These post LEL days, we have reminisced about our cycling journey. LEL was one of the hardest challenges Steve and I have ever encountered in our life. The journey forced us to push ourselves beyond what we ever thought we could accomplish. The challenges were so much more than purely physical, by testing our mental and emotional strength to the max as well. We went through extreme highs and lows and every feeling in between on this ride. This post only highlights just a few beautiful moments and not so beautiful moments we experienced on our whole journey. A later post will encompass the entire ride in great detail from registration to crossing the finish line, well at the least the sections that are not a blur!
We ascending Yad Moss for the first time as the night sky moved in approximately over 300 miles in to the ride on the start of the second night. The moonlight illuminated the valley below in a way that makes it difficult to explain in words. The colors that were there but not really there because of the darkness and shadows. The way the light creep in and out and around the ever changing curves of the mountain and around the sheep and cattle that were laying down slowly ruminating their previous meal was absolutely mesmerizing. The faint flickering lights were barely visible in the stone homes below. Our pedal strokes made the only sound that disturbed the stillness all around. It felt like we were the only ones moving in a world froze in time until you could just barely make out a faint red taillight disappearing into the distant above.
Climbing out of the Devil’s Beef tub was my second favorite moment. Despite the rain the gorgeous hillside full of sheep could put a smile on anyone’s face. The small streams twisting around and down the hill were straight out of a painting and nothing I ever thought I would experience in life. The rain never lasted long and when it subsided it always ended with a rainbow, sometimes a double rainbow. We meet a few people on the climb up and everyone’s attitude were high knowing we were over halfway finished with the ride.
The third beautiful moment was climbing in and out of the River valley just past Innerleithen. Each hill we climbed the evening sky slowly approached until all you could see where faint flickering taillights of other cyclists zigzagging up into an abyss above. There was no traffic and the only sounds audible were the fly wheels buzz and the occasional moo or ba. In fact, there were no houses and no business, we were riding in some of the sparest populated areas in the UK. On one particular descent, two highland cattle greeted us in the road and at the same time we asked each other, did you see the cattle? Sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations and we both thought we were hallucinating!
While there were beautiful times, there were also moments that had some darkness to them trying to shut out the light. These next moments started dark but the because of the kindness of complete strangers we were able to escape the dark tunnel and find the light again. Thinking about these times still brings tears to my eyes. These next moments like the ones before are in chronological order. The first was on Yad Moss. While the first ascent was beautiful we had pushed ourselves so hard we were soaked in sweat by the summit at around 12 am. While this in itself would have been ok, it did start to rain on the descent. We were so cold and so wet we had to stop early at the non-mandatory control of Alston. Would this be a mistake later? Wrapped in a wool blanket we ate bread and onion soup. The control had run out of beds and there were people sleeping on the floor in all the hallways. We were wasting time here. I wanted to move on but knew Steve was ultimately right it was too cold and we were too wet to press on tonight. Steve was out of it and I was ready to cry thinking about all the potential time in hand being lost. I knew I would not be able to fall asleep in a hallway with all the noise going on. While we were deciding on what to do…more like Steve was very firm we were not biking right away… the local hostel opened its doors. We were ushered to room with two bunk beds with two other riders whom were from Taiwan. We slept 3 hours in a very warm and very comfortable bed. The kindness of the volunteers closing their business to the public and allowing riders to sleep there was selfless. Those glorious three hours propelled us into the next leg of the journey and we did not lose too much time in hand.
The second moment was as we were approaching Edinburgh. Emotions were high because we were finally at the halfway point! We were traveling off a bike path and had to merge on a busy road. The cue sheet was unclear and the gps was freaking out. I am not sure what exactly happened but next thing I know I am on the ground with a sore hand, bloody knee, and a foot still stuck in the pedal. Steve dropped me! Emotions were even higher now and combined with having to deal with traffic we were quickly approaching being the stereotypical tandem couple. Walking into the Edinburgh control I was close to tears. My mind was racing thinking horrible things about what my shock was really hiding with my injuries. I found the first aid station and the volunteer there. She quickly got me the supplies I needed to clean and dress my wounds. When learning about how the accident happened, she chuckled and said I need to find a new husband! She made light of the situation and congratulated us on our accomplishment thus far. This was what I needed to pull me from my funk. I then in turn was able to help Steve. Spirits renewed we headed out…. in the rain. But the rain would not dampen us for we were over halfway and still going strong. That and a few more controls until we could sleep again!
As darkness approached leading into our third night, the unit we were using for a gps stopped charging. I had not been charging my phone because I always wanted the gps unit fully charged therefore my phone battery was about 10%. Navigation hands down trumped photos and facebook updates! After stopping and fiddling we learned that the usb cord was very temperamental. Two cyclists, Alex and Sue, who we unfortunately never rode with but always saw at controls, had a spare usb that they let us borrow. This worked for a little while, but as we would discover later, our dynamo hub port was faulty as well. I started to panic. Yes, I knew how to read the cue sheet and I had studied how to read road signs in the UK. I was nervous that the more tired we would became, the greater chance we would miss a turn. We were very used to cue sheets giving us exact turn by turn directions. The LEL cue sheet only list turns when you change roads. It did not list turns when the road you were on would turn right or left. I began to worry that we would lose time at night having to slow down and read each road sign at every cross road. I worried that we would miss a turn and ride 10 miles in the wrong direction and without a phone to check to see where we were on a map, be lost with only sheep to answer our calls for help. We rolled into Eskdalemuir control and all I could think about was trying to get either the gps unit or my phone as charge as much as I could. We only had a USB cable and no base. Near tears I out poured our problem to a volunteer directing cyclists. I asked if there was any way I could borrow a base. I was hoping to get enough of a charge to hold us over until we could find a store where we could purchase a new cable. A volunteer found one for me to use and let me charge them in the office of the community center. I could not get the gps unit to charge but my phone was slowly charging. I sat down at the table and stared at my plate of food, my fear was coming true. No matter how much positive self-talk I tried to give myself I couldn’t see how we would make it back with just the cue sheet. Martin, the volunteer who helped me earlier, sat down at our table and chatted with us. He first reminded us to eat. He was very blunt, “you have a cue sheet!” He had a re-buttable for my every worry at the same understanding my worry. Steve needed a nap but all the beds were full. Martin said the best he could do is a quiet hallway upstairs he could let us rest for a few minutes. As we were leaving Martin very bluntly just said “promise me you’ll just fucking finish the ride!” I promise you Martin we are too determined and too stubborn to not finish and to not finish within the time frame.
Oh Yad Moss. Steve had cursed it out the first time we encountered it and boy did it have a storm ready for us on the return. The winds were 20+ mph and the rains turned heavy instead of the usually drizzle to light rain we had encountered all day. We forged ahead. We screamed “You call this a storm!” “Is this the best you can do, Yad Moss?” The goal is London and will be make it back and on time! We did not come this far too only come this far! We will prevail! “Charge!” We charged down and told many of riders to grab our tail. Most were Spaniards that had an earlier start time than us. We were pushing checking in at Barnard Castle close to being late so we knew this guys were already late. It was a huge mental challenge to keep our spirits high. 10 mile climb of over 2,000 feet in cold temperature and heavy wind and rain after already riding over 500 miles will test you to the core. Then out of nowhere we see a camper van on the side of the road with a sign that said free food and coffee for LEL riders. A blessing, he had magic flapjacks and it was exactly what we needed to cross the summit and finish out this segment. Little did we know that this man is a legend! Drew Buck is a 67 year old cyclist who has complete PBP seven times including in 2013 on a 100-year-old bike dressed as a traditional Breton onion seller. We later learned that those magic flapjacks helped many, many riders get to the next control.
The last full day of riding was the hardest day of riding for us. All day we encountered 25-30 mph headwinds which was more of a metal challenge than physical. It was a hard fight to keep up with our time in hand. As the time in hand dissipated we knew we would have a sleepless night if we wanted to finish within the time limit. With the lack of sleep already the thought of even more brought waterworks. A volunteer at Spalding saw the flicker of defeat in our faces and he sat and talked to us. He said what you are doing is hard and you should be proud of what you have accomplished this far. He knows people that have completed in Iron Man competitions and would never dream of doing events like this. He probably did not know it but the little pep talk once again pulled me from a dark place. I did not train hours on hours to sit at a table and get upset the wind was not going to die down overnight. We are the Trotts we will fight until we have nothing left. We had a drop bag here and decided to go ahead and change kits. After fumbling with the knot I slowly open the bag where the first thing I see is a note I wrote to Steve and I. I had written motivation notes and placed them in all our drop bags the day of registration some to Steve, some to myself, and some to both of us. I had completing forgotten I had written the note even though we had already used three drop bags. I opened the note and cried. Three simple sentences of encouragement and love. Steve found the note and cried too. We were going to make it.
We will never forget the people we meet on this trip from the five other tandem teams we encountered, the other vegans, to the other cyclist we meet from the around the globe from the countries of Spain, Germany, Britain, USA, Australia, France, Denmark, Belarus, Italy, Brazil, Ireland, and Scotland. This journey changed us a bit, by remolding us to refine our definition of what we think we are capable of accomplishing. We asked veterans why they keeping coming back to do LEL? Many did not have an answer. Is the beauty of the landscape and the people you meet worth all the hardship? I do not know yet. I do know that when I am asked if I would do it again there is a pause, a hesitation. A portion deep within my soul is calling out yes! I don’t think anything will ever challenge my all being as much as a grand brevet. My personality will call for another challenge and I will be propelled to conquer it. LEL this year had a 55% success rate for finishers within the time limit with an additional 10% finishing outside the time limit. We knew this ride would be a challenge but we never expected it to drain us to our core in every sense. Mojo the llama represented all our family and friends cheering us on from home. Mile after mile we were never alone and you were always with us. Thank you each and every one for your constant support in us, for following our journey this year, and for believing in us. You were part of our success!