Day 2 Louth – Alston
Distance covered: 280.95km
Moving time: 13:07:37
Stopped time: 05:00:15
Average speed: 21.4 kmph
The wind direction had changed, it was now against us and gusting hard. We cycled past a sign that read The Lincolnshire Wolds, the signs you see along the way usually do a great job of injecting new energy, they show great progress but I felt heavy today and I’d lost the spirit I had yesterday. LEL today wasn’t about my legs, it was on my mind and I was on the road to a dark place. This section across Lincolnshire is hilly, I would usually enjoy riding through here, I like climbing hills but I didn’t appreciate those contours today. I was visualising the hills on the return leg to London in 2 days time, with 1000km in my legs, it just didn’t seem possible and I started to lose belief. We were riding down long descents and I could only see them on the way home. I tried to think of other things but the fog had set in and David was a few meters ahead of me. I received professional coaching during my training for Lands End to John O’Groats last year and I learned how to manage myself using a power meter. I was keen to stay with David but I was going to burn out at this pace so I stayed back and remained at my pace, I accepted that my journey from here may be on my own. I’d entered LEL on my own and I was always comfortable with that but yesterday I was in this safe place, riding with someone, we had become a little team, The Condor Crew, we were supporting each other and the company ticked away the kms. I stopped myself from suggesting to David he should ride away and leave me, I avoided the awkward conversation, we met on the road and there was no obligation to ride together.
By the time we reached the control at Thirsk I thought I was broken, upon arriving I didn’t want to leave the control. The Howardian Hills had been very beautiful but the relentless and constant up and down had given my mind a further battering. I didn’t share my feelings, I feared letting out what was going through it might make it become something I may later regret. I looked around and I could see many other broken souls at Thirsk and it reminded me of a ride in Yorkshire when the wind blew at 40mph and we finally reached the summit of Tan Hill. Before the ride I created a whatsapp group for friends and family to follow my progress, we called it ‘Where’s Nicole’ and this connection became very powerful. On the road to Thirsk I felt like I was falling apart, quitting actually became a thing in my mind but telling them I was digging in and carrying on helped me do just that.
David and I were very much a team at Thirsk, we talked about the distance between us on the road earlier today and he said he could’ve ridden away but chose not to. He suggested we have a 20-minute power nap, we found a space on the floor away from the dining area and he set an alarm. We both closed our eyes and immediately fell into a deep sleep, this was my first sleep since I’d got out of my bed on Sunday morning. After 20 minutes I awoke to feel surprisingly fresh and prepared to try again. I was going to stop thinking about the journey home and focus on the one ahead, one control at a time. I remembered back to my training, Emily shared what happened in the TCR and the small steps she had taken to climb Mont Ventoux when it otherwise seemed impossible and remembering this story gave me back renewed belief.
We arrived at Barnard Castle in daylight, smiling and still on schedule, hitting both of our daily targets. The food at Barnard Castle was some of the best, pasta and fresh vegetables, pudding with custard, it made us feel good. I was sat at a shared table with some cyclists from Dulwich Paragon CC and we spoke for a while. I also recognised Alastair from the 2013 LEL film, we started chatting and I was getting comfortable and warm. They had beds at Barnard Castle and I dared to suggest we sleep here for the night to David, Alastair was planning to and it seemed like a lovely idea. Through the conversation Alastair said to me “things can start to happen if you make it this far” I had no idea what that meant but it spurred me on, to get back on my bike and go out into the night. We knew there was a storm brewing up on Yad Moss, Britain’s highest B road but passing over this tonight and aiming for Brampton would give us a really good head start for Edinburgh tomorrow.
David was now suffering the same ill fate as me, the stomach bug so we stopped in a town just before the Yad Moss climb to use the facilities in a pub. David also suggested we wrap up, so we added on extra layers. I put on my insulated gilet under my race cape, leg warmers, shoe covers and full finger gloves. It was the last night of July, it seemed crazy, I was wearing winter kit and we were boiling hot for quite a few miles but this change of kit would later save us on the summit of Yad Moss.
We started the ascent, it was a beautiful, gentle climb, through a tree lined road. We were really enjoying this climb until suddenly we crested the road and were out onto exposed moors. The calm and tranquility quickly changed and we were being pelted by rain and strong wind, it was as if we were in the firing line of a hostile attack. Ahead we could see a stream of red bike lights, as we reached that place of light we looked ahead and the darkness was filled with more flickering red lights that were even higher and further away. This pattern kept repeating itself and this climb became the ultimate battle for the mind, not our legs. We approached a cyclist struggling to replace his back wheel in the strong wind after repairing a puncture. David kindly stopped to assist him and I stopped too, I shined my light on them giving further assistance, it was so dark up there. We started to see white lights approaching us, it was LEL riders on their return journey to London, incredible athletes that were hours ahead of us.
Eventually, we were descending and the wind was on our tail, my speed recorded 60kmph but it felt like 100kmph. With only my front light to guide me and the wind pushing me down that hill I was terrified, I was tired, it was raining, it was dark and I had no idea what the road surface was like or the contours. By the time we reached Alston we were both exhausted and I suggested we stop here. The Alston control isn’t mandatory but we agreed Brampton would probably be full. It was 23:30 the weather wasn’t getting any better and sleep would do us some good. They had run out of food at Alston, they had been overwhelmed by people stopping, probably like us after a battle with Yad Moss but they managed to rustle up some beans on toast and it was perfect. We booked a 04:30 wake up call, we allowed ourselves 4hrs of lying down time and I rewarded my legs with my usual recovery ritual of Muc-Off amino recovery balm rubbed into my legs. I pulled on my skins compression tights to sleep in and this familiar feeling helped me drift off into a lovely, deep sleep.
The next day we were on the road early, we were both feeling strong and excited about the prospect of getting to Edinburgh. We had to ride 34km to Brampton and here we would find another set of fresh kit, more snacks to top up our rations and what felt like a new lease of life. Brampton did exactly that, we showered, we ate more food, we put on new kit and we set off for Edinburgh.
I’ve taken on a number of cycling challenges this year to help raise money for Ambitious About Autism, if you’d like to make a donation you can here thank you