LEL by DIY 200 — riding StIves to Loughton at night

From the Audax board, Jan RRTY topic, this ride report is probably better placed here on the LEL board as I think the final two stages of LEL get quite busy after a long, relatively uneventful run down through Lincolnshire and Huntingdonshire. Oh, and I rode it at night, which is when I would think a great many other riders will see the final stages.

Note: this ride report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here.  Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that.  The post date has been changed to the date of the ride. 

Quote from: wilkyboy on January 28, 2013, 12:08:16 AM  Heading out now to do LEL DIY 200 StIves – GtEaston – Loughton – StIves.  Wish me luck!  (Yes, the time is just after midnight – family commitments, weather and NOT just getting on with it at the beginning of the month have rather backed me into a corner in this matter facepalm)

Good news, though: it looks like it's a full moon tonight, so who needs lights?! grin

The weather was, on the face of it, near-perfect for late January: very clear with a nearly-full moon, and that meant it was possible to see the landscape around as a ghostly silhouette.  Last time I rode this route as part of Boudicca's Day Out 200 perm (Flitchbikes 200 calendar event I think) then it was misty and it wasn't possible to see anything around, so this was a very pleasant change.  The temperature wasn't very kind, though: 4ºC and falling during the night.  The wind was up, but fell off a bit during the night; however, it was a headwind for most of the route to Loughton, adding to the effects of the cold.  There was a good deal of surface water and flooding right along the route: roads out of StIves were properly under and there were a few other spots the same.

The first section out of StIves as far as the crossing of the A505 is a country meander without much in the way of technical map reading or ascent work – apart from Barrington hill, which is a 10% gradient: it's not huge, but after 1300km it's going to feel a lot bigger!  It's the first time I've ridden it, as the last time I took a wrong turn and rode around itfacepalm

Once you cross the A505 then things start to get interesting: a few miles in we will have to climb Royston Lane, which definitely isn't at all alarming, except that it's planted on a hillside like an amphitheatre in the middle of nowhere, the surface is rough, and it's one of those hills that appears to get steeper the further up it you get. It's fun on the way up, but it's murder on the other side: there's a farm or farm workings about 500m after the summit and the road is absolutely covered in large, wheel-grabbing potholes.  At the moment it's also covered in 5cm of thick, gloopy mud, urgh. I clipped a pothole and one of my bidons did a somersault!  Turning around wasn't fun and in new shoes, too.  I will be flagging this with the Routemeister, although I can see that there's already a note in the notes-to-self column; I would word it more strongly, though, because I can see there being dozens of riders a further 100m down the hill with only one wheel on their wagon.  It's passable with care, but the temptation is to bomb down it (like I did facepalm).

The road becomes quite lumpy after this – not much that's longer than about a quarter mile, both up and down, so I ended up being unable to recover from the ups on the downs and felt really tired by the time I reached GtEaston.  After Royston Lane there are a couple of climbs of greater ascent quite soon and then a longish (probably the longest) descent down over the M11 and into the village of Littlebury just along from Audley End stately home (you do get to see this visage), which we pass shortly after. Stumpy little climbs up into Saffron Walden, and stumpy little climbs back out again. Stumpy climbs through Debden and into Thaxted, and out of Thaxted.  And a lumpy valley chase from Thaxted to GtEaston, which this morning was acting like a cold sink and so turned out to be a mix of dry road and black ice shocked  My fingers and toes lost all feeling at this point and it took a further 10km to get them to respond.

On leaving the control, there's a chance to go shopping one last time in GtDunmow, followed by a lengthy chase along a very straight Roman road being buzzed by overtaking cars (who were relatively well behaved at this time of the morning, 5am).  And then it's a left-turn into a long, twiddly laney section that goes on and on. Well, it went on and on this morning, because the temperature had plummeted to sub zero and there was black ice everywhere!!  I nearly came off a couple of times (pulse racing) and had to slow down to a crawl. This section must've added an hour or more onto my expected time because of the ice, which in places was thick and hedge to hedge.  This section will be difficult in the dark for anyone who doesn't have a GPS to beep at them when to turn: a lot of the priority markings are very worn and it isn't always obvious whether it's the current junction or the next where you turn.  I heard on another thread that some signage will be put out through these lanes and I think that's going to be a good idea in this instance.

By now it was approaching 8am and traffic was building. Very bad overtaking was being done, in spite of me in my best bright-yellow jacket with not one but THREE back lights, including one that blinds you if you look at it directly.  At one point a Golf overtook me as a Volvo (I think) that I could see from where I was came around the up-coming right-hand bend – I was forced to aim directly and hard for the verge to get out of the way of the inevitable accident, which somehow didn't happen, with both me and the Volvo driver, who fortunately stopped quickly, shaking our heads.   Quite a few others were a bit closer than I would've liked.  It was time to start blocking the lane when I thought it wasn't safe for them to overtake (not always popular).  If you end up leaving the lanes section for the final run into Loughton in the morning rush hour then you may end up having to do the same, or make sure you are with other riders and then bunch across the road to make drivers think about how they are going to overtake instead of just risking your life on blind corners.  The final drop down into Loughton itself was a stationary traffic queue, so easy enough to hop around.

The last came before the first: then came the run from Loughton to StIves, which will be the first stage northwards. This is a nice set of short and sharp climbs for the first 20km out of Essex, as well as a couple of longer climbs, to split up the bunches of riders as they leave the start. I think it's going to be tempting to whizz up these climbs, but you'll feel it in your legs for the next four days: patience may be required for some (me).  Ware was a bit busy, but not that much so – everyone's going to be through on Sunday, but it was easily rideable this morning (Monday). The route is lots of quick A and B roads for about 50km and then drops into the lanes of Cambridgeshire from when you cross the A505 near Royston. These lanes are the same ones we ride when we leave StIves southwards to GtEaston, but in reverse, and so nice, pleasant, unchallenging, just keep the pedals turning.

By the time I got back to StIves the flooding had increased and I had to ride through a flood in Low Road that cleaned my chain of oil (I had already had to re-lube it just after leaving Loughton, because it had gotten a bit dry – it's a new chain, too!).

All in I rode StIves – GtEaston – Loughton – StIves in about 13hrs 15mins, with the distance being around 220km.  Not an amazing time and borderline doable for LEL (doesn't leave a lot of time for contingencies), but, your Honour, in mitigation: it was cold, it was dark, the wind was up on the way down (and quite down on the way up, dammit), there was black ice for a good part of the final stage into Loughton, I was on my own (I always ride quicker with others … and bonk sooner), and I developed a very painful knee problem probably due to the cleats on my new winter boots not being set correctly – I had to ride the final leg with my right foot unclipped and not doing very much work to keep the pain at a bearable level.  My own fault, sympathy welcomewink

It was fun riding through the night. The moonlit country scenes were other-worldy and everything was extremely peaceful; I was passed by just one car – a milk float in StIves (ignoring the Police cars that were effecting a raid in StIves just around the corner from the control – they had their lights on, but they weren't actually moving!) – until I got to Thaxted 70km away.  In that respect it felt a bit on-the-edge because there was nobody else around to alert next-of-kin if I'd had an accident, and my hands were too cold to fettle with a mechanical, and walking would have been a very c-c-cold experience. I am sure it will be either t-shirt or raincoat weather when we ride it for real and quite different to this morning.

One other thing that I noticed is that there are a LOT of traditional and very old churches on the route southwards, as well as many villages with seemingly more than their fair share of old thatched and timbered buildings and large public greens. I wasn't counting, but there must've been at least 20 churches we pass each way that qualify in my book. It really does feel like a tableau of traditional English village life and I think the visitors to our country will take away a positively reinforced (slightly twee) perception of the UK. I would've though that for them it would be part of the aesthetic of LEL of a slightly different nature to that discussed elsewhere on this board, and I think that's a good thingsmile

Nick Wilkinson

Read more posts by this author.