In 2010, Anthony and I had been introduced to audaxing, and in 2011 we heard about something called Paris Brest Paris, which took place every 4 years, with an event running in that year. It was too soon for us to even consider, but we found out about the British equivalent – London Edinburgh London – and 2013, although ages away, seemed like a good target. In May of 2012, the test website was published and it started to become real. In January, when places were opened for entry, 1000 sold out in hours. Luckily, one of those was mine, and training began in earnest.
On February 17th of this year, I rolled into Kirkby Lonsdale on the Northwest Passage audax and bumped into Peter Bond outside the cafe. Talk turned to training and LEL, and Peter informed me he wasn’t riding it but would probably volunteer instead.
“You’ll be fine on LEL Ade,” he said, “but as it’s your first one the adrenaline will be flowing, so don’t go mad on the first day.”
We registered on the Saturday – a slick affair that took all of 30 seconds and a pre-cursor for the military-like precision that would be a feature of the event throughout. In the hotel that night an explosion of thunder was perhaps a portent of what was to come, but no, at 6am the following morning the sun was shining and we were favoured with a southerly tailwind. I think that was the only weather condition we hadn’t trained for!
And so off we went. Like the clappers. In fact we went a bit mad. First control, St Ives at 61 miles, in 3 1/2 hours. The sun was out, legs felt great and the tailwind helped push us along. I can’t remember much about the countryside, other than it was typical English chocolate-box village scenery. Up and down over rolling roads, we were flying. There were all sorts of bikes out – from carbon racing bikes to velomobiles, which are like bullets when they get going but struggle on any kind of incline.
There were 33 countries represented in the 1000 riders starting, and a nice touch was that our rider number plates had our names and countries printed on them. There were plenty of local riders however. We chatted for a while with a nice guy from Barnsley, but also managed to pick up plenty of wheelsuckers on the way too. One guy had no map, no route sheet and no Garmin, and basically sat on our wheels for the best part of 30 miles from St Ives to Kirton, despite our best attempts to drop him.
The journey across the Fens was pan flat and actually pretty boring. Long, straight roads that had us wishing for turns or junctions. At one point we came across two cars just stopped in the road, with a guy lay between them talking to 2 cyclists who had stopped. They asked if we were doctors, then waved us on when they found out we weren’t. In reality it turned out he’d had some sort of panic attack but Chris’s theory, which I can’t repeat here, caused much hilarity for the next 10 miles, and in fact, throughout the rest of the ride.
On and on we rode, ticking off controls and getting into a routine. At each control there would be a volunteer guiding you in. A manned bike park to leave your bike against (with mechanic if needed) and then check into the control, where the website would be updated and our brevet cards were stamped. Then some fantastic food, fill the bottles and hit the road again. Steve was riding at his own pace but we saw him at every control, often with his film crew in tow, who were interviewing him for a film to be completed next year.
We continued on, pushed along by the tailwind and our exuberance. Riders would come and go, getting a tow and then being dropped. Just after Market Rasen Chris told me our average speed for 160 miles – 18.9mph. At the back of my mind a thought occurred that we would regret it but we continued driving on, with our ultimate aim of completing 400km (250miles) by the end of the day. The terrain had also changed. Across the Fens we covered 62 miles and the elevation went up by 38ft! It was that flat – but that takes it out of you as there is no freewheeling time at all. Just outside Market Rasen we were hit by a massive downpour, which triggered flash floods that made cycling on the pavement a necessity as there was a torrent flowing down the roads. However, it soon blew over and we reached the Humber and got to ride the mile or so across the Humber Suspension Bridge. When I rode LEJOG I crossed the Forth Road Bridge and didn’t like it because of the height. This wasn’t so bad but still I didn’t hang around.
We reached Pocklington at 8:10pm against our target of 9pm. Many people were stopping there for the night but we put our lights on and headed out into the North Yorkshire countryside with a target of Thirsk. Steve was with us at this point and unfortunately punctured just as the light was fading. A quick stop to change the tube and we were off again. As we were falling behind I pushed the pace as the light ebbed away completely. We picked off lots of riders and they picked up our wheels as we weaved in and out of now pitch-black country lanes, heading up and up as we went over the Howardian Hills. Looking back I could see a snaking trail of flickering lights behind me. Faster and harder I rode, determined to get us to Thirsk as quickly as possible. Hills came out of nowhere in the blackness, the silence punctuated only by the clunking of gears dropping and breathing rasping, followed by descents on dodgy English roads, with me trying to pick out potholes and gravel and shout warnings as we clattered along. Not only was it physically exerting and technical riding, the levels of concentration needed made it mentally tough. By the time we saw the welcome sight of Thirsk control I was exhausted.
We locked the bikes, ate some food and booked beds and a wakeup call. The sleeping area was a large hall, with air matresses laid out in a grid – each with a blanket. Some idiots were already in our booked beds so we went and got new ones. Earplugs in and I lay down for hopefully 4 hours sleep. First day done!
Ride stats: 249 miles in 13hrs 56m at 17.9mph average. 5466ft ascent, 9627kcals used. Average HR 125bpm