Thursday, August 6, 2009

LEL The Big Ride

The picture above shows the medal obtained, a post card with the official finish time and cycle number plate, complete with mud sweat and tears!

I would like to give an enormous Thank You to all who have supported me on the LEL ride. Your kind donations to ART and the comments and text messages received during this epic ride spurred me on and made it all worth while. Also to the new friends I met along the way and their camaraderie which undoubtedly played a big part in the ultimate success of finishing.
At the start of this 1400k ride I was reasonably relaxed. You have to have faith in your own abilities and the reliability of the cycle that would propel you the entire journey. I knew I had not ridden enough miles or even close to the recommended events in preparation for a ride like this but was confident enough to be on the start line. The cycle, a 10 year old +, Trek 470 was the same machine I used in 1999 for the Paris Brest Paris 1200k (Or was it !). Plagued with mechanical failure on training rides this year I was weighing up buying a new machine. The bike was showing its age and I know how it felt! Instead, so far this year the following has been replaced: Chain, two front sprockets, rear cassette, rear derailleur, complete rear wheel, rear axle, new bar tape, right hand brake and gear mechanism, all brake and gear cables (inners and outer), brake blocks, tyres and inner tubes. So it’s the same bike I used 10 years ago right ! but I will nick name it ‘Trigger’s Broom’, from Only Fools and Horses! I’ll say now that save one puncture, the bike was a dream. Smooth and precise for the entire ride without a single adjustment or hitch. Past demons now laid to rest, there were definitely two of us on this ride and if either had failed, the other would too.

On the 26 July the adrenalin was pumping and there was a familiar air of anticipation and excitement at the start. The ride is too long to fill in every detail so I will give some of the highlights.
The route appears to be reasonably flat for the first 300km but the deceptive rolling hills get you on the way back and you realise that the terrain undulates more than remembered when legs are tired and joints are aching. The scenery at first is somewhat missed as the focus is on gaining ground and time in hand. The odd glances to the side show some pretty villages and mainly vast acreage of cultivated agriculture. In the north, it changes to a few towns and villages, more picturesque scenery that has to be worked for as valleys are ascended to gain views of the magnificent Scottish hillsides blending into sky lines. The farming changes to timber and sheep as the elements are harsh. Cascading rivers and rocky landscape all improve the views as the slower climbs give time to look around and absorb the surroundings. Mother nature not only has raw beauty here but a complete arsenal of elements at her disposal to defend it and during this ride, most of it was used with dramatic effect. The views can of course only be seen when daylight and the riders on the LEL have no choice but to ride at times through the night over this already tough terrain. No street lighting is provided, just the lighting you can carry. Control points along the way where your route card is stamped have various degrees of facilities but on a first come first served basis. It is most common to sleep on a floor (carpet is a luxury), with something soft rolled up under your head. Each control closes in a strict time limit that must be adhered to so sleep is an option only when time has been banked. Food varies at controls but the high calorie burn means you will eat anything to gain the energy needed for the next leg. Crossing the Pennines in the rain I even wondered about the calorific value of the copious black slugs crossing the road. Would it be like eating wine gums or liquorice? Fortunately the next control would come to the rescue with more appetising options. This report would not be complete or I not British if I did not mention the weather. The first night it rained intensely and no matter how well dressed it soaked through or ran into every place. Days were sprinkled with a variety of blue sky, followed by rain showers, blue sky, sun, then rain again, even thunder storms and hail stones were encountered. Clothing was constantly adjusted to suit and remained damp for most of the ride, but all led to loss of time. In the North on the return from Dalkeith the wind was directly at your head, the rain fell hard and it turned bitter cold as each hill top was scaled. At Trequir my fellow riders and I had no choice but to stop as the next control was full where riders ahead took shelter and did not index on to the next section. This led to an impromptu stop but also an unexpected good night sleep on the makeshift beds created from pushing 4 cushioned chairs side by side on the stage of the village hall. At 04:00 most of the storm had passed and we hit the road again. Some low roads now under water we rode through flooding before reaching higher ground.

The dampness and unrelenting hills gradually took their toll on my right knee as sharp pains set in. I eventually lost my companions as my pace slowed to accommodate the injury. I still had hundreds of miles to go. Longer rest stops were needed.

As the sun rose and peeped between mountain tops and low lying cloud, the still morning air all around, you get an amazing feeling of, “Thank God I made it through the night”, as the first warm rays of brightness start to light your way. There was also a wonderful day with warm sunshine but this ride is more than the distance from London to Edinburgh and back, it becomes a battle for survival, against the elements and your own will power to carry on.
So what keeps me going when desperately low on energy, the pain in my knee so intense and lifting on or off the saddle has to be a planned manoeuvre due to the sharp sting each time. Well a combination of the following actually:
The immortal words of Lance Armstrong (multiple Tour de France Winner):
“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts for ever.”
Perhaps it was the thought of loved ones routing for me and willing me on, even waiting on the finish line and I not wanting to disappoint.
Even the survival instinct that cuts in. If you stop you may not get going again, and in some of the remote night areas, that could be more severe and harmful than carrying on. (Some riders were reaching controls in a hypothermic state.)
Then it dawned on me in a philosophical way: I was doing this for a charity, despite any pains or the emotional roller coaster ride that events take you on, it is only 5 days total and the I can get off and return to normality, get warm, take some rest or tablets and recover quickly. The sufferers of dementia, Alzheimer’s, their carers and close family, cant stop the ride and get off. The emotional roller coaster has no brakes and will not be over in a few days. For them there is no end to their ride. So who was I to give in and wimp out. With that in mind, you grit your teeth, blank out the pains and dig deep.
The ride of course had many up sides too. One funny event worthy of note. The last two sections I rode with a new friend called Peter, suffering from a bad knee also. We rode together and agreed to take it as easy as time allowed to preserve our knees. Riding through St. Neots at 03:00 we found an all night petrol station, locked up but open for business. It was so cold Peter had gone through his bag looking for any garment to put on for warmth. The station attendant was happy to serve us coffee in the quiet night but would not let us in to get warm despite our best pleas. We had rolled out of the gloom from the cold fens into the lighting of the town. To us we looked normal as we were on a mission. To the attendant, what did we look like, Peter had his spare boxer shorts folded up on his head covering his ears, held on by his safety helmet while I was wearing a balaclava. Now why would the attended not let us in at 03:00 to get warm?
At the finish line, midday I arrived to cheers and claps from fellow riders and spectators, then Sarah, running out of the crowd toward me. A big hug and a kiss. A welcome that made it all worth while. Having checked in and received a goody bag I opened the beer, chinked it on the handle bars as a cheers to the iron horse for performing so well and sprayed some froth on the frame (Not quite champagne but all I had). Fighting back the welling emotion of having finally made it to the end and within time, I searched out a quiet spot where the bike was propped and tried to take in the sheer enormity of the completed challenge. A ride like this definitely makes you appreciate your surroundings and the luxuries we all take for granted every day, be it warmth, a soft bed, food, the car we drive or just life in general. We should all take the time occasionally to take stock around us and appreciate the things we work for, no matter how trivial.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The LEL is cracked!

Distance: 875 miles

Time of ride: 117 hrs 30 mins

Time of arrival: 12.00 Friday 31st July within given ride time

After a not so pleasant trip around the M25 this morning I got to spend a pleasant morning sat in the sunshine(!) outside the Lee Valley Youth Hostel in Cheshunt. The time passed quickly as there were riders at all stages (from those who finished yesterday to those just rolling in) telling their war stories of hailstorms, floods, crashes, aches and pains etc but none of this puts them off. Every rider arriving was greeted with enthusiasm whether they were first or last to arrive.

Paul arrived at midday exactly still within the official qualifying time of the ride as 2 extra hours had been allowed for the extreme conditions experienced in Scotland.

He's tired and sore but full of enthusiasm and a sense of achievement. Once he has had an opportunity to recover a little I will try and get him to give you an account of his own.

Given the age and shared mentality of many of the riders there I think I have many more long distance rides to go through yet.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nearly there!

Status as of:8.40pm

Distance travelled miles: 777 miles

Nearest largest town: Lincoln

As Susie implied in her message this is one of the hardest patches of any long distance event when you are tired and it is a day of hard slog with still another one to follow. Its the time you realise why we all need good friends. You need a friend who understands the thrill of pushing yourself this hard, to tell you you're great, to keep going and keep pushing yourself even if it hurts. Someone you know is always at the other end of a phone and who (unlike your girlfriend) isn't going to tell you to stop or worry more than you are. For this I need to thank Euclid for being Paul's biggest fan and being there every step of the way for him.

Paul has been going strong all day for many hours and isn't stopping yet as he is determined to try and complete the ride in the given time. By the time he stops tonight he will only have 93 miles to go! He thinks it will be close (he has until 11.10am tomorrow to finish) but knowing Paul he will find it from somewhere.

For all of you following his progress I am afraid to disappoint you but you will have to wait a while to find out how Paul did. I have something very important to do tomorrow which means I won't be doing the blog straight away. I need to be waiting on a finish line to greet one amazing man.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Come on Paul!

You've broken the back of it now so just keep pedalling and think of that lovely comfy bed you'll sleep in soon!

Pain is temporary, pride is forever.

Back on track!

Wednesday 29th July

Status as of 7.41pm

Distance covered: 602 miles

Nearest largest town: Middlesbrough

Given the start to the day Paul is making fantastic progress now. I think the day is best told in his own words taken from his texts.


'Eskdalemuir 7.24. Some flooded roads, literally up to the wheel axles. Less wind now and a better outlook


Just stopped in Longtown for 4th breakfast since midnight. Slight showers doing okay.


Alston. Now back over Yad moss. Plenty of energy....

....and so they continue. I know he is wet through, has hardly slept and has the inevitable aches and pains but as you can see that's not going to stop him or even dampen his enthusiasm.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The summer weather strikes

Wedneday 29th July

Last night the Scottish summer hit in full force. Audax UK (the ride organiser) pulled the riders from the hills deeming the conditions too dangerous to continue. Paul is safe and spent some of the night in an emergency shelter in Traquir.
He reported much more settled conditions at first light this morning and has set out again. All riders have been allowed an extra 2 hours completion time.

Here's hoping for a better day.


Tuesday 28th July

After a day of very hilly terrain Paul made Edinburgh at 5.40 tonight!!! He arrived there in 51hrs putting him right on track to make it back in the given time and to qualify for a ride medal (I think he deserves one anyway).

Before he left Dalkeith he sent the following message:

'Last section was fantastic. Stunning views, 5 long climbs each several miles long. Descents were awesome and a good strong tail wind. Last descent was 17k long. But now its all in reverse so 17k up!' .....only a cyclist could love those numbers.

Today I had a cake sale in work and my generous colleagues helped raise another £84.29 towards our very good cause. Talking to them really highlighted what Paul is doing and what an achievement completing something like this is.