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.