LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 4&5

Day 4 & 5 – Thirsk to Loughton 263 miles

It takes two goes for the volunteer to wake me, as my body attempts to gain more sleep.  They have cleverly put all the other 3.30am risers on the same row of air matresses and I find myself the last to get up.  I’m shivering and put on all my clothes as I head to the canteen to eat and warm up.  I know that if I can get onto the road and make it through to dawn, then things should improve but it takes all my willpower to head out into the darkness…

 

 

Stage 15: Thirsk to Pocklington 37miles 16.0mph

Outside, others are faffing with their bikes & lights but there’s nobody leaving so I head out of town on my own.  Deep in my own thoughts, I’m woken by a train of 10 riders moving quickly so I speed up and tag onto the back.  Without a word, they miss the turn taking us to the Howardian Hills and it dawns on me that we are taking a flatter main road route.  Having already ‘seen’ the hills in the dark once, I have no concerns with missing them out, but going off piste means I have no idea of the route or where we are so I have to stay with this group.

The pace is good but not excessive and I feel comfortable in the middle of the pack. A couple of riders seem to be organising things.  We tick along nicely as dawn lights the sky. My spirits are raised by the company and free speed. My mind races ahead…  if I can stick with this group, reaching London will be straightforward.

 

 

Stage 16: Pocklington to Louth 62miles 12.2mph

I’m keen to keep with the group so I’m quick to put my shoes on at the first sign of people stirring.  I head to my bike and whilst others are sorting themselves out, I decide to head up the road and get my legs working again as well seeing if I can find a comfortable position on the saddle.  I notice that in my haste to leave I only filled one bottle and have less than half left in the other. Oh well, it shouldn’t be too hard work in the group so I should cope.  I soft pedal, standing up and await the group.

I wait & wait…  I even stop pedalling to turn around for a better look. Then it dawned on me… they’re not coming.  The organisers have given us a safe route that can be used at any time of day, but the rules of LEL are that you can take any route between the controls. This is what we had done in the last stage – The A19 in rush hour would have been a hostile place to cycle, but before dawn it was perfect.  Why had I assumed the group would have been back on the official route?

There was nothing for it, I have to plod on by myself,  but I’m now angry with myself and hurting.  I’m climbing long incline with a fairly innocuous gradient into a brisk headwind, my bum hurts, my back hurts.  Somewhere nearby is happy group, who are sharing the work and know a flatter faster route than the one I’m on.  This is a huge low for me.  I knew there would be highs & lows on the ride but to have them so close together and so extreme was tough to take.

I give myself a talking to, citing what I had sacrificed in order to do the ride, the training I had done and how much I wanted to finish but I’m not sure I believed myself.  I plough on muttering to myself as I tackle numerous slopes I had forgotten from the Northbound route.  Climbing becomes tough.  Gradients I would normally be comfortable with staying in my gear and pedalling harder to maintain my pace become really hard.  I can’t keep up a reasonable pace and find myself reaching for granny gear very quickly and a slow slog.  I experiment with attacking the climbs in a big gear and it works at first, although more than one attempt came to a crushing halt as have to give up and reach for my granny gear.

Approaching the halfway point at the Humber Bridge my water stocks are getting low and I’m rationing sips.  I stop for the obligatory photo on the bridge but my heart’s not in it.  Crossing the bridge is an important milestone, not least because the route I’m following on my garmin has a gremlin and so I’ll be back to the paper route sheet, but it should be easier as we are retracing the Northbound route.

Several riders pass me and encourage me to tag onto their wheel. I try to up my pace but it doesn’t last long and soon they disappear into the distance.   Outside Humber Airport the inevitable happens and I miss turn and find myself having to do an extra mile on a busy road.  It’s not catastrophic but it does nothing to improve my mood as I tackle the next hill.  I can’t help thinking of the group I lost, and how I could have been on a flatter route, getting a rest from the wind, chatting away…

The hills keep coming, and much steeper than I remember from the way North. I’m out of water and now crawling up every incline at what seems like a snail’s pace but my stubbornness doesn’t allow me to dismount whilst I can keep the pedals turning. I see a sign of Louth being another 10 miles away – will this stage never end?

Feeling hot, thirsty and broken, I stop at a village store. I stagger in and pick up two 500ml bottle of full fat coke.  The shopkeeper is deep in conversation with another customer.  I can’t bear the wait and crack into the first bottle before I get to the counter.  The relief is instant as I guzzle the cold sugary liquid.   They turn to me and ask if I’m doing ‘that cycling thing’ and recount the story of an acquaintance who had tried it but had to stop on day 1 due to injury.  It reminds me how far I’ve come and that I’m only a good day’s ride away from finishing this thing.  The stop is just what was needed and with the 2nd bottle transferred to my bidon, I remount and start turning the pedals again.

As I reach the outskirts of Louth my path coincides with a small group coming into town from a different direction.  I recognise one of their saddle bags from the pre-dawn group and we pull into the control together.  Maybe it wasn’t all a bed of roses for them after all…

Stage 16: Louth to Spalding 52miles 13.4 mph

I eat with the group. Despite everyone looking knackered, they are in jovial spirits – they included a couple of local lads who had popped home on route.  This is just what I need, but there is no thought of not finishing, just different sleep strategies for getting back to Loughton.  They ask me to join them. Ahead of us lies nearly 100 miles of flat, straight roads through the fens.  Into a headwind.  Company would be definitely be good.

What a difference it makes.  We ride and chat, sharing jokes – mainly gallows humour but it’s good to laugh.  I have something to work for now and spend long periods on the front, perfectly happy battling the headwind, feeling stronger as the stage continues.  Sitting in the wheels allows me to relax for the first in days. One of our riders has a sore neck and is struggling to keep awake following a poor night’s rest, so the ethos is pacing ourselves and having fun, where we can. Such a change from the most popular approach of grinding yourself into the ground, getting slower and slower as you go.

Our group expands and people take a welcome shelter from the wind & before too long we arrive at the Spalding for yet another meal…

 

Stage 17 Spalding to St Ives 38miles 13.7mph

The consensus was for a quick sleep & I’m out for the count as soon as I hit the air mattress.  Hitting the road again, we pick up some more riders for our group, but it becomes harder to manage as the newcomers seen keener to push the pace.

Before long the original foursome stops with an audax legend for a makeshift fix for the injured neck involving an innertube strapped under his armpits. We try not to laugh too much…

It seems to do the trick and the gang is soon back on the road and battling the headwind as before and soon picking up the waifs and strays again.  There is an art to leading a chain into a headwind, which I had plenty of time to learn.  A block headwind, you just pick your tempo and pound it out, checking from time to time that you haven’t dropped anyone.  A slight angle to the headwind, and you’re trying to set up an echelon like you’ve seen on the telly.  A crosswind and you have to back it off as the weaker riders don’t get the protection and will be suffering.  Seems simple enough, but the curves and turns of the road require changes in power.  It keeps me amused as we roll on through the fens in the fading light.

The group expands to 10 or 12 as we are a formidable force sharing the workload and not burning ourselves out, all the time looking after Damian, who continues in good spirits and good legs despite his suffering.   One rider is unimpressed with our steady pace and gets down on his aerobars and tries to drop the group.  We start to take bets on how long he will last, it’s a good 10 minutes before we real him back in and he shuffles back into the wheels.

Approaching St Ives dusk has fallen and we have a few road junctions to negotiate.  The cohesion of the group is broken by the stop-starting and it’s harder to look after Damien with people around us unaware of his condition and traffic to consider. It was with some relief that we turned into St Ives control.

Stage 18 St Ives to Great Easton 44miles 12.2mph

More food and a wise decision for a decent amount of kip for Damian & his brother, before continuing.  The other of the foursome (still haven’t asked his name…) & I decide on another catnap before heading on.

The guided bus lane is eerie in the darkness, but the secluded isolation is pleasant enough as we continue to fight the headwind. Arriving at Cambridge just after midnight is a surreal experience.  The myriad of cycling infrastructure would be a welcome relief to the daylight traveller, but to us is a baffling array of options and signs that we struggle to comprehend.  We eventually get the hang of the segregated lane down Huntington Road and are soon over the Cam and amongst the colleges with late night revellers enjoying themselves.  We pass on the opportunity to join them…

Back out in the wilds, my energy is low and it feels like a long uphill slog in what should be relatively flat country.  What should have been a short stage is becoming a long drag in the dark. I am very glad of the company as chatting helps pass the time and allows me to ignore the purgatory of pedalling my sore & soaked body through the rain

We finally turn off the neverending B road onto some small lanes that give us some short sharp climbs and puddles to dodge. On one hill we see a bright light coming towards us that turn out to be a rider backtracking to check his route finding.  I don’t think my mind could cope with getting lost at this stage and he seems pleased to join us for the last few miles.  At the next hill I aim for the comfort of my granny gear only in my befuddled state go into my biggest gear and grind to halt.  My attempt at restarting results in me falling off and seeing my companions lights disappear out of sight. I walk up slowly, reassured that I know they will stop when then realise my absence.

We regroup and are soon in Great Easton control.  Worried about hyperthermia, I strip off my wet kit and wrap myself into a blanket.  I optimistically hang up my clothes to dry, regretting not carrying any dry kit with me.  Over food, we decide to sleep for another hour and continue at dawn.

 

Stage 20 Great Easton to Loughton (a.k.a. London) 30miles 13.5mph

The volunteer takes 2 attempts to wake me.  I could easily have stayed put.  My body enjoyed not being on a bike and is in no hurry get up.  It is a real struggle to return to the canteen for yet more food.  To my amazement the 2 brothers from our foursome are there tucking into breakfast, having ridden through the night on the alternative route avoiding Cambridge to keep their dream of finishing going.  I’m still wrapped in a blanket and probably look worse than them.  Putting on my wet kit is pretty demoralising, but knowing that we haven’t far to go and the group was back together was enough to get me out the door and onto the bike.

Everything is hurting now, I ride the first 5 miles without sitting down. I have no desire or energy to be on the front. I’m doing what I can to follow the wheel ahead. The separate routes taken on the last section provide a new supply of stories and jokes as we wind our way towards London, safe in the knowledge that we had time in hand. A puncture strikes and we spread out on the verge for a rest while it is dealt with.

 

Back on the road, there are a few more climbs to tackle that I had heard bad things about but we grind our way up them without too much complaint.  The traffic is getting heavier but nothing is going to stop us now.  We roll into the Loughton after what seems a lifetime since we left, but is actually only 97 hours, 62 of which were spent pedalling.

I hadn’t really planned my arrival at the finish.  I got my card stamped and taken away from and was ushered into get my photo taken – I’m not sure it is my best look…

20170829_193402.jpg

Advertisements
LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 4&5

LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 3

 

Day 3 : Edinburgh to Thirsk

Stage 10 : Edinburgh to Innerleithen 27miles 12.2mph

6 hours sleep in a comfortable bed leads to my first epiphany of the day. Realising that situations like my sore back was exactly why I had been carrying ibuprofen with me. The mental boost of having a ‘plan’ to keep going gets me going again and I return to the control for breakfast.

I know I’ll have a long day of hills ahead of me but LEL was never going to be easy, so I head out into the rain and head South.  The early morning traffic seems incongruous to the past 2 days, which mainly avoided any busy roads, but soon we are on the quiet roads heading for the Granites.  The Granites is another lovely climb on a wide road, steady gradients and fine views over Edinburgh.  The only problem is that the climb to the ‘start’ of the climb is same height as the climb itself but made up of fiddly little inclines on windy roads that I couldn’t get into a rhythm for.  I try not to get disappointed with my slow progress…

With no other riders around, the climbs pass slowly, but eventually, I get to Innerleithen and a chance for 2nd Breakfast.  I chat with, Ulli, one of the volunteers I know and complain of my sore back, which I put down to lowering my stem a month before, in an attempt to get a more comfortable position on my saddle.  My 2nd Epiphany comes when she asks if I can change my position back…

Stage 11 : Innerleithen to Eskdalemuir 31 Miles 12.5 mph

The climb out of Innerleithen (Paddy Slacks) was the scene of my first ever sportive in 2013, which was a infamous for the biblical rain and despite puncturing twice (with only one spare tube) I thoroughly enjoyed.  Reminiscing helped the miles pass and whilst there were some other riders about, I was happy to go my own pace on the hills.  I focus on my garmin, set to just show Heart Rate & Distance.  Keeping the HR steady, I celebrate each tenth of mile towards the summit(s). My speed is irrelevant, I’m slowly but surely making progress south, that’s all that matters.

The peace allowed me to consider my options for riding positions.  My back was still giving me gyp and I doubted I would finish if I carried on without changing something – I would certainly fail the ‘don’t break myself’ test. But, if I changed the stem, the risk was that I’d not have a comfortable saddle and I was already suffering.  A comment from Astronaut Chris Hadfield came to mind – In a crisis work out “what’s the next thing that’s going to kill us’.  To me the next thing that would stop my ride was my back – I had to tackle it.  I’d deal with any further saddle issues if & when they arose.

I approach Eskdalemuir and start to think of food and what needs to be done at the control.  Bump, I hit a pothole and the bike feels sluggish and fear a puncture.  I limp into the control & head to the mechanic’s stand to fix it & my stem.  It’s fairly painless to return my stem to its previous height and fortunately it wasn’t a puncture, just my back brakes having rotated an locked onto the rim – easily sorted.

I take stock of the position

 

Stage 12 Eskdalemuir to Brampton : 35miles 14.1mph

Back on the road again and heading for England.  We cross the border on the busy A7 – no thoughts of stopping – just want to get it done.  At Longtown we complete the Scottish loop and start reversing the Northbound route and soon start to see the occasional rider coming towards me.  I try to do the maths on whether they would be out of time or not, but my brain can’t process it.  They seem happy enough and we exchange greetings – My heart going out them for what must have been a long day of waving at southbound riders – I think it would have broken my spirit.

Arriving at Brampton for a late lunch the control is quiet, just like it had been the day before, but the volunteers seem more subdued.  I can only imagine the herculean efforts exerted in the last 24 hours for them to handle all the northbound riders and the apprehension for having to doing it all again when the bulge of southbound riders arrive.

I eat again – the food has been fabulous. I eat at every control and need very little of my snacks in between.  It’s a morale booster to know that copious quantities of hot food is available as soon as you arrive.

Stage 13: Brampton to Barnard Castle 52 miles 13.4mph

There is only one thing on my mind as I remount in the afternoon sun – Yad Moss.  And from the harder Northern side too.  It was going to be a long afternoon.  Get over this and that’s the worst of the hills done.

First is the undulating 20 miles to Alston, England’s highest town.  I’m still riding solo on nearly deserted roads, so plenty of time with my own thoughts.  I’m sore – my back hasn’t improved but hasn’t got worse.  My saddle has taken a layer of skin off my ar$e, so a ‘comfortable’ position is hard to find and may not last long before I need to stand up and try another position, but on the bright side I’m still moving and have time in hand.  When I checked out of Brampton, the volunteer (seeing my time in hand) tells me that I should get a good rest tonight.  I hope so.

The steep cobbled high street of Alston is synonymous with LEL and I was determined to climb it without dismounting.  Traffic is busy as I turn on the cobbles, but I’m given space as I slowly crawl up it in my granny gear.  It wasn’t pretty but I made it and returned to smoother tarmac and onto Yad Moss proper.  8 miles and 1,000ft of climbing ahead of me.

I’m back into survival mode.  I did the climb in June so know what to expect – it’s a long climb and it stretches out in front of me, not hiding the challenge ahead.  I focus in on my garmin again, but a tenth of a mile is far too long, so I cheer on every hundredth of a mile. It feels silly to be cheering another 16 metres, but it’s 16 metres closer to the top and I’m still moving forward.

I approach a campervan in a layby and a kindly gent comes out to offer me tea and flapjacks.  I decline, I want this hill to be over.  If I get off the bike, I might not get back on. Bit by bit, the summit comes closer.  I reach the point I celebrated the ‘summit’ heading North, but the wind has turned and I have to grind on for another couple of hundred metres before I can enjoy to freewheel for a bit.

The freewheeling doesn’t last long, the headwind negates most of the gravity benefit, so it’s time to push on the pedals again and get cracking.  It’s now 6pm and I still have 65 miles before my now planned sleep at Thirsk.

Half way down the descent, a tandem rejoins the road in front of me.  I whizz past them, but have no surprise when they soon return the favour.  I up my pace to hang on to their rear wheel and we fly down Teesdale.  My first opportunity for ‘free speed’ for over 300 miles.  I try to return the favour on a slight incline but it’s not for long that I can be of use to them and I tuck in behind again.  We part company after Middleton when a short sharp incline sees them resign themselves to a slow grind.

On my way north I spotted a sign for massages at the Barnard Castle control – the thought of having some relief for my back was in the front of my mind for the last 10 miles into BC and I headed straight there once I arrived.  The masseuse got to work and I was nearly asleep when she had finished.  Getting off the table was a mental challenge.

Not long until I could sleep, just the 42 miles of flatish Yorkshire Countryside ahead.

Stage 14 Barnard Castle to Thirsk 42 miles 14.4mph

A flatish end to the day riding solo on quiet back lanes.  Daylight starts to fade and I worry about navigation. Catching up with a rider ahead, I decide to keep pace with him to share the navigation duties.  Having some company is a pleasant end to the day and we ride side by side, chatting away easily.

We arrive in Thirsk at 11pm, and whilst eating, I look ahead to the remaining 260miles.  The big hills might be behind me, but it doesn’t mean the hard work is done.  The forecast was for a headwind all the way and picking up during the day – 30mph gusts will not be fun.

I decide the forego the ‘good rest’ promised to me by the volunteer in Brampton and ask for 3.30am wake up, so I can

 

Continued… LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 4&5

LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 3

LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 2

Day 2 : Thirsk to Edinburgh

Stage 6: Thirsk to Barnard Castle 42miles 15.2mph.

I awake before my alarm having had 5 hours sleep in a luxurious bed and think of getting back on the road.  Any thoughts of a quick get away are thwarted by my poor attempts at re-tying my drop bag which I’ve filled with too much stuff and I waste a good 15 minutes in a befuddle daze before I give up and head back to the control for some food.

The control is quiet and I head out alone in the morning sun.  There are a few riders but not at my speed.  I pass one, only to miss a turn and have to overtake her again, slightly embarrassed the 2nd time.  I really shouldn’t have turned the beeps off on my Garmin.

Pretty uneventful leg and before long I’m crossing the Tees and heading into Barnard Castle Control, my mind clearly on the climb of Yad Moss ahead.

Stage 7: Barnard Castle to Brampton 52miles 13.5mph

Now on familiar roads I head out of the Control and into a cross/headwind as we climb the long long climb of Yad Moss.  There’s not many riders around and I’m happy enough with my pace, which I’m managing by watching my HR and keeping at a steady number.  I try not be put off by being overtaken and know that we still have a long day ahead of ourselves.

I pass the time on the 90 minute climb (1,200ft over 14miles) by counting the snow poles and guessing how many I’ll pass before the top. My first guess is 70, but I get to 199 before I finally crest the summit and head down to the cobbles of Alston and on to Brampton.

Stage 8: Brampton to Moffat 47 miles 15.6 mph

A head out alone and thankfully my pride stays in tack as I get onto the Scottish loop before the first Southbound riders passes me.  I stop at the border for another obligatory photo which I ask some German tourists to take.  They can’t quite believe how far I had come, and to be honest neither could I.

Mostly I was alone on this leg but on familiar territory I didn’t mind too much. There wasn’t much for it but to get my head down and crank out the miles.  Moffat control was a welcome relief to the boredom from the B7076.

Sitting down on the low bench to take off my shoes was a challenge.  My lower back was very sore and gave me some concern, but I was focussed on getting to Edinburgh for the night, ideally before nightfall…

Stage 9 : Moffat to Edinburgh 50 Miles 15.2 mph

Back on the road at straightaway up onto the Devil’s Beeftub, a 6 miles climb up the side of the valley with a very steady gradient.  It’s a lovely climb, if that is possible, picking a gear and a steady HR you just tap out the revolutions required until the crest appears and then you have a long long descent into the Tweed valley.

The evening sun was interspersed by some rain showers and rainbows and I was happy enough to ride on my own on familiar roads, knowing I’d soon be back in Edinburgh. There were only a couple of other riders on the road and I up the pace to chase down their red lights only to be disappointed that their speed isn’t compatible to mine.

One red light stubbornly refused to get any closer but the chase keeps me amused as we reach the outskirts, where I chanced across a friend on their motorbike just as I made the catch. We exchange greetings as best you can at 18mph. I wasn’t for slowing until I had got to the control and I had been fixated on getting there for 10pm, doing repeated equations of the average speed required to make it.  The meeting bursts my LEL bubble a little – a reminder of a life outside of cycling and eating…

The excellent Loanhead railway path was a breeze and we sail through the city’s outskirts with ease and are soon at the Control a couple of minutes before 10pm   (I find out later the Edinburgh controller had arranged for the many chicanes to be removed – thanks Martin).

Another familiar face is on duty outside the control and we chat as I lock up the bike for the night.  Taking my shoes off now becomes a major issue, I struggle to bend and my lower back is in agony.  Getting into a taxi becomes my biggest challenge of the day.

The Taxi driver can’t comprehend 450mile/ 39 hour journey from London and even more amazed, having seen the state of me, that I was planning to get on my bike in the morning to repeat the journey south…

LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 3

 

LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 2

LEL2017 : How far can you go – Day 1

I’ll start with a confession – I enjoy a long cycle, nothing too extreme but a century ride (100 miles) is a perfect chance to get out of the city and clear my head from all the stresses and strains of modern life.  For the past 3 years it has been my ‘thing’ and whatever the weather, I’ve got out once a month to satisfy my itch.

It was probably on one of these rides that the I first thought seriously about pushing myself far out of my comfort zone and entering LEL.  LEL is the pinnacle of the Audax calendar in the UK. As a 900 mile ride up and down the country, from London to Edinburgh & back to London, its not a something to be undertaken lightly – it’s only put on every 4 years to give organisers and riders a chance to recover and prepare for the next one.

I can’t claim to be a great story writer and if you are just after a grand tale of disaster & despair, then head to Day 4 for a full roller coaster of emotion.  This is the first challenge I’ve undertaken when I’ve had absolutely no idea if I would finish or not, you’ll have to read on to find out how I got on.

 

Registration day – Loughton (Outskirts of London)

Having started in Edinburgh a 4 hour train took me down to London.  Arriving in Loughton I started to see my first fellow participants.  The multi-coloured jerseys in various languages looked out of place battling busy Saturday afternoon traffic in suburbia.

Registration was a painless experience, I soon had my Brevet Card which stay around my neck until I have collected all required stamps.

The lack of a bike spaces on my train, meant I had to pick my bike up from Cliff, a fellow rider who I met on the internet and trusted to transport my pride & joy to the start. I met him & my bike at the campsite and being a top bloke he drove me to my hotel, where my only tasks were to fit mudguards onto my carbon speed machine and get some kip.

The Plan

LEL has 2 options. Complete the 900 miles in 100 hours or 116hours, which given a Sunday start, means finishing on Thursday or Friday.  Any thoughts of a relaxing ride were dashed when I realised that to get the family holiday that we wanted, I’d need to be back home for Friday, so a 100 hours it had to be.

On my long rides I’m usually fast enough that I should be okay but as my longest ride was ‘only 300’ miles I had no idea if I would be able to maintain that pace.

My equation was 60 hours on the bike at 15 mph which would allow for 40 hours for eating, sleeping & faffing.  If you say it quickly it sounds straightforward.  There was one even bigger challenge though – I couldn’t ‘break’ myself.  I needed to be in a fit state to go on holiday and be a active parent…

With a 7am start time (& 11am Thursday finish time), I wanted to get the 250 ‘flatish’ miles to Thirsk on Day 1, the next 200 ‘hilly’ miles to Edinburgh on Day 2 and then have 2 1/2 days to crawl back to London.  I had train home booked for 3pm Thursday, that I couldn’t miss.  My thinking was that where ever I woke up on Thursday morning, I should have time to get a train to Kings Cross by 3pm.

To incentivise myself to get to Thirsk and to guarantee a good night’s sleep,  I booked a Premier Inn – I might be too soft for Audaxing…  Getting home to Edinburgh on Monday night would be my next goal.

Day 1 : Loughton to Thirsk

Waking early, I have some porridge in my room and then set off for the 6 miles to the start.  Having thought London was flat, it was a bit of a surprise to have to use granny gear to climb Motts Lane. After a nice descent,  it was even more of a surprise to find myself back at the bottom of Motts Lane where I started from.  Back into granny gear but this time on a mission to get to the start before my start time.

I made it with 5 minutes to spare but with a tough choice to be made.  Get some (more) breakfast and start with the next group in 15 minutes or just go for it.  I decided I would be ruing my error for the whole day if waited and so I got into the starting and got ready to start.

 

And we were off…

Stage 1: Loughton to St Ives: 62 Miles 19.3mph

All the preparation and training had come down to the simple task of turning the pedals.

Heading away from the start, the bike next to mine is making a strange grating noise from rubbing mudguards. A rider quips that it will get annoying, and almost immediately the noise changes into a grinding noise followed by air escaping in a hurry.  Someone’s ride had started badly.

Our group soon whittled down to around 10-15 riders being pulled along by a strong Luxembourg rider. His pal settled into the group and when I chatted to him he said his friend was having a good year and he was going to ride his own pace – if anyone wanted to follow him he was fine with it.  The only problem was he didn’t have the best navigation.  A couple of times he missed a turn and we’d have a shout from someone paying attention, leading to riders heading in all directions to avoid hitting each other.  Slowly we get back on the track and the frenetic pace resumes.

I do a short turn on the front but all too quickly someone is disappointed with my pace and comes past.  It’s also the first time I’ve ridden alongside people on aero bars.  If you see the person on the front lean forward onto their bars, you know it’s about to become hard work to keep up…

I’m starting to get hungry and eat all my emergency food.  I foolishly packed my Soreen loafs and flapjacks into the Drop Bags and have very little with me.  I push on to keep with the group and hope can get to St Ives before I bonk.

Arriving in St Ives a local rider sprints off down a backstreet.  I take a chance and follow him, which causes consternation in the group who don’t know whether to follow or stick to the formal route.  The shortcut pays off and we avoid several traffic lights and get to the control ahead of the group, and I quickly head for much needed food.

 

Stage 2 : St Ives to Spalding 38miles 17.9mph

I see some fellow riders start to head to the exit so I join them and realise my rookie mistake.  I haven’t filled my waterbottles, doing so delays me and I leave in a tizz trying to find a group to work with.  Just out of town I miss a turn, thankfully I get a shout so stop and I try to work out what I had done wrong with my garmin – bright sunlight I think is the problem.  The weaker of the 2 Luxembourgers stop with me (his pal is already up the road).  I figure out we should have turned but have now lost the few riders we were with.

I feel responsible so do a massive turn on the front to pull the 2 of us back onto the wheel a stronger rider.  We make it but salvation is short as the faster rider see a bigger/stronger group ahead and wants to chase.  We try our best to keep up but it is in vain and even the 2 of us soon part company as he stops for a break.  I stop in Crowland to photograph the 3way bridge and ride solo into Spalding and another meal.

 

Stage 3 Spalding to Louth 51miles 17.8 mph

Having filled my bottles when we arrived, I’m ready to leave when I spot a small group heading to the door.  Having survived the many traffic lights of Spalding, we’re soon out into fens again.  The group works well and we are cracking along nicely.

At one point I notice the Japanese rider’s light has slipped and is gently banging into his spokes – nothing too serious but worth sorting before too long.  I mention this to him as we are cracking along.  His reaction is to slam on his brakes and sort it.  I feel bad that he’ll likely lose the group as the chance of getting back onto a fast moving group on his own is remote.  Fortunately for him, we shortly have to stop at some lights and he is able to rejoin.  I am much relieved.

The rhythm is only broken up by a thunderstorm and a sharp hill outside of Louth, which was quickly followed by a murderously close and fast pass from an oncoming pickup truck on a single track road. He could see us clearly but seem to take delight from forcing us off the road.  A great ‘Welcome to England’ for our overseas visitors.

 

Stage 4 : Louth to Pocklington 60 Miles 16.0 mph

We reform the same group on leaving Louth, but there is lots hanging around while various people deal with drop bags and other faffing.  I bit frustrating but should be worth it if we stick together.

Leaving Louth is still hilly and the heavens open.  One hill is awash with so much running water all across the road it’s impossible to keep dry.  Following the rider in front means a face full of spray from their wheel, but taking a different line will mean deeper surface water, so I ride off the front of the group in the hope of taking my own line will keep me dryer.  It didn’t work – I was soaked.

The hills were an unexpected part of Lincolnshire. As we crest each one, we’d scan the horizon for the towers of the Humber bridge but we were disappointed repeatedly.  After what seems like an age it eventually appears in front of us and after another wrong turn we arrive at the ramp for the obligatory photograph.

The group stays together ticking off the miles as the evening draws in.  Approaching Pocklington, thoughts turn to where people are sleeping.  Many seem keen to keep going through the night until they are ‘properly’ tired, so were going to stop long enough to eat and sort themselves out for a long night ahead.  Knowing I would stop at Thirsk I was keen for a quick stop at Pocklington and making the most of the remaining daylight.  I secure agreement from Lawrence that we would be stick together..

Stage 5 : Pocklington to Thirsk  43 miles 14.8 mph

After a quick pot of pasta, we set off together and discovered a slight issue.  I hadn’t managed to get my Garmin to light up at night (to be honest I hadn’t tried that hard) and Lawrence only had directions on his phone and he was saving his battery so not using it.  No worries… I had printed out the route sheet, which I could read using my front light.

The route took us down some tiny roads in the increasing darkness, which gave us chance to check our lights were good enough.  If anything my lights were too good and the piece of paper just in front of them was too bright to read, but it seemed to be working and before long we amongst the Howardian Hills.  A series of leg sapping inclines past huge monuments to finish the day, but chatting away in the darkness they soon passed and we start to dream of the bright lights of Thirsk.

We get slightly worried when crossroad after 6km doesn’t appear and we wonder where we have gone wrong.  Without stopping I try to check the route sheet and see it is actually 16km so we plough on and after a while we reach a T junction!!  Panic sets in as we realise we are off route – there was a left turn after 3km that we missed.  Looking around we see that the road left is the main A170 signposted to Thirsk, so we take it hoping we didn’t add too many miles by our error.

Traffic is light and we at soon back in our rhythm chatting away in the darkness. We start to see warning signs for Sutton Bank, a 25% descent into Thirsk that is notorious for caravans getting stuck on.  I’d driven  up it the last summer so knew it was quite a climb, but we were going to descend it so all was good and we start to count down the milestones to Thirsk.

After a couple of miles we realise that we have been climbing and we see a car pass us and continue to climb for a long way until it goes out of sight.  We don’t have a choice, we are on the road to the Thirsk, we don’t know another route, we just have to push on and hope the top comes soon.  7 Miles and 750ft of climbing later we crest the top and squeeze on the brakes to keep in control on the way down.

We crawl into Thirsk at Midnight and head for some food, where we meet the riders we left behind in Pocklington.  I try not to be despondent, it could have been much worse.  I’d made my day 1 objective and was generally feeling okay, a little saddle sore (mainly because in all the Day1 excitement I forgot to reapply Chamois cream, D’oh), but on the whole happy with my lot, especially when I climb into my Premier Inn bed for some sleep.

Day’s Total : 265miles

LEL2017: How far can you go – Day 2

 

LEL2017 : How far can you go – Day 1

Minister – What’s stopping you?

Roseburn_002Humza Yousef has set up an Active Travel Task Force to work out what are the barriers to getting Cycling and Walking improvements built. So far, they have had one meeting and have now asked for public evidence.

http://www.transport.gov.scot/environment/active-travel-task-force

So here are my views gained from the experience of the proposed East-West City Centre route in Edinburgh, which was met with strong opposition in the Roseburn section. I was part of a group that supported the route and witnessed how the opposition had been mustered around misinformation and stoking fears of any change to the status quo, although nobody was satisfied with the status quo and the local community council had once put out its own wish list for changes to the infrastructure.

From that experience I would say that the very real barriers to implementing high quality walking and cycling projects are:

– Insufficient funding from central government

– Insufficient political buy in to changing the status quo

– Insufficient linkages to the wider benefits to health and quality of life

– Information void which can be filled by those fighting against the schemes

Insufficient Funding from central government

Funding for Active Travel at less than 2% of the Transport budget will not create a modal shift any time soon. To get people out of their cars, we need a network of routes going where people want to travel. A route is only as good as its weakest link and the key is a network rather than singular routes. It’s also hard to show the model shift a network can generate by only building one route, which makes winning over doubters very difficult.

Edinburgh Council has committed 10% of its transport budget to active travel, which is excellent, and starting to show rewards but deeper pockets are needed to make real change.

The Community Links Plus scheme does encourage high quality bids, but with only 1 scheme winning each year progress will be very slow and many councils will not want to spend the effort to develop a bid without certainty of success.

It’s an additional hurdle for active travel that doesn’t exist for other transport infrastructure, which indicates its poor position in the Government’s pecking order for investment. Where’s the competition for the next bridge, bypass or dual carriageway?

A more significant and guaranteed investment level would encourage local authorities to plan networks and build up the expertise to deliver high quality infrastructure. It would also send a clear message that the Government was taking Active Travel seriously.

Insufficient Political Buy-In

Whilst there are some supporters on Active Travel schemes within the political parties, it is far from widespread. There is a wide disconnect between national party policies, which all support more active travel, and on the ground support by local councillors. I understand local councillors fearing making an unpopular decision, however the vast majority (72%) think things would be better if people cycled more. What is less understood by many, is how you do this.

The politicians need to understand what works for increasing active travel and what doesn’t and be confident in taking a position for positive change. More information would help them, but they have to want to read and understand it. More importantly there has to be an acceptance that real change won’t be made by attempting to satisfy everyone by compromising designs too far.  There are people who won’t be happy unless they can drive/park everywhere regardless of the impacts on others but thankfully these are a minority.  For years we have had poor infrastructure built for fear of upsetting people through roadspace reallocation.

By the final decision for Roseburn, all parties supported Option A, which shows that political consensus can be found but that was a hard fought battle and took a lot of efforts both inside and outside of the Council to ensure the implications were fully understood and the right decision made.

Insufficient linkages to wider benefits

There are great societal benefits to having a more active population, but this isn’t at the forefront of the debate on Active Travel schemes. The costs to the Health Service from Obesity, Inactivity and Pollution related illnesses is huge, not to mention premature deaths and poor quality of life from sufferers. The Health Service should be putting money & support into active travel, like it has done with schemes for stopping smoking.

Lessening the impacts that motor vehicles have on our streets can make a big differences to our communities. For instance, the streets should be a natural playing and hanging out space for youngsters. Too many children spend their life indoors before being ferried to school or friends or activity by car.

The debate needs to be widened out into how much we can all benefit from more people taking active travel and away for cycle infrastructure just being for current cyclists.

Information Void

What Roseburn has shown us is how easy it is for individuals opposed to the scheme to whip up a furore on an Active Travel Scheme based on misinformation. Reallocating roadspace away from the status quo will be a shock to some people who have been used to our car-centric society, but with solid information the issues can be fully understood and doubters convinced. It was apparent in Roseburn that whilst everyone was concerned with the current high levels of pollution and the viability of the local shops, there wasn’t a clear view on the future for Roseburn. At the heated public meeting, we had arguments against the scheme coming from people who wanted wider pavements, more loading, more parking, bus priority and faster car traffic flows. Clearly these couldn’t all succeed at the same time and an informed debate on what we do with our roadspace is needed. The best way to achieve this is to base the discussions on evidence rather than misinformation or unsubstantiated opinions.

There should be more done centrally to set out the arguments for active travel so the debate is had once rather than on every scheme across the country, with evidence of the experience from other European cities eg Munich, Copenhagen, Seville.

With Roseburn, Council Officers and supporters were having to break new ground to convince the doubters of the benefits and even then most positive examples were dismissed by opponents in the belief that Roseburn is too different for valid comparisons.

Roseburn Cycle Group

Minister – What’s stopping you?

Ride the Route – 29th Aug 8am

Roseburn%20Bikes

 

The Edinburgh East-West City Centre Cycle route goes to the Transport & Environment Committee (TEC) on Tuesday 30th August.

The proposals would give a safe route through the City and encourage many to switch to a healthy, pollution free method of transport.

To ensure that the importance of these proposals is understood, we are inviting members of the TEC, local Cllrs and press to join us in ‘Riding the Route’ on Monday 29th August.

FB_IMG_1461479907322

 

We’ll gather on the West side of Charlotte Square at 7.45am and ride (walking is allowed & bikes can be provided) to Roseburn.

If you want to show your support for the scheme, please ‘Ride the Route’ on Monday as well and tweet/blog/Facebook your experience – please use #OptionA. Here’s our Facebook Event if you want to tell us you’re coming or want to invite your friends.

A group will be setting off from Charlotte Square at 8am and following the route to Roseburn. Please join this if you can or make your own way in your own time.

If you see the front group (including my stripey tandem) give us a wave and a ding ding as you pass.

Please make sure you show your support for the best Option in Roseburn, Option A which gives a safe, direct route.

In the mean time please contact your Councillors and make sure they know your views.

 

More information about the proposals and their importance can be found on the Roseburn Cycle Route Website

The council’s paper to the Transport & Environment Committee is here

Ride the Route – 29th Aug 8am

Conviction needed…

It’s crunch time in Edinburgh…

The proposed East-West city centre cycling route is coming to the City’s Transport & Environment Committee at the end of the month and our councillors will be answering key questions for the future of our city.

What options are we giving our residents to make healthy transport choices and what legacy are we leaving for the next generation?

FB_IMG_1461479907322
Corstorphine / Roseburn feeder ride to Pedal on Parliament 2016

The proposed cycle route through the heart of our city from East to West would link places where people live to where they work. The dormitory suburbs and business parks in the West are already served by Quiet routes and work okay for most people, but they stop at Roseburn and then you’re on your own as my friend who wanted to get back to cycle commuting found out…

Edinburgh needs people like her to cycle and it needs people not to have to be ‘brave’ to get on their bikes if there is any hope of us making inroads into the growing issues of pollution, congestion and inactivity.

And these issues really do matter. Both to us and future generations.

Air pollution is growing as a cause of premature death, with an estimated 2,000 people across Scotland dying every year. That’s over 200 in Edinburgh, which has the most polluted street in Scotland – not something we should be proud of. The kicker is that those lower to the ground get it worse as ITV news found out, impacting children the most.

Congestion is already bad in Edinburgh despite 43% of households not having access to a car and our population is set to increase.

We simply don’t have space for everybody’s private car to drive and park in our city centre at rush hour. With an average of 1.2 people on board it is a hugely inefficient use of space.

 

Inactivity has serious health consequences affecting quality of life and causing a further 2,500 premature deaths in Scotland each year.  And dealing with this inactivity is costing us a massive amount.

 

Active Travel could make a significant impact on these issues. It’s pollution free, healthy and space efficient. It’s working in London and it could work here. 50% of journeys to work or study are less than 3 miles or 15 minutes by bike so it could easily be fitted into busy lives but people will only do it if it is safe and convenient. The more people see others riding a bike the more likely they are to try it themselves.

Edinburgh Council have recognised the issues and solutions and developed a Transport 2030 Vision :- “By 2030, Edinburgh’s transport system will be one of the greenest, healthiest and most accessible in northern Europe” which included 15% of commutes by bike in 2020. The Council have backed up these words with an escalating investment in cycling, rising 1% a year to 9% of the Transport budget in 2016/2017.

The City Centre East-West route is a critical step in this vision to improve walking and cycling, but this is where it starts to get tough. The scheme received overwhelming support (66%) at its consultation but a vociferous campaign was lauched against the scheme, especially its impact on the shops in Roseburn. This campaign is now testing the mettle of our elected councillors.

The opponents to the scheme held a public meeting last week which 9 councillors  and around 175 members of the public attended. The council officer tried to explain the scheme and its benefits to the meeting, and what they had done to alleviate the concerns raised in the consultation earlier this year.

The atmosphere was hostile from the start, with the council officer being heckled and any failing to recall minute details taken as incompetence by the council. The audience raised a full house of Cycling fallacies.

What followed was an attack on the plans and a counter presentation of the ‘Roseburn Vision’ by the chief protagonist.

His pitch was filled with speculation and very light on actual evidence. I could write at length on the untruths and exaggerations put forward but they are almost too many to mention. The highlight was his admission that he was encouraging consultation fraud through using false addresses on another of his campaigns, whilst challenging this schemes consultation’s validity based on addresses and expecting credibility for a consultation on his Roseburn Vision.

There are legitimate concerns about the impact on the local shops and it is only right to address them. A group of local residents aghast at the hysteria and misrepresentations of the opposition have looked to address them with evidence on their website they set up in May.

These supporters of the Roseburn Cycle Route called for the debate to move to evidence based discussions. We cited multiple studies where cycle paths have been a positive change for local shops and called for any evidence for or against that we have missed.  We haven’t been sent any that show a new cycle route harming local businesses and couldn’t find any ourselves.

Yes, every set up is different, but not that different. Edinburgh is tackling the same issues as other cities and there are other cities that have colder, wetter, hillier and narrower streets than Edinburgh. There are shops that thrive in pedestrian areas with difficult loading arrangements, but that’s not what we’re talking about in Roseburn. The revised plans still has peak and off-peak loading with less than a quarter of spaces being removed on Roseburn Terrace, but it should be stressed that these are intended for the loading and unloading of heavy or bulky items.  That’s not always what they are currently being used for though with the bays often blocked by parked cars as this series of tweets shows

Are we really prioritising illegal parking over sustainable travel?

There were also concerns about floating bus stops and the potential for harm to elderly pedestrians from people passing on bikes, which we were told could result in ‘doing their hip in and being the end of them’.

The biggest risk at a bus stop comes from the passing motor traffic. Two Edinburgh bus-stop have been demolished by buses in the last year, fortunately without injury.

There are plenty more considered responses to concerns on the Roseburn website.

The opposition does not want rational arguments. They want the scheme stopped and the money spent on fixing potholes. Fixing potholes is probably the one thing we all agree on, but it’s a short term fix and does nothing to change transport habits.

There are now two options for the councillors to decide between, Option A and Option B. For investment that will make a fundamental difference to Edinburgh the councillors have to choose Option A with the straightforward route along the shops and only 1 road crossing. There is a danger that they bow to pressure and go for the Option B compromise, which has many shortcomings compared to Option A. Using it by bike will be convoluted & slow as you wait for 3 separate road crossings. The likely outcome is that many may never be attracted to cycling and of those that do a significant number will ignore the route and stick to the road, something that they are perfectly entitled to do but which will wind up other road users and send mixed messages to potential new cyclists. Option B also narrows the key junction of Russell Road with Roseburn Terrace and Roseburn Street which won’t go down well with those wanting throughput of cars to be top priority.

It is all going to come down to the Transport & Environment Committee meeting on the 30th August.  Will they have the conviction to see through the building of a safe, direct and compelling cycle route, take a compromise option the suits nobody or even kick the can down the road?

Let’s learn from London, who took the less controversial options and have now had to go back and put in high quality segregated cycle routes. These are  now reaping the rewards. When Boris Johnson left the Mayor’s office he said “Exactly three years ago, I unveiled my vision to make cycling in London safer, more popular and more normal. My single biggest regret as Mayor is that I did not do it sooner.”

I can’t see how anyone watching the above video or reading the Human Streets statements by Boris Johnson and Andrew Gilligan cannot see that it is doing it right that gets the benefit.

Human streets document available here.

My recommendation to our councillors is to study the evidence and recommendations from the cycling officers and  build Option A and watch the positive changes it will bring to our city and its residents.

If you want to help Edinburgh take the right choice, please do contact your local councillors and let them know your thoughts.

Conviction needed…