In 2019, after completing PBP me and Prasad were travelling in a bullet train from Paris to Zurich, we got to know that we could apply for LEL 2021 and if we were lucky we could get a chance to ride in LEL since it was based on lottery. Thats how the journey to LEL started. We had heard that LEL was much tougher than PBP in distance, elevation and weather. We thought it's a good idea to train hard and to try LEL in 2yrs. Covid caused an year's delay and the event was moved to 2022.
While the event itself is magnificent, but the training we went through is a long journey. We prepared hard, Chalukyas 1200, Chamundi 1000, GOH 1200, Jog 1000, Toughest SR series and apart from these, me and Prasad did long rides of 200-400kms for 10 consecutive weekends which included multiple climbs at Basavanabetta, Chamundi hills, Nandi hills, Anchetty, Chitradurga, Hassan, MM Hills and Ooty to name a few. Each of these long training rides were done at brevet speed or faster and all 8 included min 1 night ride and at least 1 hill climb.
Bangalore Randonneurs and Mohan sir were the guiding forces at every stage during the entire journey. Mohan sir is meticulous in planning to every minute detail: air tickets, hotel, gear to wear, food strategy, Controls, terrain, rains!!
Fast forward, the day we reached London, me and Prasad were very clear, unpack and start riding, we went to the Devanant School, Debden. We got late on the return and it was super cold, that was first hint of what we could expect during ride. We followed it up with a century ride on the actual route to do recce, the elevation was 10x the distance meaning, for every 100kms we could expect 1000m elevation. Wind was playing rough, it was windy in every direction, again another lesson that we can't expect tail wind on the return rather it could be mixed or cross wind both ways.
After registration formalities, it was butterflies in everyone's stomach. The unknowns of terrain, rains and wind was playing on our minds. Daniel told us likely it may not rain, that was a bit of relief. The strategy was to ride first 600kms within 40hrs and create 10hrs buffer and from there on retain buffer of at least 5 to 6hrs at a minimum for the rest of the ride.
D-day: We all didn't have enough sleep due to excitement, the Ride started at 8:15am, we stuck to our plan and started riding hard and non-stop to St Ives (CP2) which was 100kms, at 50kms mark we were riding at 25kmph and I saw a peloton overtaking me, I took chance and joined at the tail. With experience in PBP, I knew the pelotons will be much faster, for next 40kms, it was literally a race. At 90kms, I could not keep up the pace, meanwhile Prasad didn't catch peloton, but was just 5 mins behind. We met at St Ives. Usual drill, park bike, check into CP, get brevet card signed, go to rest room, eat quickly, drink coffee, pack bread and rush to next CP. It took us 30 mins and we were on our way. At St Ives we met most of the fast riders, but not after that.
From St Ives to Boston (CP3), it's 90kms of flat roads, we took full advantage and again rode non-stop. There was a slight detour due to an accident near Boston to one of the cyclists. We had to cross the highways and got to be super careful as vehicles are superfast on highways and they don't slow down since they have right of way. It was bit disturbing as the cycle was in mangled state. We reached Boston control in 9hrs from start meaning 190kms , that sure was good speed. We repeated the drill at control, and it took another 30mins. By now we realized each control invariably will take 30mins or more. Next control was Louth 53kms away. We were enjoying the beautiful wheat fields and the grass nearly rolled. Now we had good tail wind and we took advantage to reach by 8:00pm (2.5hrs). With 30mins at control, we decided to go on to Hessle, in UK, the sun sets only by 9pm and it would be dark only around 10pm, so we still had good time to feel cold or sleepy.
Louth to Hessle was mere 60kms, and again tail wind, we rushed towards Hessle, we felt a bit cold, so wore PBP reflective vest, switched on rear and front lights. We could reach Hessle by 11:45pm. We hurriedly completed formalities and ate dinner, but felt too drowsy to continue. An Indian volunteer cheered and helped us towards dormitory. Plan was to have gud deep sleep on the bed for 45mins and start riding from 1am. We informed the volunteers and started snoring. At 1:00am, someone tried to wake us up, but we were in deep sleep. I woke up at 2:30am and realized we were running late, quickly woke up Prasad. For a moment, we felt bad as to why volunteers didn't pour a bucket of water if we didn't wake up. We started off thinking we were late by 1.5hours, but we consoled ourselves that the break was indeed helpful as we were feeling super fresh, legs were strong.
Hessle to Malton was 67kms, it took us just 3.5hrs. We realised that 2.5hrs of sleep every night is a must for 2 reasons 1) to avoid 2-3 hrs of riding in the cold 2) to get good rest on the bed in warm and cozy dormitory. Me and Prasad decided to adapt this new strategy of 2+hrs of sleep in the night at control and 30mins of sleep on the grass enroute between 3-5pm. At Hessle, we had a strong coffee and then we wore 4 layered night gear: base layer, jersey, waterproof jacket and PBP reflective vest on top. With a cotton cap covering the head & ears and a neck scarf as extra protection. And we wore a waterproof glove which covered the fingers, with merino wool socks and thick trekking shoes foot was covered well. It was warm enough and we reached Malton at 6:30am (Day-2). Usual drill at control and at 7:00am, I was hurrying up Prasad that we should start off now.
Malton to Bernard Castle was 113kms, we were targeting to cover in 7 hours (1:00pm). But the elevation was more than 1000m, from here, while the serious climbs started, but even the scenaries were getting more beautiful. The ride through a valley near Malton was very beautiful, we started seeing the real nature, lot of birds chirping, grasslands on either side with cattle, horses and sheep grazing. We had to climb a small mountain which was about 250m. It was quite steep. We reached Bernard Castle at 2:30pm. Its a good climb near the control, we met Pritish's wife who was volunteering. Food here was quite good, we got rice and dal. With 30 mins break we headed to Brampton which was 83kms away. With 480kms done, we were already feeling sluggish, and had 2 big hills to climb, we took a nap at a farm in cool shadow of trees, the 30mins sleep was helpful just ahead of big climbs. Fortunately we had tailwind, so we sprinted to base of hills, a rider started encouraging us that Indian team is now sprinting ahead. They went past us in some time, but we were bit better at climbs thanks to Mohan sir for preparing us hard for climbs with rides like Gates of Heaven (GOH) 1200K. We climbed 1st hill in 20 mins with help of tailwind. The Weardale climb was steep as it didn't have hairpin bends, but just vertically straight, we heard that these roads were built long back (decades old) and mostly used by horse drawn vehicles in those ages. The descent was super fun, unlike the fear of potholes or humps on Indian roads, the descent was smooth and very easy, we must have crossed 60kmph. We continued the momentum with tailwind and reached Alston, a small town enroute, we bought orange juice at a supermarket to quench our thirst. When we reached Brampton (569kms) we had taken at ~37hrs, we had our drop bag here, so it was time to take shower and change to much warmer clothes. We had thermal pants and waterproof socks and thought of wearing 2 base layers since it would be much colder from Brampton to Brampton (going through Highlands). It was a loop thru Moffat, Dunfermline, Innerleithen and Eskdalemuir. Though we didn't sleep here, but it took more than 1hr to get out of Brampton control. It was mainly due to the drop bag access, bath, change over etc. We then headed to Moffat, plan was to reach by 1:00am (42hrs), but we were late by 3hrs, plan was to ride till Moffat and then take 2nd night's 2hr sleep. It was a tough ride as i very drowsy and it was hard to sleep as there was no warm or covered place, invariably we took a power nap power nap 10mins under a flyover. This part of the ride enters into Scotland, the bike paths were very wide and it felt good, we managed to reach Moffat by 4:00am. We grabbed some food and we had mushroom soup to our delight. We got a good 2hr nap. With experience at Hessle when we overslept, we kept an alarm 15mins past our target time just incase we were not woken up. But this time we were on target, here we met Raj and Mahesh, they started off after a good sleep of 6hrs!. From Moffat to Dunermline was 112kms. It was 6:00am when we started from Moffat with a buffer of about 6hrs. Plan was to reach Dunfermline by 1:00pm so that we would be under 53hrs at mid point against the plan of 50hrs. It wasn't going to be easy. From Moffat, it was a short climb of 200m and we started seeing beautiful hills on both sides. Picturesque! with a blanket of heather flowers at the bottom of hills, beautiful green hills on either side, and clouds playing giving white shade, beautiful blue skies, and white coated sheep grazing grass slowly as if it was a canvas and God was playing colors.
The Dunfermline bridge famously known as Forth bridge, is one of the 3 bridges where cycles were allowed. The old red coloured Bridge on the right was for trains only and was built in 1890 and has seen centuries of human evolution and battles. Its a World Heritage Site. This bridge is key to rest of Scotland. It's barely 20kms away from Edinburgh.
We reached at 2:00pm, with about 8hrs of buffer. We still wanted to hurry up and get out of control and probably sleep on the way on grass. We cleaned the chain with alcohol based wet tissue and lubed it again. Ride from Dunfermline to Edinburgh was quite challenging, the roads were not good, narrow and crowded, the cycle lanes under the old town was very good but very difficult to navigate. We could never gain pace until we hit the proper roads. Around 5pm, we crossed Edinburgh going through Scottish parliament and Queen's palace, opp Arthur seat, there was a row of trees, and we took a 30mins nap in the shadow.
Edinburgh is a heritage city with old buildings more than 200+yrs old, the monuments are very well preserved. We reached Innerleithen around 8pm. And again the plan was to ride until midnight, so our focus was on reaching Eskdalemuir. We started in 30mins after the usual drill. 49kms to cover, we thought it should be easy, it was not the case. Getting out of Edinburgh was really tough, with stone paved roads, crowd, traffic lights and then the city cycle paths, while it was safe to ride, but it was very difficult to navigate. We were sleep deprived and each km started feeling like tougher. We covered 25kms, but 2nd half was terribly tough. It was super cold, i was drowsy and I started the infamous snake dance. At least 3 times Prasad shouted to make sure I don't fall into the deep side of the valley. From 24kms to 14kms I really don't remember how we reached, from here again every km was like taking an hour, but that was not the case, it was the fatigue and lack of sleep. Prasad insisted we take a 10 min nap, but I was pressing to reach control. We reached at 1:30am about 30 mins later. By now Eskdalemuir was like frozen place, it was a small school and did not have dormitory. But we were given blankets and we could sleep anywhere we could get some place. That was awesome. We took a good 2-hr sleep. We saw Monish standing in line for food. It took another 30 mins before we were fully ready to start riding. Ride to Brampton took us about 4 hours and we reached by 8:00am. We were thrilled to reach here as it completes the tougher section or we assumed so. From here to Bernard Castle was 80kms with about 1400m of elevation, this was by far the toughest section with lot of climbing and headwind. The initial elevation until Alston was manageable, but I felt drowsy and stopped by roadside and sat down, but I don't remember when I went into sleep while sitting there, 30 mins later I woke up probably with the music of hubs passing by. Prasad also took rest for a while, we had initially planned to stop ahead of you big hill at Weardale, but instead we wanted to complete the tough part. We stopped by a supermarket to buy orange juice for climbs. We met rider from London who was checking where are we from, we mentioned Bangalore and instantly he asked us "Namaskara, Hegiddira?" (Meaning how are you doing in Kannada language), "Chennagiddira?" (Meaning hope you are doing good). Me and Prasad were dumbstuck. He then explained us that he was in Bangalore for some time and learnt the words.
It was 4kms climb with peak gradient of 17%, climb in itself was not very tough but the wind made it worse blowing at more than 20kmph, the gust was pushing us back. Challenge accepted, I wanted to eat a banana, an Italian rider was saying you are making it look easy climbing and eating banana, for me it's very hard to climb with empty full tank. We stopped briefly at the top to give ourselves a bit of rest and bring down the heart rate. The climbs weren't done yet as we needed to climb one more hill, slightly less tougher than the first one.
Here there were the 2 legendary UK riders who were serving tea and water for the tired riders motivating them. We reached Bernard Castle by 4:00pm. Again we hurriedly got done with formalities ate our lunch and headed out. Bernard Castle to Malton was another tough stretch with 1200+ elevation. This time the route was different than what we took northbound. It was gradual elevation, but climbs were never ending. The steep descents had gravel on the road, which was bit risky. Certain stretches go through the well developed and neatly maintained communities, it was real fun riding around here. It was around midnight and we just had about 10kms to go, but it was getting tougher, I was joking that even these 10kms might have 10 climbs and it really was so. Even the last 2kms had steep climbs. The elevation graph does not show these minute spikes, so we were not anticipating them. We reached Malton tired and sleepy, it was perfect time for our 2hr nap. The dormitory was a long way from control, we still went about so as to get peaceful sleep. Volunteers woke us up at 4:00am and we headed to Hessle after quick snack.
After Hessle is the famous Humber bridge, its nearly about 1.4 kms long, its UK's longest single suspension bridge.
At Hessle we took opportunity to get rid of additional warm clothes into the drop bag so that we are lighter. Here again we cleaned the chain with wet tissue and lubed it. From Hessle we still had about 350+kms to ride and about 32hrs left with about 4hrs of buffer. From Hessle to Louth and Boston was bit tougher due to the headwinds, but nevertheless we had done with all the big climbing and it was getting easier and we could generate more buffer and we took rest at St Ives for the regular 2hr break at night.
At Louth, me and Prasad were very thirsty and we saw a rider came to us and asked what are we looking for, we wanted water and juice. He took us to a nearby supermarket, gentleman's name was Venice. We had a good chat about the ride, cold at night and hot sun in the day and then we all resumed our journey.
Between Boston to St Ives it was around 8:00pm and on the right side we could see the sun set and within minutes, we were lucky to see the moon rising over the wheat/barley fields, it was as if there is no place for darkness, it was beautiful moon with the foreground of golden wheat field, but pictures could not do justice to what we saw. Around early morning, we saw a rider fixing a flat tyre, we offered help, but he was good, he asked if I can give him an extra tube, which I offered as between me and Prasad we had 3 more tubes.
From St Ives to Great Easton we had company of Monish and Pritish, it was relatively easier 70kms going through Cambridge University and it was one last control at Great Easton, it's a small school which only provided food and shower. We were very well placed with more than 8hrs buffer and this 45kms we were almost on an easy mode, which made us bit sleepy, so we had to pick up pace to stay awake.
We reached Devanant School, Debden at 9:00am, it was after 120.5hrs of hard work done covering 1550kms over 5 days and 5 nights about ~8 hrs ahead of allotted 128 hrs. Even though we were prepared for rains, we were lucky it didn't rain.
Every long ride teaches us something new, makes us stronger and prepare for future. LEL has been a great learning exercise on training, planning, clothing, preparing for cold, rains, climbs and more climbs, how critical every night sleep of 2hrs, of all the things, navigation is the best learning. Without navigation, it's nearly impossible to ride. Garmin Edge 520+ was most useful and with rwgps and bikegpx as backup. With so many lessons learnt, LEL was an unforgettable experience.
Thanks to wonderful Organisers who have been planning for years to make it a successful event, selfless volunteers at LEL who almost were awake for more than 48hrs continuously to support all the riders. Thanks to Bangalore Randonneurs and Mohan sir for all the help and guidance throughout this entire journey. Thanks to my parents, my in-laws, Sushma, Ananya for all the support and motivation.
Congratulations on completing this very tough ride and very well written blog.ReplyDelete
Congratulations Swamy on yet another feather in your cap.ReplyDelete
Excellent writeup Swamy...congratulations once againReplyDelete
Nice writeup.. congratulations on this amazing achievementReplyDelete
Nicely written sir and congratulations once again uncle 🤗ReplyDelete
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You are awesome Swamy Sir! Once again Congratulations.ReplyDelete
Awesome ride and a write up to match! That moonrise looks mesmerizing... great job Swamy and Prasad sir! 🍻ReplyDelete
What a beautiful journey. Felt I'm riding along with you. Whenever I see u on ride amount of satisfaction is I'll finish on time. Thank you sir for the lady minute route upload.ReplyDelete
Amazing writeup, all your hardwork.. i bowReplyDelete
Wow. Great to hear your wonderful experience Swamy Sir. Nicely written. Congratulations to you and all LEL riders for the memorable ride. Truly inspiring 👌👏🙏💐😍❤️ReplyDelete
Amazing read...Great write up...ReplyDelete
Very well captured and hearty congratulations Swamy. Fabulous!!ReplyDelete
Heartiest Congratulations 👍🚵♂️🚵♂️🇮🇳🇮🇳ReplyDelete
wow. so insightful. inspiringReplyDelete
Nicely written Sir, and enjoyed reading every bit of it. Congratulations on yet another wonderful ride.ReplyDelete
I felt like watching a thriller movie....really appreciate the hardwork gone in to the success. Thanks for the great read Swamy...A big congrats.ReplyDelete
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As usual,you are a very good story teller, enjoyed reading every bit of your write up and can imagine how tough was the ride and how excellently you guys nailed it... congratulations once again..ReplyDelete
That seems like an experience, such a thriller and the way you have put it in words made it worth reading. I feel like picking up my cycle again and start the ride.ReplyDelete
Awe inspiring, Swamy! Loved reading the story all the way - you are an excellent story teller. makes me want to do something like this one day :-)ReplyDelete