It seems a bit surreal to be writing this lying in a hospital bed when this time last week I was battling my way through a headwind in the Lincolnshire fens. The surgery happened on Thursday and seems to have gone well, although I won’t know the results of the post-surgery tests for several weeks. I’m already feeling a bit stronger and will hopefully be going home tomorrow, although I know it’s going to be while til I’m back on a bike.
But back to last weekend and the DIY 600km I mapped out for myself. I’d been planning to ride the Pair of Kirtons 600km on the weekend of 3rd & 4th June as part of my LEL preparation but I knew that would be impossible once I had surgery scheduled. I initially thought of riding that route anyway, but couldn’t find a suitable place to book a bed for a few hours sleep. Probably I should have just taken a bivvy bag and found a bus shelter somewhere but I wasn’t quite ready for that level of discomfort!
So I ended up mapping out a route that started and finished at my house, and submitting it to the DIY audax coordinator to ride as a mandatory by GPS route. DIYs are a weird but also kind of wonderful aspect of audaxing. Basically, what you do is map out your own route for any audax distance (100km+). Then you fill in a form to demonstrate the route you’re planning to ride and when you’re planning to ride to the DIY coordinator along with a nominal fee (I think it’s £3, though you can bulk-buy DIYs and get a discount!) They check it and let you know that it’s OK. You then head off and ride it, track it on your Garmin and send them the file to show you’ve done it.
Of course, lots of people would say, if you’re mad enough to want to ride 600km, and to not ride it as part of an organised event, why not just go and ride it? Why bother with the verfication? Well, firstly if you get it verified it then goes towards your audax awards, like a Super Randonneur Series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km rides all in the same audax year). Secondly, for me at least, there is added motivation if I have said that I am going to do something. I knew that having submitted the route and filled in the form would make it slightly less likely that I’d bail when the going got tough.
I called my 600km ride Salford-Peterborough-Salford, as it was a big loop, starting from home, with a sleep stop at a Travelodge in Peterborough. I’d deliberately planned it to take in a chunk of the LEL route from the Humber Bridge down to just past Spalding. It basically looked like this:
The ride started well. After not too much faffing I left home slightly after 6am on Saturday morning and headed east to Greenfield to meet up with my awesome friend Sarah who’d offered to ride as far as Hull with me and then get the train home.
I was a bit annoyed that I managed to stupidly map in an off-road section between my house and Greenfield (in an area which I should know well enough not to do that) and hoped I hadn’t done that too many other times! (Luckily there were only two other short sections that I’d messed up with similarly, both on the Sunday morning).
I met Sarah at the bottom of the ride’s biggest climb: the Isle of Skye road out of Greenfield. I figure it’s good to get your challenges in early! We both have ridden this road numerous times and it was fun to spin up it fairly leisurely, chatting in the unexpected sunshine. After Holmfirth the ride levelled out and we were soon zooming along at a much better off than I’d expected. In fact, we reached our brunch stop at 56 miles by 10.30am.
The nice Audax UK DIY official had suggested a potential refreshment stop – a greasy-spoon cafe in Askern near Doncaster. I turned out to be a really good choice: cheap with very large portions! Suitably refuelled with large amounts of fried food and carbs we were back on the road a little after 11am and zooming towards the Humber Bridge.
I ride in Yorkshire quite a bit, and I always think of it for hills. But I don’t often go to East Yorkshire, which it turns out is pancake flat! That and Sarah’s company meant I continued to make great time. Obviously there’s the advantage of having someone to draft but I also find that just having someone alongside you means you pedal a little harder without really noticing it. And of course having someone to chat with makes the miles go by more quickly!
The weather had started out nice and sunny but without us really noticing it started to cloud over, By this point we were on the outskirts of Hull. Literally as we got to the Humber Bridge the wind picked up and the rain started! It was then that I realised I may be about to have a little headwind problem…
We crossed the bridge and then said good-bye, with Sarah heading back over to go and catch her train from Hull. We’d made really good time up to this point and I was already having fantasies of maybe getting four or even five full hours sleep. I knew there were a few hills in Lincolnshire but that most of the next 100 miles until my sleep stop was flat.
I really need to make sure I never allow myself to dream of how much sleep I’m going to get on long events! My route to Peterborough may have been fairly flat but it was also due south. And the wind was blowing straight up the country. Having previously been happily tootling along at 16-18mph with very little effort, I was now pushing to maintain 12mph on the flat. Plus it was raining.
And it wasn’t completely flat either. On a 300km audax in the Lakes a few weeks previously a guy I rode with for a while was telling me about the hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds and I have to say I didn’t really believe him. But whilst they may not be the equivalent of the climbs around Manchester, with a headwind and 120 miles in my legs they were noticeable enough!
Once I’d cleared the Wolds I was into the flatlands, riding along country lanes, surrounded by fields with absolutely no respite from the wind. I stopped for some food in Horncastle, wandering rather aimlessly around a supermarket trying to quickly figure out what I wanted to refuel with. By then I’d covered 150 miles and decision-making was getting harder!
It was around Horncastle that I first started to see a few other audax-y looking riders – I obviously wasn’t the only one checking out a bit of the course. As night started to fall I rode on through the Fens, trying not to be too freaked out by being alone in such an empty landscape. I only partially succeeded and was glad to finally see the lights of Peterborough on the horizon.
I finally reached the Travelodge I’d booked into at midnight and hauled my wet self and mucky bike up to the fourth floor in the lift. Luckily the guy on front desk didn’t bat an eyelid.I stripped off all my wet clothes and hung them around the room, hoping that they may dry at least a bit before I’d be putting them back on again!
I knew I needed to hit the road by 4am to give me the time buffers I wanted for the second day. By the time I’d eaten, cranked up the heaters and hung out my clothes it was 12.30am – I crawled into the extremely inviting bed and set my alarm for 3.30,
Peeling myself out of bed when the alarm went off was excrutiating. Every muscle in my body seemed to have seized up in an insistence of just a few more minutes sleep. I firmly pushed away the temptation to sleep on and get a train home and eventually got out of bed and got moving.
Mostly the clothes were still wet but at least they were warm and wet! I was hungry but figured that I’d eat the porridge sachet I had with me and then stop a little way down the road for a proper breakfast. I didn’t realise then that a little way would actually turn out to be 60 miles!
I headed out into the pre-dawn light, dodging drunk revellers who were stumbling their way home as I pedalled out of Peterborough. Soon I was out in the countryside and the sun was coming up – thankfully the previous day’s rain had cleared. It was a pretty ride out into Rutland and I enjoyed the early morning sunshine, dreaming about the breakfast I would soon have, at first I thought at Stamford and then, when there was nothing open there, at Oakham.
Of course, I had forgotten that these are really quite small towns and it was really quite early on a Sunday morning! When I got to Oakham at around 7am not only was there nowhere to get breakfast, even the public toilets were still locked! I carried on, into and across Leicestershire, keeping thinking that I would find somewhere to get breakfast around every corner. I had plenty of snacks on the bike but I really wanted some hot food and a coffee!
My salvation wasn’t to come until I’d travelled over 60 miles from Peterborough, when Kegworth Services served up the twin delights of a Greggs and a Starbucks! Before I got there I discovered another of my mapping fails which turned into a stiff uphill hike dragging my bike up a clay-y path. The only good thing was that I later realised this had earnt me a QOM on Strava!
I finally reached breakfast at around 10am and, large coffee and egg cob later I set off again across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Feeling suitably refuelled and refreshed, I was better able to ignore all the nagging aches that come on the second long day on a saddle: shoulders, palms of hands, seat-bones.
I’m not sure what kind of masochist maps an 18% climb at mile 323 of a 370-odd mile ride. Actually, I am sure: me! I’d realised that my route went up Mow Cop but left it in as a) I thought it would give me a good view and b) I thought the back route wasn’t that brutal. I was right about the former but wrong about the latter!
I tried to avoid as many hills as possible but the slopes of the Staffordshire Moorlands had already taken a few bikes out of me and I have to admit I swore loudly and repeatedly as I dragged myself up Mow Cop. The view from the top was worth it though.
Summitting the Cop made me feel like I’d nearly finished but in fact I still had fifty tired miles to travel around the Cheshire lanes. By mid afternoon the sun was shining and people were gathered in every pub garden I passed. The temptation to join them was great!
The last fifty miles were tiring but uneventful. I knew I’d finish, I just didn’t particularly want to carry on pedalling! But I as glad to get home well within the allocated 40 hours and still feeling like I could have ridden further if absolutely necessary. Only time will tell if this stands me in good enough stead to seriously attempt LEL.