The Flatlands 600 (2013)

That was one of the hardest 600s I've done — the only ride that compared to it for me was LEL, and probably because of the headwind on the way back across Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.  Veloman and I finished at 10pm dead – that was my longest 600 at 40 hours.  Saturday was super-super quick with a forecast 18mph southerly blowing us 300km to Goole, on the River Humber.  I recorded my fastest 100km, 200km, 300km and 400km back-to-back concurrently.  And after putting in all that effort on Saturday, Sunday was super-super slow, with a forecast 12mph headwind blowing against us: I recorded my slowest 200km and slowest 600km!!  And that just about sums it up for me, thank you to Veloman in particular for picking me up when I was down. 

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. 

Ah, but there's more, if you're interested (if not, look away now) …

I spent the first leg near the sharp end with Bikey Mikey, the Essex Law Enforcers (is that right?), and some others, and catching a tow with the tandem of bhoot into Red Lodge.  The Lodge looked like it had just one person running the kitchen, so a quick cup of coffee and onwards, not before the mudguard-less Australian (of this parish?) had uttered "it's a f**king Brompton!" … yeah, I know, thanks; did you know your mate's on a mountain bike with a rucksack?  Different strokes and all that.

I hooked up with Veloman time-trialling across the wind to Whittlesey on Saturday and we rode most of the rest together: he was very patient with my limited selection of gears and speeds!  Eric (of this parish?) joined us at the Wetherspoons in Whittlesey.  Just after Spalding, I dropped off the back, because the pace was uncomfortably in-between gears for me.  Rode into Boston with James (of this parish?) and found Veloman and the tandem of bhoot at a smart street café just next to the church in the market square.  A splendid jacket potato and cold frappé thing. 

We opted for a modified main-road run up to Kirton-in-Lindsey and set off: everyone was very considerate and waited when I dropped off the back several times.  There's a big jump from 68" to 87" on my bike and it creates a dead zone between about 28kph and 33kph that's difficult to maintain, but 30kph seems to be a favourite speed of group riders, hence I ride on my own most fast rides.  The guys brought the speed down a touch for me and we carried on to grab a frankly horrible, greasy pizza in Kirton (once you get to the bottom of the hill where it's situated, you don't want to ride back up again for something different).

The sun was fairly low by now, but the run to Goole is short, so no point in putting on the full-colds yet.  After a bit it was clear I was holding up the group, so I sent them on: I figured they'd make 15-20 minutes on me by Goole, but in the end it was around ten.  I stopped once to climb the embankment and actually get a view of the River Trent: all the interesting stuff out on the flats is guarded from view by mahoosive mounds of earth, like they don't want people to stay. 

I got to Goole around 20:30 having done a "slow" stage of 26kph, but it couldn't come soon enough for me, as someone was catching me up … the tandem, as it turned out (although in the gloom all I could see was a light).

A quick refuel, but not quick enough: the tandem train left about two minutes before I was quite ready getting the warms on, fortunately for me Veloman waited for me.  The huge effort in riding so quickly on the northerly leg meant everything was soaked with sweat and as the temperature plummeted then I could feel it biting straight through my kit and giving me the shakes. 

It was a turn into the wind now, although it had fortunately abated for the night.  I could feel 300+ high-intensity (for me) kilometres in my legs at this point and I always ride slower in the dark, so we dropped the pace down a little.  It was comforting to see a number of riders still heading northwards, as I am usually very close to the back at this point in any ride.  We stopped in Belton for another warm up, although they didn't have anything to sit on.  And we made the garage at Gainsborough without event, pausing frequently to let the blood circulate energy around the system, and lots of friendly waves at passing motorists.  A couple of ambulances hairing out of town back the way we'd come made me a bit nervous that one of ours had come-a-cropper (having heard no news, looks like the answer is 'no').  We faffed in the garage, taking time to warm up a bit: it may be only just the beginning of September, but the coldest temperature my Garmin recorded was just 3ºC coming into Sleaford in the early hours of Sunday.

Riding south towards Lincoln, we knew there were some hills to climb.  But first a long straight road in the dark: it was only when Veloman mentioned that those red lights must be RAF Scampton that I recognised it: we rode along here on To Holl and Back 600 and the Red Arrows took off above me just a bit further along: amazing sight.  Silence tonight, though. 

Up the hill to Lincoln was a bit of a wake-up, as were the short skirts in townwink  Not that I could've done anything about it had the chance arisen, since I'd been beaten around the groin area for 18 hours with a leather hammer that Brooks persist in calling a "saddle"  facepalm

The leg to Sleaford took us over the 400km mark, and so represented the generally accepted "correct" time to stop. But where?  Veloman had a strategy to get us into a Travelodge reception and then to "wait overnight" for a room to become available: on the climb up out of Lincoln we did just that, except in a Premier Inn instead.  The nice lady on reception was very tolerant and passed on our regards in the morning to the various cyclists who had actually paid for their rooms (the tandemists and Essex Law Enforcers, and probably others)wink ).  It's not particularly nice sleeping sitting up and I know that I pay for it the next day with sleep-deprevation, but we did get some shut-eye and it was nice and warm.  No customer toilet, though.

The ride out towards Sleaford took on a surreal randonneur-spotting element as we passed bus shelter after bus shelter wink  I am sure Tom would've been in one of them – that would've been the only time I'd seen him since the start.  I carried a proper sleeping bag with me the whole way in case I was also out in the cold, but in the end didn't use it.  I could really feel the miles in my legs and I had a feeling of no power and had to spin like crazy up every slope.  In fact, I had to spin like crazy on the flat as well: just nothing left in the tank.  Veloman was supremely patient commenting on my lack of a dropped riding position to get out of the wind and the negative effect it inevitably had.  We also did some rolling tests: it's a fact that a DF rolls better than a Brompton on the sort of rough-roadstone surfaces we encountered.

We got to Sleaford around 6.30am and detoured to the garage on the A15/A17.  They had a table and stools, but it was cold with all the fridges, so I broke out the space blanket, as I had an onset of the shakes.  When Veloman asked for the toilet, we were pointed over the roundabout to McDonald's!!  A quick Egg McMuffin and I felt I was going to die: it just felt like it was bunging my whole system up and that was that.  With tiredness and sleep-dep, I was ready to give up, but Veloman talked me back into the game.  We spent a long time stopped at Sleaford – over two hours – some of which was sleeping, but I felt in a bad way still.

The short ride to Spalding went by quickly and the pace wasn't too bad.  Just a quick ten-minute lie down on a grass verge to break the effort.  But by Spalding I was at the end and couldn't go on.  We stopped for some breakfast at Sainsbury's, which was really good: and there's a great view of the station out the window, which connects to Peterborough, which connects to Cambridge, which I call home, mmmm.  I let Veloman talk me out of bailing at that moment, but I really couldn't face the exposed run back to Crowland along the embankment; we made it, though.  However, our times weren't looking good, so I told VM to leave me at Crowland to set a decent time himself, leaving me to trundle through the fens on my own to Chatteris.  Slowly.  Really slowly. I figured that if I really couldn't stomach it then I could turn right at Whittlesey and catch the train back from Peterborough.

But it's an odd thing when you're on your own: you just keep pedalling … and screaming and swearing at the vast emptiness like some deranged castaway!  (Chris, fboab, how did you manage to put together an entire year of this and stay sane(-ish)?!)  Pedal pedal pedal pedal pedal.  Very similar to the Thursday on LEL, except colder.  The wind didn't get any better and neither did the scenery, but I did arrive in Chatteris, passing one bike still at the Welly.  Some painkillers, water and a sandwich from Budgens and time to press on (it turned out two bikes at the Welly, with Lars and TonyH both passing me as I was filling up).  Definitely lanterne rouge now, then.

Familiar territory at last: the run to Potton will be known to anyone who has ridden Flitchbikes 200 or Rutland 300 (although in the opposite direction, and not all of it).  The twisty road from Chatteris to Somersham is the remains of an old river bed from when this whole area was marshland: when they drained the land many hundreds of years ago, the river beds were already compacted and rose out of the drying and contracting bog, and so were used as roads: the extreme twists are most disorientating and you're never quite sure which way you're pointing.  And it had started to rain. 

On the climb up from Chatteris towards StIves, I was working out my time in hand and double-checked the arrivée close time: for some reason I had thought the additional 2h20m for the enforced over-distance took the close time to 0220, but it took it to just 0020, two hours less – AAAARRRGH!  At the pace I had set myself I would be out of time! 

I don't know what happened then: getting away from the soul-destroying vastness of the fens into something with a bit of dimension to it; the painkillers kicking in; Budgens' cheese and ham sandwiches; or the sense of sheer bloodymindedness that I get when I am so close to finishing what I started!  But my legs came to life and I started tapping out 25kph (average) through the rolling hills in the rain from StIves to Potton.  I figured on getting to Potton before 7pm to leave a decent margin to finish and got there at 6.30pm.  A quick refill of the bottles and onwards: as I arrived I could see TonyH rolling out of the other side of the square, so I must've made up a few minutes at least.

The final leg was great, I really enjoyed it: I don't think of myself as a climber, but I span up all the hills with glee!!  It's not that I don't like flat … but I think I really don't.  At one point I could see a yellow jacket in the distance across the valley: Lars was wearing blue and TonyH orange, so must be someone else.  The chase was on.  Bit by bit I felt I was reeling him in: the odd sighting around a distant corner or cresting a far summit.  Eventually on Litlington road before Royston I caught up with him by the war memorial at the top of the hill: Veloman!  Back in the game, for both of us, as he'd lost his mojo a bit too!! 

And off we went: maintaining high 20s on the flats and climbing most hills in high teens/low 20s, averaging above 20kph.  That long climb out of Royston was brilliant, although I had to break out the 24" for the middle ramp.  And the long, open climb a few miles further on: we caught and passed TonyH here, passing on the lanterne rouge baton.  Shortly after Clavering (I think) we came across Lars and the Aussie, who was buying a tube and levers off Lars to fix his puncture.  Lars joined us for a bit, but Veloman and I were climbing out of our skin and he dropped off the back after Henham.

An odd thing that happened was I dug out a nut bar from my back pocket, nothing special about that, and started eating it and my legs immediately stopped dead: nothing left to give.  I had to resort to spinning in bottom to get any life back into them, but they just felt cold and dead, due to a nut bar.  Go figure!  It didn't last long and we soon were climbing great again up towards the Eastons. 

And finally the run up into Dunmow and down to the pub: friendly faces of the Essex Law Enforcers and families in the front window of the pub.  Time for a drink (coke), some back-slapping and comparing notes, and some hard-earned brevidence.

Woohoo!  We had done it!grin

Not only that, but we'd managed to claw back a huge amount of time considering where we had been just a few hours earlier and the general hilliness of the terrain on the final couple of legs, which is very satisfying.  We were an hour behind the Essex Law Enforcers and Tomsk had left the pub not long before we got there, so not too bad.  And TonyH passed us around midnight as we were driving away, so should get validated.

While I was on the ride there were times when I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry: I felt I had nothing left to give.  However, the final couple of stages showed that wasn't true: tapping into physical and mental reserves at will seems to be something I need to get a grip on.  I have experienced this on a number of the longer rides and it has always come good in the end; but getting there always seems to involve a lot of gritting of teeth and pain in the legs, and usually involves someone patient being the voice of reason, for which my humble thanks!  Maybe it will be less pronounced, or even non-existent, when I transition to a full-size bike at the end of this season?  I will let you know.

The sheer extraordinary monotony of the scenery definitely played a part: Tom has succeeded in creating a ride that is exceptionally flat for a very, very long way, and that is a good achievement.  Usually I like Tom's routes as there's a bit of everything and without fail they are slightly over-distance with a sting in the tail.  But personally in my head I am calling this Dulllands, not Flatlands, due to the lack of changing scenery.  I have now completed my Essex SR – my third SR of the year – with a Boudicca 200 perm (my first ever audax and extra wet and windy, more so than yesterday), Green and Yellow Fields 300 (bitterly cold!!), Asparagus and Strawberries 400 (sleep-dep city) and now Flatlands 600 (extreme mental torture). 

I don't know if I want to ride this 600 again: ask me in a year's time!  I think the section from the start to Whittlesey, maybe even Boston, is good and from Chatteris to the end is great, but there's too much of little interest in between for my liking, the climb through Lincoln aside.  Tomsk's ride notes indicate there's no such thing as an easy 600: I think this is one of the hardest I've ridden mentally, even though in theory the flatness should make it physically easier for first-timers.  If it hadn't been for Veloman's support and encouragement, I would've bailed at Spalding.

Right Achilles is feeling a bit scrapy this morning, knees are sore and the usual calves, quads and glutes sores and stiffness, although I have been an awful lot worse.  Also, now the long rides are likely over for the season, it will give my hands time to get back to normal, so I can type and write properly.

Nick Wilkinson

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