Day 3 Alston – Brampton (South)
Distance covered: 337.90km
Moving time: 15:35:53
Stopped time: 08:13:01
Average speed: 21.7kmph
The weather was now really awful, torrential downpours and headwind but it didn’t seem to fracture our spirit, today we were an unstoppable machine. I hated myself for entering this ride yesterday but today I had found my love of cycling again, I was full of enthusiasm and we were on the way to Edinburgh. We were laughing, we were having a really good time, I was calling out to other riders “we’re on the way to Edinburgh” and we urged them on, some jumped on the back of our train but most didn’t stay there for very long. David and I were riding really well together taking turns on the front, charging past other riders and riding with renewed strength and vigor.
David was now really suffering from his stomach bug so we made regular stops, this was the only time other cyclists passed us. Despite his poor health, we charged on. I was riding without glasses because of the rain and suffered what I assumed to be a mosquito sting in the eye. My eye puffed up and my white turned yellow, I took an antihistamine and hoped for the best, I was Miss Optimism after 4hrs sleep. Today we were joined by Kavi, a rider from India. I first connected with Kavi before the event through the LEL Facebook page. I have taken part in major cycling events before but I’ve never experienced something this global, LEL riders came from 54 different countries and we regularly cycled with and spoke to riders from across the globe.
After the Moffat control, the road went up and we were climbing for a very long time, our pace slowed and the heavens opened once again. We’d created a rule, we only stopped if we were getting really soaked, the wind was so strong it was drying our kit quickly but this downpour seemed heavier than the previous showers so we pulled over and pulled out our rain jackets. We were following the dramatic A701 ‘scenic trail’ to Edinburgh and climbing The Devil’s Beef Tub. You will hardly notice the rise at first as you begin to wind through countless gentle bends. The road sways left and right, never changing direction, just meandering onwards and upwards for around 10km. The hills all around look like giant green pillows and we enjoyed a smooth surface along this section of road. It was noticeable how different the road surfaces were in Scotland compared to England, the tarmac in Scotland is mostly rough and the vibrations were starting to take their toll on my body. My hands were now covered in blisters and my right knee was starting to ache.
Reaching Edinburgh was a moment of euphoria, we were buzzing. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far when I looked back to yesterday and how I felt. The energy at the control was excitable and everyone seemed to be smiling, the welcome from the staff was the best yet. We had taken 51hrs to ride to Edinburgh, we had time in hand but we knew we had to eat quickly and get back on the road, we were aiming to get back to Brampton tonight and it was already 16:30.
As we started our journey again the euphoria ground to an abrupt end, we were in rush hour traffic, torrential rain and climbing very steep urban climbs. I quickly took the lead position, guiding us down the middle of the traffic. I was desperate to get out of there and onto quieter roads so I kept moving as quickly and safely as I could. Eventually, we came to a right turn and with it came peace and tranquility again but also steep climbs one after another. We met lots of grumpy cyclists, one punched his saddle as he failed to ascend the climb ahead. We kept charging on with the hope that this section would pass by quickly and be behind us.
When we reached Innerleithen we were soaking wet and shivering, I took off my wet kit and wore my sleeping kit and the staff gave me blankets to wrap up. They had lots of beds available at this control and once again I really wanted to bed down for the night but I’d now really learned these are the moments when you have to make the decision to keep going. We ate some food and decided to have a 20-minute power nap but we treated ourselves to a bed, the member of staff was surprised by our request of a wake-up call 20 minutes later and he tried to encourage us to stay for longer but we had to push on for Brampton. I was too wet and cold to really sleep but the rest did some good. As we were checking out of Innerleithen the staff mentioned 600 riders were behind us, still on the road and yet to check-in. That bit of information meant everything to me at that moment, it felt like I was winning, it wasn’t a race but it gave me a massive confidence boost.
Luckily for us, as we were due to depart it stopped raining so I put my insulated jacket on and we started our journey towards Eskdalemuir. It was a short ride away, just 49km but this was a long and dark road, with a lot of climbing. David was still suffering a very unhappy stomach and there were very few opportunities to stop along this road. For the first time since we met the mood seemed to change a little, we were tired and not in good health. My knee was suffering the effects of the poor road surfaces and the cold, wet weather for the past 250km. I hadn’t raised this with David so far, I was applying Ibuprofen gel and taking tablets whenever I could.
Despite my knee problem I was riding well and felt strong, I had to keep my own pace under control for us to stay together. David showed incredible strength and endurance to keep going, his poor health throughout the ride would’ve broken many. The weather often made it incredibly difficult to stop, there were many times when I needed to stop myself but held on for fear of getting hypothermia but he had no choice.
Eventually, the red arrow signs appeared, they notified us the control was close and they always lifted our mood. I usually let out a ‘whoop whoop’ and we’d start to think about what food we’d be eating soon. Eskdalemuir was a very small control but well managed, I remember being told to sit down and a man made us take off our shoes, he placed them in a carrier bag and he put shoe covers over our socks, it was a well-drilled scenario as if he’d already done it 1000 times. As expected all the beds were full so I put my jacket over my head, put my head down on the table and closed my eyes. We weren’t planning to stay long, just another power nap but we slept through David’s alarm and stayed about 30 minutes longer than planned. Brampton was another 61km away, at least 3-4hrs riding at night. It would mean arriving at 5am but we assumed everyone would be leaving as we arrived so we could get a bed for a few hours then start again.
I was becoming more aware of the pain in my knee as we got ourselves ready to leave, I asked the controller to remind me of the route between there and Brampton. I know it’s my responsibility to study the route but my mind was not functioning at full capacity. He suggested it was rolling hills up to Langholm, about 12km away and after there it flattened out. I thought my knee could manage that so I rolled on. After Langholm, those hills just kept coming and my knee started to get worse. We passed the Welcome to England sign with no fanfare, it was in total contrast to the moment we had arrived in Scotland. I told David my knee was really bad, I wasn’t sure if I could keep going on much further. He suggested we start counting cats eyes, we counted 30 at a time, it made the time and distance go by, then we tried getting to the next sign post, next 5km, the next 10km all without stopping.
David had to stop for a comfort break, he told me to keep riding, once I was on my own the tears started streaming down my face. If we’d seen a taxi in Gretna Green I would’ve flagged it down but it was 04:00 and everywhere was quiet. The only way to get back to Brampton was by myself so I kept turning the pedals.
We checked in to Brampton and allowed ourselves 4hrs off bike time, riders were checking out as we arrived so getting a bed was no problem. During the training camp, they taught us to save the big decisions until after sleep. I remembered seeing a sign for ‘massage’ at Barnard Castle, it was the next control South so if I could nurse my knee with ibuprofen that far maybe there would be help there. The mighty Yad Moss stood between us but I kept my sights firmly fixed on getting to Barnard Castle and seeing the therapist. I went to sleep with a plan and decided today would be a new day (it was already 05:00).
At breakfast, David looked surprised to see me, after last night he thought my ride would end here at Brampton.
Day 4 Brampton – Pocklington
Distance covered: 213.05km
Moving time: 10:54:08
Stopped time: 04:57:57
Average speed: 19.5kmph
We stopped in Alston, the control was closed now but we stopped in the village, my knee was weeping with pain. I visited the local chemist and excitedly asked the women behind the counter for a magic potion that would get my broken knee back to London. I promised someone I would give those Alston cobbles my best shot but this wasn’t the time for heroics, it was pouring with rain, they are steep and I was trying to get my knee to Barnard Castle. Without shame, I pushed my bike to a safe place at the top and we continued on our way towards Yad Moss.
Although everyone said getting back over this side of Yad Moss was harder, it was steeper, I didn’t fear the climb. I was on a mission, to get to Barnard Castle. I wanted to get my knee fixed. I was angry at myself for being negative on Tuesday because now my spirit was so strong and I wanted to complete this ride. As we climbed the wind blew hard and the rain started to pour, there was a constant stream of cyclists heading in the same direction as us. I remember seeing some children horse riding on on the moor and it really made me laugh. Savannah does weekly horse riding lessons, they take place in a beautiful meadow, it’s calm and peaceful, these children were up here getting battered by the elements and taking no notice of the weather.
We carried on turning the pedals until we came across a small white van parked on the side of the road where other cyclists had stopped. To our surprise it was an LEL cafe, a road angel, a known Audaxer. Drew was serving tea, coffee, mugs of Coke and what he called magic flapjacks to LEL riders. He had been there throughout the ride day and night but we’d only seen him now during the daylight. We pulled over and enjoyed some friendly chat, a mug of coke and one of those magic flapjacks. This was a welcome rest for my knee and the surprise gave us a real boost to our spirit. We’d heard tales of this being common place during Paris-Brest-Paris but out here on the wind swept, cold and wet moor it seemed like a mirage.
We had another 3km before the summit so we finished up and started our journey again. Clipping into my pedals and pushing off was becoming much harder now, my bike felt heavier and heavier each time I tried whether the road was flat or on an incline. As we rode away the weather took a real turn for the worst and an even bigger and more mighty downpour drenched us. The wind was howling but we just kept turning the pedals, the bad weather was surprisingly good motivation to keep going. I definitely found it easier to climb Yad Moss in the daylight, without those red lights flickering ahead, we didn’t stop again. When we reached the summit David let out a whoop with delight but I knew the battle wasn’t over, the wind direction remained the same and until we reached the cover of the tree lined decent we were still going to get battered.
Eventually, the trees appeared and the relief was instant, the wind was on our tail and we were descending fast. The road was covered in vast puddles of standing water, I resisted my brakes and rolled down that hill at great speed. When we reached the bottom my knee was really hurting and I had to stop, the pain had become unbearable now. It may have been difficult to distinguish my tears because of the pouring rain but I was a blubbing like a baby. David offered me great support but I was starting to think he really should leave me now. It was still another 20km until we’d reach Barnard Castle and there were no certainties the massage therapist would be there or could help me.
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