View from Back of Bus 271

The 271 to Highgate Village stops just past Camden Road.

“The driver has been requested to wait briefly to maintain an equal distance between the bus in front….thank you”…announces the voice of London buses, Emma Hignett.

The Wattmeister gazes out of the grubby rear window.

Nags Head Newsagent Ltd:

The Guardian and The Observer.

Newsagents, Tobacconist, National Lottery, Stationery, Western Union, Travel Cards, Bus Passes…….TW is not far off his bus pass and is currently stationary.

Cartridge Refills in black font on a yellow background on the navy blue awning, a pink and green neon sign advertises phone unlocks and repairs. A cluster of adverts adorn the entrance door and windows….and finally, a bombardment of familiar brands and logos, some defunct…Oyster, the National Lottery crossed fingers, a badly scuffed Loot poster….stickers and posters are all that is holding the place together.

Next door is the Sunset Off-Licence and Grocery. International-Continental Food

Fresh Fruit & Veg.

The billboard struggles despondently under the weight of its own faded allegory.  One half of the double door is open. A newspaper eddies in the breeze like tumbleweed. The front display windows are empty and dark, caved in, surrendered to the persecution of indifference.

Outside Amici Coffee Deli a couple sit surveying the scene and a woman sits alone, her fingers crossed, perhaps she has bought a lottery ticket, perhaps she is waiting for the prosaic surroundings to become transformed….inspired. Perhaps this is normal.

The bus moves. The scene retreats through the rear window and is replaced by wave of commuting cyclists who swarm around the exhaust fumes of our double-decker charabanc, crazy hungry for the poisonous miasma. The Wattmeister coughs for all of them. They look so fragile amongst the cars and trucks.

It’s the best seat in the house.

 

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The Builders

For many years, the front garden wall of a local house bulged and curved rakishly towards the pavement….perhaps it prevented the whole house from tumbling down the slope.

Then The Builders were commissioned to rectify the problem. The affable pair have been busy on the project for at least six weeks.

The Wattmeister’s connection with The Builders generally occurs six times a day. The first occasion is on the outward leg of The Wattmutt’s early morning walk at around 08.30 a.m.

The two big burly men greet us with chirpy cockney accents, the shorter man physically resembles Les Dawson, and the taller could pass for Eric Bristow. At this time of the day, Les is often leaning on a shovel surveying the site, while Eric observes Les shrewdly, no doubt making mental notes, as they both plan a course of action…..judging by their rotund bellies, this does not involve burning calories.

An hour later, on the Wattmutt’s return from the Park, three full plastic bags to the good, Eric can be found leaning on his shovel surveying the site, while Les observes the taller man equally as shrewdly, no doubt still planning a course of action.

Not much seems to have happened in the intervening hour. It is the most serene of building sites.

At around 11 a.m, The Wattmeister passes by on his way to Zumba, (spectator not participant), and the two industrious workmen are resting in their van with the door open. They looked tired, too tired to greet TW.

This weariness is something of a mystery, as The Front Garden looks much the same as it did at 09.30 a.m.

On the return from Zumba, or sometimes Pilates but NEVER Yoga, the two men can be found sitting on what remains of the lawn (because something has been done….but when?), drinking cups of tea, smoking fags and generally being old-fashioned Builders.

In the afternoon, normally before 3 p.m, and certainly not after 3.30 p.m (as the duo will have called time on the day), The Wattmutt needs another outing, (her output is famously prodigious), and so, The Builders are to be found ‘tidying up’…at which they seem to be extremely proficient. It is at this time that the interested observer can appreciate the extent of The Builders’ endeavour.

Now then, the next door neighbours to The Front Garden have recently commissioned other builders to refurbish their house. The site is a hive of activity. It has been sealed off with plywood, signs abound: NO ENTRY, WEAR A HARD HAT, DANGER etc. etc..  skips are filled and emptied hourly.  The buzz is tangible. It has to be said that their builders seem to be less approachable, and a bit thinner.

Anyway, this morning, as Les and Eric synchronised their leaning on the shovel routine, shrewdly observing the industrious toil of the rival firm…. Les remarked: “we are in aura of your skills”…..

and you can’t argue with that.

 

 

 

 

 

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LEL 2017, Day 5, Louth to Loughton, 250 kms

Having been reunited with Ben and Alex, we set about showering, eating and kitting ourselves out in spanking clean, DRY clobber from the drop bags before taking 4 hours sleep.

The control kitchen at Louth had got its act together compared to the outward stop on Sunday night…there was plenty to eat and drink this time round, and it was all gratefully received.

Had an interesting conversation with two Scots lads which was summarised by this non-sequitur…”that made sense, but when you really think about it, it shouldn’t have….but actually it does…” Cannot remember what was said in the first place.  Time to get moving before getting lost in a Bermuda Triangle of metaphysical jumble.

We had to accept that today’s challenge would be dealing with a strong headwind. Even in the folds of The Wolds, we were buffeted by powerful gusts, and the descent of Red Hill was taken with a degree of caution.

As we departed the higher ground via Hemingby, Horncastle and Mareham le Fen, we were faced with 100 kms of pan flat roads all the way to Upwood, and very little in the way of protection from the aforementioned wind. By way of protest, a spoke popped in The Wattmeister’s back wheel on the approach to Bunker Hill near New York. Even the place names were taking the piss.

After a rapid spot of fettling to straighten the wheel, The Wattmeister cruised to the convenience store at Gypsey Bridge for a ten minute break to clear his head. While sitting on the wall opposite the store….smashing coffee, jelly babies and crisps into the raging inferno of his metabolism, a large group raced by towards Langrick.

Must, must, must get on, but they are 800 metres ahead. The wind is his formidable enemy but the crossroads at Langrick and then Frampton are his friend, and after burning several matches, junction is made with the peloton.

At Kirton it rains heavily and the group is whittled down to four….the two French guys who on Monday led us from Thirsk to Barnard Castle, and another French rider with suntanned legs. We start a chaingang…a good one…and by Gosberton, about 10 kms out from the next control at Spalding…we slowly reel in a bigger group comprising mainly younger German guys being towed along by just one rider….he is doing an immense, heroic job into this wind.

At the control, The Wattmeister shakes his hand and thanks him profusely. But now the spoke needs to be replaced and although the resident mechanic has just finished his 4 day stint, Vince arrives with a toolset containing a chainwhip and lockring tool. The new spoke is fitted and the ride goes on.

The 9 miles from Spalding to the water tower at Crowland are epic…absolutely epic. Within a hundred metres of pedalling into the cyclone towards Cradge Bank, The Wattmeister wants to surrender…..there is no shelter, the wind is ripping in at gusts of 60 km ph. It is hard work just holding the bike upright.

The German armada joins us…all big guys who could, should offer some shelter, but after 500m The Wattmeister is on the verge of letting them, and Alex and Ben, drift off into the distance. But, some atavistic desire persuades him to dig in….just a bit longer. The group of approximately 30 riders crest Welland Bank. The leaders are making a good fist of maintaining about 17 km ph, but the wind is scything through the rest of us, carving the group up into little bits like a cheesecake.

30 riders becomes 27…becomes 25…with each pedal stroke the wind continues to decimate the peloton….within 2kms there are just 15 riders. Randonneurs’ faces are distorted into real life Jelly Babies by the crushing effort. We are literally sprinting every 10 seconds to hold the wheel in front. It’s not raining, but dribble and spit fly through the air. You can touch the physical expenditure….literally hold it in your hands. It is as exhilarating as it is debilitating….and the water tower does not appear to come any closer.

Two Germans at the front are holding a conversation….impossible!…Gods on two wheels…Alex and Ben look calm and serene….and now there are only 7….just 7 riders from the original 30….. The Wattmeister is one of them. What a brutal selection this has been.

Briefly, into Crowland, we turn away from the onslaught. There is a regrouping in order to face the next 50 kms of bombardment before we will climb to shelter and eventually retreat from this monster. And so, progress is wrought out of oppression. Our new friend, Thomas from Aachen, teams up with Alex on the front. We hit a mean speed of 19 kms ph. The wind continues unabated….it sucks the moisture out of us….it pummels us…but it doesn’t stop us. We takes turns on the front and gain the village of Thorney, then Whittlesey,  Poundbridge and finally Ramsey St. Mary signals the winding down of hostilities.

Today there will have been lots of time conceded by anxious riders.

A quick shower in St.Ives to wash away the Fens followed by a royal afternoon tea of curry, stew, soup and tinned peaches, and we crack on to Great Easton, a team of four joined as we have been by the colossal strength of Thomas from Aachen.

The 14 km busway from St.Ives is a traffic free treat and soon the grand colleges of Cambridge tower over us. Somehow, our batteries have recharged themselves and a series of good, strong pulls have us whizzing past Audley End and navigating the newly gravelled lanes around Broxted and Tilty before a glorious Soupfest at Gt. Easton. The sharp right hand turn into the control almost ends The Wattmeister’s LEL!

Back into the night on familiar lanes and roads….we are a well lit and well drilled quartet, but two professional Stanstead Express coach drivers, one after the other, deem that 1.5 centimetres is enough space to give us…not 1.5 metres.

Within sight of the watering hole, we tackle the Toot Hill intervals with gusto…Baking Ben winning this series hands down with an explosion of powerful brio, and after the last climb up Coopersale Lane, it is all coming to an end rather quickly.

What started off as a long ride, became an elegiac odyssey up and down the length of the country. The experience is populated by memories of places and people who shared their time and the road. Episodes of bad weather had to be overcome, but they add incrementally to the sense of achievement.  Big kudos to the overseas riders who made such an effort to participate and once again, thanks and admiration to the organisers and volunteers who made it happen for us.

 

 

 

 

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LEL 2017, Day 4, Brampton to Louth 314 kms

Brampton 04:30 a.m.

Ran the gauntlet of damp, smelly shoes and prone bodies between the building entrance and the canteen. Semi-conscious riders were attempting to re-distribute kit. Everything happening in slow motion.

Another cracking breakfast was served up by the smiling volunteers. Eat all you can! Having had a shower, sleep and sporting clean kit from the drop bag, The Wattmeister was feeling more sprightly than for a few hours…days…eons….he  had lost track of time.

What to pack? The situation highlighted the juxtaposition between speed of eating and slowness of thought. Intuitive angel says..”take the heavy rain jacket…the zip will not let you down”. Vainglorious devil whispers….”travel light, you’ll go faster”.

Always side with the angels. The devil wants you to suffer and fail.

Now well into the ride, 860 kms completed, Baking Ben, Saville Row Alex and TW had found a contented rhythm…less of a chaingang tanking along….now more subtle and fluid, like a shoal of fish or a flock of starlings easing forward steadily and gracefully. The mind had a chance to wander too….making calculations based on time and distance…computing the possible luxury of more rest…making compromises in case of mishap….all the while absorbing the magnificence of the Pennines as we climbed Yad Moss from the West, passing Drew Buck’s tiny camper van dispensing succour to the riders.

For once it didn’t rain on the top and the leg via Middleton in Teesdale to the control in Barnard Castle afforded glorious views across and up the valley. Very little traffic, and such as there was, most courteous to us riders.

The control was as excellent as we had come to expect. It would have been just great to be able to loiter….to observe the volunteers and other riders…to bathe in the moment. But, we managed a swift turnaround to keep the momentum in our favour and headed off to Thirsk.

Suddenly afflicted by a crashing tiredness, probably aided by muggy conditions, The Wattmeister begged his two companions to leave him so that he could kip in a ditch. They desisted and slowed down accordingly. Thus, we inched our way in desultory fashion towards Middleton Tyas, Moulton and Streetlam, picking up a few riders on the way.

It started to rain quite heavily, which always means a drop in temperature. The Wattmeister revived in these conditions and the tempo lifted on the approach to Thirsk.

Here, our intrepid hero managed to ‘go through the card’, i.e he had ALL the main courses on offer, one after the other, and, some lovely portable flapjack was provided for the next leg to Pocklington.

The benefits of three consecutive main courses cannot be exaggerated. We whizzed up the hills around Coxwold and raced the lumpy bumps into the wind from Hovingham to Castle Howard. The lanesy transition back through Buttercrambe and Fangfoss softened the edgy competitiveness of the previous kms, and as we drew closer to Pocklington, the headwind gave us a taste of what was to come.

The return visit was a happier experience than the outward one. Great food, lots of love and a nice quiet toilet on which to doze. Apologies if you were waiting.

Somehow, the trio split up. Unable to fathom out if Ben and Alex had already left, and vice versa,  The Wattmeister set off for Louth alone…quite alone. He didn’t see another rider until just before the Humber Bridge…and he hadn’t forgotten about that climb at North Newbald, 20 kms into the section. Naturally it began to rain on the higher ground. It really didn’t stop for the next 4 and a half hours. Thank you angel for suggesting the heavy duty rain jacket.

After making a mess of locating the cyclepath OFF the bridge, a little group formed, but it was moving very slowly. TW pushed on, the wet, dark conditions not helping his dodgy eyesight. He followed another rider at a respectful distance of 100m on the neverending climb up from the Bridge to Caistor. But when that rider stopped for a wee, he was cast out into the tropical (for it was mild) black deluge to fend for himself.

Retracing the outward leg via a stinky hill at Rothwell, where a small group were huddled tightly in a bus shelter, and negotiating a wind blown left hand bend at Binbrook, the thought occurred that it was a privilege to be out in these conditions, for when again would this perverse opportunity present itself?

Arriving in alone in Louth near midnight, The Wattmeister signed in, and upon exiting the control room, bumped into Ben and Alex. Two minutes behind but unseen for 5 hours.

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LEL 2017, Day 3, Brampton to Brampton 302 kms

It IS possible to function on just 4 hours of solid sleep. The volunteers at Brampton had constructed a good system for allocating (air)beds and for waking  riders at allotted times. We, perhaps 200 of us, shared the school hall. There were comings and goings at all times of the night but The Wattmeister drifted off into the deepest slumber and remained there until it was time to be woken

Having arrived at Brampton at around 11. p.m the previous evening, it was necessary to allow an hour to shower, change kit, eat and drink sufficiently and take care of any other business before falling asleep.

We allowed ourselves 4 hours of sleep, and, after being woken, another 90 minutes maximum in order to make sense of the world. Various tasks needed to be completed in these precious minutes. Eating, drinking, recharging vital equipment, packing necessary kit according to the weather forecast, and so on

Those 90 minutes passed very quickly and conversely everything that needed to be done happened very slowly. It is called the Randonneurs Law of Reverse Negative Split.

As we departed the haven at Brampton it began to rain….cold, wet rain which ran down the back of your neck and through your ears and God knows where else. It pissed down from Gretna Green to Johnstonebridge. The road surface shook the fillings out of our teeth, Saville Row Alex had a bad patch….perhaps his only weak moments on the whole ride…it roused paternal instincts in the Wattmeister.

Soonish, we turned left to Moffat. What a gorgeous looking town. The control seems spanking new and shiny clean. We left our wet shoes by the door, signed in and filled up with breakfast. Now, I don’t know what was in the porridge, but it tasted mighty good and seemed to be full of watts.

The glorious climb from Moffat up to the Devil’s Beef Tub, so named because Scottish scallywags used to rustle English cattle and hide it in a marked bowl in the landscape, was taken in the BIG RING. Porridge Power. For the first time in the ride, after 630 kms, The Wattmeister was keeping pace with Alex and Ben on a climb.

The splendid scenery, a glimpse of sunshine, a rattling descent and the thought that the halfway point in Edinburgh was only 60 kms away lit the mental and physical touchpapers and off we bombed via Howgate and Leadburn Crossroads before hooking up with the traffic-free cyclepath at Loanhead….the sweetest, most refreshing approach possible to the control at Edinburgh.

The canteen served a most delicious pescado con queso pasta concoction, and much more besides. We turned around quickly and headed south. Once again we were well served by as quiet a route as possible on our exit from Edinburgh. Unlike the pasta, it contained a few lumps before the first big climb into the Moorfoot Hills.

At the summit, the temperature dropped. We were assaulted by a vicious downpour which cut visibility and turned the road surface into a shimmering silver ribbon stretching far down the valley. Ben had already sauntered up the climb and now TW and Alex set about chasing him down on the wild descent. What triggers such mad defiance? Soaked through and pedalling hard to keep warm, we careered off the mountain to find shelter in the control at Innerleithen.

There was a piano, The Wattmeister played a couple of frozen bars of ‘Life on Mars’ before being seduced by the excellent Scotch Broth.

We had to don our wet clothes…the hardest part of this game..but once again we follow a sweet cycle path from the control to Traquair and the headwind blowdried our kit back to comfortable standards.

Three more climbs and we would be in Eskdalemuir. A couple of Finnish lads took it upon themselves to marshall the group. It included a Dutch guy on a city bike with flat bars and the least aerodynamic clothing in the universe….plus two panniers containing spare heads….He was SO STRONG. Spinning up the climbs, spinning down the descents, catching the wind like the sails of a round the world yacht. What a legend!

Our group arrived safely in Eskdalemuir….3 times more rainfall than Manchester per annum. What a friendly vibe emitted from this control. It was hard to leave, but leave we must to tackle the hills en route to Langholm and then finally to form our own group on the outskirts of Canonbie and drag them back to Brampton.

Where does the energy come from after 800 odd kms? The Wattmeister was flying. A cherished time on these long rides, where pain ceases to exists, and there is only effortless flow. We hammered our way back to Longtown and coasted the last 16 kms in to Brampton.

A great day in magnificent scenery. The route was familiar and the weather had almost repeated its antics of 2009. The Wattmeister applauds the wonderful little stretches of cyclepath which afforded a different aspect to the ride.

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LEL 2017, Day 2 Louth to Brampton 312 kms.

And so, cleaner, dryer but alas hungrier than the previous night…the control kitchen had spectacularly failed on food provision… Baking Ben, Saville Row Alex and The Wattmeister set off for Pocklington, control town number 4 in the Vale of York.

We had completed a 245 km chunk on Sunday but….but, our grip on the ride was still fragile, we needed to at least reach Brampton on the north west corner of the Pennines by nightfall, a total distance of 560 kms.

Perhaps due to not eating properly, Monday morning was spent in a mental and physical brown study as Alex and Ben moderated their pace to accommodate the bilious baroudeur. We crossed the massive Humber Bridge and joined forces with another group through surprisingly hilly North Newbald, Sancton and Market Weighton before the speedsters rioted through the lanes around Burnby with a meek, weak Wattmeister conniving to hold on to the group. This leg ended with a painful Team Time Trial into Pocklington at 340 kms.

The old tummy was rumbling but would not accept much in the way of food or drink. A few bowls of tinned fruit and a half hearted attempt at some spaghetti bolognese helped to restore some energy, but this level was way off The Wattmeister’s target of 9 square meals a day.

One high point at Pocklington was discovering a secret peaceful building within the control benefitting from empty toilets and a bit of space in which to try and make sense of the situation.

No use moping, we set off gently towards Thirsk via the Howardian Hills. The sweetest of lanes, ridden in sunshine, through Fangfoss, Buttercrambe and Bossall helped to lighten the mood, we were not going fast, but we were going forwards. On the approach to Castle Howard and its sequence of short sharp hills, Alex and Ben set about defying gravity as The Wattmeister sunk to the bottom of the climbing ecosystem.

Actually it was not so terrible, but with dwindling energy reserves, the long hilly drag from Hovingham to Coxwold put more pressure on TW, but equally, it was plain to witness the pain of plenty of other riders.

Once again, Alex and Ben waited for their ball and chain, and once again he couldn’t muster the pace to join them on the run in to the control at Thirsk, 408 kms.

It began to rain. The temperature dropped. No food for TW, despite the control’s excellent menu. His reputation was beginning to suffer on more than one level. He may only be an average cyclist, but surely nothing could affect his unsurpassed ability to eat? All kinds of food. At all times of the day and night.

We set off for Barnard Castle, a ride of 63 kms….the rain ceased. We grabbed the wheels of two very steady French riders who allowed us to sit in….practically the whole way. This was a recovery ride par excellence. We crossed the wooden bridge at Whorlton with just 6 more kms to ride to the control at grand Barnard Castle School. The two Frenchmen accepted our thanks with grace….it is the normal thing to do…to help one another. We would repay the favour on Day 4.

Recovery and restoration.

Things had been looking bad for The Wattmeister. It is just not possible to complete these epic rides without eating and drinking sufficiently. At the start of the day there was a feeling of not quite being in the ride, but now we were well and truly in it, with a taste of the minor dramas and setbacks that punctuate such an undertaking.

At Barnard Castle, somebody put a full english breakfast in front of TW. Maybe he did it himself, subconsciously, a self-healer. The recuperative effort was immediate. He dived in for seconds and then topped up with a bowl of greek yoghurt and fresh berries. This was more like it. Food plastered his face, like a baby,  Other riders at his table gave him more space, more RESPECT. The fear in their eyes was palpable. He looked like a man who lived on roadkill, a man who ate randonneurs…dead or alive.

The sky over the Pennines looked angry, scolding, threatening. We had a long, bleak climb over desolate moorland in front of us. It rained harder. We passed High Force and Langholm Beck Youth Hostel. The temperature dropped a few degrees. The wind howled. This wasn’t a movie set, this was real. Bitter cold rain ripped at our ears. We stopped to put on thermal skull caps and long fingered gloves. With about 3 kms to the top, we turned bang into the wind, but as we crested Yad Moss, the weather gods seemed to show us some mercy and we hurtled down towards Alston and the lovely valley road to Brampton.

The woes of early morning had vanished, never to return on this ride. As darkness fell over Tindale and the surrounding fells, The Wattmeister stopped to pay his respects to Malcolm and Margaret who had rescued his 2005 LEL by replacing a broken seatpost bolt.

In Brampton, a shower, change of kit, more sausages, eggs, bacon and beans dispensed by a firm but cheerful woman with an American accent (?), then 4 hours sleep with blindfold and earplugs.

Not one fart nor one tiny bit of snoring could disturb this reverie.

 

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LEL 2017 Day 1.

There are no winners…but instead, everyone is a winner.

Audax is not a race. Some guys and girls ride a bit faster and some are better organised…the challenge is to get to the finish within the time limit.

Having said that, as our large group blazed a trail northwards beyond the gravitational pull of the M25, through Roydon, Hunsdon, Much Hadham and Puckeridge…aided by a strong tailwind and the last decent sunshine we would see for a few days…The Wattmeister struggled to restrain himself from hubristic urges to push on.

Two guys from Leeds Mercury were doing a sterling job of towing our peloton towards the first control point at St.Ives…105 kms into the ride.

In these situations, it is only fair to contribute, so Alex, TW and Ben did their turns from Shepreth to beyond Haslingfield which included the first serious little climb of Chapel Hill…we were rewarded with a welcome  ‘thank you’ from one of the Leeds riders before a bit group of Spanish riders….clad in orange lycra… injected some spicy ‘pimento’ into proceedings…chopping us up into fragments of what was once a whole meandering collective.

We regrouped, and arrived in St. Ives control for food, drink and mini debrief.

The next leg of 67 kms passed in a blur. Still aided by the benign zephyr, our threesome stomped through Raveley and Upwood before dropping down to the pancake flat, dead straight arrow of a road to Crowland via Whittlesey and Thorney.

Exhilarating, exuberant and exultant…the only real disappointment was that we were going so fast that we couldn’t engineer a visit to the fantastic Not Just Café in Whittlesey. If you ever find yourself with (daytime) hunger pangs in this part of the Fens, then give it a try.

After Crowland, which for some reason has beguiled The Wattmeister….the old fool….the route uses Welland Bank and Cradge Bank to find a back way into Spalding, control town number 2 at 180kms.

After a couple of bowls of delicious lentil stew, (or maybe it was chicken curry, or maybe it was both), a few cups of tea, a delicate readjustment of the nether regions and seeing to a plethora of other minor necessities, like remembering to reset the Garmin, change the route sheet, put on armwarmers etc. etc., the intrepid trio set off for control number 3, at Louth, some 83 kms distant in north east Lincolnshire.

Daylight surrendered its tenancy to dusk as we romped through Pinchbeck, Gosberton, Kirton, Frampton Fen and Gypsey Bridge.  Catching and then joined by two young lads…Lou? and A. N. Other….they injected even more pace on the rollicking road to Mareham le Fen….which signalled the end of 100kms of unbroken contourless terrain.

At this point, 25 kms from Louth, it was clear that we had missed a mighty rainstorm. Deep puddles and running water reflected the slate grey sky. We passed several riders in full rain gear. After Horncastle, where, in ordinary circumstances, The Wattmeister would have stopped for a pizza…a chinese…and a kebab, we followed Green Lane to Hemingby….I mention it in particular as its course is dead straight, up a gentle hill, and it transports you painlessly into the Lincolnshire Wolds…a bucolic paradise of tiny lanes, rolling hills and quaint villages like Raithby, Scamblesby and Cawkwell. If I am reincarnated as a hobbit…then this will be my domain.

After dispatching the steep slopes of Red Hill….(but what a lie! it nearly unseated The Wattmeister!)…we arrived at Louth at 10.45 p.m…245 kms in 9.75 hours for a shower, change of kit, feed, 4 hours sleep, feed and move on at 5.30 a.m….except sleep was hard to come by what with all the farting and snoring….

for which The Wattmeister can only apologise.

 

 

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London-Edinburgh-London 2017…setting the scene

LEL 2017 can only take place due to the phenomenal efforts of the organisers and volunteers who make it happen. To them, we the riders, are indebted for their time, patience and support. Thank you one and all.

The Muswell Hill trio comprised Saville Row Alex, Baking Ben and The Wattmeister. Our combined weight was 244 kgs including filled water bottles.

Alex 68kgs plus bike/luggage 15kgs…..Ben 52 kgs plus FIXED WHEEL bike/luggage 13kgs….The Wattmeister 80kgs plus bike/luggage 16 kgs.

Alex rode a steel Casati road bike, TW and Ben opted for bikes mades from titanium tubing.

We all three opted for at least a front hub dynamo lighting system….Ben also had a rear light wired to the front hub….this set up is slightly heavier but offers exceptional reliability. Alex and TW chose to run battery operated rear lights. In addition, we all ran a form of rechargeable and/or battery operated front light of at least 300 lumens to illuminate dark narrow lanes in complete safety, and finally, we attached headtorches to our helmets in case of emergencies.

For navigation, Ben and The Wattmeister preferred a laminated series of route sheets, with Alex and TW also making use of a Garmin 810 with downloaded GPX files.

Our kit contained spare inner tubes, multi-tools, batteries, portable charging packs, spare clothing as necessary, food, (spare reading glasses for The Wattmeister), suncream and bum cream and legal medicines such as paracetomol and ibuprofen gel.

1443 riders were taking part. The first group left at 05:00 a.m and the last batch were due to go at 16:00 p.m

We departed from Loughton at 13:00 p.m on Sunday 30th July with 1440 kms/890 miles in front of us….our closing time back in Loughton was Friday, 4th August at 09:40 a.m….just under 5 days in total.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

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It’s Not About the Bike

Thursday 3rd August.

It is about 8 in the morning. The rolling hills of north west Lincolnshire…yes, hills…have been replaced by the broad expanse of the Fens for which the county is best known.

The landscape offers no cover from an unrelenting headwind.

I am a human parachute, but not one sewn from the finest silk, more like offcuts sellotaped together…. a mish mash of unravelling thoughts and worn body parts.

I don’t know it at this time, but in 40 kilometres everything has to come together to get me out of bother.

Logic, charm, patience, skill, memory, communication….they don’t always flow at the best of times.

Pop! A rear spoke snaps in Bunker Hill, near New York, Lincolnshire. Bunker ‘Flipping’ Hill…New York…even the road signs are taking the piss.

Dismounting, I tape the loose spoke safely out of the way with electrical tape (what planning!) and adjust surrounding spokes using the spoke key on the brilliant Topeak Hexus multi-tool so that the wheel runs relatively straight.

Should get me to Spalding…I have a spare, just need the right tools. My God it is windy, a struggle to hold 16 kms per hour. The parachute has  metamorphosed into a dried out husk. Must make a quick stop at the convenience store in Gypsey Bridge for nourishment.

Sitting on the wall, smashing jelly beans, coffee and crisps into the raging furnace, a big group cycles past. I have taken my shoes off! Need to get into this group. It’s an opportunity to take some cover but requires a desperate chase to get on. The wind is my enemy, but the crossroads at Langrick are my friend….I hide in the peloton.

We take turns on the front for 15 kms and catch a group of strong Germans…one guy is towing the whole peloton into the hooley….what a superstar. At the control I thank him profusely…he looks bemused.

The mechanic is just leaving the control…he has packed up his tools. Hard luck for me but he is probably as whacked as I am. But, another wonderful volunteer, Vince,  has turned up with a comprehensive toolset. I need a chainwhip and cassette lockring tool…YES! he has them….but he is also tired and a bit tetchy and dealing with someone else….and, he has no spanner big enough to turn the lockring tool….but, the chainwhip handle is fitted with exactly the right size hex fitting. I just cannot use both ends at the same time!

I sit on the floor, deflated, aware that something can be done if only I had the wit to think of it. I have the spoke and 99% of the tools, but my brain is fried….Vince softens….he sees my predicament….and suggests that I stick a screwdriver in the back of the cassette to hold it firm instead of using the chainwhip, (while I untighten the lockring with my teeth….no, that last bit really didn’t happen)…. and use the chainwhip handle to loosen the lockring.

Vince, thank you…out of the mental maelstrom we found a solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Respecting the Jersey

There has been much debate over recent ‘transgressions’ in the pro peloton. Who can forget Tom Dumoulin’s unfortunate episode in the Giro d’Italia? He needed a shit and it looked like his rivals took advantage of the situation by riding off with the toilet paper.

Put yourself in Tom’s Sidi shoes (before the event). Imagine descending the mighty Stelvio at 80 kmph on a bike, wearing the leader’s pink jersey, surrounded by TV cameras whilst managing a turtlehead.

How was he going to wipe his bum? Not on his jersey, that would be disrespecting the maglia rosa……no, The Wattmeister can reveal that his mitts paid the ultimate price…..it is OK to disrespect mitts.

Fast forward to the frenzy of last Sunday’s Stage 9 of the Tour de France. On the final climb of Mont du Chat…..a mountain that the legendary Eddy Merckx declared was the hardest he had ever ridden in a Grand Tour….yellow jersey wearer Chris Froome raised his arm for assistance from the SKY team car. He wasn’t looking for a push but he may have needed toilet paper….who knows?

Anyway, precisely 0.1 second after his arm was raised, Fabio Aru decided that this would be a good moment to attack. Aru literally passed under the outstretched armpit of the leader, and, having recently had a nose operation to improve his breathing, was in a great position to endorse Froome’s choice of anti-perspirant deodorant.

For the readers of this blog who do not understand cycling etiquette, this is NOT the done thing. It is more important to respect the leader’s jersey than it is to win the race…this is not a joke.

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Muswell Hill Peloton Q&A

Doc is one of MHP’s founding fathers. His palmarés is extensive having participated in some of the world’s most gruelling cycle sportives and lived to tell the tale in his own inimitable style.

Cycling is not his only forte, he was voted Muswell Hill Peloton’s funniest man in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

All this has been achieved around a busy professional life which is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the nation.

1. What is your greatest achievement on a bike?

Riding without stabilisers. (June 1st 2017).

2What is your favourite everyday word?

Pneumonoultramyscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. 

3. As a pulmonary consultant, have you ever administered Triamcinolone to combat asthma?

No comment.

A job with Team Sky beckons.

4.Black pudding or bubble and squeak?

Bubble and squeak.  

5. What would be your choice of alternative career?

Own a jazz club.

6. Where and when were you fastest?

Riding away from a pack of wild dogs in the desert in a peasoup fog.

7. Have you ever used Google to make a diagnosis?

I prefer Wikipedia.

8. What is your favourite saying….clue…(in the face of others’ adversity) ?

Always help a friend in need.

Not the immortal, “…it’s every man for himself…”?  

Overheard on the road to the Stelvio … June 2nd 2013.

9. Whose turn is it to pay for coffee, Doc’s or The Wattmeister’s?

Trick question…..it is always Doc’s turn.

10. Has Strava had an influence on your cycling?

Yes, it is great, but I have heard that it can become an obsession with men of a certain age Wattmeister.  

Touché, legend!

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The Swank of the Crank

“Look at my shiny teeth”, announced The Big Ring to no one in particular, “all 53 of them…I’m so strong”.

The Little Ring let out a barely audible creak. He was bolted to The Big Ring, on the inside, always in the shadow of his bigger colleague…a captive audience…and had heard it all before.

“There’s my reflection in The Shard”, screamed The Big Ring, “I’m so fast you can barely see me!”

The Wattmeister pedalled on, the rumbling of his stomach drowning out the swank of the crank. His thoughts focussed on a Full English Breakfast.

“Yeah little brother, we’re in Regents Park. I’ll show them! I’m so very strong. I can catch anybody!”, ranted The Big Ring.  “Give me The Power Wattmeister!”

Round and round went The Big Ring and The Little Ring, linked together in a spinning dervish.

“I’m the Greatest, the Strongest, the Fastest, why are you even here?” asked The Big Ring of his little brother, “you’ve only got 39 teeth, and they ain’t even shiny, they National Health style amalgam teeth. Lucky no one can see them!”

The Little Ring sighed. It was the same story every week. The Big Ring lacked emotional intelligence. Like Donald Trump, he blustered, boasted, threatened and ridiculed his partner. Big Ring would have sacked Little Ring if he could just undo those chainring bolts.

But he always forgot one thing.

As the road climbs sharply up Swain’s Lane, The Wattmeister engages with Little Ring….

“You’ve gone very quiet big brother. Where’s all your shiny teeth now? They’re all covered in lube and shit. Eat this slope Big Ring….why don’t you?”

What goes around, comes around.

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