L2E in Review

by Chikashi

Photos of the ride can be seen here.

The five-day trip from London to Edinburgh was delightful, if painful at times.  Previously, I was a bit apprehensive because I have never cycled such a long distance, or done any sort of physical activity all day for five consecutive days.  Additionally, I did not know most people on the ride very well; in fact, I have not met most of them before the actual ride.

It was a friendly and fun crowd, and we had great organisational support from Quintessentially Foundation and logistical support from Classic Tours.  Thankfully, there were no major accidents along the way.  We even had a fair number of female riders to serve as counterweight to any potentially excessive ambient testosterone.  It was hard work, but it was pleasant.

As for hardware, one saw plenty of carbon fibre, aluminium and some titanium.  There were only two lugged steel numbers:  one was my early 90s Gilbert Cattoir and the other was a bespoke chromed stunner with elaborate lugs designed by the owner, both equipped with Brooks saddles, of course.  His, a Swift; mine a Team Pro.

As we all set off from Alexandra Palace, I thought, ‘What did I get myself into?’  It was a chilly, damp and grey morning, and I felt that my legs were extremely heavy.  I was struggling but thought that it was because I have not yet warmed up.  Yet, it did not improve at all but instead worsened.  One rider slowed down to make sure that I was alright.  It was the first tangible sign that I was amongst a good group of riders.  The kind gesture lifted my spirits, but secretly wondered whether I will make it to lunch.  The other rider was silently asking whether I would make it to the first of the two pit stops before lunch.

Going up a modest hill through one of the non-descript London neighbourhoods, I finally dismounted as it was just too much work.  Then, I realised that the rear tyre was rubbing against the left chain stay, effectively creating a permanent braking situation.  When I re-assembled the bike upon arrival at Alexandra Palace, I did not tighten the rear quick release skewer sufficiently.  The right side got pulled forward by the chain and the wheel was therefore tilted to the left.  The rubbing stripped off the paint from the chain stay, but the tyre managed not to burst.  Fortunately.  I tightened the skewer, and off I went, feeling as though I was now floating on air.  Until then, I had no music in my system, but after the problem was fixed, I had Theophilus London’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s I Want You flowing through my head for the remainder of the day.

In the afternoon, I was riding behind a friend who kept lifting his left buttock off the saddle at ten minute intervals.  As with much of the whole five days, we had strong head wind, and I kept seeing him making this funny movement, making me wonder whether I ought to slip back a bit to increase the distance between us lest I get a whiff of what I suspected he was doing.  We are good friends, but, you know…  He told me later that he was feeling a bit sore from not applying enough chamois cream.

In the evening, I witnessed someone ordering, and eating, chicken wings with ice cream sundae at the same time.  The waitress was a bit confused, but we concluded that she led a sheltered life in Peterborough.

The first two days entailed cycling frequently on very busy roads, some of them being dual carriageways, with large lorries speeding by only inches away from our right shoulders.  Living in Belgium, one gets accustomed to extensive networks of cycling paths that make it much safer for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.  Not in the UK.  The second day was wet, which made for a nervous ride on busy roads, competing for tarmac space with lorries spraying wet muck all over us.

The day before we set off, I ran around central London looking for rain covers for my shoes.  The weather condition on the second day made me very pleased that I found a pair in my size.  The staff at the first cycle shop told me that they only stock wind covers, not rain covers, this time of year.  This time of year?  I had read somewhere a few years ago that the UK has the highest rate of sales per capita of convertible automobiles in Europe.  Optimists.  I could hear Voltaire spinning in his grave.

Perhaps because of the rain, it was a Joy Division sort of day with a medley of Wilderness, Disorder, Interzone, Atrocity Exhibition, Novelty and Transmission.

In the morning, we zipped through a village called Bitchfield, situated just northeast of Lower Bitchfield.  Both villages must be tax havens?

The pub lunch near Lincoln had an unexpected, brief encounter in store.  We were met by Rupert Lycett Green who warmly welcomed us to his neck of the woods.  One does not anticipate meeting someone wearing a beret in the middle of England.  What was most unexpected is to suddenly meet someone with enormous charisma and style in the middle of a cycling trip.  He sat down with Tim Everest and me for a chat whilst we wolfed down our lunches.  There is a Japanese word that describes him quite well:  iki.  It is impossible to accurately and precisely translate the word, but it is a mixture of confidence, style, charm and a few other ingredients for which succinct names are not available.  When he shook our hands and then stood up to leave our table, I instinctively rose in anticipation of a bow, only to realise that, since he is not Japanese, he is not expecting a bow, and probably thought that I was a bit strange, perhaps confusing him for a woman.

The third day took us through Yorkshire’s rolling hills and stunning landscape.  Cycling heaven.  Etta James was belting out I Just Want to Make Love to You and You Can Leave Your Hat On in a continuous loop.

It was nippy in the morning so I wore my shoe rain covers again.  They are black with some reflective bits, standard cycling stuff.  They make one’s feet look like they belong to an evil Teletubby who wants to tempt Tinky Winky to come over to the Dark Side.  What was the last episode of Teletubbies?  I missed it.

In the evening, we had a rare opportunity to observe the natives who came to see a comedy show at our hotel just outside Middlesborough.  I felt like I was in a television studio.

The route on the fourth day got even better.  But harder.  We had three main climbs the previous day, but on this day, the Classic Tours people kept saying that there are eight climbs.  The data on Mapmyride.com said nine climbs.  The print-out of the elevation chart looked like there were twenty.  It felt like fifty.  Near the apex of one of the hills was a stencilled graffiti on the tarmac:  ‘HTFU’ in yellow.  I had to laugh so hard that I completely lost my momentum.

My right knee did not enjoy the day, but I had Matt Monroe’s On Days Like These and Shirley Bassey’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You alternating throughout the day.

The fifth day provoked mixed emotions as we crossed into Scotland.  The weather was glorious.  The lush landscape and gentle hills make one want to continue riding beyond Edinburgh.  However, this is our last day.  I have no idea why, but it was Jingle Bells all day long.

We boarded the train from Edinburgh at 19:00 and expected to arrive at Kings Cross at midnight, but there was a delay of close to 4 hours on the way down.  I do not remember seeing Euston Road so empty.  Long day.

My sponsors in Washington, DC, asked me how the trip was, and I replied by saying that it was wonderful largely due to the fact that I had a rare five-day period free of a*** holes.  One of them wrote back saying that if that happened in Washington, the black hole would swallow Earth.  I laughed out loud.