My London Edinburgh London: The Greatest Ride Ever

First, I went into this ride with my eyes wide open.  I knew that riding with Bob was going to be a somewhat difficult proposition.  I knew he had horrible problems with not being able to sleep at controls.  I knew that he has a hard time not obsessing over time after 600k (hey, if I couldn't sleep at controls, I'd probably be the same).  But he was my friend and I do enjoy his company greatly.  I resolved that if he was not a good riding partner for me at any time (or I for him), that I would be sure to tell him that him finishing the ride was more important to me than me finishing it with him and that all of us need to ride our own rides that there would be no hard feelings.  My goal on this ride was that it was part of a well earned vacation; I had 10 more days with my mother and partner afterwards.  Every minute of this ride was precious to me.  I had never been to England and enjoying it was the whole point of doing the randonnee. Heck, I've done 5 1000+k rides in the last 3 years every one of them has been a lesson in geography, history and people-watching.  It turned out that this was the perfect ride and perfect weather (yes, really, I thought it couldn't have really been much better).  My mom's advice to me, "we'll be as close to the finish as we can, but do everything in your power to have a good time". She is a very wise woman.
The Greatest Sights that England has to offer
I decided to ride the prologue, starting at Buckingham Palace.  This was a first for the ride and in my mind, it set the stage for everything that followed.  The first thing that happened just before we lined up was that my brand new Planet Bike computer completely fell apart.  This wound up being the absolutely best thing that could have happened.  I had no speedometer for the entire ride.  I had a GPS that lost the routes (a recurrent theme with them - at least 4 people I met had the same issue).  That GPS had its viewer turned to on demand so that the batteries would last 24 hours.  I reset it between controls and just used it to check against the cue sheet when needed.  I advise everyone to do this at least once in their lives.  I spent all of my time with my head up looking at the landscape, the people, other riders, the sheep, the cows, the wheat, everything.  I had never realized how much time I had wasted looking at my computer.  I simply rode as fast as I felt like going, no more, no less.
Two non-functional computers for the price of one! Not having one made the ride great

If you have never been in London, it's under construction, like for thousands of years.  They have many iterations of buildings, so London Bridge is the 5th generation, etc.  We passed Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, all the greatest sights.
LEL storms Parliment!
 I found out later that the double decker sight seeing bus uses much of the route.  Bob even had a go-go boy run into the street and "hump" his front tire.  Now that was a sight!

The prologue added 30k to the ride which was actually 1420k, so for me, a grand total of over 900 miles.  At Loughton, I picked up some nice baguettes and took pictures (I took several hundred pictures on this ride eventually - to see them go here ).  The organization was absolutely superb.  For a ride that was originally supposed to be 700 riders and turned into 1100, it was amazing.  I have to say that I wished I had more vacation; I had bad jet lag and absolutely no time to get over it before the ride started.  The extra day that I had had at PBP was very helpful; I won't repeat that mistake again.
Out of the control, we ran into Jonas, who we would ride with for the next 240 miles.   I have to say that you could not ask for more perfect cycling weather.  The first 150 miles is slightly rolling to pancake flat through farmlands and endless villages, some dating to the middle ages.
Riding along the canal - a perfect day
 Swans floated in canals, boats paddled on ponds, fluffy clouds dotted a perfect blue sky at 75 degrees; oh, and we had about a 20 mph tailwind (the whole time).  At the stop in Kirton, a middle school band played for us at the control and the food was awesome.  Really, I have no idea how they managed to get it so well done.  Food is included in the price so you don't have to run around with money at controls.  It saved loads of time.  Bangers and mash, fish and chips, cakes with custard, fried potatoes, meat pies, salads; I have never eaten so well on a brevet.  

As we left Market Rasen, we were filmed by a crew doing a documentary.  Much laughing and as the sun went down, we were in for a great ride across the Humber Bridge, at one time the largest single span bridge in the world.  
Bob on the Humber Bridge
Whoever planned the route really paid attention to making it both beautiful and balancing roads with sights.  We had missed the rain that hit the area earlier so though there were some puddles, no rain for us. 

In Pocklington, we again missed the rain by staying in the control while it did rain.  That stalled us a bit and Pocklington itself was packed with riders (the rider forum warned that it would be).  It would have made a good sleep stop so I can't fault people for going there.  Thirsk was still about 50 miles away.  And at this point, I think we had been spoiled by the tailwind, flat terrain and easy conditions.  It got much hillier after Pocklington, but the rewards were awesome.  After about 10 miles, we turned onto a curvy farm road, almost gravel, for just a couple miles.  Having done some gravel, I found it exhilarating rushing down the road with the clouds and moon coming out through farmlands.  Ed Boltz had joined us and was navigating so I spent all my time gawking.  After a few interesting turns through villages in the misty moonlight, we started what I can only describe as a time warp. It started with a huge 20 ft gated wall; I felt like I was riding in the middle ages.  Then huge (like 150ft huge) monuments started appearing.  After the tiny road, I marveled at how something so colossal could be off by itself like this.  The sight of Ed trying to pull his mounted headlight off the ground so that we could see the top was one of those moments I will always remember.  I found out later this was Castle Howard, the most famous baroque castle in the world.
Following the awesomeness of Castle Howard were some equally awesome hills: 17% grade down, then up with sand at the bottom kind of awesome.  I started working the hills, but had an unusual cramp and remembering that this exact kind of situation had ripped on of my hamstrings 2 years earlier,  I walked/jogged up the other side.  But we had moved to the zombie hours and the combination of jet lag and the long day had set in.  I'd gotten only a few hours of sleep the night before.  I wound up needing a short nap; I refuse to compromise on safety.  I also told Bob there was no way I would do that again; no reason to be sleepy on the road with so much time.  Hindsight is always 20/20, a nap in Pocklington would have been smart.
We got into Thirsk and promptly got lost.  Not wanting to waste time, I asked a parked cab for directions (it's a girl thing, all girls know cab drivers can find anything).  Melissa, the super domestique, was waiting with a room.  I gave up the bed to Bob, knowing that he has such a hard time sleeping and parked it on the floor.  Unfortunately, I was also awakened about 1 hour later when he couldn't sleep.  We wound up awake and packing far ahead of schedule, I had inadvertently had too much caffeine before the stop; a bad mistake on my part.  So we noodled around waiting for food and eventually left.  Bob had a time in mind, and we were two hours ahead of it.  I was feeling pretty good, even though my sleep stop had been anything but sleep filled - sometimes a good yoga pose is just fine.  However, at this point, he started worrying that our pace was too slow for him and that the first 400k time had been his worst of the year.   I closed my eyes and pulled up my speech; it was at this point, I started to mentally separate and my solo ride started - I would let him ride ahead and do his own ride; it's important if you are riding on a 1200+k ride that your keep your own mental state in good shape.  The greatest friends you have may not be the best support after 3 sleepless days.  We wound up leap frogging for many K before finally parting ways.
It's a Bob at the end of the rainbow
We had a whole 10 minutes of rain and a beautiful ride into Barnard Castle, getting lost only once and getting un-lost with some other people lost the same way.  At this point, we met Tom from Alaska who I ran into nearly constantly for the rest of the ride. We crossed Yad Moss (the biggest climb of the day) after an absolutely spectacular ascent along the river and a rainbow that sailed over the road and the valley.
Picture perfect valley approaching Yad Moss
 Down into Alstad and the famous cobbles!  The Gold Rush had left me without feeling in my left hand, so rooting around in my front bag was a problem; hard to open things with one hand.  Bob loaned me a gel and we rolled into Brampton just as night was coming on.  We had a big dinner and I spied my friend, Patrick, from the Gold Rush.  He was doing his big sleep at this point.  I still wanted to stay with Bob as his mood was improved so I laid down for a short nap and we were off.  

I'm pretty happy we did that because the trip to Moffat was one of the larger roads and it was nice to have NO traffic at all.  My rear was sore and I wanted to change my shorts (I had a spare pair).  I also wasn't' seeing much purpose in continuing through the zombie hours just to get to Edinburgh.  Time was just never an issue in this ride and there were almost no people on the road (we ran into only a handful).   I really thought about it, especially after changing shorts and decided it was time to separate.  I wanted a short nap and to get my first taste of Scotland in the morning.  A 2 hour nap would have me leaving at dawn.  I sat down and gave Bob my speech.  "Just ride away", I said, "have your own ride".  To my surprise, he said no, that sleeping here was okay; I slept like the dead for 2 solid hours - so well in fact that it would hold me with no sleepiness at all for almost 400k.  
So we began our ascent of the Devil's Beeftub (that may be the greatest name for a hill ever) on a breathtaking morning as we literally climbed out of the clouds.  I had to take tons of pictures and Bob rolled up the hill without me.  But just stopping and turning around to see the clouds as they swirled through the valley I was leaving was worth it.  It's one of those times when you feel as though you are a part of a greater world or part of the sky or both.  
Climbing the Devil's Beeftub - Road Pixie becomes one with the sky
The choppy hills of Yorkshire were replaced by long, engineered roads that wound through the green of the valley.  I had a long chat with an Englishman about politics of all things. He gave me a valuable tip: always take a break on the top of a hill.

I stopped at a roadside truck and had a Bacon Bap by Jan.
I passed on the roadside Haggis, note the Summer Knight in the foreground
 This is the English equivalent of a breakfast sandwich.  Oh so very tasty and I got two cokes for the road too.  I had fun joking with some Canadians with whom I had mutual friends. Small world.

So I rolled into Edinbugh (okay, maybe grunted is a better word, it's at the top of a big hill) with a big smile on my face to the best shower ever and my drop sack.  I changed shorts, socks, and felt great.  I saw Bob and gave him a big congratulations on making it halfway.  We wound up leaving together; I'm not sure how long he had been there.  
A Great Ride gets even BETTER
The next 50 miles are the toughest in the ride.  Scotland doesn't really have steep hills but they are long and since you can see everything, you get an idea at all times of how vast they are.  That tailwind was also now a headwind (for the first time) And there are sheep…
Don't be fooled - he's a killer!

For the record, one of the issues I had to deal with on this ride was active ulcerative colitis.  Many people who have this autoimmune disease get really demoralized, and with good reason; it sucks yangs.  I had been fighting with symptoms for the entire ride (it leads to anemia and is sometimes accompanied by a fiendish desire to visit the restroom RIGHT NOW).  I had one of those moments about 15 miles outside Edinburgh.  I was gawking at the scenery and the next moment, I just had to pull over and vault over a short fence.  Then just as the shorts where happily at my ankles; the worst possible thing happened: a sheep charged me.  If you have never been charged by an obviously miffed sheep (and really, he uses the field all the time so I can't think why sharing a problem), avoid it.  I did the only thing I could, throw up my hands and spin around to protect my head.  At this point, I was surely saved as apparently the sight of my moon was such that the sheep was terrified and ran away.  I hustled back to my bike in a completely weird state of mind and with a heart rate of about 200.
At this point, a bike pulled up with a "hi Michele, how's your ride".  I had my name on my rear bag so it wasn't a surprise.  I answered, "gee, I'm having a weird mental block".  "Hop on" was his answer and the next second we were whizzing down the road at god knows how fast.  The adrenalin from the sheep had just super charged me and I was feeling much better after losing a few pounds.  We passed rider after rider; it's the fastest I have ever ridden for the longest period of time.  The next thing I knew, we were at the control in Traquair and I thanked him heartily.
Only 653k to go?  Piece of cake!
 I had cake, porridge and a bunch of water, but passed on the Scotch.  Bob arrived afterwards (leap frogging as usual), he seemed anxious to go on.  I realized that my greater digestive health was at stake and just let him go ahead on the next hill.  

Over the next 25 miles, I would meet Carolyn from Seattle, riding with a Welsh man, Dan and Simon, from England and a host of other fun guys.  The route continued to please with rivers, forests, hills of such brilliance that I can't describe it.  It was a beautiful day.  At Eskdalemuir, I ran into Bob yet again and he had been resting and his mood was improved.  So we left and rode together once more.  At this point, it rained a nice warm rain for about an hour; which was followed by beautiful rainbows (every time it rained they appeared like smiles in the sky).  Our original plan had been to return to Thirsk where his drop sack was, but he absolutely shocked me by suggesting that we stop in Brampton at which point it would probably just be getting dark.  Sure why not?  We had a nice ride in, meeting Garreth an Austrailian now living in Edinburgh on the way.  It was crowded there; I was more interested in scheduling the sleep stop than getting my card validated.  They were running low on beds and wanted times, I didn't like to make any choices on Bob's behalf.  I let them pick a time and they suggested 4:00 am - I figured why not, but knew I usually sleep about 4 hours so I would likely be up at 3:00 or so.  Bob didn't want to change from 4 no matter how many times I asked; I really wanted him to be able to sleep finally - we were almost 850k in and no substantial sleep.  I also realized that a lot of my own mental energy was going into worrying about him.
I had a fabulous sleep, really the sleep accommodations were great.  Much better than any other 1200k I have done.  Plenty of blankets, ear plugs provided, towels provided.   I slept like a rock and was feeling great when I woke up at, big surprise, 3:15. I decided I would be ready and was fed up and ready to roll, we were out at dawn.   
Another perfect dawn
This was another absolutely perfect day for cycling.  I let Bob get a bit ahead and just before Alstad, I had a flat on the only long,steep hill in Scotland; he didn't hear me yell "flat".  I dragged the  bike back to the bottom (no shoulder).  A tack driven straight in, at least it was easy to find.  At this point, I found out that 2 of my 3 tubes had been stolen from my front bag!  Yikes! Fortunately, a sag cycle stopped and gave me a spare so that I wouldn't be down to patching.
The ride up Yad Moss was great, little wind and I passed a rider sleeping sitting up on a stone wall with his head resting on a post.  Then a fun downhill to Barnard Castle where I met up with Pierre, who recognized me from PBP (really small world).  Turns out Pierre and I would ride quite a bit over the next day.  I have to again credit the route planners, the alternate route into Barnard Castle gave a spectacular view of the castle itself.
Barnard Castle - It mocks me a second time!
 A ruined husk of a castle, I could just see it being catapulted by knights in shining armor.

Still strong, Bob and recouped for what was the last time and cruised for Thirsk.  This was somewhat of a chore and we had a wrong turn that added 2k.  There was also a detour in Middleton Tyne.  I had another flat (different tire) and this time, Bob stopped to use the hedge while I changed it.  We got to Thirsk and I asked what he wanted to do.  Our plan had been to go on to Market Rasen and have a sleep stop.  I had to make another emergency trip to the bathroom and when I got back and finally validated my card, the control worker asked me when the control closed.  That was bizarre, I had to look, 4 hours in the bank, I'd picked up nearly 3 in the last 150k - that gave me a healthy 36 hours until the cutoff with 420k to go.  They were placated;  they just wanted to know if I was riding according to a plan.
At this point, Bob had visited the mechanic to fix his decaleur.  He emphatically stated that we couldn't sleep at Market Rasen and that the control workers had told him we would DNF if we stopped at all.  I was floored and tried to convince him that was not true, but he would not listen. I knew that I couldn't stay with him and keep my own mental ducks in order; I have no issues sleeping and with a hot, windy day coming up, I wanted to have a different ride.  So I left and instead of eating at the control, I stopped at a tea shop in the next town and had a delightful ploughman's lunch and 3 apple tarts instead; sometimes, you have to put things behind you.  I was just starting up from having put my jacket on about an hour later when Bob came up behind me.  I tried to stoke his ego a bit by asking him to use his nifty new digital pressure gauge.  He did so and gave the odd quip, "if you have any problems, I won't help you".  I politely suggested that he just go ahead; I knew it was the fatigue talking.  I now understand that he hadn't been thinking clearly enough to calculate the time correctly, he thought he had many hours less than he actually had (we had about 38 hours with 400k to go).  But he had to ride his own ride.  Thankfully, another control worker down the road finally persuaded him that sleeping was a good idea.
It started to rain gently and I was worried about my rear tire at night.  Garreth, from the previous night, came up behind me and asked me I needed anything.  He wound up helping me switch to my spare, a continental, which was a serious bummer. Continentals are a pain to put on.  It took both of us to do it.  Garreth had not slept well at Brampton.  I offered to pull to Market Rasen and the next day in the forecasted heat and wind.  We would wind up being a team for the next 400k.
The ride back to Pocklington was again by Castle Howard.  
Monument by day - imagine happening upon it in the misty night
This time it was light and I got to see the entire castle along with details about it's significance from Garreth.  We ate quickly in Pocklington with a pleasant, gentle rain.  It got a bit harder as we left and we stopped for about half and hour to try and help an Italian rider with a major mechanical.  About 8 people stopped, really the best side of the sport is the fact that so many will always try to keep people going.  We finally got a call through to the LEL organizers who sent someone to fix his bike (he later finished within minutes of me).

About half a dozen of us made our way from Pocklington to Market Rasen.  Pierre and severel other Frenchman, Garreth, our stalwart navigator and another Englishman.  There was quite a wind and I pulled my little heart out; we were a merry little group and made occasional stops to eat, micro rest, or use the hedge.  I really had fun, and it's a lot more uphill back to Market Rasen. We got in and had more fish and chips, potatoes, and food.  Both of us had bags here so Garreth retrieved them.  We made plans to sleep until dawn.
Garreth on the way to Kirton
Sleep stop at Thorney
Next morning, we were between shifts and it was the only time food wasn't aplenty.  I had left over french fries and a plate of jam (about a cup).  But I was chipper and happy.  Only 3 more controls to go.  But it was to be very hot, so we dumped all the rain gear and extra cold weather stuff - why carry what wasn't going to help us finish?  It was another beautiful morning and we laughed and joked with other riders on our way to Kirton.  Riding at a consistent pace, we got in still fairly early to a crowded Kirton and ample food.  Now for the last 200k through Lincolnshire and Exeter.  I had advanced knowledge about Exeter due to some British friends.  Still, it wasn't as hilly as Yorkshire.  Garreth hadn't quite recovered from the lack of sleep either.  We left and as the day heated up, we availed ourselves of the various towns on the way.  A coke and rest with a group of italians who cheered/laughed at my alley yoga, an ice cream stop and a very nice little nap in Thorney made for a fun day despite some hot weather.  
Arriving at St Ives - No sense on burning up when a beautiful night is coming on 
We rolled into St Ives, only 73 miles from the end in the early afternoon.
At this point, we made what almost everyone said was a smart move.  The control workers said almost 100 riders were still behind us.  We had showers and another sleep stop.  No AC in England and no ice cubes either.  They were serving the fettuncine alfredo frozen which doesn't work as well as it probably should.  We left around 6:30 pm rested, fed and ready to roll. With the heat diminished and the wind quickly disappearing, the clear sky promised a fabulous night ride.  We caught up with a couple other Seattle riders and had 2 lovely stops for refreshments at groceries.  We also played Pub Legs, a fun traveling gams that involves counting the "legs" of the characters in the names of the pubs along the route.
Garreth on our mini break sharing his super salty peanuts
 At one point, I had another drop in my energy, the colitis bugging me again.  Garreth and I sat along the side of the road ate and chatted while I recovered myself. We weren't in any hurry, but I smiled as I thought of another 1200k and my friend, John Ingold and our push to the Gold Rush finish, "let's get'er done".

Exeter is very hilly, but we passed all kinds of villages, well lit and an amazing castle, also lit in the now windless night.  The short choppy hills reminded me of the last night ride of PBP, where I sometimes didn't know if I was going up or down.  
The rolling wheat fields as dusk comes on in Exeter
We rolled into Great Easton 28 miles from the end to homemade rice pudding, fruit and more food.  I ate a sandwich and filled bottles.  It was a warm night, we stopped once to put knee warmers on, but otherwise the road flattened considerably, one hill left.

Helllloooo London
Toot Hill Road is a rolling ascent up to a final descent a mere 10k from the finish.  As we crested the hill, the moon was high and the stars were everywhere and just at the top I could see a thousand brilliant lights and the whole of London laid out before me.  It was the most spectacular scene I have ever seen, made even more real by the knowledge of all the people I had met, and the Austrailian yelling "Helllooo London" as we whizzed to the finish.  No matter where the line was, the ride was finished right there.    I never actually bothered to figure out what my time was, but it was about 114  beautiful hours long.
Garreth and I with our completed cards
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