As most of you know I recently embarked on a cycling event for Oxfam (my Just Giving page is www.justgiving.com/nickysbike). This was a cycling event which takes place once every four years, it is run by Audax UK which is an international long distance cycling organisation and riders from all over the World participated. Entry was limited to about 1000 riders and over 60% were from overseas – Europe, Canada, Australia, America, Japan, New Zealand…. the riders from overseas were amazed by the scenery we have in this country particularly in Scotland. The aim was to cycle from London to Edinburgh and back a total distance of 1419km (provided you do not get lost!) within a set time.
Riders were started off in groups of about 50 every fifteen minutes or so. I left at 7.45am on Sunday morning which meant that I had to complete the event by 4am Friday morning. In the end I arrived back in London at 10pm on Thursday evening having endured temperatures of over 30 degrees that day and a cross wind in the Fens which felt more like a hairdryer. We all had a route sheet detailing our route and certain controls to check in at. They were mainly schools that had been taken over to provide food, showers, somewhere to keep the bikes for an hour or two and mattresses to grab a few hours sleep.
The first control was at St Ives after 100km; the other controls were Kirton, Market Rasen, Pocklington, Thirsk, Barnard Castle, Brampton, Moffat then Edinburgh and then on the way back two small controls in the middle of nowhere – Traquair and Eskdalemur and then back to Brampton, Barnard Castle, Thirsk, Pocklington, across the Humber Bridge again, Market Rasen, Kirton, St Ives and London (Loughton). Food was always available and riders would be coming and going at all times of the day and night. I tended to cycle until about 11pm and then catch a few hours sleep get up about 3am/4am and set off just before dawn. This meant I had some tremendous rides in the Scottish Borders as the dawn rose over absolutely amazing countryside and then again climbing over Yad Moss, Pennines as the sun rose. On the way up unfortunately I had cycled over Yad Moss in a hail storm so had seen very little of the scenery. As cyclists checked in at the controls we grabbed some food – this could be breakfast, lunch or any combination, quite often breakfast would consist of porridge, pasta and sponge pudding and custard at 4am in the morning! You did need to eat quite a lot, on average I probably used about 6000 calories a day.
It was an amazing experience, the helpers at the controls were great, enthusiastic, helpful, encouraging, lively on all 24 hour shifts. At each control there was also a mechanic to carry out any necessary repairs.
Fortunately nothing went wrong with my bike until I arrived back in London. My gears had been playing up a little bit and when I looked the front gear cable it had actually rusted through the metal and underneath the wires had frayed and split – so I only just made it in time. At one point I was cycling with a German Lawyer who had brought with him a very high spec brand new bike with electric gear change which unfortunately failed just after Edinburgh – from then on he was stuck in one gear and in effect did the whole event on a fixed wheel bike. But as he said on a number of occasions giving up was not an option!
As well as normal bikes there was a whole array of cycling paraphernalia – velos which are the encased bikes which go really fast over 40mph on the flat, recumbents which also go really fast, tandems and fixed wheel bikes. Fixed wheel means that they have only one gear so cyclists often have to weave from side to side to get up hills and if there is no free wheel they have to peddle downhill. You can imagine what that is like if you’re going really fast! And finally there was the onion seller – a guy dressed as a French onion seller, this time with vines rather than a string of onions (so a vineyard owner!) on a 1920s bike which only had two gears and to go uphill he needed to pedal backwards. It takes all sorts.
We were lucky with the weather and stunned by the scenery, encouraged by our companions and all in all had a terrific time – I hope this goes some way to explaining why I actually enjoyed cycling 1400km in four days.