Volunteering at LEL2013

LEL Logo

LEL2013, or London Edinburgh London, is a long cycle ride (Audax) whose 1400+km have to be completed in under five days (116 hours, 40 minutes to be exact). It takes place every four years and I know a lot of friends who had been preparing for it for ages.

I wasn’t originally involved but following my breakfast with velomobiles, where I met some Germans and a Dutch man riding to the start in London, I wondered whether they needed any help in the controls near my part of the world.

Controls are obligatory stops where the cyclist has to get their brevet card stamped. This is proof that they have been at the control and this ensures they do at least the minimum distance (1400km). Many cyclists will do a much more significant distance through lack of directional ability when tired and taking unintended detours!

I checked the LEL website and saw that chum Tom Deakins was running a control at Great Easton which is near Dunmow, not far from Stansted Airport. I sent him an email just asking if he needed any help and he said yes, they’d like help on the desk stamping the cards and checking riders in to the computer for rider tracking.

They were short-handed on Wednesday so I agreed to come along then. As my husband was away I was looking after the dog so told Tom I could give them six hours (with an hour travelling time each end for me) if I had to leave the dog at home, not wanting to leave her more than eight hours, or longer if Poppy came too. Tom checked with Gill who was running the front desk and she said it was fine to bring Poppy along, and could I come at 10 on Wednesday.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

So Poppy and I set off in the car on Wednesday morning for the village of Great Easton. It’s a very traditional English village with a lovely church and, of course, a pub (which I am reliably informed keeps decent beer and does good food).

Great Easton Church

It was good to know that the riders would get to see some of our nice Essex countryside – although they would all be massively into sleep deprivation at this point so possibly wouldn’t notice a thing!

I arrived and was introduced to Gill on the desk as well as the other volunteers, several of whom were also members of the YACF forum. It’s strange to meet people that you only know of by a name and a small avatar.

I gave Poppy a short walk and then it was time to settle down to my duties.

People had nametags but these had actually run out. I was going to just stick a random white label on my t-shirt but remembered that I had brought along the LEL YACF nameplate (that lots of YACF forum members were fitting onto their bikes) so I’d use that. I stuck an “Ich spreche Deutsch” sign on mine too and used one of the many lanyards to hang it round my neck.

Auntie Helen name tag

And then it was time to unwrap my LEL Volunteers t-shirt, a nice bright red (a colour I like). It made it much easier for tired cyclists to know who to ask for help when we were all wearing the same thing.

Volunteer T-Shirt

I was also offered a spare Drop Bag (these are different coloured bags which riders used to put a change of clothing in and these bags were taken to different controls so the riders didn’t have to carry the clothing). I picked Moffat as it was another nice red!

Moffat Drop Bag

It was also mentioned that we had rather an oversupply of lanyards and they were being used for lots of different things. I instantly put one into use as a dog lead holder thingie to keep Poppy secured behind the front desk.

Lanyard Usage

Here is Poppy in situ with her food and water available.

Behind the Reception Desk

She had enough lead length to reach the chair where some riders sat down to remove their shoes and she was made a fuss of by dozens riders over the time we spent at Great Easton. She loved it!

And here’s another lanyard, holding the outer door open.

LEL Lanyard Door Stop

As the cyclists arrive, passing the church, they are met by a group of LEL Volunteers who point the correct way to go to get to the control desk.

Outdoor team

There’s also some helpful signage!

Control and London signage

We had a sign for London, as you can see.

Londong This Way

But also a spare one for Edinburgh which we wondered about putting up for a joke but thought very tired cyclists who had ridden 1350km might not find it too amusing!

Edinburgh This Way

Poppy and I quite liked it though!

Auntie Helen with sign

As Great Easton was the last control before London we had plenty of time to prepare for the onslaught of riders which would, by this point, be spread out over several days. The first controls had had lots of queues as dozens of cyclists turned up at once; we knew we were unlikely to get this, but would instead have people arriving 24 hours a day, tired and needing hot or cold food, tea or coffee or cold drinks, fresh water in their bike water bottles and maybe a little TLC as well as stamping their brevet cards.

Here’s the LEL control information, our control was only open on the way back (to shorten the final stretch for those who are really tired and need more frequent breaks by this point).

LEL Ride Plan

Here is our controller, Tom Deakins (Tomsk), who has ridden several LELs before, plus also PBP (the French version, Paris Brest Paris, which is a much bigger event with about 6000 riders).

Controller Tom

Notice the plates of food and sweeties on the reception desk. We put these there after the first riders started coming through and it was amazing how much people sppreciated the mini Haribo and other stuff. They were so hungry at this point that they just fell on the snacks, often stuffing doughnuts or krispie bars into their back pockets for the rest of the journey. We were constantly refilling the bowls/plates. It didn’t help that all the receptions staff quite liked the haribo chews as well!

For my job of stamping the cards we, of course, needed a stamp. Tom runs several audaxes throughout the year and he has a stamp for them which seemed rather apt and which we used.

Control Stamp

And this is what you get:

Great Easton stamp

We got lots of comments from riders about this stamp as it appeared on their cards – they loved it!

It was also our job to enter riders into the computer system for rider tracking. The brevet card is the official record but the rider tracking was for friends and family to follow cyclists’ progress.

I’d been following about a dozen friends who were riding this and there had been a few cases where controllers had forgotten to log someone in at a control. Sometimes this meant you got a bit worried that they were taking overlong on one section and the Facebook LEL page had posts from a woman worried about her son who was riding as he had apparently failed to check in for about fifteen hours. Eventually he checked in at the following control and when I saw him at Great Easton everything had been fine (and he had no idea there had been a problem with his tracking) but this confirmed to me the importance of this task and we did our utmost to ensure everyone was tracked electronically at the same time as having their card stamped.

The first rider had already finished on Tuesday evening. Anco de Jong had ridden an amazing audax, especially as he explained to the staff at Great Easton that he’d gone wrong near Edinburgh and lost a couple of hours there, as well as also losing an hour later down the line.

Here he is getting his medal at the finish:

Anco de Jong

This is a picture of us tracking his ride which had finished long before I started my stint at Great Easton.

Anco's timings

Here is Gill at the reception desk with Poppy standing guard as she did most of the time.

Reception Desk

And here we are, ready for the onslaught.

Ready For The Onslaught

We seemed to have masses and masses of food.

Food Stores 2

Food Stores 1

Not to mention hundreds of doughnuts!


The hall had a freshly-laid wooden floor and we had to ask cyclists to remove their shoes with the metal cleats. We had loads of signs but it was amazing how often tired cyclists didn’t see them and were brought up short by our shout of “SHOES!”

STOP No Cleats In Hall

It also meant that we regularly had to pop into the hall for them as they’d put their shoes on and realised they had forgotten their helmet/bag/brevet card etc. They were all very stiff and finding it difficult to bend down to put on shoes so we didn’t ask them to take them off again, we got good at translating grunts and vague hand signals into what the item was and where they left it.

We didn’t expect many cyclists to stay that long with us, we were just a chance to refuel/use the loo/chill out before they pushed on the final 45km (30 miles) to the finish at Loughton, although some stayed over an hour in the end. We had this sign for them as they left.

Good Luck sign

Notice that the second language on the sign is German. It turned out that there was a huge contingent of Germans on this ride – I heard someone say there were 150 but it seemed like loads more. Almost all the early arrivals were Germans. I asked one of them why there weren’t many Brits yet and he said the Germans like to come and get the ride done whereas the Brits like to enjoy the scenery. Not sure how accurate this is! Whatever, I seemed to be speaking more German than English at the controls and it was good practice, although I couldn’t understand one Bavarian chap at all.

The first riders started dribbling in, each one getting a round of applause as they headed up the driveway to the Village Hall. They were all well looked after.

These two already have the thousand yard stare

Early riders with the 1000 Yard Stare

Their bikes were parked behind the village Hall and volunteers kept an eye on them, as well as helping to repair punctures, freshen water bottles and put them back on the bikes, etc.

Wednesday bike racks

Each bike had a number (the rider number) which was really handy for early identification and to know to which bike to return the water bottles.

For most of Wednesday we were never really busy and there were lots of chances for a sit down. Poppy also enjoyed being made a fuss of – here’s Deniece (a volunteer who rode LEL last time and who happens to live about two miles from me) having a cuddle.

Poppy gets a cuddle with Deniece

And this is a photo of Poppy added to the London Edinburgh London Facebook page stream by Jordan Carroll (the youngest rider of LEL at just 21 years old – what an achievement!)

Poppy at Great Easton by Jordan Carroll

Poppy was awake most of the day as people were always wandering about but she did have occasional naps when things quietened down.

Poppy sleeps during a gap between riders

Because she was tied up to a lead she did become a bit of a trip hazard and I was amazed that none of the other volunteers at the desk complained about her!

We were often asked by riders to check the progress of their friends through the tracking system. We were happy to do this although the internet signal was very poor in the village – none of our phones worked for data but there was a more high-tech 3G data router with external aerial for the two computers doing the rider check-in but we weren’t able to use the connection for anything else.

Anyway, we did have occasional visitors who weren’t riders – this young girl and her mother and dog had come over from the Netherlands to support their father/husband.

Go Papa

We couldn’t really tell them when he was likely to appear as we only knew when he had checked in at St Ives, the previous control, but not when he had left that control (he may have been there for five minutes or perhaps for an hour). We had also been told by those cyclists arriving that the stretch between St Ives and Great Easton was the hardest of the ride and so journey times for that segment were very variable. Experienced audaxer Tom told us that it wasn’t really particularly difficult, it was just that with 1350km in their legs it seemed worse than it was.

The difficulty of that stage meant that almost every rider asked us if the next section was as difficult as this one. We said no, a few hills to start with and then mostly flat. For the continental riders whose language we didn’t speak we did hand signals showing hills and flat bits – it’s surprising how much a tired cyclist can understand when it’s about how hilly his route is!

The list of nationalities whose cards I stamped was amazing. We had people from Brazil, a chap from India, several South Africans, everlasting Germans, lots of Poles, Dutch, Austrians, Swiss, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Americans… you name it. It was fantastic to hear of the different riders helping each other. One Swedish chap was in a bit of a mega hurry as his plane left from Stansted at 4pm; he was at our control at about 10am so had to get to Loughton (two and a half hours), do all his registration, pick up all his stuff and get to Stansted. He said it didn’t help that he was, at that point, only a few miles from Stansted but had to detour to London!

The team of volunteers was changing all the time as people went home to sleep (or, in Gill’s case, attempted to sleep in a tent on the stage of the village hall – she was there for the entire duration, from Monday afternoon until Friday morning!) I came in from giving Poppy a short walk at one point to discover the reception desk full of volunteers so took this pic.

At the Control Desk

The smallest member of the welcome team got a fair bit of fuss from dog-loving cyclists.

Part of the Reception welcoming team

These three young ladies helped out on the evening shift on Wednesday and were a very welcome sight to lots of weary cycling chaps!

Wednesday Evening Reception Girls

The numbers were gradually increasing throughout Wednesday and our ridiculous mountain of food started looking less ridiculous! I spent a lot of time talking German as we seemed to have more Germans than anything else coming through the controls. They all spoke some English but when they’re that tired it’s easier for them to talk to me in German. One chap had his English pretty much all desert him so I went with him to the food serving area and told him what the food was – he decided to go for rice pudding (Milchreis).

He told me how popular LEL is in Germany as they don’t have so many long rides over there (although I know there’s a Hamburg-Berlin-Köln-Hamburg audax) and that there was lots of talk about LEL on German forums so people knew about it. He was full of praise for the whole event, the staff, the facilities – and as entrants only paid just under £220 for the entire event (all food etc) it seems remarkably good value – and he thought so.

Several Germans asked if there was beer available (no), others wanted coca cola (Tom went out and got some) and there were various other small requests but overall people seemed remarkably pleased with what we offered.

One of the riders I was tracking was Rolf (C62). I noticed that he had dropped out at Barnard Castle on Monday on the way up to Scotland but didn’t know why. I was most delighted to see him roll in whilst I was at Great Easton on Wednesday.

Mango tourist Rolf

He’d had some mechanical problems with his gears and realised he wouldn’t make the whole ride within the time limit so had instead had a very leisurely trundle back towards London, using the controls for food etc. He told me he had really enjoyed his little holiday!

Having checked the rider tracking I note that someone checked him in at Great Easton and then marked him as ‘Dropped Out’ again. Clearly not me, I was out there chatting with him!

Rolf tracking

Rolf and I talked for about fifteen minutes and then it was time for him to head off to Loughton to try to get there in daylight. Off he trundled and soon after Poppy and I finished our shift (we’d gone well over the original time we said we’d be there) and headed home. I’d enjoyed the day so much that I said I’d come back the following day which Gill seemed pleased about.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Overnight one of the riders I was tracking, Gabriele/Jedrik in the Quest XS Velomobile, had been through Great Easton and finished at Loughton. I had assumed she might sleep at St Ives and that I might see her when I got to Great Easton but she was clearly keen to get through and finish. When I arrived at Great Easton Gill told me that Gabriele had found the last section very hard in the dark and had been pretty tired. She must have been among the first women to finish though!

As I drove to Dunmow I was listening to the radio and the warnings about the very hot day we were expecting, with temperatures up to 33 degrees. Not much fun for tired cyclists who had been on their bikes for four days solid. I knew that today we’d see cyclists in a worse state than yesterday, even though they are taking longer to do the ride. Today’s would include the less fit and those with less experience of audaxing.

The heat was really noticeable even at 8:45am when Poppy and I arrived at the control. I had brought along a fan which was handy except we were rather short of electric sockets in the building. At the reception desk we had two spare sockets, into one of which we plugged the fan. As the day progressed we often had to unplug the fan to charge people’s phones. I had brought along an iPhone charging lead and Gill had a mini-USB and that seemed to work for almost everyone. A few cyclists had very sensibly brought their own leads along too. There were a few occasions when there was a queue for the charging – they just wanted a quick ten minute charge so they could send a text home to say they were still alive! We were often asked about wifi availability but sadly there was none although there was at some other controls, I believe. We were hampered by being in a village with no signal!

I’d been at the desk checking in a steady stream of riders for a while when I looked out of the window and noticed a Strada velomobile (made by the same people who make the Quest and Mango, Velomobiel.nl).


I went and had a look and took a photo and then went back to my job stamping cards and logging in riders (the reception team were rotating duties a bit to give people a break).

I was helping with some bottle filling when one of the cyclists said to me “I think I saw you on the way from Harwich!” It turned out he was one of the riders in the velomobiles that had passed me when I had a puncture and to whom I shouted “aren’t you having breakfast with me?” We thought it was rather amusing and he talked a bit about his ride.

As he was heading out I went with him and had a good look at his velomobile. He very kindly spent a good ten minutes talking to me about it, pointing out the advantages (enclosed chainline means he is still on his original chain and sprockets etc after 42,000km!!!!!) He was about to head off and turned it round and then noticed that it had a flat rear tyre. Cue a quick demonstration of how to change the rear tyre (which is obviously harder than the front tyres).

He laid the velomobile on its side on a bit of a bank.

S27 with flat rear tyre

An interesting view of the underneath!

S27 upside down

He then removed the rear tyre. I would have thought this was really difficult but no! The axle is one-sided so you can just pop the tyre off without having to undo anything.

S27 underneath

The velomobile has loads of storage room behind the seat and he stuck his hand in there and pulled out a track pump!! He handed to to me – it may look like a reasonably short track pump but it was as light as anything, maybe only 250 grammes. Very impressive! It came free with the velomobile apparently (which costs €5,750 for the base model).

S27 fixes rear puncture

He pulled out the tube and reinflated it to discover a the puncture was on the inside which was weird. He checked the rim of the wheel but it seemed OK so he put a fresh tube in. Note the audience for this procedure!

S27 pumping up tyre with an audience

And then he was ready to head off again, very phlegmatic about his fourth puncture of this trip.

S27 heading off

You can see from the sunlight that the day was now getting really warm. People were coming in looking seriously overheated and with definite signs of sunburn. They were telling us that the headwind across the fens was like a warm hairdryer and that everything was much, much harder than they had expected in the heat.

Audaxers eating

It became pretty apparent that now, on the fourth full day of this event, that people were beginning to look a bit rough. The men all had four days’ beard (no point in wasting valuable time shaving) except for one, lone chap who had shaved that morning. How civilised!

Even more notably, as midday approached riders walked in wearing fewer and fewer items of clothing. The queue at reception desk was a display of scary stubble and unzipped jerseys displaying sweaty chests (with the occasional lady cyclist, unstubbled and zipped up, in the mix). When the men got into the hall they tended to remove their jerseys altogether (fortunately not the shorts!) We were getting pretty busy now, processing up to sixty cyclists per hour. Each of them needed checking in, food, fresh water, a rest, a squirt of our suncream or after-sun (Tom had to go out and buy some more as it was so popular).

Some cyclists had mechanical issues that we tried to help with (mainly punctures). We didn’t have a bike maintenance area like some of the controls did but the staff tried what they could. David, who was helping me on the reception desk today, disappeared for about fifteen minutes to help someone with a broken pedal. In the end David removed the pedal from his Brompton bike and fitted it to the chap’s bike; David said he probably wouldn’t see it again and would have to cycle the ten miles home with just one pedal, but he didn’t want the chap’s LEL to be over when he had so nearly reached the finish.

We had occasional visits from LEL vans and also saw this motorcycle outrider chap. He looked like he was rather overheating and spent a good time in the hall having some food and drinking!

Motorcycle outrider

Lots of bikes were stored in the shade, leaning up against the hedge.

Bicycle parking

We weren’t only visited by LEL cyclists – cycling chum Delthebike appeared around lunchtime. He was clapped by the volunteers on the driveway until I pointed out he’d only ridden from Southend. We gave him a cup of tea and traded insults.


I also discovered he’s not good at taking photos of me with my phone.

Auntie Helen and Poppy

Del headed off to the pub for lunch and a beer while the rest of us toiled on!

Big Martin arrived!

Big Martin

I have a real soft spot for Martin as he rode with me on my final leg of the Berlin to London ride. His average speed is around 18-19mph but he trundled along with me at my 11mph for 50 miles or so. What a gentleman! I think this was his first long audax.

I spotted this Challenge recumbent when taking a quick break – it belonged to Arvid who I know from YACF!

Arvid's bike

And lo and behold, there he was in the hall, having a quick break. And still looking amazingly cheerful!

Arvid still looks cheerful

I went out with him to watch him sail away on his recumbent.

Arvid gets ready to leave

Arvid leaves

Not long after Arvid left I noticed another velomobile all alone. It looked like it needed a bit of a clean!

J56 Velomobile

J56 was a Milan SL and the German owner had a good chat with me. He’s from the Niederrhein region of Germany which is where I will be living next year and I asked him about cycling clubs/groups around there.

He commented, when getting in, that the front flap would make a good bug screen if it were transparent!

J56 bug screen

Here he is ready to go. We, of course, commented about the water tube but he said that’s the best place for it otherwise it drips on him inside. He said if he had a Euro for every time someone commented on it he’d be rich!

J56 ready to go

I’d been waiting for some times for friends Lindsay and Chris on their tandem. Lindsay, on the back of the tandem, appeared to be tweeting fairly regularly and so we knew they had taken a detour to Saffron Walden centre for an ice cream. Eventually they rolled up looking hot but still cheerful. Chris is a seasoned Audaxer but hasn’t done a distance like this before – they were doing great though!

After Lindsay’s brevet card was stamped I took a photo of it so you can see all the different stamps from the controls.

Brevet Card one stamp to go

They had ridden in with DrMekon from YACF who was doing the ride for charity. He has the same bike as my husband, proof that James could do LEL if he fancied it!

Aravis Super-Tourist (DrMekon)

While Lindsay and Chris and DrMekon were having some food inside, yet another velomobile appeared. And, biggest surprise of all, the rider was an Englishman!

British Velomobile

It was time for Lindsay and Chris and DrMekon to head off. Here’s the tandem team with controller Tom.

Lindsay and Chris with Tom the controller

Lindsay’s not got her head down because she’s fed up – she’s fiddling with the Garmin satnav I believe. Or maybe tweeting….

Tandem Team heads off

However, we did have a gentleman with his head down this afternoon – a case of Sherman’s neck which can afflict long distance cyclists. He was with a friend who had led him the last twenty kilometres as this chap was unable to lift his neck up. He could only look at his front wheel whilst riding, not ahead at the road. There’s not much that can be done for this except rest so we suggested he stayed at Great Easton for a good long time (they had plenty of time in hand) and then see how he felt. In the end he decided it sensible to drop out so that his friend could go on ahead, but I think there was some further discussion about this and I’m not sure about the conclusion. Such a shame if he did stop with such a short distance remaining.

Edit: As you’ll see from the comments below, Lindsay informs me:

The rider with Sherman’s neck was Ron Fisher from Bury St Edmunds, a member of the West Suffolk Wheelers. He celebrated his birthday in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning, and did go on to finish, thanks to clubmate Deane Hill.

That’s great news that he finished!

Cycling is very safe but we had heard through the Facebook group that a LEL rider had been knocked off his bike. This was actually after he had finished and gone home, but he is seriously injured which is very sad news.

I also had the very strange experience of having to break bad news to someone without any preparation. Riders often ask us for details of tracking on their friends and we look it up on the website for them. The control has more information, including comments about riders such as if we’ve given them medical attention or if they’ve lost anything, and when I looked up this person the cyclist was looking over my shoulder at the screen. The Comments field told us that he had been in an accident with another cyclist and one or both were in hospital. Terrible news and I felt awful that his friend had found out like this. I hope that both the riders are OK.

EDIT: I had this message about these riders:

The two riders who came together in Ramsey are both fine: I spoke to Peter yesterday, who was on a trike and was hospitalised, and he has some bruising and cuts to his head. Alan had a bloody nose and was desperate to carry on, but his carbon bike had been broken too badly in the accident and nobody seemed able to source a loaner.

We only had a basic first aid kit but people did use our plasters and paracetamol. I was asked by one tall rider to stick a special heat pad on his neck – he had clearly come prepared. I did as requested and hoped that it made his neck feel a bit better.

Meanwhile, back at the reception desk, we were all feeling the heat – especially when the fan was off so a phone can be charged!

Tired staff at reception desk

In the hall food supplies seemed to be running low and Tom made a couple of emergency Tesco visits. He reported seeing cyclists queuing for ice creams outside every shop in Saffron Walden!

Food and rest

The throughput of cyclists was such that we got very few breaks and were all rushing about like mad things. The cyclists were extremely polite and pleasant which was a surprise; I’d been warned they could be grumpy after so little sleep but they all seemed really grateful for our attention and most of them thanked us for our help. Their routine was to come out of the hall, put on their shoes, give Poppy a pat if they were dog lovers, then wincingly walk their way on tired, stiff legs to their bikes which would have fresh water bottles on them.

Getting ready to head off to London

This lady was apparently taking the opportunity to air her rather sore backside!

Getting some fresh air to saddle sores!

Rows of worn-out bikes, many of which have Heath Robinson repairs.

Rows of worn-out bikes

We heard reports of one man’s bike which basically collapsed underneath him in Edinburgh. A request went out on twitter and he was provided with a loaner bike within the hour so he could finish.

Edit: A comment made to my blog from Ulli Harding explains this:

I was helping out in Edinburgh – the rider with the broken frame (T32) actually left Edinburgh on his own bike! My friend Johann who brought along a spare bike ended up taking the nice old steel racer to another welder friend … and they managed to put it back together (finest Polish welding technique!)…
T32 arrived safely in Loughton according to the tracker, with an hour or two to spare… What I don’t know is what bike he was on!

Lots of people were reporting punctures and the non-Brits were all marvelling to me about how bad our roads are.

The official route had changed in the last week because of a bad pothole in Thaxted but some people hadn’t updated their GPS tracks (sometimes because they had come over to England early for a holiday and thus not been at a computer) and so were going the wrong way. We had a few comments about that so Tom went to put extra signs up but lots of cyclists went through this pothole and were lucky not to damage their wheels.

There was an absolutely magical sound mid-afternoon when we were all sweltering in the hall. The off-key music was instantly recognised by every Brit in the place and they were all cheering for… Mr Whippy!

Mr Whippy

This ice cream salesman now had 1000 new friends!

Tom bought ice creams for all the volunteers – and several of the riders bought their own too.

The evening was drawing in a bit when Dan Howard arrived on an upright trike, the only trike I had seen so far (friend John Eady on an ICE Vortex was still on the way from St Ives).

Upright Trike arrives!

The library of weird vehicles continued, with this recumbent bike with the label “old bat on a bent” – no idea who this was.

Old Bat on a Bent

The people arriving now tended to be the less fit ones and they were struggling more than those who had come through yesterday. Each one had done an amazing job to get this far though and we were all hopeful they’d make it to Loughton with no problems. At this point in the day they were still all safely within the time limit which was a relief but as evening approached it started to get a bit dicey time-wise for those who had started earlier (LEL has a staggered start from 6am until 10am on the Sunday).

Tired cyclists on Thursday

Cyclist Lawrence Loh from Singapore was very pleased to pose with our Edinburgh and London signs.

Lawrence Loh with signage

I had stayed on way beyond my original plans in order to try to see a few more chums but the heat of the day had clearly taken its toll and lots of people were struggling badly with the hills from St Ives. Friend Lara/Feline was expected in due course but had a dodgy ankle so we didn’t really know when.

I decided it was time to leave at 9:45pm and so Poppy and I headed off, just as the first of the Elliptigos was arriving. We’d been following these on the tracker – they’re a kind of Cross Trainer which actually moves you along. Here’s my very poor pic (it was dark):

Elliptigo arrives in the dark

This is a library photo of one. Imagine riding 1400km on those – and two of the three made it to Loughton in time, one with just 19 minutes to spare!

Elliptigo elliptiwent 1418km!

LEL is certainly a ride where you see a vast selection of random machines!

I had very tired feet after standing up for thirteen hours (we only ever had a chance to sit down for a minute or so as the day was so busy) but obviously not anywhere near as tired as the riders or, indeed, as Gill who was our overall boss. She was brilliant, working really hard, always cheerful, turning her hand to anything, often noticing when the rest of us didn’t that something needed to be done, like bin emptying or table wiping or whatever. She tried to get some sleep during the day in the hall but that was a struggle. Anyway, Gill was brill – as was everyone else really. Tom, of course, and Rob and Ian who wafted about doing various jobs. The other reception team were great (and, as mentioned earlier, very unflustered by having a cockapoo tripping them up half the time) and I think we’ve done a reasonable job overall with the control.

And, once again, congratulations to everyone who participated in LEL, including those who didn’t make it to the finish but who still did an amazing ride!


  1. great to get an insight into life at other controls :-).
    I was helping out in Edinburgh – the rider with the broken frame (T32) actually left Edinburgh on his own bike! My friend Johann who brought along a spare bike ended up taking the nice old steel racer to another welder friend … and they managed to put it back together (finest Polish welding technique!)…
    T32 arrived safely in Loughton according to the tracker, with an hour or two to spare… What I don’t know is what bike he was on!

  2. The rider with Sherman’s neck was Ron Fisher from Bury St Edmunds, a member of the West Suffolk Wheelers. He celebrated his birthday in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning, and did go on to finish, thanks to clubmate Deane Hill.

  3. That’s my back with the Mille Cymru jersey on it, fixing a puncture, with the German lady airing her backside. It was around then when the ice-cream van passed and there was the spontaneous cheer at the chimes. The German lady didn’t know what was happening – don’t they have ice-cream vans in Germany?

    There seem to have been a few puncture problems at the control – any idea why?

    I spent longer than intended at Great Easton – the heat/headwind/unexpected hills had taken it out of me. Had a long chat with Tonyh who looked much more in need of sleep than me, I think. A scoop of jelly beans in the little food bag went into my cross-bar bag and helped me to Loughton.

    Thanks for stamping my card and for the long blog entry/photos. It really seems that volunteering on LEL is a very fulfilling and worthwhile activity. I’ll consider it ahead of riding in 2017, I think – less chance of incurring the sort of bottom problems I’m currently suffering with.

    1. I don’t know if there were more punctures at Great Easton than elsewhere but our Essex roads aren’t very good with the surface dressing and regular potholes/flints. At least at a control you can get someone else to fix your puncture!

  4. I’m sorry I missed you at Gt Easton Auntie H but I did spend some time fussing with (and being fussed by) Poppy who is gorgeous 🙂

    Your photos and description really don’t convey just how hot it was on Thursday. I don’t know how the volunteers managed to stand it! I asked for wet cloths to help keep me cool whilst I sat outside. And I chatted at some length to a young chap call Dan who – crazy fool – says he wants to do LEL in 2017.

    In answer to your question who is the “old bat on a bent” her name is Victoria and she was one of seven ladies who came over from the US. Victoria lives in Texas and, if her friends are to be believed, she used to be a stunt rodeo rider!

  5. Lovely account, but please tell your husband not to do it on an Aravis Supertourist – they are so heavy, albeit tough enough to cope when Lindsay takes you for some impromptu cyclocross in the middle of the night.

    N+1 is the right answer, as usual.

  6. The two riders who came together in Ramsey are both fine: I spoke to Peter yesterday, who was on a trike and was hospitalised, and he has some bruising and cuts to his head. Alan had a bloody nose and was desperate to carry on, but his carbon bike had been broken too badly in the accident and nobody seemed able to source a loaner.

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