Hitcham Flitcham Litcham 200 – 28 Sept

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“The crowd are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now!”
Kenneth Wolstenholme, 1966

What a fitting way to finish our season. A lovely sunny day, but a stiff breeze that seems to have been our friend and foe all year long. We already had plans for the weekend – a non-travel weekend; Lindsay had offered Steve Abraham a late Saturday evening roadside control for the seventh edition of his late season 600 from Milton Keynes – a popular stop from last year. This meant we’d need to finish our ride in time for her to get home, bake some cakes and make soup, and we then get ourselves and control goodies up to Heacham from Bury St Edmunds.

No problem! Setting a Saturday alarm for 4:25 is old-hat these days.

I submitted a route I’d had in my head for some time, though I’d never looked to see if you could actually make a suitable audax route out of it. Turns out, you can make a perfectly good 200km route that visits Hitcham, Flitcham and Litcham, and so we submitted our entries.

From Diss, we headed south on my favourite B-road. You may remember this road from such rides as the Green & Yellow Fields. It was dark, and we were mostly quiet – mindful that this was almost certainly our last ride of this season.

A slight dampener on proceedings – my insides. I’d felt a bit off when I got up, and had to force breakfast down. Now, I was decidedly uncomfortable; I daren’t drink too much water in case I threw it back up.

Needless to say we had to wait for the level crossing at Stowmarket – which seems to spend as much time closed as it does open. At Onehouse (We prefer the ancient Scandinavian pronunciation – “On-eh-hooz-ah”) we needed to gear-change down from the big ring to the middle, to have any chance of climbing out of the valley to Great Finborough. Enter snag number 2; something had broken on the front mech; there was a hole where previously there had been a bolt, through a pivot-point. We manually engaged middle-ring and continued. I maintained a lock-down on my restless insides, and denied myself an overwhelming urge to change back to the Big Ring when the road levelled out. Still, we clocked up Yet Another Stunning Sunrise – so all was OK!

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It wasn’t long before we descended into Hitcham, and our first catch of the day!

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We turned right at the pub, and climbed back up to Buxhall, and headed North for Elmswell. Lindsay promised me a loo at the Co-op, but sadly her “All Co-ops have a loo” mantra let us down again. You may remember such fallacies from such rides as To Holl and Back. We pressed on; I became annoyingly chatty to try and distract myself from the nausea and Lindsay did her best to humour me.

We endured the cracked and bumpy aerodrome roads between Barningham and Knettishall. Lindsay identified the large house in the distance as Riddlesworth Hall, now a Prep School for rich kids. I surmised that from there, during the war, they would have had a cracking view of the Flying Fortresses taking off from RAF Knettishall. Meanwhile in the faulty gearing department, I’d taken an executive decision to change to the 51-tooth ring (“The Big Ring” Lindsay(tm)) and there was a slight climb coming up at East Harling that we probably wouldn’t manage in the higher gears. We worked out a way for Lindsay to manually change the gear by giving the mech a shove with her foot. It worked well enough – and front gear changes no longer needed us to stop.

After East Harling, comes Larling. This was previously the scene of some shenanigans that had ultimately led to further shenanigans that have no part in this blog post other than to say that none of this season would have happened if such shenanigans hadn’t taken place, so we thought it appropriate to stop briefly to admire the New Day. You may remember this memory from such rides as A Quick Trip to the Coast. I took a picture – the morning light was lovely.

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We reached Tesco at Watton in good time, and after a brief “Oh I have a tandem” type conversation just after we arrived, I was finally able to sort out my internal comfort issues, and we mentally regrouped in the light of the new day. We decided to press on to Swaffham and stop for Proper Breakfast there – where we would be (just) over half way. It was a bumper harvest at the Pickenham wind farm as we passed – the blades swishing in the sunlight.

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You may remember this windfarm tableau from such rides as The New Year’s Day Randonnee.

We stopped at the Tea Pot cafe in Swaffham. My insides had calmed down enough for me to contemplate Actual Food – and in the event, it turned out I was really hungry, and ate my bacon bap with relish. You probably won’t remember the Tea Pot cafe from such rides as Returning The Loan Tandem because the blog entry was nearly all pictures.

Swaffham market was bustling as we left, and head north west through Narford to Gayton and the B-road to Hillington. It was a lovely morning, and we were infused with that End of Term feeling. Even my niggling left knee was behaving itself. We reached our second catch of the day.

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There was some climbing next through Little and Great Massingham to pick up the B1145 east. We crossed the A1065 at roughly the point we’d been close-passed by some kids in Clios (Why do boys who’re trying to look “hard” drive hairdresser’s cars?) – a point you may remember from such a ride as DIY 200 December 30. It wasn’t long before we reached our third catch of the day.

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We stopped at the bench on the high street and ate Post Office comestibles. Lindsay was having something of a dip in form – I think we both decided at this point, we were quite ready for this madness to stop.

Litcham common has changed since I was last there – it now has “Cattle grids” and aspirations of a New Forest kind, with freely roaming ponies and Adders (I assume the Adders are still there – we had a near miss with one when out on a family walk there – many years ago). Of course, we’d already had free range pony action from such rides as The Three Down 300 so we were old hands.

After a brief hedge stop, we passed swiftly through my old stomping grounds of Necton and Holme Hale, then back through Watton, Stow Bedon (Commence discussion about how to pronounce it – “Beedon” or “Beddon”?) and Breckles. We stopped for Lindsay to have a few moments off the bike at Snetterton, before pressing on to Willy. No, wait… Wilby.

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The final few kilometres were a slog – into the easterly breeze, and on a really bumpy road that exacerbated our comfort issues. But soon enough, we rolled back into Diss, like we have so many times in the last twelve months. We packed the bike away one more time, put all the stuff into That Bloody Ikea Bag one more time.

Lindsay uploaded our GPS tracks to Tony Hull. I’m taking over as Midlands DIY Organiser from Rich Forrest, so Tony is our DIY audax organiser as I can’t validate my own rides. And that was that.

It’s hard not to feel a bit like you do after finishing a book. A bit lost. We’ve got plenty of ideas for next season – but points chasing isn’t one of them. It’s been a blast, but hard work and we need a rest before starting something new.

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Fruitless 300 21st September

I can’t remember the ride. They blur into one, it was days ago, I remember having no fun, and being tired and sore.

So I asked Chris to find the photos, to jog my memory

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I think that about covers it, really.

 

We set off early, made good time over to Cambridge. Took a chance against the USAF and photographed a sunrise, just by the fence for RAF Lakenheath. Stopped for breakfast at a forecourt Budgens. Classy. Took a non-road path, to hunt for ‘damsons’, which weren’t. Well, they might have been, I suppose, but as they looked like sloes, tasted like sloes, and came from sloe-looking bushes… I expect more from a damson. The diameter of a pound coin, not a 5p coin? Anyway, if they’re damsons, they’re not big enough, and as they’re sloes, it’s too early. I know some people will just pick ‘em and freeze them, but that’s like putting tomatoes on your windowsill, and I’m a traditionalist. So no fruit. Probably just as well, as we’re going back to our low carb ways in October.

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Bury was just as much of a ‘meh’, in that Chris went to the Orange EE store, found a huge queue, no card payments accepted, and gave up. Back at mine, No1Daughter had been baking, so we had cake to go with our toasted sandwiches. Uneventful trip southwards, grimacing and gritting our teeth at traffic on the A134, before taking an utterly pointless diversion through Stoke by Nayland and then having a domestic. They don’t happen often, really, we’d both rather be together than right, so don’t usually argue much at all. Chris said “We’re tired, and when you’re tired, the first thing that goes is communication, and without communication on a tandem, there’s a disaster.”

I pulled us to a halt in Higham just so I could apologise.

And then we headed north. Some of these roads were new, which is always nice. Many of them weren’t, and some of them were nasty. Traffic was wearing both of us down, so we stopped for lunch at a pub. We were, however, too late. Sigh.

Wyevale garden centre, then. This is what their website says:

Restaurant

We warmly welcome guests of all ages to our restaurant with family-friendly menus and delicious freshly-prepared food for all types and sizes of appetite. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting and children are especially welcome, so do please join us soon for a delectable, revitalising and thoroughly enjoyable break.

Read more: http://www.thegardencentregroup.co.uk/garden-centres/wyevale/Woodbridge-Wyevale-Garden-Centre/2L#restaurant#ixzz2fueNCr2u

This is a lie. They’d stopped doing hot food, so ‘delectable’ cakes (double portions) crisps and coffee was it, for us. We were not revitalised. Mind, getting us revitalised is becoming a fairly mammoth task, so I suppose I can’t blame them.

We trudged on. It wasn’t grim, but it wasn’t inspiring. Then, we passed a pub with a tandem parked outside. A LONGSTAFF. Chris stopped. “We have to talk to them, Longstaffs are rarer than hen’s teeth”.

So we did.

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Peter & Rowena were mid tour. Back in 1973 they set off to cycle round the UK coastline, and did 3300 miles. On a fixed wheel tandem. My flabber was ghasted. “I was only 23, and we walked a lot in Devon and Cornwall” Rowena admitted. Now, they have gears, and electric assist, and a ladyback, as getting her leg over isn’t as easy as it once was. But they’re finishing their journey.

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We were mightily cheered, so on through Dunwich, to turn on lights, then back westwards, in the gloom.

Nibbling on licorice, so the garden centre was good for something.

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Had Enough 200 – 14th Sept

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We set the alarms for 5:15 for a 6am start for this one; an easy 200 as part of our wind-down.

In the event, we needn’t have bothered, awakened as we were by a light-hearted furore from home-coming revellers, who kindly brought an amusing gift for us to admire:

P1030847Anyway – it was only about an hour before we were due to get up anyway, so we got up and cracking, leaving the revellers to their hangovers. The rain wasn’t too heavy as we rolled out into the pre-dawn darkness, but still warranted extra clothes. We paused briefly at Bury Tesco for some portable breakfast comestibles, before getting into the ride proper.

Another slog along the A1101 to Mildenhall, this time in dense misty drizzle and a troubling headwind, and it wasn’t long before my niggling knee was niggling rather more noticeably. We stopped to avail ourselves of the hedge loo, and I necked some drugs. We were a little glum to be honest – this routine is all too familiar now.

It was a bit of a grind all the way out to Huntingdon. The wind held us back to the low-twenties, my knee throbbed in an unpleasantly nauseating way, and the drizzle was thick and cold.

On the way into St Ives we spotted a familiar emblem on a street sign, and stopped to collect it as a souvenir; surely there wouldn’t be any more Northbound riders needing this?

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We stopped briefly at a garage on the way into St Ives, and took a less by-passy route through Huntingdon before collecting Ermine Street up to Alconbury. The rain seemed to be petering out as we approached Oundle. Lindsay needed a hedge-stop, and returned from the field giggling and swearing, lower legs and feet covered in manure (not hers you understand, but of a farmyard variety!). When we arrived in Oundle, I went to order breakfast at Beans cafe, and Lindsay went in search of clean socks and somewhere to wash her feet. The cafe was as welcome a spot as it had been a week earlier. This time though, thanks to an early start and shorter ride, we were half way – at only just gone 10am!

We didn’t dally long, and we were soon on our way back via a slightly different route, through Sawtry to St Ives, where we joined the guided busway for a traffic-free ride to Milton. We stopped to help out a couple of cyclists with a chain problem; a broken magic link. We donated one of ours and Lindsay got down and dirty with their chain. In some anti-karmic way, we were interrupted a couple of kilometres later by (a) a rear disc brake failure which caused us to ride (slowly) into a lampost, and (b) shortly followed by a puncture. Hardly deserved, we thought…

P1030840At Baits Bite lock, we had a pair of foot-bridges to negotiate with the bike, but we agreed a change of pace by a river is not entirely a Bad Thing.

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We took the A1303 from Cambridge to Newmarket where we stopped for a Waitrose picnic. The weather seemed to be clearing, and the wind was now mostly behind us, or at least neutral.

Thanks to an early start we were finished by 4pm, but that still meant an 11 hour 200 – slow by our standards, but the weather wasn’t great and I for one wasn’t able to put 100% in, thanks to a tender knee.

We’re both still counting off the weeks to the end of the season. But – stop-press news, we’ve achieved our Randonneur 10,000 status with over 100 points now on the AUK website (LEL points still to be added). We dragged Lindsay’s young ones out (less the hung-over ones) for a celebratory tea at the pub over the road.

 

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Easy 300 DIY – 8th Sept

Chris’s achilles are playing up. His knees are starting to niggle. We’re worn out, and it’s not, really, feeling much like fun any more. 

We’re still at it though, every weekend. We’d entered Tom’s 600 this weekend, but I had miscalculated weekends, and we couldn’t really have ridden, even before Events At Home conspired to make me being there a bit more of a requirement. I was relieved, as there really is only so much fenland I can cope with. But the rides have to be easy. Neither of us has any capacity for them to be hard, as well as long. So we end up traversing some fens anyway…

Bury Mildenhall Fordham. St Ives (You May remember this Road…) all fast, all flat. The route-meister made a bit of a navigational error, and sent us round the bypass at Huntingdon, which was horrid. Next time we’ll go straight through.

The bridge at Alconbury was quite picturesque, and we stopped for picnic. Chris had wanted to get all the way to Oundle, but I was ready for breakfast.

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The sun started to come out, and we stopped in a gateway to lose some layers. Other people were out riding their bikes, and asked if we needed help. “Just stripping off” I replied.

Beans in Oundle did us proud, with bacon sandwiches and entirely extravagant hot chocolate, cream, marshmallows, the lot. It’s quite popular.

2013-09-08 10.49.15Not really time to enjoy it, we had miles to eat, and headed back into the flatlands. We knew our route passed across Tom’s 600, but the chances of us seeing anyone were slight. Luck was on our side though, and we waved vigorously at Tom towing a posse into Whittlesea, and soon after, flat-bar-m+ guy, who we’d seen on Hereward The Wake, and Spurn head. He must like the fens, more than us…

The roads round here aren’t exciting, you have to take amusement where you can

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Wisbech had a miscommunication at a roundabout, so we ended up at Poppies tearoom for lunch. It felt overdue, but there were other people eating, so it can’t have been that late.

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We took a detour at Marham as Chris misremembered a turn, but later discover the road had been closed. Maybe it was a good thing?

In Swaffham, the heavens opened but although we feared a downpour it didn’t really materialise.

The turn at Mulbarton couldn’t come soon enough, and we were back on familiar roads, heading home. Chris was necking drugs, I was counting down, and that’s never a good sign.

Please can we stop soon?

 

 

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Pram Face Capitals 300 – 1st Sept

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Etymology: Pram Face – Urban Slang for a young woman or girl, often still of school age, with one or more children in tow.

After Saturday’s ignominious DNF and train ride home, we hastily put together a rescue plan to at least come away from this weekend with something. I dusted off a previously unridden 300 route – a complete circumnavigation of Norfolk. We realised it would pass through some pretty chavvy places – Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, Brandon and Thetford – all teenage pregnancy hotspots – so being of curmudgeonly disposition after failing at our 600, we named our DIY “Pram Face Capitals 300″.

We were off to an early start. This in itself was tough. We’re tired – we’ve been at this for over 11 months now, and the relentless weekend after weekend after weekend inevitability of the 5am alarm, is really getting old. We didn’t talk much. It’s a well oiled routine. Drinks, shower, fill water bottles, collect stuff, go to garage, collect bike, fire up GPS, turn on lights, leave.

We headed East along the A143. It was clearly Car-boot O’Clock, but even aside from that, the road seemed uncommonly busy for 6am on a Sunday. We were glad to leave it and join the B1062 through Bungay and Beccles. It’s been a while since we rode around there – indeed some of it I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden. I thought Beccles was in The Broads, so it was some surprise to find it wasn’t entirely flat. Mutford had a Scarecrow Hunt. We weren’t impressed to be honest. Through Lowestoft and onto the cliff road past holiday camps like so many internment centres. In fact, at Hemsby, there is an old holiday camp (now boarded up) that was an internment centre. Why anyone would want to holiday along there is anyone’s guess. Like so many coastal towns in the UK, it’s run-down and depressed; anyone with the resources to do so, has left – the cost of living has dropped, which has in turn attracted more low-income high dependency populace. Having said all that – it still wasn’t as bad as Hull, or Barton-on-Humber, or Dewsbury; other delightful places we’ve audaxed through this year.

North of Winterton, things looked up – scenery-wise at least. We’d decided to try and ride 100km before breakfast and were heading for the cafe at Waxham barns, but Lindsay was clearly struggling; “I need to stop” came a rather pained voice behind me. For sure, our speed – until that point a respectable 27kph or so – was dropping, and it was all becoming rather hard work. Shortly after Horsey, we happened upon Poppyfields Cafe. It didn’t look very open, but was – and served a most wonderful breakfast!

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Revitalised, we got moving again, but it soon became apparent – I’d made a schoolboy error with the route design. There was a very stiff westerly breeze. I should have specified a clockwise route, not anticlockwise. This way, we had 100km into the wind along the north Norfolk coast. Now, I know anyone west of the meridian thinks Norfolk is flat, and it’s probably true in the grand scheme of things, but north Norfolk feels hilly, and into a stiff breeze, it’s bloody hard going. We suffered. Oh boy, did we ever suffer. We crawled up hills. We pedalled down hills. We grovelled along the flats. The traffic on the A149 between Cromer and Kelling was terrible – we were almost killed by a retard towing a caravan – fittingly at Dead Man’s Hill – and to make matters worse, we were both running out of energy.

I threw a strop at Weybourne, and insisted I needed sustenance – I was feeling faint. The shop/cafe was completely useless; Lindsay reappeared after 10 minutes, in a Right Mood, muttering something about idiots who couldn’t make a black coffee to save their lives. We tried the pub. They wouldn’t serve lunch without a reservation. North Norfolk in holiday mood. Not friendly to cyclists, I’m afraid. Quaint – but utterly the domain of the car and the grock. What a shame.

We pressed on. We weren’t popular on the climb before Kelling – a car behind had to abort a (frankly) ridiculous passing attempt and incurred the wrath of an oncoming Jag – itself occupying more of the road than was polite. Ah… this over-crowded isle. We’ve bought into the American Dream of The Car – in a space a fraction the size of Texas – and it shows.

We escaped the main road at Wood Lane, Kelling and it was with some relief that we took to the hills of Wiveton Downs. Our mood wasn’t exactly positive though. We stopped at Burnham Market for ice cream. We clearly weren’t going to make Tesco, Hunstanton before closing time – something that Lindsay had set her sights on. We were crawling along – the climbs into the wind were dreadfully slow, and we were buggered. Sat, eating ice creams, we had an wholly inappropriate conversation about the rest of the season. On the evidence of this ride, I don’t see myself being able to pull off another 600, but we’d both like to nab a hyper (a Super Randonneur series made up entirely of 600s or more) if we can, and we’re just one 600 away from it. But we’re buggered. Not just short-term tired, we’re now chronically tired – mentally if not physically too.

We ambled on – missing Tesco by only a few minutes. We stopped at the BP filling station at Heacham.

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My God, this was hard work! We had to endure several km of A149 south of Hunstanton which was terrible on a Sunday afternoon in late summer. Then we went wrong in Dersingham and made a circuitous approach to Castle Rising. My Google Maps fu seemed to work well with the bike paths through King’s Lynn and we were soon out on the flatlands past Saddlebow.

We stopped in Watlington for a snack. We were hanging in there – still talking, still eating, still drinking – just collectively wishing it was over.

We took the old A10 through Downham and Denver, and rode the Ten Mile Bank to the next control – the A10/A1101 roundabout at Littleport. DIY by GPS has a lot to answer for – one thing being completely nondescript controls.

We discovered the A1101 has become really quite dangerous since I last rode it – it’s very badly subsided with some major longitudinal cracks and severe adverse camber. We won’t be going along there again anytime soon, I hope. We hung a left at Sedge Fen, and paused to take in a truly stunning sunset.

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We stopped at the garage in Brandon. Lindsay shopped for yet more water, cash at Tesco, and illicit sweeties. A driver at the filling station with a bike on the roof his car passed on his way to pay for fuel, looked at our bike and remarked “Nice Bike!”. We pressed on to Thetford. I was counting off kms in my head.

Then, after Thetford – and a quick hedge stop at Rushford, we were flying along. The wind was behind us, the road only somewhat undulating, and although Lindsay forgot about Garboldisham on her countdown list of places between Thetford and Diss, we were soon hooning down the descent from Roydon, into Diss and home.

Man – this is getting hard now. We both just want this season to be over. We both want to get to 120 points. I’m less worried about getting a hyper than Lindsay, though it would be icing on the cake. If we get 120 points and a hyper, we’ll both feel like we did all we could; if we don’t get a hyper – I think Lindsay will feel a little like we didn’t do all we could – even though a hyper was never on our list of targets. Ah – the competitive mind – it’s a tricksy thing!!

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DIY 600 DNF – 31st August

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This one needs to go down to experience. Sometimes you can get too clever trying to inject interest into local rides on roads you’ve ridden before.

Ferries are Fun – there’s no doubt about that – and we had a fun ride out in the sunshine. But this just didn’t work as an audax. When Lindsay told me we had to make the 12:30 ferry at Felixstowe, “Or we may as well just go home” – alarm bells rang. Turned out, we needed to book that ferry – although there is nothing on their website to suggest this is a requirement – and in the event, the 12:30 crossing (only 12 places on the ferry) was fully booked.

So we were stuffed. Harwich was the control – and by the time the 2:30 ferry landed with us on it, we were an hour out of time. The earlier pub-time at Dunwich for breakfast, the lost time for a front tyre puncture just before Leiston; these were not a problem – as long as we could get on the 12:30 Ferry; and we couldn’t.

We finally pulled up at about 120km, a full 8 hours after setting out. It was around 3:30pm, and we had at least another 300km to ride to get back to Diss. Which would mean no sleep. The ride just didn’t work. We turned around (a hard thing to do, curiously enough) and followed signs back to Manningtree and got the train back to Diss.

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Mildenhall 300 route check 20th August

I like helping on events. I like being the clean, dry, cake laden one, who cheers the riders, with a smug sense of having been there, but not doing it today.

However, it was only four very short days since the Spurn Head 400, and my back had been bad enough to send me home from work, so we weren’t going to be rushing round this one.

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It’s almost nice to be back on a local ride, but this route check is probably the last ‘calendar’ ride of the year, and we’re riding it several days early.

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All our photos are more of a proof of passage, than any other record of the day.

We were slow over the rolling Essex countryside, but made up for it on the last stretch back over the fens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then spent Saturday glad we weren’t riding 300k, but were hiding in a cafe from the persistent drizzle…

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Not Quite the Spurn Head 400 – 17th August

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It’s fair to say I wasn’t looking forward to this ride, and that was before the weather forecast started predicting wind and rain. I’ve been feeling somewhat jaded since LEL, with one or two niggly aches and pains – numb big toes, sore hands and sore and swollen achilles tendons. But a four point ride would (subject to outstanding validations) put us past our main goal for the year – more than 104 points.

We booked two nights at the Travelodge in Halifax. On paper, it’s only three miles from the start of the ride in Sowerby Bridge, but this hides the uncomfortable truth that the Halifax Travelodge at Dean Clough Mill is actually in an old mill, and therefore at canal level, and there’s a bloody huge hill (if you’ve been to Halifax, you’ll know about the, frankly, bizarre geography) between there and Sowerby Bridge.

We met Lars in the lift on the way to the start at Stupid O’Clock on Saturday morning. He was riding the “Old 240″ – a parallel event that heads North into them hills. Our ride out to Spurn Head would be flat as flat can be – that is, except for the first and last 50km.

We were away at 5:30 sharp, having had a few minutes to recover from the climbing and descending to the start. The glowering red sunrise was an omen; this ride might well be flat, and we might well be quite fit now, but that doesn’t mean it was going to be easy. Certainly the first 50km out to Castleford is pretty hilly – through the urban sprawl that is the Leeds conurbation, through places like Morley and Tingley. We rode intermittently with Les from the VC167, but it was hard for us to be conversational – we were gasping for breath on the climbs, and left everyone behind on the descents.

We had originally thought we might bounce the first control at Castleford, but when we got there, we decided breakfast was in order to help us recover from the hills. Andy Clarkson and Richard Painter were already there; Richard bought us breakfast as a “Thank You” for the GPS route that Lindsay had molished from the routesheet. For me – there is such a thing as a free lunch breakfast.

Out to Castleford, and onto the flatlands and a tour of the Power Stations – with the impressive Ferrybridge ‘C’ to start. We fell behind Richard and Andy on the steep climb out of Castleford, but as the road flattened out, we collected them and formed a train for the tailwind-assisted blast out to South Cave. Lindsay was promising me all sorts of Italian baked delights at the next control, and she wasn’t lying!

Brunch at Ronaldo's

Needless to say, after such a feasting – there was a gert big climb to follow. We burped our way to the top, falling well behind Richard and Andy again, but soon collecting them on the way down. At the unobtainable info at the Chinese Restaurant, we collected two more for the train and the rather grim run through North Hull. I was a mardy bugger through there, I’m afraid – I’ve had my fill of suburban concrete roads for a while.

The cafe at Not Quite Spurn Point was nice – although I probably shouldn’t have ordered the Tomato soup, not being much of a fan of tomatoes. Graeme McCulloch was just leaving as we arrived – he being the front of the ride by this point. We left just a little before Andy and Richard, and had them in our wheel on and off on the ride North – still powered by a tailwind at this stage.

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After the garage control at Catwick, the ride became much harder. It was still dry, though we’d needlessly put on waterproofs as a shower passed through on the previous section. The sun was in and out, but the clouds were darkening on the horizon as we climbed out of Beverley and over the ridge at High Hunsley.

Rain clouds gathering

I had something of an energy crash at this point, and we had to stop at the shop in North Cave for me to take on an emergency cheese roll and Mars Bar. I was still a mardy bugger. Just as well Lindsay had a new story to plug into – so she could ignore my whining.
Back on the flat road back to Airmyn, and the rain that had held off all day, finally arrived with a vengeance. We donned waterproofs and switched on lights. The wind whipped up even more in the rain, and it was a heads-down grind in the lashing torrents, with Tim “bikinon” Gathercole in tow behind us, Andy and Richard having dropped back some time before.
We stopped at McDonald’s at the Airmyn Services control, and ate dirty burgers for tea. The rain stopped, we dripped, and Richard and Andy finally arrived as we were about to leave.

We left with Tim in our wheel for the grovel south west to the Belton info. This was slow going. The rain had cleared, and indeed so did the sky as we grovelled our way south. We maintained something like 22-24kph, but it was damn hard work. We left Tim at the turn, which seemed to take forever to come – and with the wind now across us (if not slightly neutralised behind us), we were soon back up to a more acceptable speed. Up ahead, flashing red lights. Great – we thought, another long wait at a level-crossing in the middle of nowhere. But NO! This was for a bridge over the New Junction Canal at Kirkhouse Green. Lindsay went over the fence in the pitch dark to investigate – I stared at the, now vertical, road.

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Turned out, the bridges are operated by the boat captains – British Waterways issue them with keys so they can operate the bridges along the navigations. The chap here had just bought a boat, and was moving it upstream (if that’s even possible on a canal) from Goole. He was most apologetic about delaying us, having asked the inevitable “Is it a charity ride?” question.

We were soon on our way again, happy to have had the monotony of the flatlands at night, relieved by Something Interesting.

Next, we passed that “You may remember this road from such rides as…” moment in Askern, we were back into the rolling terrain that was the precursor of The Pennines, and we slowed once more. The rolling hills got bigger and bigger, and the rain returned in showers, but the wind was no longer much of an issue as it seemed to be moderating and was nearly always a cross-wind. The pull up to Woolley Edge services was tough, and our mood was low once more as we wheeled the bike into the services. We were quite snappy with each other – I’d had a full-on rant about being bored – I had no tunes to listen to after the death of my phone the previous week – I was using my old HTC for tunes, but that had died pretty early on (battery) and we’d forgotten to bring a charge cable. Lindsay was tired too – and therefore less tolerant of my whinging. We just needed to get the ride done; I was feeling a lot of pressure to get the ride over with and the points in the bag – the whole points-chasing season had been heading for this moment.

Just to add to the tension, about 12km from the finish, the back tyre exploded underneath us. At first, we thought we’d been shot at – the noise was incredible, and frankly – in urban Leeds/Wakefield/Dewsbury on a Saturday night, such things are probably not uncommon. “It’s the back wheel” I managed to say as we squirmed unpleasantly to a halt.
Thankfully, this happened as we were hauling ourselves up yet another hill, so we were travelling very slowly – probably less than 10kph; a few minutes previously we’d been descending at 60kph – if it had happened then, it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t have ended in an ambulance for both of us.

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Thank goodness we’d taken to carrying a spare tyre – there was no way we could have patched or booted that hole, the entire beading had come away from the tyre-wall. We made the repairs in almost silence – we were both pretty shocked by the whole thing. I didn’t want to inflate the new tyre too high, in case the rim was the cause of the failure. So that meant we had to descend very conservatively for the last 10km, which given some of the cliff-like descents there are prior to the Calder Valley, was not without issues.

We counted down the final few kilometers. The ride ended at Chris Crossland’s house, which is, needless to say, half way up yet another hill, not to mention a cobbled one. We got off and pushed the final few meters to his house.

We spent about an hour at the finish – the first few riders from the Old 240 were there when we arrived; we were second back on the Spurn Head 400; Graeme having finished and been and gone. We were somewhat slower than we’d hoped for – but it was a pretty rough day to be out on the levels.

By our reckoning, that puts us on 105 points (subject to outstanding validations) and our mission is accomplished. All we have to do now is defend it for another six weeks of this season!

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Rough Diamond 300km 10th August

 

We’d been (I say ‘we’, but it was Chris, mostly) a bit uncertain about entering any events for post-LEL. “I remember what you were like after PBP. We could be completely buggered”.

Well, we’re not completely buggered, but we’re not 100%. We have fuzzy hands, and fuzzy feet- nerve damage from leaning on the bars, and pounding the pedals. I’ve ridden a couple of commutes, and Chris went for a 40k spin, and the legs seemed fine, so we were good to go.

On Friday I was troubled with a nagging back pain I’ve had on and off all year. I get it in the mornings and mostly it goes away by lunchtime. I was supposed to be at the osteopath on Thursday but cancelled as it was fine all LEL, and I had loads of work to catch up on. I think she got her voodoo doll out in response, as it was pretty painful.

An overnight at the Droitwich travelodge, where they looked after the tandem for us in the laundry room.

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Saturday started badly, and got worse. Chris’s phone died, completely, leaving us no alarm. It seems to be completely fried. Luckily my alarm was set for 4:30, in a ‘just in case I nod off again’ way. Then the shower wasn’t working, and only partially healed from LEL I really didn’t think we should be trying 300k without properly washing first, so a quick bath. It wasn’t a very relaxing or reassuring start to the day. And my back pain was back, with a vengeance, I’d hardly slept, despite the NEW! mattress in the REFURBISHED! hotel room. Sheriden on overnight duty saw us off to the start, cheerfully impressed with our plan for the day and delighted with the tandem “that’s a bike and a half, isn’t it”. She also promised to report the shower issues to the manager and that they’d try and sort that, while we were out.

I could barely sit in the car on the drive over to Apperley, and took 2 codeine (noting my supply is now diminishing pretty rapidly) and did a calculation on whether to take some voltarol as well. I opted to keep something up my sleeve for later.

Unpacking the car and offloading the tandem the village hall car park steadily filled up with bikes, and indeed tandems! There were four tandem teams, excellent! In the hall, we collected brevet cards, had cups of tea, and a wee catch up with The Browns, who had ridden overnight to the start, catching an hours kip in a bivvy bag under the hedge. I’m sorry to say they looked like they’d slept in a hedge- not unkempt, but very tired. I was glad of our cosseted Travelodging ways. Dave and Judith were there on proper bikes (as opposed to the Moultons we’ve seem them on the last couple of outings) and quite a few LEL veterans looking remarkably fresh.

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We blatted the first few miles. My back was killing me, but in a bunch, I couldn’t resist. We started to climb into a village and I though I was going to cry, so asked Chris to stop. I couldn’t imagine riding another 50km in this much pain, let alone 300. James Bradnor smirked as we slowed and they passed “you really don’t like those hills, do you” I could have punched him. I got off the bike, leaned on a wall and wept.

 

We let another bunch go by, I took some more drugs. We set off again, and rode a while with the Hamiltons on their Co-Motion, Linda’s first 300, apparently.

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I stood to climb and that seemed a bit less bad, and gained me kudos from the riders around- “you go girl” but I couldn’t keep it up, and was happy to let all pass us before the first info. I really wasn’t sure I could manage the day- but we were so close to that magical 100 points!

“If we’re going to pack, we need to do it now”

We rode, silently, through Worcester.

There’s a proper hill to get over before the garden centre at Burford, and we distracted ourselves in the tortuous slog by recalling that just two years ago Chris rode up it, fixed. He pointed out the house, outside which, he flipped his wheel. We had been languishing in our very lowest gear for quite some time at this point, so I just laughed. We were overtaken by a rider who bragged that he’d already had 3 punctures and had run out of CO2 cartridges. I restrained myself (mostly) from actually pointing and laughing at him and satisfied my meaner nature by muttering ‘noob’ under my breath.

We hurtled down the hill on the other side, it did seem like the drugs were starting to work, and soon arrived at the first proper control, where we ordered food, sat and chatted, and in my case, snuck outside to do some back stretching contortions in the hope it would ease.

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I don’t know if it was the contortions, but it did ease, and although we left the control in the company of the purple Co-Motion, (the Orbit and Dawes having left a good 10 or 15 minutes ahead) it wasn’t long before we got into our flatlander stride and left them behind. The rack bag made a leap for freedom but I caught it before it caused traffic chaos and reattached it. I don’t think it’ll last another season, which is a bit disappointing. Or, I’ll have to get the sewing machine out…

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There was a little toll bridge, but I let my teenage rebel have her way and we didn’t pay. We snuck into Wales by a back route- there was no announcing sign, just the arrival of ARAFs on the road. I used the facility in Hay on Wye and we hung a left, and over some hills. Now, to real cyclists who do rides with 3 dimensions, this is the flattest way round this part of Wales. It’s not flat to us. We swooped down, and crept up. And again, and again, to finally get to Talybont on Usk. The pub looked very inviting, with a bunch of cyclists sitting in the sun eating things with chips inna basket, but we were informed there’d be an hour before we could order, so we made do with a short whinge at Dave & Judith, re backs and our inadequacies, and a swift pint, before heading alongside the canal to take on victuals at Abergavenny.

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I was concerned about the traffic on the A40 but it wasn’t too bad, and the fearsome climbs I remembered from our last trip to Wales- the Rocco’s Rocket 500- weren’t on this stretch. Our Tesco picnic did it’s job, and we waved at fellow riders as they passed. We caught the Browns just before Usk, but they needed to stop for fuel, in advance of the Big Climb before Chepstow. I kept expecting them to catch us on said climb, but they didn’t, and we made less of a pigs ear than our previous attempt, which was heartening.

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P1030642 P1030641 P1030644My back pain had almost disappeared, and we flew along the flatlands after Chepstow, catching other riders at the pub, who were happy to serve us chicken & chips (I had the chicken, Chris had the chips). Next up, canal towpath, the less said about that, the better, and a frankly harrowing traverse of Gloucester. Tandems + narrow towpaths + streetfurniture= nervous stoker! The Las Vegas Institute of Sport Tandem had been parked at the top of the pre-Chepstow climb, visiting one of the lovely cottages up there, but they caught us in Gloucester and impressed me with their handling through the maze of paths, and alleys. We dropped them on the flat section but they left us for dust in the last (steep!) climb into the village and we rolled into the control as No2Tandem for the day, which was splendid, as I’d really thought we weren’t going to be able to finish at one point.

I was delighted to be heading back to the luxury of a travelodge, and Sheriden’s Welcome (“ooo well done. Aren’t you fit? You must be really tired!”) even without a working shower (no, it hadn’t been fixed) and didn’t envy Ashley & Cathy their ride home.

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London Edinburgh London (Day 5) – 1st Aug

I’m afraid to say we weren’t sorry to be leaving Kirton. Aside from the whole Closed Shower situation of the night before, we were woken a half hour too early, and there wasn’t much on offer for breakfast. Sorry Kirton – you weren’t our favourite control :( .

Of course, with a hot and headwindy day forecast, we’d already twigged that it would be a good day for making an early start and getting some good miles in before it got too hot. The good Dr Ian was up and about as we ate breakfast, as were some of the others we’d arrived with the night before. My legs were very stiff after the balls-out finish we’d indulged in on the way in to Kirton. I stretched painfully – the first few kilometers would be slow and painful today!

There was a definite “End of Term” feel to the group as we rolled out into the cool, humid dawn. This would be the last day – all being well, the day we would complete LEL 2013. I was somewhat nervy about the forecast; I’ve ridden the flatlands enough to know that 34C and a headwind is not necessarily a pleasant experience.

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We rolled along pretty gently; Ian, Mark, Gadge Jordan and others in tow. The pace was easy-going, we had all day to do 201km. When we reached Whittlesey, we needed the loo, and some of us needed ointments and balms for our contact points. We eventually found the Co-Op. They didn’t have a loo for public use, but took pity on us and allowed us to use the staff loos. Thanks Co-Op!

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When we reached St Ives, we indulged in a long stop – so Lindsay could use the showers, and I could have a full on breakfast. It was already getting hot – and we needed to get full sunscreen on and arm warmers off. We were at St Ives for almost 90 minutes – gratuitous indeed!

Back on the road again, Lindsay much bouncier and happier for having had a shower (with real towels!), and the heat was fierce. We deviated from the official route once more, taking the path by the guided bus way to Swavesey. Lindsay’s route-fu went astray again here as the indicated route took us through a farmyard on a not-really-a-road type road. So instead, Ian took us on a merry journey through some bike paths out of the back of the Bar Hill development to rejoin our originally intended route at Dry Drayton. It was getting hotter, we were tiring, and tempers were starting to fray a little. At Duxford, Lindsay needed a few moments to herself in the shade; in what was quite possibly the low-point of the ride for her. We soon pressed on, and eventually decided to hide from the sun at the first available watering hole in Saffron Walden, which turned out to be the Eight Bells Inn.

2013-08-01 14.15.25 2013-08-01 14.16.55Ice cold beer, and a ploughman’s, in the cool of the shade was absolutely delicious. We stayed a good hour – to hell with randonneur pace, we were well and truly in tourist mode.

The original route between Saffron Walden and Thaxted had been updated by the LEL organisers to avoid some serious potholes in the lanes, so our alternative turned out to be the official route to Great Easton. The traffic wasn’t too bad on the B-road, and we soon reached the Great Easton control, to a lovely welcome from Tom’s team, including Helen “AuntieHelen” Hancox, Tony “Tonyh” Hull and others. We were later to read someone describing this control as “a children’s party” – and it was true, there were cakes, biscuits, doughnuts, jugs of juice and even jammy dodgers. It was great – I was ready to hang around for hours, hiding from the heat outside, but Lindsay was itching to get on and finished. She’s a competitive sort, is Lindsay – much more so than me, and I think she was aware of several folks on the ride behind us, who she wanted to beat back to Loughton.

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Photo courtesy of Helen Hancox.

So we moved out – into the afternoon heat, and more to my concern, the Thursday evening London rush-hour. We avoided the lanes again, and stuck to the B-road all the way to Chipping Ongar. We were pretty unpopular on the road amongst the traffic, it has to be said – and we were close-passed on a number of occasions. As we approached the roundabout in Ongar, we saw “one of ours” clearly off-route and riding towards us – we collected him, and turned into the garage on the roundabout for an ice-cream stop (and water-bottle fill up – we were drinking water and Zero electrolyte like it was a competitive sport). Our new companion, a Swiss living in Brazil was having routing issues, so we owned up to the fact that we were following our own version of the route, and welcomed him into our group.

Ian had switched on a Glympse GPS beacon for the watching forummers on YACF to see. This proved most popular – everyone could practically see our every move – including our ice-cream stop. “They appear to be stopped at a BP Station”. Lindsay remarked that now everyone would see how slowly we climb, which we proceeded to do up to Toot Hill.

The final run into Loughton is all a bit of a blur in my head now. I remember a R @ T where there was an LEL sign on the Give Way sign that said “All downhill from here”. I could have wept. In fact, I think I did – a little.

I’ve never finished a ride where a waiting crowd was clapping and cheering. Boy, do the emotions well up. We’d done it – ridden from London to Edinburgh and back again. Marvellous!

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Lots of friends old and new were patting us on the back – then Martin “mmmmartin” Brice took us off to have our medals presented to us, and for the official finish photo-shoot with Charlotte Barnes. We had two sets taken – one with just us, the other with Ian as well – we’d ridden all but the first 100 miles with him in tow; and what great company he’d been. The Hackney boys had left Great Easton before us and got the beers in, so we sat in the shade, beers in hand, wallowing in our success.

Then Roger “MoneyMan” Cortis took time out from his Volunteer duties and drove us into town for post-event food and beer. It was a warm, humid evening – the atmosphere heady with success and relief and all manner of emotions. After dinner, Rog drove us to Tynan’s so I could collect the car, and drive it back to the school to load up the bike. I wanted to hang around longer at the finish and see others back, but Lindsay had had enough. We left – but only as far as the motorway services – I was in no fit state to drive, and we pulled over for a well-earned sleep.

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