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This is the report of London to Edinburgh with Paul Mace in 2009       Back to 2008-2009

The Long March – another trek to the North, at ever decreasing speed.

Following the runaway success of the Dadswell-Mace partnership during 2008, I took the chance to speak to him about a plan for 2009.  The occasion was a club dinner, and we were, well, (how can I put this?) … let’s say that neither of us was going to be driving home that evening.

And so it was an ideal chance to get him to buy in to another instalment of the folly that is tandem-tricycling.  Land’s End to London had been his longest ride ever, and so I hit him with London to Edinburgh.   Okay.   And then, the idea was to continue after Edinburgh (which would take about 18 or 19 hours), and see if we could get the 24 hour record.  It would seem such a shame to stop, when you could maybe ease another record for just 5 or 6 hours extra pedalling….

Paul and I live about 300 miles apart.  He previously worked at the RAF base at Naphill, near High Wycombe, which is very local to me.  But then he was transferred to a remote location near Alnwick, Northumberland.  Whilst this complicated things a bit, it actually fits fairly well for a ride like we were planning.

We kept in occasional contact during the spring, just making sure we were both doing some training, and we even rode the tandem-tricycle for one race in June.  The schedule was designed, and Notice of the Intention to Attempt to Break Records was lodged with the Road Records Association.  We were going to use a route based heavily on the A1, with the intention of improving our own 12 hour record, the London to Edinburgh record, and then the 24 hour record.  After Newcastle, the route left the A1, and went into the hills, over Carter Bar and Soutra, before plunging down to Edinburgh.  The idea then was to turn right, and follow the A1 back along the north-east coast until the 24 hours expired, probably about a mile from Paul’s house….

I finally submitted the schedule in early August, with a first possible day of 19th.  As usual, when the first day approached, I wasn’t ready.  Even though the weather might have been acceptable, we didn’t go, because of my lack of organisation.  I had also realised that my training had slipped a bit, for various reasons, and so I stepped it up in an effort increase our chances of success (although surely too late?).  Anyway, on Thursday 20th, I spotted that Sunday 23rd really did look promising, but I still hadn’t got a plan together.  Logistics, and all that.   But the weather forecast was emphatically saying “Go On Sunday”, and so I spoke to Paul and the RRA, and we said we’d have a go.  At least, we’d go if the forecast didn’t change.  Despite the possibility that things could easily have subtly altered & thrown everything into disarray, the prediction for Sunday remained pretty solid, and so I really had got to get it together.

See the weather charts pointing to Sunday 23rd

Frank Cubis agreed to time the start, and he would be the observer for the early part of the ride.  Subsequently, he agreed to observe for the first 12 hours, including identifying the precise 12 hour point.  Mike Johnson had previously said that he would look after the observing for the second half, probably with Yvonne doing some of the driving.  But that left me needing a driver for the first half, and timekeepers for Edinburgh and the 24 hour point.

At this point, Paul nominated a mate of his from RAF Naphill, who would drive for us.  My natural caution at involving someone I didn’t know was somewhat squashed by the delight at finding someone who was prepared to give up a couple of days of their life driving up and down the Great North Road.  I spoke to ‘Gez’ on Friday morning, outlining what the job involved, and we arranged that he would visit us on the Saturday to discuss things further.  I then spoke again with Frank, and he agreed that he would stay in the car for the whole of the ride.  This meant that although Mike would be the Observer for the second half, Frank could hop out to do the timing at Edinburgh & 24 hours.   Sorted.

On Saturday morning, Paul had set off by train on his journey south, and he arrived after lunch.   We met up with Gez to agree methods & tactics etc, Paul sorted out his race food etc, and then sat down to relax.

All I then had to do was make sure the tandem was ready, sort out the spare wheels, get several sets of cycling kit ready, mix up bottles of drink, and think of all the other things we’d need for the trip to the North.

I’m fairly sure I got 4 hours sleep before the 0330 alarm went off.  Paul & I set off at about 0440, and collected Gez shortly afterwards.  On our way to the start Frank jumped in, and we made the approach to the start point.    Luckily we had some spare time, as we needed to make a ‘comfort’ stop somewhere. But where?  Luckily, McDonalds have several all-night restaurants on Oxford Street, and one of them generously allowed a pair of strangely dressed individuals to use their facilities just before 6am.

We parked at Smithfield Market (deserted on a Sunday!) to get organised.  Frank wandered off to the start with about 10 mins to go.  At 5 mins to go, I realised that I hadn’t even got my shoes on, and so a bit of panic crept in.  But we made it to the start with a minute to spare.   At 0630, we set off.  Fanfares, crowds, excitement? Nope.

We had a pretty easy ride out through London, with only a few delays.  I was doing the guided tour for Paul, which amused me if nobody else.   After Barnet, we started to feel a bit more as if we were racing, but there were still plenty of obstacles to keep the speed down.  Experience had meant that I hadn’t expected anything else, and the schedule was for about 20 mph for the first hour.  We were just over a minute ahead of schedule at the first few checkpoints, going through 25 miles in 1h 14m.  Yuck.

(photo by Brian Edrupt)

Still, we had started to get a move on when we joined the A1 at Biggleswade, and 50 miles passed in 2h 18m.  We were soon riding past a time trial, with a few familiar faces giving us some extra motivation as we continued on our trek north.

This was certainly a fast bit, as we had a good following wind and were on some nice tarmac.  We went from a 2 minute advantage at Bigglewade to being 9 minutes up when we had to leave A1 at Alconbury 20 miles later.  The schedule had suggested about 25 mph for that bit, but we managed nearly 29 mph, which felt good.

An unfortunate feature of the A1 these days is that it’s steadily being converted to motorway status, and so whenever we saw the dreaded A1(M) signs, we knew that another detour beckoned.   The section around Peterborough is mostly on acceptable roads, but it required us to travel 3 or 4 miles further than we wanted.  It was quite a relief to rejoin A1 at Wansford, but in fact the lumpy terrain that followed didn’t really give us that feeling of zipping along.

However, by the time we hit 100 miles, we were certainly moving well again.  The time of 4h 21m doesn’t look much good, but if you factor out the slow first 25 miles, then it feels more respectable.   The next 50 miles past Grantham and Newark were very good, and the section between 50 and 150 miles took just 4h 3m.

We were then approaching another section of A1(M) near Doncaster, so we prepared to take the slip road just as the A1 changed status.  Oh, but what’s this?  Sliproad closed!   What’s a guy to do?  Cool head, must get through.  Have to make a gap.  So I aimed the tandem at the cones, and just as the left wheel was about to make contact with one, I reached out, lifted it up, and we went through the gap.   After depositing the cone carefully, I looked around and saw Gez carefully wiggling the car through the gap, so we carried on.  Uncontrollable laughing, particularly as there was nothing wrong with the sliproad.

Doncaster was fairly routine, particularly as Christine & Frank Minto kindly ensured that we took the correct route across the river.  Car and riders were separated for a while, and when they saw us again we were starting to suffer.   It took ages to get back out to the A1 again, and when we finally rejoined it, we found it hard to be enthusiastic. 

Our advantage over schedule had steadily crept up to 13 minutes, but it was now down to 8 as we lumbered along amongst the trucks.  The schedule had been based on the ‘actuals’ of a similar ride that I did in 2001, but adjusted to eventually give us the 24 hour record, which was about 20 miles further than we’d covered on the previous occasion.  A consequence of this was that our 12 hour target was 275 miles, and the time at Edinburgh was 18h 20m.  The Edinburgh time was 3 hours faster than the current record, and so we had some scope to run behind, but that would put pressure on the task of achieving the 24 hour record.  The 12 hour record was our own, and 275 would be a 12 mile beating, if we could do it.

Anyway, we soon moved onto a lengthy section of old A1 when we approached Ferrybridge.  It was quite bizarre to be riding along giant sections of wide dual carriageway road with about one car per minute going past us.  Soon our route became narrower and more suited to its current usage.  There was a brief section of A63 before we were very much on the minor roads again.  So minor, in fact, that at one crossroads, our route didn’t even warrant a signpost to the next village.   Luckily we had some marshalling help from Keith Lawton along this stretch, ensuring that we continued on our way, shadowing the A1(M).   We were expecting to rejoin A1 at the junction with A64, but to everyone’s surprise, we weren’t able to, as A1(M) continued into the distance.  

Fortunately, the alternative route continued (although it was never actually signed up as ‘non motorway traffic’, which would have been helpful…), and Keith was indicating the way for us.   This unexpected change meant that our route took us through the centre of Wetherby, and shortly we joined our scheduled roads again.  Somehow we were hanging on to about 7 minutes advantage over schedule along here, and even kept things together for a fairly unpleasant 25 miles along the A1 from Dishforth to Scotch Corner. 

(Dishforth, photo by Keith Lawton)

After that, though, we seemed to slip backwards a bit.  Despite the inspirational presence of the newly arrived Mike & Yvonne, we were only just ahead of the plan after leaving Darlington, and were 6 minutes down at the Durham checkpoint.   No crisis, of course, and we managed another 4 miles before the 12 hours expired just past Pity Me.

We had agreed that we would stop after dealing with the Newcastle bypass, but we had another little hurdle to worry about before we got that far.   I had been notified that the sliproad onto the A1 at Birtley was closed, and that there was an alternative route that we could take.  However, it’s best if you can follow the scheduled route, and so I thought we should at least go to the problem area & take a look.

When we got there, I made the decision that we would take a chance that we could stick with our intended route, and hope there were no giant excavations to stop us.  As it happened, there were a few contractors vehicles randomly parked in our way, but other than that, it seemed as if the road was intact.  We passed through without incident, and were soon joining the A1 traffic, with our speed approaching 40mph down towards the Tyne.

Although Paul was cursing me for my choice of route, there really aren’t many alternatives to using the A1 to cross the Tyne.  Local knowledge might have taken me through the town, or possibly we could have used the A68 route from Darlington.  But I’ve tried each of those alternatives, and I prefer the A1.  Mind you, it’s not pretty, as when you climb away from the river, you have to use the middle lane past the junctions, and that can be scary.  I guess Sunday traffic was fairly light, and so we eventually got to the A696 exit unscathed.  I promised Paul that was the last of the busy stuff.

We stopped after another mile, and it was time to change clothes and install lights.  Opinions differ, but I think we were about 20 minutes down when we stopped, and 30 minutes off when we set off again.  We were then something less than inspirational for quite a few miles, and were 39 minutes down when we joined the A68 near Otterburn, with 317 miles covered.  It was dark as well.

That had been a fairly bleak section, but the next twentyish miles to Jedburgh were going to be quite a lot more testing.  Also, my mind was considering the practical impact of us abandoning at Edinburgh.   The plan had been for Gez to get out of the car when a rendezvous with John & Joyce Leiper was made.  This was for him to get some sleep at their house, prior to driving us home again later on Monday.

This would leave Frank, Mike & Yvonne in my car, with Mike’s vehicle having been left behind near Newcastle.  However, Mike has been unwilling to do this, for security reasons, and was planning to leave the Land Rover at the rendezvous point, which was to be at Carter Bar (the border with Scotland).   I could see problems with this, as we would have to fit 5 people in the car at Edinburgh (to say nothing of somehow collecting a vehicle from Carter Bar).

So, when we reached the summit, I explained that we were definitely getting off at Edinburgh, and that we needed only Mike and Frank in the car at that time.  Luckily, nobody argued with my suggestion, and so Yvonne followed Gez and the Leipers to their residence, leaving just the two in the car behind us.

It was surprisingly warm at Carter Bar, although definitely windy and bleak.  We were thus fully covered up as we entered Scotland and plunged down the northern face of the Cheviots.  On the whole, the road surface was quite good, and we were able to move fairly well.  I was pretty careful on the hairpins, but tried to otherwise maximise the downhill sections.  We had slipped to a 51 minute deficit by Jedburgh, but some of the 12 minutes lost will have happened when stationary at Carter Bar, so I wasn’t too worried.  We didn’t seem to be throwing too much time away, particularly considering how weak I was feeling…

I had two fairly serious worries.  Firstly, I was falling asleep, and while the use of ProPlus tablets is okay, they take a while to cut in.  Thus there were a few worrying moments – one of which caused me to get quite a telling-off from the bloke on the back.  Fair enough, I guess – who wants to be piloted by a slumberer?  The second concern was the substantial amount of recently resurfaced roads.  Now, that sounds great, until you consider the circumstances.  I had quite a good headlight, but we were sometimes going quite quickly, and the resurfaced sections had no catseyes, no white lines, and no kerbstones.   It was often a leap of faith to keep going, as the following car’s headlights weren’t always available as support.

There was actually one moment of sheer terror, when I realised that the road curved sharply, and we weren’t going to get around.   I pulled on the brakes, and we didn’t slow up enough.  Panic.  Imminent crash.  I pulled the brakes as hard as I possibly could, waiting for the cables to pull through, or for the sensation of skidding.   Luckily we managed to hold on and get around the bend, but once through I was in agony with horrendous ‘stitch’ from my efforts to slow us up.  The pain was considerable – far worse than my legs and my backache – and took several miles to go.

Somehow, despite a couple more stops for sustenance, we were not losing further time.  Even some very depressing rain showers failed to break our spirits.  Things settled down eventually, and after passing Lauder, we were looking out for the junction with A697 which would tell us that we were about to ride the last climb of the day.

When it finally arrived, we applied ourselves diligently to the job in hand.  While Carter Bar was the big climb at 418m, the climb to Soutra takes you to 363m, so it’s not trivial.  And then there’s this hilarious idea of getting you to the summit, and making you ride another mile before the road starts to descend.  But it eventually happened, and at last we were on the final plunge to our City Centre appointment at the junction of A7, A8 and A1.

At Pathhead, we were met by John Murdoch, who whisked Frank off to the finish point, to ensure that we had a timekeeper in place.  Mike then had the simple job of watching me effortlessly navigate us through Dalkeith, across the City Bypass, and in to the centre.   With 2 miles to go, there’s a one-way system as you go under the railway.  I knew which way to go, but the signs tried to send us a different way.  I flapped slightly, and followed the signs for 100 yards before the courage of my convictions took over, and I turned us around and we retraced to join the A7 again.  This was the right thing to do, but it negated any advantage we had gained by using the A7 route rather than the more mainstream way in.  Oops.

Anyway, we finally made the left & right by the Commonwealth Pool, and were into the last mile.  I shouted to Paul that we were in the closing stages.  Instead of immediately sensing an increase in speed, I just got a suspicious response of “how far?”.  Whilst I was tempted to say “no more than 10 to go”, I just shouted “a mile”, and hoped I was right.

And what a hazardous last mile!  There were several sets of lights, some cobbled sections, and loads of drunks wandering across the road with no concerns about the traffic, let alone us.    But at last we were on North Bridge, and across the finish point.

We stopped immediately, ignoring the exhortations that we should continue.  No thanks mate.  The time was 19 hours 15 minutes 51 seconds, which was just fractionally in excess of 2 hours faster than the previous record.  Was that okay?   Dunno, but I guess it’ll have to be.  Let’s get changed & load the tandem on the roof.  I just want to lie down.

I don’t remember much about the drive from Edinburgh to Coldstream.  What I do remember was a certain amount of cursing when Mike realised that we had missed our turning.  We were probably quite close to the Leiper residence (and somewhere we could lie down for a while), but couldn’t spot Orange Lane.  If only we had had a post code to aim for, then the sat-nav would have done it for us, but we were instead trying to work with a voicemail left at 3am…  Eventually we managed to find the above-named locality, but we weren’t home yet.  A right turn, a couple more miles, and two more right turns left us driving on a very small road, and in the direction we first thought of.  Were we on an ever-decreasing spiral?  Perhaps not, as Mike suddenly hit the brakes and announced that he’d just seen his Land Rover parked on a driveway!  

And so we had arrived at our impromptu accommodation, at 4am.   But the door was locked.  How much noise do you make at a time like this?  Eventually, a nightdress-clad Yvonne let us in (!), and shortly afterwards our host appeared.  Frank was given a bed, and John allocated space in his motorhome for Paul and me.  At last we could collapse, and the next I knew was that it was about 9am.

The others were all ahead of me for showers & breakfast, but eventually I got there, and enjoyed the excellent hospitality.  The weather was just fabulous as well, and it was a tough moment when we had to set off for the south.

But set off we did, and it was a long drive.  I think we departed at about 10.30, maybe a little later.  We dropped Paul off at Alnmouth, and Gez pointed us at the A1, the South, and Newcastle.  In theory it was almost time to stop for lunch, but I was determined that we should do at least a couple of hours before baling out for food. 

Thus, we reached Wetherby before the first break.  By 4pm, we were in Bedfordshire, and I took over the driving.  It was mostly easy going, and it seemed likely that we’d be all sorted out and at home by 6pm.   But we needed to drop Frank off, and I had forgotten that the North Circular at 5pm on a Monday could be slow.  I finally got home at 7.15pm.

In the days that followed, there were a couple of noteworthy moments.  The first was my discovery, when emptying the car, that we had indeed been supplied with full details of John & Joyce Leiper’s address with post code.  And the second was receiving a call from Scott Paterson.  Scott had been keen to be involved with the record attempt, but had been on holiday when we actually set off.  What I hadn’t realised was that he had actually been in Edinburgh when we arrived there – and would have been at the finish, if only he’d known!  Sorry mate.

That ride was the second tandem adventure for Paul and me.  It will hopefully yield RRA record numbers 3 & 4 for Paul, and 37 & 38 for me.  The 12 hours averaged at about 22.6 mph, with the London to Edinburgh ride averaging 20.1 mph for the 387 miles.  To get the 24 hour record, we needed another 80 miles at 16.8 mph, which I think was going to be difficult, particularly as we had just averaged 15.8 from the 12 hour point to Edinburgh.   Anyway, it’s all academic now…

Ralph August 2009

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