Monday, 28 September 2009

LEL 2009 - La Grande Vadrouille

'Yes', I would answer to the question 'Is this your first LEL?'. By Tuesday, I would answer: 'No, this is my ONLY LEL!'.

How can they tell anyway, why don't they ask 'How many LELs have you done?'. Is it my new bright white road cycling shoes? Don't think so, because they were covered with old black tatty water-non-proof overshoes most of the time.

Getting closer to Edinburgh also, there was a farmer repairing a section of a dry wall. He peeped over and said: 'Is this some sort of endurance event?'. Why? Is it because I am cycling sooo slowly and my head is sunken between my shoulders? Or is it the 'I'm OK for now, but I'm braced for what lies around the corner' look in my eyes.

Jeeezzzz! This was tough. The thought of giving up must just not enter your head. On the way back to Alston, in that horrible weather, it would even have been dangerous to stop for a while, mentally and physically. When my riding companion, Mansfeld (? spelling), stopped to change GPS batteries, I indicated that I would ride on slowly. I was worried I would cool down too quickly and so make it even more miserable for myself. I never thought of giving up, but on that night I wanted it to finish so badly.

The highlight was on the same day though! The section going east from Eskdalemuir to Edinburgh, with a tailwind and the sun out, was wonderful!! Beautiful scenery, excellent cycling.

It was here where I rode with John Spooner for a while and chatted with the Italians. On top of their voices they would explain who John is to them (and to a lot of us!): el numero uno! el capitan! el padre! el legend! In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen! Poor John, he only wants to ride his bike! Anyway, we were on top of the world!! Life couldn't be better.

And I had developed my CDs, my Cancellara Descents (If you don't know about Fabian Cancellara watch this with the sound on Clicky). I was loving it. Descending in Cancellara style, cutting corners, ducking under overhangs, sweeping across the country side [ehem, yes, take it with a pinch of salt!]. It entertained me over Yad Moss on the way back. The rain, nor the climbs were bothering me - I would be looking forward to a CD instead! High speed descents, the back wheel would morph into a ski-like contraption so as to push into the corners more, shwish left, shwish right, duck, occasionally don't take the corner, but jump right ahead onto a platform positioned perfectly to bounce off and then re-join the road. Extra points for splatting sheep on the way. My hands got cold at some point and I decided that I was so gifted (get that tonne of salt out again!) that I could do a CD while putting my gloves on. On reflection, I thought even Cancellara wouldn't be so stupid and what with hallucinations and all that, if I don't snap out of this, I would end up like a splatted sheep myself. Forgive me Elise (my parents pet sheep).

But Cancellara! Watch out! PaulD is about! He led in a trail of riders through the Hertford-Cheshunt urban areas at dizzling speed, in the dark, in built up areas, cars on both sides ... I had forgotten about my CDs for a while, then this brought it all back to me in magnified form. If Cancellara was the Yad Moss level, we now have the new PaulD elite urban obstical level. Thanks Paul for leading us in, that was great fun!

On the last day, we knew it was going to be flat, bar the last Hertfordshire bit. Those long flat sections without CDs allow your mind to wonder, especially as the weather was getting better. I was starting to reflect, gather my thoughts about LEL, what I liked, what I didn't like, how I need to learn to take pictures while riding... Then I found myself as if in the Truman Show where the man above decided to wipe the smile off my face and poured a load of freshly made hail all over us. This was in Sleaford. And we would be treated to the odd shower till about 3 hours from the finish.
One thing I had been wondering about was a sentence in the Rider Information Sheet: "On completion of LEL, a final basic sandwich and hot drink will be issued with the removal of your brevet card at the end of the event. After this, food is not available from LEL. " I had been wondering what a 'basic sandwich' is. A sandwich is already pretty basic, unless you go for the open seafood/charcutery platter type sandwich in a bistro. And how is a sandwich 'issued'? 'The removal of your brevet card' was also something that left me wondering whether I had already done something wrong. I'm not a Scroobius Pip with words, but I would rephrase that paragraph with something like this:

"Congratulations on finishing LEL! When you are ready (sure you want to do a few high fives and knuckle handshakes with your cycling buddies first!), please hand in your brevet card for validation. Help yourself to sandwiches and drinks and if you would like to start celebrating your achievement, then the bar upstairs will be open.
Never ate the basic sandwich, but the bottle of beer was a delightful surprise in the lunch bag!
But Audaxers don't expect frilly language like that. On the routesheet for example, we don't expect to read:

"On approaching the T-junction, you will see a view of the dominating mountain Mount LEL, conquered by few. Turn left to continue your journey, or, alternatively, have a break to admire the water well, built ca 213bc, tucked around the corner on the right hand side. This will interest the historians amongst you."

Instead, Audaxers want and get this:

On the last day, I linked up again with the German guy, Mansfeld, who kept me going on the depression section of Tuesday evening/night. I was puzzled by him. He went steady, telling stories of Russian LEL type rides, where they took a train to the start, but couldn't find space for their bikes ... while I was trying to hold back expressions of discomfort, but still sighing, occassionally saying 'when is this going to finish'? No reaction from Mansfeld ... better keep quiet and suffer inside. But on the last day, Mansfeld and I linked up again, and he said something like: 'Els, if it hadn't been for you I would have given up!' I was so surprised by this, I thought I was the suffering one, drawing energy from him!.

LEL and Audax is about self-sufficiency (thats the word I was looking for on BCM, when I talked about audaxing being unsupported). You sign up to cycle from London to Edinburgh and back. You know when and where to start from. Then all you have to do is cycle the route and collect the stamps at controls. Mind you, I heard a few say that making it to the start is 3/4 of LEL done. Anyway, don't expect anything from the organisation and anything you do get is a bonus. But we did get lots of bonuses - more than that!!! The slick bottle refilling facilities everywhere, the variety of food, the variety of sleeping arrangements (!), the welcoming volunteers, the mechanics, the resourcefulness and commaradery of everybody ... amazing. Thank you to the organisers and volunteers.

And, if you turn up at 2AM in the morning, dripping wet, cold, miserable, tired, a little short tempered maybe, and you are welcomed by 'There are no beds or blankets, and there is no floor space', you shouldn't be surprised, angry, upset, disappointed or anything like that. Look around and you'll find plenty of space in a corridor and heap full of linen that can be used as blankets. I think Audaxers become tramps and find space and resources everywhere! Next time, I'd be a bit more resourceful in booking B&Bs ahead of time! If I don't get to use them so be it! Oh, no, I forgot, there will not be a next time.

See, plenty of space. But where did those duvet covers come from when I was told there was nothing left?

The one testing challenge for me was the drying room at Alston, doubling up as men's changing room. Two men would come out, one would go in, one would come out, two would go in ... guys, I'd just ... another goes in, I'd just like to ... I need to, look can you all get out so that I can hang up my wet gear. I called on a volunteer to help me out but got a look of 'what do you expect me to do about it'. I don't expect anything, but the reality is that we are faced with some male/female logistics. Apologies for getting ratty at that stage and thank you to the guy who handed over a hanger and clothes pegs.

My favourite controls were (although I fear I might be getting controls muddled up - all had their unique qualities):

Traquair: for the LEL cakes, whiskey and beer touch, massages, IslandBakery biscuits, the floor space, the friendliness, the location

Middleton Tyas: for the tents with camp beds and Mike being there watching out for me on the way back.

A lot of people seem to have enjoyed the Twitter feed. I was pleased also that I had the capacity to send some updates. That is until my iPhone got wet. It was pouring down, as we had got used to, and I had lost my way. I was using the iPhone mapping to get my bearings again. I had also lost some confidence though and kept checking if I was going the right way now. Gradually but surely my phone got more and more wet, then it stopped working. At least I was on my way again, and later on Scottlington kindly posted a message explaining the lack of tweets from swarm_catcher. Thanks Scottlington!

All in all, I am very pleased with how LEL went. I didn't have the collapse experienced during BCM. My spirits stayed up, I managed to eat well and sleep more than planned. At some stage I wondered if everybody had been lying to me and that you need to do LEL in preparation for BCM, not the other way around. Then the day marked as 'potential BCM day' happened ...

And I need to thank again, all my supporters. All the people who sent messages via email/txt/twitter/cards. All the volunteers and cyclists. All the people who donated towards Bees for Development. Its been quite an effort by all!

I had wonderful conversations with the belgian riders, especially Erwin from Leuven, since we were riding at similar speeds. He stated: "As every muslim needs to visit Mecca once in their lifetime, so does a long distance cyclist need to do Paris-Brest-Paris... "

And just a few more thoughts:
  • Returning to Gaminlingay (last control) where Manotea and Mercury were - it was like coming back to civilisation. Rode with Manotea for a while. He was on fixed.
  • Peter the Austrian whom I cycled with on the first and the last day. A spoke broke in Peter's rear wheel, so he ended up walking through the night, in the rain to Thorne. A spare rear wheel was found so Peter could continue and finish LEL. It seems spokes breaking was not uncommon on LEL.
  • Need to learn how to replace spokes and true a wheel.
  • Still have Peter's kneewarmers.
  • Getting a massive 5 hours sleep on the last night which left me waking up with a face like a red balloon with knots for eyes.
  • On the return from Edinburgh, managing to clock a massive 5kph going downhill, using the granniest of granny gears. This is why: Scotland Headwinds
  • A different view on LEL by George Swain: George's LEL Ride Report
  • Quote from Mike D: "The best weather day included sun, thunderstorms, rain, wind and quarter-sized hail. The bad weather days? They were a little wet and windy as well.". Another excellent ride report: Mike's LEL Ride Report (various posts and some videos).

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Marlborough Connection 200 Perm

Did the Marlborough Connection 200 permanent ride. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures. This means I'm going to have to do the ride again. This route might become my favourite, taking over from the Poor Student.

It goes through some lovely villages, I had never been to before, like Lechlade and Burford, Bibury and the Barringtons. Had a lovely cream tea at Wootton Bassett.

This is the route: