07 August 2013

London-Edinburgh-London ("LEL") 2013

Last week I rode LEL.  I arrived in London on Thursday late afternoon -- just enough time for clearing the worst of jet lag -- and stayed in Lambeth (close-in SW London) with Positivistas David and Juliane.  It helped to be with friends on Friday and Saturday, since it prevented me from sleeping all day, ensuring that I got at least some decent sleep each night.
My Ti Travel bike, Voyage Voyage, rests among David and Juliane's vintage parts collection
Near David and Juliane's home in London -- a sign on the Council-owned housing block

As seems usual for these long randonees, I finished near the back of the pack, but at least with plenty of reserve strength left "in the tank" and hours to spare before the cutoff time.

It was a really great, memorable experience, as one of these rides should be.  How does this ride compare to Paris-Brest-Paris 2011, or the 2012 Cascade 1200 or Rocky Mountain 1200?  
The Prologue departs central London, just after 6AM on Sunday July 28
LEL is longer.  Indeed, including the prologue, and the ride back into London on Friday morning, and a few minor detours, I traveled nearly 1500 kilometers in 5 days.  300 kms (190 miles) per day.  So it is as if I rode Tokyo-Itoigawa, slept 4 hours, then repeated it again ... 5 times in total.

While LEL is longer than PBP, Cascade or Rocky Mountain 1200s, it is not necessarily harder than these.  That depends on weather -- heat, rain and wind -- and this year we cannot complain overall, even if we did suffer from headwinds in the afternoon on Day 2 and again on much of Day 4 and 5, and we did get rain at times on Days 3 and 4.  
The English countryside, mid-day on Day 1,  north of London
Two factors make LEL a bit easier.  First, the time cut offs at controls seem very generous, making it possible to rest earlier and longer than would otherwise be the case.  Second, while there is plenty of up and down, and a few real climbs, there are no long "all category" efforts, and long stretches are entirely flat.
In the Fenlands, a flat stretch on Day 1 -- nice while the tailwind lasted
Same location, looking to the South
My ride plan was to finish Day 1 early.  I arrived at Market Rasen a little after 7PM, ate, slept for 4+ hours, then started Day 2 in the wee hours of the morning.  I had only ridden the prologue plus 248 kms of the real event, but had been up since 430AM, so a real rest seemed in order.  When I awoke at 1:00 AM, a gymasium that had been nearly empty was now full of sleeping riders.  As I left the control, a few very tired riders were still arriving.  I used a similar strategy on subsequent days, though my arrivals were later at the end of Days 3 and 4.  This plan allowed me to avoid crowds at the controls, by and large, and to ride relatively fresh each morning, starting at a time of day when there is zero traffic and putting in significant mileage before breakfast.
North Yorkshire on Day 2 -- the Howardian Hills
North Yorkshire lavender
North Yorkshire -- on the return leg
Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, as the rain starts on Day 4
Support/volunteers.  The LEL organization and volunteers were incredible.  It takes a huge effort just to feed 1000 riders across many controls over 115 hours, and Audax UK came through.  This event was larger than any UK predecessor, and I was well-fed, had a place to sleep, and got some help with directions, bike repairs, etc. as and when I needed it. 
Barnard Castle (the ruins, not the town that bears their name)
There were a few controls on the return legs where I was greeted by the same person serving food as on the outbound leg.  At Barnard Castle (or was it Thirsk?), one elderly woman volunteer looked as if she had been working non-stop the 2 days since my earlier visit.  She used her left hand to support her right arm, near collapse, as she ladled food onto my plate.  Dedication.  And so mutual respect was shown by the riders and the volunteers.  I hope that we riders expressed sufficiently the gratitude we felt toward these volunteers, to make the experience worthwhile for them.
On Yad Moss, Day 2.  At 600 meters elevation, this pass is the highpoint for the entire ride ...

More Yad Moss
Crowds/fans.  There were none, with a few, very limited exceptions.  This is one area where PBP is and will remain impossible to match.

Riders.  The Brits and Scots were great hosts.  They were happy to offer advice.  Often as I sat down at a table in a Control, or rode with others, I was greeted with a proud “I live nearby here …”  and some interesting comments about the upcoming roads, sights and topography.

The French, Germans, Danes, Poles, and others (Taiwanese, Spanish, and on and on) were in evidence, recognizable by their jerseys and often riding in groups.  The U.S. and Canadian members were lower key (except maybe Liz, the sole Canadian woman entrant, who wore her Canada colors proudly).

I rode part of the time with friends, most of the time alone or with people I did not (yet) know.  Theo, from BC, had told me he would be at LEL.  We started the prologue together but were quickly separated.  I found him again 18 hours later, at the top of the first climb on Day 2 a few kms out of the Market Rasen control, lent him a tool needed to fix his light bracket, then we rode together 80+ kms to Pocklington.  We rode together again on the afternoon/evening of Day 4.  

Likewise, I rode the prologue and part of the initial stage with Inagaki-san, friend and Vice Chair of Japan Audax.  I saw him again at various points, and he also led the group that rode in the rainy dark evening of Day 4 from Pocklington back to Market Rasen, over the Humber Bridge in the dark and wind.  
Inagaki-san at Saturday's registration, hair flowing
I met Istvan (aka Steve) at times, a Hungarian who said he has lived in Stuttgart for 30 years. I passed and kept well ahead of him on the early morning of Day 4 as I climbed Yad Moss.  On Day 5 we rode together and shared the hard slogging into a headwind from Market Rasen to St. Ives, making easy work of a stage that caused many to suffer.  

I also rode for part of Day 3 in Scotland, and the last 2 stretches on Day 5, with Stephen, a Brit who lived in Japan in the late 1990s, when he worked for Nokia and Japan was a hotbed of innovation for the mobile internet.  I relied some on his knowledge of local geography, and helped make sure he did not fall asleep as he flagged near the end of the course.

As for the Japanese participants, Inagaki-san was his usual irrepressible self.  When he tired on the evening of Day 4, he started yelling “gamba, gamba, gamba” at the top of his lungs, taking aback some nearby riders but successfully giving himself the strength to continue.  There was one other Japanese rider I recall at the finish profusely thanking (in English) others who had helped him make it through.  Otherwise, each Japanese rider seemed mostly to keep to himself.  They did not ride together, even when several of them were very close by on Day 5 and might have done so.  I did not see them ride with other non-Japanese either.  Perhaps it was the ever-present language barrier? At least there were no serious accidents, and I suspect that all or nearly all were able to finish the event.

Scenery.  The scenery was always pretty and sometimes spectacular.  It seemed more varied than PBP, taking in numerous different regions, instead of Brittany.  Particularly memorable were the Howardian Hills and nearby areas in York, the Penines (including Yad Moss) in NW England, and Scotland.  But Essex and other areas closer to London also were beautiful.

Roads.  The road surfaces varied, but at least traffic was light in most places, and drivers were courteous.  England and Scotland are criss-crossed with a huge number of local roads and lanes, which is a major advantage in planning an event like this, as compared with the Rocky Mountain 1200 in BC, where there is often no choice except to ride a major road together with trucks, buses and cars.  Indeed, the network of roads and lanes seem to make Britain a kind of potential cycling paradise ... when the weather cooperates.

All in all, congratulations are in order for Audax UK.
Audley ("oddly"?) End, a great house now open to the public, near dusk on the last day of LEL
See also: my report of the 3rd day of LEL, spent in Scotland.

For further reading, see Susan Otcenas' (Oregon-based randonneuse) LEL ride report which offers a more chronological narrative of the event.

No comments: