When I woke on Day 3, it was cold, dark, wet, and windy. I had managed less than 3 hours sleep, but I dragged myself out of bed, forced down a 1000 calorie rehydrated porridge meal, and headed out to the carpark to wake up Del in the van. I was late leaving, but with drizzle in the air I set off. Despite the weather, it still felt like an adventure. I would rather have stayed in bed, but the type 2 challenge of riding through the storm held some appeal at the time. After all, today was the day that I would reach Scotland, and our planned overnight stop was to be right on the banks of Loch Lomond, and I have been looking forward to waking up there since I planned the route.
My plotted route out of Lancaster was over a bridge that was closed, so I started my day going round in circles trying to get onto the route that was on the other side of a river. But eventually after much wasted effort, I was on my way, following a high coastal road overlooking Morecombe Bay. By this time, the rain had become much heavier, driven in part by the exposure of the road to the north coast, which I could just about see through the gloom. Despite being fully waterproofed, the north wind just drove the heavy rain through almost everything. My glasses were useless in the rain, so were retired to my back pocket. My Garmin was wrapped in a plastic bag, as the touch screen doesn’t like heavy rain, but the bag steamed up. Without my glasses on, I couldn’t see the directions that well anyway. Thankfully, it was one road, the A6, towards Kendal, so there wasn’t much navigation to do. The route I had plotted however, tried to take me off the A road that I was on. After all the route faffing of yesterday, I was determined to stick to main roads, so I simply followed the signs to Kendal, prepared to travel on anything other than a motorway by this point. Del would be waiting for me in Kendal, and I could attempt to gather my enthusiasm when I got there.
The rain turned biblical, and somewhere a few miles away from Kendal I hid under a bridge just so that my fingers could dry out enough to operate my phone for some directions. All of my earlier enthusiasm had now left me somewhere on the road I had just ridden. I was fed up, hungry, and it was impossible to dry anything. My electronics were not happy and I was not happy. I decided it was time to Facebook Live everyone. My plight deserved greater recognition for my charity I thought, and so it was time for a blatant bit of a fundraising push. It had the desired effect, and donations began to flood in.
Kendal Mint Cake & Pie
Eventually I made it to Kendal. The rain and wind continued to batter me, but I found Del on the edge of town waiting for me with Dora. Unfortunately Dora hadn’t fared so well in the bad weather either as Del informed me when I arrived
“Come here” he said. “Dora has had a facelift while you’ve been cycling”
Then he proceeded to tell me of the tale of being driven into by another motorist that had failed to see the large white ex-speed camera van whilst crossing a junction. Thankfully, he thought it was still just about driving ok, and nothing much had dropped off. But it did mean that he was to spend most of the rest of the day on the phone to the insurance company. I on the other hand was gutted that my pride and joy had been dented, but also relieved that the damage wasn’t significant to either the van or the Hubster.
After some food and a hot drink I was soon on my way. The next challenge to conquer was to get over Shap, in the middle of Storm Francis. But thankfully, as I left Kendal the rain subsided for a bit, and with the Lake District to the north of me, I was slightly shielded from the wind, at least for the climb. The storm also had the useful effect of keeping the traffic very light, and so I pretty much had the road to myself. For the first time that day, I was enjoying the ride. The cloud cover wasn’t too low, and I was able to appreciate the views for a while too.
The morning’s weather had certainly sapped my energy, and I was getting a little behind the schedule. I had just left Kendal, and hadn’t thought to ask Del to get me any Kendal Mint Cake. I knew that was what I could have really done with. Luckily the Hubster was one step ahead of me, and when he met me near the top, I uttered the words “I could really do with a slab of Kendal Mint Cake right now” and if my magic it appeared in front of me, along with another cup of hot tea. It was very welcome, as my day was about to go rapidly downhill – literally as well as metaphorically.
As I headed over the top of the moor, I found the wind again, and it was brutal. I had a long downhill section to do, but the rain was back, along with storm force head and cross winds. For the next few miles I gingerly descended off the moor, my whole body tense in case I caught a sudden gust. My hands stayed glued to the brakes and my shoes filled up with water yet again. I have been suffering with neck issues ever since this trip, and I wonder whether this is when the problems began. I don’t think I have ever held onto my bike so tightly, and been so tense on the bike.
On the way down, I must have passed a house that was cooking it’s lunch, or maybe I was hallucinating, but I had this overwhelming urge to eat a steak and kidney pie. Just for reference I am a pescatarian, but during times like this, I choose to eat what I need, and at that moment, what I needed was a steak and kidney pie. I stopped and messaged Del, who I knew would be waiting for me in Shap village.
The further down the hill I rode, the heavier the rain became. By the time I found Del, I was just dripping from everywhere. I stripped out of my wet clothes and dived under a blanket to warm up, whilst Del went off and found me pies. The stop was supposed to be just 30 minutes, but the storm still raged around us. I hung around much longer than I should have, and tiredness was really starting to get to me. But, I hadn’t even finished leg 2 of the day, I needed to get on. So Del threw me out of the van and said he’d meet me in Carlisle, which was our next stop. With Penrith in the middle I knew that I would be able to get supplies so could manage without him, and he needed to deal with the insurance for the van.
The next few miles were a bit of a blur, but just outside Penrith I knew I needed to stop. I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open. The limited overnight sleep coupled with the might of the storm had depleted my energy reserves to zero. I knew that if I didn’t at least have a power nap that I would soon be falling asleep on the bike. I spotted a small church with a bench in it’s doorway, curled up and slept for about 15 minutes. It was just enough, but as soon as I arrived in Penrith, I stopped in a petrol station for more food, strong coffee and tea.
Once in Penrith, I needed to be able to navigate properly. I became very aware that I had routed the wrong way through several one way streets, but the fact that I couldn’t always tell where I needed to go due to the steamed up glasses, and condensation on my Garmin cover was a bigger problem than the rain and the wind. I had trained in bad weather and was ready for it, but not spotting my turnings, or going round and round towns trying to sort out my dodgy routes because I couldn’t see the directions, just wasted time that I couldn’t afford. But somehow though I made it through a busy Penrith, and headed north. By Carlisle though I was struggling to go on. I was wet, tired, and exceptionally hungry. I stopped at the van for much longer than I should have, but eventually, there was a break in the rain, so I changed into dry clothes and set on my way towards Gretna Green and Scotland. I was overjoyed to reach Scotland despite being way behind schedule by now. It was already 4pm, and I should have been at the end of Leg 3, but I had barely started Leg 2.
There was much catching up to do, and I hoped that with miles of straight road ahead I might be able to gather some much needed speed. The sun came out, and my mood improved, despite the terrible road surface that was to come, and the saddle sores that it would ultimately induce. The sun remained until late evening, but once it disappeared the temperature began to plummet. I could tell I was up north now – yes I’m a real southern softie!
Riders of LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) in 2017 will be familiar with the old road that runs parallel to the M74. It’s the one that you end up on, between the Brampton and Moffat controls. I always knew it was going to be uncomfortable, but I had forgotten just how painful. The most appropriate description I can give, is that the road was laid with beautiful smooth tarmac, and then they threw rocks at it. My bike has a dampening system in it, but it was no match for this road, although I dread to imagine what the damage would have been to my body without it. I was very alone on this road, and didn’t see another vehicle for hours. I assume mostly the traffic just stuck to driving the motorway that ran parallel.
Eventually as night fell, the rain and the headwind returned again on this exposed and lonely road, and then sleep deprivation started to kick in again just to add to my misery. The weather forecast suggested the wind would subside by morning, and so by 10pm I was done. I was more than whole leg down on my day, over 65 miles short. This was not a good day but I figured if I could sleep for a couple of hours, I could get back on the road and make a dent into that final 65 miles, when hopefully the wind would have died down. This was to become a bit of a theme as the ride progressed and I failed day after day to get into my 4th leg of day. But of course I didn’t know this at the time, and was hopeful that this was just a blip, and that I might be able to make up the 65 miles over the next few days, by just riding a bit extra each day. Little did I know!
I was a very long way from the banks of Loch Lomond where I thought I would be when I had set off in the morning. My mood had changed, these hours and the ones that followed would prove to be one of the lowest points of the ride.