One of our London to Edinburgh cyclists recalls his experience
Day 1 – London to Peterborough (94 miles)
The day started early in the car park of Alexandra Palace, in North London for my riding buddy, Drew, and I. There was a cold wind from the north so, after extended greetings of people we met last year, and the briefing from the marshals, so all 52 starters were glad to set off at 7.30am.
We wound our way through the suburbs of London but within 10 miles we were in the countryside and people settled into their respective pace and spread out – a pattern of 2 hours between front and back group that was to maintain throughout the event.
There were a few early hills through London but the terrain flattened out and the full force of the cold, north wind that was to dog us for the whole trip became apparent.
When you’re on a bike and the wind is blowing against you, it feels like you would stop dead if you stopped pedalling. It was also so cold that the joints ached constantly – for me, the knees (until Dr Nurofen made a welcome appearance around lunchtime).
We pulled into our hotel outside Peterborough at about 3.30pm. A crew of masseurs were on hand to remedy tired legs and shoulders (the cheapest and best of the trip at £15 for a half hour). Peter, also from Bermuda, pushed along with the lead group to finish amongst the first in difficult conditions. He was accompanied by Ian from Scotland and two other fit-looking tri-athletes who made it a mission to be first each day (they were).
Day 2 – Peterborough to Scunthorpe (96 miles)
The organisers issued maps and elevation profiles each morning. The weather forecast was as bleak as the day before, and the terrain expected to be similar (flat – and therefore wind exposed).
The first 10 miles were on the Peterborough ring road, with large trucks thundering past. Although not pleasant, it did get the legs (and in my case, sore knees) warmed up pretty quickly. We formed pace lines – single file, alternating at the front – to keep as much speed up as possible in the ferocious, cold wind. Oh, and the rain….
We all battled driving rain, with the strong winds, from mid-morning onwards, arriving very tired at the hotel outside Scunthorpe at around 3.30pm. Thanks to Mike for alternating the drafting during the day – mate, you have to get rid of the purple parachute on your back pretending to be a rain jacket – it will be so much easier for you!
Dinner was a quiet affair, with much comment about the dismal weather so far and fear of worse to come.
Day 3 – Scunthorpe to Middlesborough (100 miles)
The elevation profile for day 3 showed 3 large climbs (3-400m bottom to top, so hardly alpine – but painful all the same).
These rides (at least for me) are punctuated by the hills – the dread of what’s ahead and then the relief of getting to the top of each one. At this stage, too, I was worried about pulling something before challenges to come (day 4 – see below). As fellow riders we spent time at breakfast and in the breaks checking the map and looking at the map in trepidation.
On the ride itself, most of that was forgotten, as the scenery (and weather) improved dramatically. After 18 miles and a dull start (on all fronts), we crossed the Humber on a bridge which still impresses half a century after it was built – it takes quite a few minutes to cross and we were not hanging around.
After the Humber Bridge we stopped to regroup and the sun came out for a group photo and stayed out for the whole day, so for once the weather was not as bad as forecast. The landscape from here on was stunning and if you were ever thinking of doing a ride/walk/tour, I would recommend starting from here and working upwards.
Lunch was at 65 miles, after 3 big hills in the East Yorkshire moors. The ride after lunch included an “oh sh*t” moment going down a steep, winding hill in the woods, when I had to use all of the road at 35mph to make a corner; thank God no-one was coming the other way.
Before finishing the day, we did the biggest climb of the trip so far – in the North York Moors National Park. I started off strongly from the last water break and, thinking I was spoiling for a fight, a young blade (Justin) chased me up the hill. I was totally spent by the top, in the face of a horrible head wind, so I ended up drafting behind the poor chap for the last 15 miles to the hotel – I bought him a beer for his trouble that night. Scenery was impressive but I was just too pooped to appreciate it.
After a rest however we watched the highlights of one of the best Tour de France stages on record – Cadel Evans looking in good shape for the yellow jersey.
The “ice cream sundae” was particularly memorable – a huge blob of bright yellow and brown that I’m no doubt had never seen chocolate, vanilla or cream.
Again, not a great night’s sleep, thinking about the “big day” tomorrow.
Day 4 – Middlesborough to Alnwick (100 miles)
The map / profile of the day’s ride was handed out at breakfast…..oh dear! It looked like the mouth of Jaws – up and down in sharp points. It was difficult to discern the exact number of teeth but 8 – 10 seemed to be the consensus.
My mental approach was to get to lunch at over half way (60 miles) – with 5 of the major climbs done, and only then think about the home stretch.
In the event, I had a good run in to lunch. I caught a group on one of the hills, including Justin from the day before, and we had a marvelous “race” down the other side through some lovely woods and undulations. Got up to 45mph on one of the downhill stretches – trying to avoid thinking about being on 23mm tyres and brake pads that are about 3cm x 1cm.
However, at lunch my body reminded me how old I was and I just couldn’t get up to rejoin that group. I joined my regular group and we moved almost immediately to the next set of hills.
On the worst bits, I was riding with Chris, and we encouraged each other up each steep section, and freewheeled down the other side. At the last water stop, the marshall assured us there was one big hill and then it was “undulating” from there ’til home.
At 95 miles – after some killer hills – we hit the top of the “last” hill, and pedaled as hard as we could down the mountain, thinking we were heading into the village where we were staying over night. But no – one last unpleasant surprise awaited us – a 17% hill in 2x 200m sections. There wasn’t one part of my body that wasn’t aching at this stage, and I was so glad to finish at the very nice hotel in Alnick, with fantastic staff (Gary, the maitre d’, put up with some severe stick).
That was at 4.30pm. The last group arrived as we were having dinner at 8.30pm.
The scenery and weather, though just as windy as ever against us, had been breathtaking. In all, we had climbed 7,500 ft that day.
Having had poor sleep for a couple of nights, I took up the offer of a sleeping pill to help me rest. I woke up in the night wanting the bathroom and felt so wobbly I walked into the toilet door. Maybe a half dose next time.
Day 5 – Alnwick to Edinburgh (82 miles)
To be honest, my legs (knees in particular) were all but done by now and I sincerely hoped it would be a nice cruise into Edinburgh on the final day.
Things looked good as we crossed the Tweed at the beautiful Coldstream and the sun came out after a cold and windy start.
The biggest hill of the whole ride was before lunch (at 65 miles again). It didn’t disappoint – 5k of climbing against the wind and then (it seemed to me) a near vertical 300m one pedal stroke at a time.
This was a proper hill – in the lowest gear I had, out of the saddle, and grinding onwards and upwards, hearing each breath and willing myself to take the next downstroke (sorry to be so dramatic, but that’s how it was).
I took a rest at the top, overlooking a wind farm (beautiful, but inefficient, I was told by an engineer coming the other way) and then took some photos of my team mates coming up the hill. We all then free-wheeled down some hairy, gravelly, cattle-gridded, roads to the lunch stop (the best of the trip). The whiff of the finish was so close I had to have a pint of bitter shandy!
I now have to confess that, for the last 20 miles, all I wanted was the finish. Sure, it was fantastic weather, and we were ambling along the beautiful beaches to the east of Edinburgh (never knew they had surf but there were some lovely rollers coming in). But I was done for. My a*se was complaining (despite having 2x sets of shorts as a special treat for the last day), my legs were shot and I just wanted to get to the end.
The finish line was underneath Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, the sun was blazing and thousands of people were there (not because of us, but because there’s only about 5 days a year like that in Scotland). The final stretch had a surreal quality to it; there was an ice cream van, this bloke on a 12ft tall bike entertaining the crowd, people having picnics etc. and at the same time we were being asked to move ourselves and our bikes because we were “blocking traffic”. Ben Elliott, the organiser of the event told a traffic warden to f*ck off and was cautioned by the police. To my great relief, someone was on hand with cold beers at the finish line (thanks Rupert, Chris and Seb) to keep tempers under control. Thanks also to Rufus who handed Drew and I an iced lolly as we crossed the line – small things really do count.
After some baggage dramas and a quick change in the cab (there wasn’t much to see after 5 days in the saddle), Drew and I managed to catch the 6.15pm to London. I was left with a sense of pride after raising over $15k for charity, making some new friends, some fantastic memories and a pair of very sore legs. 472.5 miles, 20,000 ft of climbing (all in the last 3 days) and 1 tub of very much appreciated chamois (ie. a*se) cream.
I would like to say many, many thanks to my fellow riders named above and unnamed, for being such a good bunch, and sorry to those I was not able to speak enough with (Colleen, all the Tims and Ollies, Jake, George, the Met policemen etc).