London-Edinburgh-London 2022

7th – 12th August 2022

At the end of Paris-Brest-Paris 2019 I said something like: “I am never doing a ride like this ever again!”

Three years later I find myself at the start of London-Edinburgh-London which is the British equivalent to Paris-Brest-Paris and 300km longer.

A quick brief on the rules: 1500km to cycle from London to Edinburgh and back in less than 125 hours, visiting each designated control point in order. Each control point has opening and closing times which have to be respected. The clock doesn’t stop for sleep, feeding and general faffing, so time management off the bike is important.

I am in the canteen before the start with Chris Regan and a couple of other riders in ACME (Audax Club Mid Essex) jerseys. Chris asks me me if Tomsk (ACME Elder and Audax master rank whom usually always rides fixed gear) is riding fixed?

“I spoke to him yesterday at registration,” I say “and he is riding gears. So that’s a bad sign, isn’t it?” Laughs, hilarity and the dread of a bad decision follow. Too late to change my mind now though, LEL fixed gear or bust it is.

Team ACME which consisted of Tom, Jan, Jos (Jan’s son) and myself. We set off from Debden at 14:45hrs, the last group. The idea being that anybody that we encountered not in our group would have less time to finish than us, so a mild boost to morale during the dark times.

Debden> St. Ives (100km)
As usual the run to the first control was a bit wild, fueled by adrenaline but eventually things calmed down and we reached a sensible pace.

The first stage was quite long at approx 100km to St Ives. I mentioned Audax master Tom. He has finished LEL 3 times, so we were following his tuition and knowledge of supplies along the route. So we stopped for ice cream and a sandwich at a petrol station.

Another ACME, Elliot who wasn’t winding offered us some water and chocolate from his car further along this stage.

Early disaster for Jan when we got to the control. They had little food left and Jan being gluten intolerant had to be careful what he ate. The volunteers running the control hadn’t been told what was or wasn’t in the food, so Jan didn’t have much choice of what to eat and had to make do with some dry bread rolls and cereal.

St. Ives > Boston (89km)
The next stage took us through the pancake flat fens, regular territory for ‘Fenland Friends 600km’ riders. We stopped at the 24hr petrol station for more ‘fuel’ and then continued through the fens to Boston. Arriving at 00:45. I had some nice sausages and chips here (so much for my vegetarianism once again.) I can’t quite remember what the situation with Jan was at this control but I think he found something to eat.

Boston > Louth (53km)
Continuing on through the night and the last bit of the fens before the start of the hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds. This stage was 53km long, so quite short but very hilly. I managed to cycle up all but the steepest of the hills with my single gear and there was some walking involved over one of them; it was just too steep. So I found myself on my own in the middle of nowhere. Up until this point I had been using the route sheet and following Tomsk for navigation. It was of course dark now and I was alone. So time to activate the Garmin with built in backlight and GPS. Once it found the satellite I was good to go and soon found my way to the control. It was now 04:00hrs and we caught up with a lot of other riders here. The control was quite busy with people eating, sleeping and at various stages in between.

Food options were quite limited, I had what I thought was rice pudding but turned out to be cold porridge. I went back for some rock hard chicken and rice.

Jan was dismayed and disheartened with the food choices wondering if he could eat anything at the controls along the whole 1500km. This being an Audax we didn’t have time to linger so left him to decide if he wanted to continue or not.

Louth> Hessle (58km)
On this stage we broke through the night and into the morning crossing the Humber Bridge sometime around 07:00hrs. More disappointment with the food as Hessle. They only had rice crispies and some soup. I guess we must have been catching up with ‘the bulge’ who had eaten all the food? Anyway, I ate what I could, including extra bread and then pushed on to Malton.

Hessle> Malton (67km)
The last of the Wolds and brief respite. Just Tomsk and I now, we were on the look out for a shop to stock up on calories as bread and rice crispies just didn’t provide enough. We came across a post office and relieved them of their supplies of flapjack, chocolate and sausage rolls. Suitably refuelled and extra supplies onboard we continued on to Malton reaching it around noon.

Malton> Bernard Castle (113km)
Next stop was Bernard Castle and we entered the Yorkshire Moors or in other words really steep hills or in other other words it meant lots and lots of walking. It was worth though as the views were nice at the top, lots of purple and sheep on the loose. There was even a secret control to make sure that we enjoyed them and didn’t take a flatter short cut.

By the time we reached Bernard Castle it was around 19:38hrs. We had caught up with even more riders now or maybe it was the same riders who just overtake us while we were walking? Either way the control was very busy. We were able to find a seat though and there was plenty of food. I also took the time to look after myself a bit and brushed my teeth and washed the sun cream and dead flies off my arms.

It was getting late but we decided to push on to Brampton and hoped to get some sleep there… We were soon to find out everyone else had the same idea.

Bernard Castle> Brampton (83km)
This meant crossing two huge climbs in the dark. Normally LEL would go over Yad Moss but that road / hill was closed last minute so a diversion was put in place. I have never cycled over Yad Moss, so I can’t comment on that. The two new climbs of the diversion were very steep at certain points the gradient was 18% and 20% so naturally I was walking again. I think Tomsk was quite pleased for the walk too. It was now dark and all the red lights of the other riders stretched up into the stars. It was quite a sight but also showed how much further we had to walk.

The descent wasn’t much better either. Being on fixed I couldn’t coast or free wheel, so had to pedal and gravity chose how fast I would have to pedal. Naturally my legs couldn’t keep up with physics so I had to apply the brakes to get the bike back under control.

On either side of the road were poles were red reflectors or lights on them to mark the edge of the road, so it became so kind of sick game descending at speed in the pitch dark trying to stay in between the red lights to avoid certain death.

Eventually I reached the bottom and then I had two new problems: 1. I had lost Tomsk and 2. The batteries in my Garmin had expired. It was too dark to fiddle around in my bag to find the spares, so I decided to wait for Tom. Unfortunately he must have been further back than I thought and showed no sign of appearing.

As I was stopped I was also getting cold, so Plan B meet Tomsk at the control. I waited for another rider to come by and followed him to the next town with some street lamps and used them to replace my Garmin batteries. While I was doing that Tom eventually caught up with me and we carried on together.

I was really tired now and just wanted to sleep and warm up but as usual this control never seemed to come. Nothing to do though but keep pedaling, so pedal we did.

At 02:27hrs we finally got there and were 563km into the ride. The control was rammed! Sleeping bodies everywhere, we got something to eat and foolishly asked if there was a bed available, obviously the answer was ‘no.’ But we were told there was a marquee outside if there was a bed and blanket free we could take it and didn’t have to book. Amazingly there were two available, so we took them and planned to be on the road again around 06:00hrs (plus faff time.)

Despite being outside in the cold I felt quite snug under my blanket but didn’t stop the uncontrollable shivers when I woke up though. Time to get moving and warm up.

Brampton> Moffat (74km)
There were still lots of people sleeping when we left, so hopefully we had overtook the ‘bulge’ (as it is known.) It wouldn’t be long now until we crossed the border into Scotland. However before that I was able to take advantage of traveling with Tomsk: he knows where all the good cafes in the whole country are, so before heading into the land of the Scots we stopped for breakfast and two rounds of tea.

After that it was on to Moffat, gentle climbing alongside the motorway and railway tracks.

Moffat had the best food. Bananas, apples and flap jacks on every table. Fruit Salad served with pasta and even chocolate cake. It was hard to leave but Dunfermline and the turn around point was calling.

Moffat> Dunfermline (112km)
Straight out of Moffat was a long climb but this one was a nice gentle gradient and was a pleasure to ride up. It was called ‘The Devils Beeftub’ and offered stunning views all the way up and down. The descent was just as gentle but obviously on fixed I still had to pedal. By now we were more than 600km in and my seat bones were starting to protest. Not saddle sores, the bones themselves, I tried leaning forward but that didn’t help much and in fact gave my knees some pain, standing made things a little unstable so seat bones and knees had to share the discomfort for a while.

On this stage I saw the first sign for Edinburgh and I also lost Tomsk again. I waited for him to catch up and he said was going to stop to close his eyes and do some stretches and he would meet me at the control.

I arrived at Edinburgh during rush hour and had to do some filtering through the traffic and eventually crossed one of the bridges. It still seemed a long way from the bridge to the control but I finally got there.

By the time I finished my food which this time was chips, cheesy pasta and a yoghurt, Tom had arrived. He informed me that he was struggling with some pains and riding lopsided. We had a long way still to go, so to avoid further injury he had decided to stop riding (packed) and signed up to the volunteer army.

At this point I had about 16 hours in hand, I got a bit confused and thought the next control didn’t have any sleep options (turns out it did!) I took 5 hours sleep at Dunfermline in a gym / sports hall this time.

Dunfermline> Innerleithen (81km)
I left Dunfermline at around 23:00hrs and was back into the night. It was quite handy really as it meant I got to cycle through Edinburgh while everyone was in bed: very little motorised traffic.

Back over the bridge and then into a labyrinth of cycle paths through some kind of wooded park. It also seemed to be the home of all of Edinburgh’s foxes, I said hello to them. My Garmin lost the purple line but thankfully the organisers had put arrows up showing the way on the lampposts.

At one point I found myself entering the slip road of some dual carriageway / motorway. The garmin said I was on track but the ‘no cycling’ signs disagreed. I stopped, turned around and rode the wrong way down the slip road. The few motorists around me kindly let me know that their horns worked and I reached the beginning of the slip and noticed there road was a shared used path for cycles and pedestrians on the pavement, I guess that was where I was supposed to go.

Eventually I rejoined a road or rather some most unwelcome cobbles and then went past the Castle (not that I could see it) and then it wasn’t long before the lights of Edinburgh were shrinking into the distance.

There was another big climb, maybe two? Once again though it was a nice climb, very long but not very steep. I overtook a lot of other riders in the dark and then found myself on my own for the long and cold descent.

I arrived at the control just before 4am and decided I was going to have a bit of a longer stop here and try and warm up, maybe leave when it was light.

This control appeared to be one big dinning hall with the ‘check in’ on the left and the canteen on the right, seats in between and the glass doors and windows behind. So whenever someone came in or went out it let all the cold air in. One meal and two cups of tea later and I wasn’t any warmer, so sitting there was just wasting time. Back on the road in the last part of the night before dawn.

Innerleithen> Eskdalemuir (49km)
On this stage was the only point of the whole 1501km ride where I encountered some wet weather, I knew Scotland wouldn’t disappoint. Ascending back out the valley there was some fog which didn’t help warm me up. I passed through it quickly and on the other side the sun was just about rising.

The sun brought some warmth and I stopped to take my jacket off. Only to turn the corner to be greeted by more cold fog and the jacket went back on. So the fog patches would continue for the whole stage so I just kept my jacket on. The real problem was that it misted up my glasses, so I couldn’t see anything. Maybe there was no fog? Just dirty glasses. There were definitely some massive cows in the road though, more filtering required.

Cold and wet I was very pleased to arrive at Eskdalemuir at 07:35hrs. It was really busy but I was able to find a seat though. I feasted on Pasta which was ok but the standout was the Crumble with custard. It was so lovely, I went up for seconds. I really needed and enjoyed that.

Eskdalemuir> Brampton (59km)
Back into England on the next stage. The terrain still relatively forgiving so the plan was to try and get through as quickly as possible to save up time to spend (walk) in the hilly stages that would follow.

It worked quite well and I got to Brampton at 11:08hr. The sun nicely shinning and burning brightly. This was a quick refuel and check of the brevet card to see where to aim for. Malton was only 196km away and that would more or less be the end of the nasty steep hills, so that looked to be a place to aim for, for some sleep.

Brampton > Bernard Castle (84km)
Of course to get there I first had to cross the Pennines again and walk up those two massive hills. It was turning out to be a really hot day and the cold morning trying to warm up in Innerleithen was a distant memory. Before starting the walk I stopped at a petrol station to stock up on water and have an ice cream and then it was time to get on with it.

I was pleased to see I was not the only person walking up it but I had to endure comments of, “I bet you wish you had some gears now, don’t you?” From those who were cycling past me.

Still at least it was daylight now and I could enjoy the views on my walk.

I reached Bernard Castle at 17:04hrs, which wasn’t bad I thought. The heat had taken a lot out of me though but I had plenty of time in hand to sit and recover. Bernard Castle also had a machine which served chilled water which was greatly appreciated. My focus was still to get to Malton which was still another 112km away before sleeping, so I couldn’t linger too long.

Bernard Castle> Malton (112km)
I set off into the evening and thankfully it was starting to cool down. I was also pleased to hear that the route back to Malton was different with not as many steep hills as the journey North. With that being said I did now have more than 1022km in my legs so some hills that weren’t very steep started to feel it.

Along this stage some members of the public had put tables and chairs outside their houses offering us riders water and food which was very welcome. Sometimes I didn’t need anything but stopped anyway to give thanks. Some lady had even opened her outside toilet for us to use, a bit more civilised than the usual hedge stop.

Towards the end of this stage I think all the kilometres caught up with me and I had my first real mental struggle. It was getting late and it was dark and cold again. I was also hungry and tired and just wanted to sleep. I passed a sign that said it was 7 miles to Malton but it seemed to be 7 never ending miles of endless steep hills in the dark, like some kind of sick loop. I think in the end I may have said a short sentence to those hills which ended in “Off!” I did feel better after my little tantrum but it didn’t make any difference to the hills.

I got to the control at last at around 00:33hrs. Had a quick bite to eat and then slept until about 05:00hrs.

Malton> Hessle (67km)
It was now Thursday and only 385km to the finish but it was probably still too early to think about that. I only had 192km to cycle each day but I wanted an easy day on Friday, so one last big push on Thursday to St Ives (267km) was the plan.

It looked to be another scorching day but I was pleased with my sun block, no sun burn yet! As far as I can recall this stage was fairly uneventful and I arrived at Hessle just before 10:00hrs. There was a nice spicy curry at this control to prepare me for the Lincolnshire Wolds which were to follow.

Hessle> Louth (58km)
Back over the Humber Bridge and into Lincolnshire. The wolds didn’t seem so bad on the way back. Once again this stage proved little to no trouble except for maybe the heat?

I arrived at Louth at 13:41hrs and filled in Ritchie who was volunteering there in on the details of Tom and the rest of the ACME team. Had some bread and butter pudding and then set off for Boston.

Louth> Boston (53km)
Just a few more hills through Lincolnshire and then into the fens to Boston. This was a relatively short stage and passed quickly but I was very hungry by the time I reached Boston.

So it was quite annoying that they were rationing food at the control. I was served a small bowl of chips and a sausage. I was able to beg a few more chips but apparently they were expecting a huge wave a riders later and didn’t want to run out of food. I spied some bread and jam on the table next to me which was unguarded, so made a couple of sandwiches to take with me. I was of course forgetting that the next stage passes through a few towns where there were shops, petrol stations and even a Wetherspoons. How many times have I done the ‘Fenland Friends 600km’ and ‘Flatlands 600km?’

Boston> St Ives (89km)
So on to the last stage for Thursday and into the Fens, proper. There was some strange sorcery or black magic at work because it seems as though there was a bit of a tailwind behind me and speed was coming without effort. One does not argue or question a tailwind in the fens, simply enjoy while it lasts.

I thought I was flying along with minimal effort until I got to one of the few corners in the fens and nearly took out some German (I think) woman who decided to overtake me there. She slowed down a bit to apologise and I sped up a bit to talk to her for a while but it seemed like I was holding her up and I let her go on.

As it happened though she got held up by traffic in the next town and I caught her up. We rode along together through the water highway discussing garmin, route sheet and where was the second secret control? She was worried that she had missed it. Well if she had, I had missed it too. (Turns out the second secret control was at the next stop in St Ives.) Eventually though she stopped to talk to someone that she knew and I carried on on my own.

That was until I got overtaken by train of riders going at some speed. Like a parasite I jumped on the back and sailed along in their slipstream. The riders would pedal, pedal, pedal, coast, pedal, pedal, pedal, coast etc. While they were coasting I would catch up, so had to slow my rate of pedaling down or crash into the back of them. I guess that shows how the fixed gear is more efficient and a little bit faster over the distance.

Once more it was getting dark by the time I reached the control and I didn’t want to ride through the night again mainly as my body just wanted to sleep when it was dark now. So I was quite pleased that I reached the control at 21:49hrs. A quick bite to eat and I was in ‘bed’ by 23:00hrs. I asked to be woken at 05:00hrs but the gym with the air mattresses was so hot and noisy that by 03:00hrs I was awake and sleep wouldn’t come back. No point wasting time laying there awake, a breakfast of curry and I was on the road again by 04:00hrs.

St Ives> Great Easton (70km)
Thanks to hard work and pushing the big distances the days previously I was looking forward to short and easy day of 118km to the finish. However it was still dark and cold leaving St Ives and onto the busway into Cambridge.

Cambridge at that time of the morning is dead, nobody around except us LELers. It seemed to take longer than usual to warm up but maybe it was just the fatigue building up?

Eventually I saw the best saw on the whole trip, it said: “Welcome to Essex!” And it was good to be back, back into ACME territory. So naturally the route took me through the lanes, especially those with sand, gravel and grass in the middle.

I got to the control and was greeted by Tomsk who was manning the bike park. We had a quick catch up but then some more riders came after me and his duty called. I told him I would speak to him before I left. Inside Chris Regan’s wife Pat was on the desk and checked me in. I was then escorted to the dining room. I still had plenty of time, so treated myself to 3 teas and two meals! It was then time to finish this ride. Stopping briefly for a quick chat with Chris Regan who was also now volunteering guiding riders in and out of the control.

Great Easton> Debden (48km)
The Sun had finally come out to shine on the last 48km to the finish.

I got there at 10:58hr and was surprised but welcomed to find and see Nik Brunner there. We had a quick chat and then I registered and got my medal having completed the ride in 4 Days, 20 hours and 13 minutes or 116 hours. I also found out that Jan and Jos were still going are were due to finish in time with time in hand.

So thoughts?
Well I enjoyed LEL a lot more than PBP probably because I had more sleep? The support and volunteers were amazing. Could not have done it without them. We were blessed with good weather (maybe too good, I think early indications are that 40% DNF.) It might have been a different story if it was wet, cold and windy!

Still hadn’t cleaned my glasses.

2 thoughts on “London-Edinburgh-London 2022

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