functions well and has four deep sized pockets.
- The following items were loaded:
- Pocket 1: ASSOS Clima Jet rain jacket & mobile phone.
- Pocket 2: A short-sleeved multi season top & riding cap with night navigation light affixed. Two packs of AA Batteries.
- Pocket 3: Full length riding gloves and ALTURA over-boots for cycle shoes.
- Pocket 4: Travel toothbrush and toothpaste. Two inner tubes; along with any ointments and medications for chaffing.
- My bike bag contained two further inner tubes and a set of tyre levers.
With that I cycled to the start to watch others depart before me and wish them well.
Ready for the push at 14:15 Sunday 26th July.
Others prepare to depart.
They are off!
Not far to go then!
Moments later I was to depart and soon to catch a few. (What a great sensation!)
The first leg was to Gamlingay Community Centre at 64.8 Km with optional feeding station. I laughed thinking I would just pass through; but on arriving was glad of the food offered and it was good! Guess those hills built my appetite.
Lee Valley Youth Hostel – Gamlingay Community Centre.
The number of climbs began to reduce as we approached Thurlby Primary School and so far we had been lucky with the weather. John, George and a friend whose name I cannot recall; formed a chain gang of four. For me chain gangs are a real joy!
We soon reached Thurlby Primary School having made good speed as confirmed by GPS.
Gamlingay Community Centre to Thurlby Primary School. Good speed!
From here we decided to remain a team and push to the next control at Washingbourough Community Centre. Once outside the weather began to deteriorate.
Thurlby Primary School to Washingborough Community Centre.
Before departing Washingborough Community Centre I sent a few short texts to various people including Trevor Bird at DHL. The message to Trevor read “151 – Feeling good. Strong tailwind”. Later I received a reply text: “Is that miles or kilometres?” Oh how I wished it were miles that would be great! Alas the dream was soon shattered. No it was definitely only 151 Km.
I had high hopes of achieving my 80 Hour goal. It was definitely possible.
Next stop Thorne Rugby Club at 321 Km.
Washingborough Community Centre – Thorne Rugby Club.
I think it was whilst travelling towards Washingborough that I had two near mishaps.
Our chain gang was now larger in numbers. An Italian rider was poor at keeping his line; which caused problems for other rider’s further back. I tried to communicate with him using basic sign language and for a moment lost concentration. My front wheel rubbed the rider’s in front. “Hey what the …..” was yelled out. Now I began to loose control and was soon riding the grass verge waiting for the inevitable impact. My heart thumped loud as if to explode. Once back on tarmac and back in position I shouted my apologies. Lucky for me George accepted them with no more comment.
The second mishap was more misfortune; my front wheel touched a wet man-hole cover and diverted my bike on to a nearby curve. Bouncing back onto the road I expected a damaged wheel or puncture at least. Obviously someone was looking after me!
Here we were to rest a few hours before departing for Coxwold Village Hall. I had no drop bag and so slept in damp clothes while others had hot showers and felt a whole lot better. Still the food was good and the rest was much needed.
Was this the first night or the second I asked myself? Hours simply parsed as days and time become muddled. Without further thought we woke; had a good breakfast and reunited to continue onwards towards Coxwold Village hall at 411 km. We were nearly half way to Dalkeith already. How good was that!
Riding into crosswinds had taken their toll. Our chain gang began to split when reaching the last few hills of the leg. Our average speed had dropped to a paltry 19 Km/h. This was not good. Once at Coxwold Village Hall we decided to split three ways. John and George pushed ahead. I rested for one or two hours and left our fourth member who had bonked. I was not to see him again until much later but he did make good time once fully rested and fed.
Thorne Rugby Club to Coxwold Village Hall.
The next few miles I rode much alone. Now the ride would get harder mentally.
I just hoped that my navigation skills had improved. Luckily I had my GPS and so far all seemed to work well. The next stage was a short journey providing a welcome break as I neared my destination. As I approached the control marshals directed us to the control point. Nearly forgot to get my Brevet passed at one point. Simply went to eat and just before departing realised my error.
Coxwold Village Hall to Middleton Tyas School.
The weather threatened to deteriorate but on reflection held good as we climbed the remaining hills towards Alston Outdoor Centre. There should be some good descents after this leg.
Middleton Tyas School – Alston Outdoor Centre.
When you entered the control from outside your eyes meet with a large array of bicycle tyres and a mechanic shouted, “You would not believe how many repairs I have had today!”. Walking down a few steps led to a desk. Three sat in attendance and brevet cards were stamped. A few more steps down led to a kitchen-serving hatch. They seemed to be having a party! I was informed that this control worked a table service. Finding a seat was the first task the dining area was cramped. Once seated; I was asked for my order, which I swiftly changed from Lasagne to Raviloi.
Returning from the toilet I sat at another table and was in conversation with other riders. Meanwhile the elderly gentleman had returned my meal to the serving-hatch. One lady rider was laughing in despair with tears streaming down her face as we all began to laugh at the system for serving food. Some had their deserts before their main meals and others got things they did not order or so they thought. Before long we were all chuckling and having a great time laughing at the ensuing chaos. Perhaps one of the most memorable checkpoints and one I was pleased to see later on the return leg.
Within a short distance of leaving Alston Outdoor Centre I dismounted to walk the bike down a steep hill with cobbled stones. I heard it rumoured that the road was completed using the wrong type of cobble stones and that could cause problems for cyclist. Other’s rode downhill although I felt uneasy at the prospect of possible wheel damage with limited cash funds. The next stage was to prove tough as the weather worsened. Although 94 Km to the next control some descents were to be enjoyed.
At 85 Km point of this ride I was in a large chain gang. Riders began to get tired and loose positions. I felt that this was a precarious situation to be in and took the lead. What happened next was not planned but my legs now surged with rocket fuel. Yes! My body was giving me that special energy bar that you simply cannot buy. Without warning I blasted away and left all behind for no other reason than my body wanted to. I did not conserve that energy; I just used it and felt marvellous. What a fantastic feeling! I felt superb. Arriving at Eskdalemuir control I felt shattered!
Now I needed food and sleep. Bodies lay strewn everywhere and there were no spare beds. So I hired a blanket and shivered on the floor in the hall way as I lay in my short-sleeved top.
An hour later I hired an additional blanket and managed to get some much needed sleep. Waking I was greeted by two bowls of Chili Con Carnie and Rice; followed by cereal; toast and a few mugs of hot tea. Great! We all stepped over the guy who slept adjacent to the cereal counter and when sitting at tables minded those sleeping underneath! What a site. The smell of hot food and odour of sweaty bodies was enjoyed by all!
Alston Outdoor Centre to Eskdalemuir control.
It was about 02:00 that I departed Eskdalemuir. The road was cratered in places and so you had to avoid any puddles just in case a hole lay submerged. On arriving at the next control you were welcomed to try a whisky or beer of your choice. I nice thought which I declined. However I did enjoy the porridge. This was the place to sleep; as there was plenty of space. I was unsure if blankets were available and beds certainly were not offered.
Eskdalemuir to Dalkeith.Rugby Football Club.
It was a welcome sight! Here I managed to locate one of my drop bags; and so a hot shower beckoned; was needed and very much appreciated. Fresh socks exchanged for wet sodden ones. Oh what a pleasure! Entering the shower room bottles and sachets lay strewn all over the floor. Still the water was hot. Whilst towelling off two German ladies appeared. “Are there any showers for ladies?” I smiled saying ”I don’t believe so. Why not use ours if you feel able?” One of the two replied “We are all the same. We are only human bodies so I don’t see why not.” Moments later they stripped and washed. I chuckled as the next guy to shower got the shock of his life!
The return journey was to provide new horizons. Between Dalkeith and Eskdalemuir there were moments when I was descending down steep descents at a slower speed to those going uphill; a very strange experience.
I departed with an Israeli rider who had a wheel spoke snap a few kilometres into the ride between Eskdalemuir and Alston outdoor centre. He decided to continue as the rain beat heavily. On arriving in Alston I was concerned for my friend and duly raised concerns with the controllers. Suddenly he appeared with towel wrapped around his body. Clearly he had arrived before me. It provided a source of laughter and relief.
When trying to depart Alston outdoor centre Audax officials raised concerns about the weather conditions. They agreed to release me provided I teamed with another rider. The German could only speak some English and so we agreed to stay together until the next control. We worked as a team and I left him at a later control taking a nap.
I rode with a Frenchman between Washingbourough and Thurlby. Approximately 7 Km into the ride we encountered what we thought to be a long slow climb. The climb was only 5 Km. It was a good gradient that looked and felt steeper. Sometimes we ascended at speeds of 36 km/h uphill! Once at the summit I requested we stop.
My body needed ointments as I was beginning to chaff. I stripped bare and started rubbing the ointment in while gazing at the stars. He decided to find somewhere to take a pee. I called out don’t bother if the police catch me now I will be done for indecent behaviour. We both roared with laughter. Then I made him laugh more as I stood cleaning my teeth naked! “Oh who gives a damn!” I was alive!
Washingbourough to Thurlby.
For the last 120 Km of the 1400 km I rode standing along with one other. Our bums were really sore!
What a great ride. Would I do it again … Yes of course!
Total 11033 Metres climbed.
Split Time Return Leg: 37 Hours and 39 Minutes. (GPS Confirmed).
Total Time for 1400 Km was 99 Hours and 05 minutes.
Estimated total cycling time: 76 – 80 hours (On the bike).
Approx sleep time 10 hours Total
Remaining time: Presenting Brevet card & EATING!
First man returned in 56 hours with the Italian racing team 5 hours behind!