An endurance cycling race is not just a physical challenge, but an exercise in mental durability. When you’re too tired to push on, you begin to understand who you really are. And, of course, gain new respect for hot food, makeshift bedding and cold beer.
Imagine the english countryside pass you by as you idyllically cycle through meadows and winding roads. The wisps of cloud, a slight drizzle. You take in the scenery as you pass some interesting topography. No such luck!
The cycling challenge called London Edinburgh London is tough, often counted as one of Britain’s greatest cycling challenges. It takes place every four years, and one has to ride from London to Edinburgh and back in under five days. It’s not a race, technically, but you have just over 100 hours to complete this circuit. For an amateur cyclist, there’s no other ride quite as long and as tough as this one in the world. I’d heard it before, but I hadn’t believed it. Now I do.
The 2017 route took us through 1,441 km, with some 11,128 m of climb. The race starts in Loughton, passes through St. Ives, Spalding, Louth, Pocklington, Thirsk, Brampton and Moffat. It passes through the range of scenery normally reserved for a cross-country driving tour. The Pennines come in with their jagged climbs, while the green carpets of the Scottish Lowlands are a balm for the eyes. Humber Bridge is like a lasso of light, a gateway that seems to lead to the famous Castle Howard, a marvel of architecture and history. Through the route, we pass English and Scottish villages as the route prefers to weave through quiet country lanes as far as possible.
This edition of the challenge saw more than 1,500 cyclists from across the world compete, representing 55 nationalities. Out of the 60 people who represented India, only 10 managed to finish the circuit in the stipulated time.
While you don’t need to complete any qualifying rides to take part in London Edinburgh London, you need to have long-distance cycling experience if you hope to complete the tour. The weather ranges from 25ºC during the morning to 5ºC at night, interrupted with rains that poured with a vengeance when they felt like. You could not make yourself ready, and you needed to push on.
Yes, the tour tests every aspect of your mind, body and soul. I could manage to get only five hours of sleep during those 116 hours. And lack of sleep causes hallucinations, which slows your progress and make the climbs very difficult. Although much of the route is tarmac, it is still very difficult to traverse if you’re winded and fatigued. The super-strong headwinds along the way make sure your task isn’t easy, either.
Plus, even though you have a GPS-mapped route, I managed to lose my way a couple of times. The first: at around 1 am at night in one of the most deserted of roads. There was nothing but darkness for miles ahead and behind me. After 30 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to find my way, I was beginning to get nervous. But I managed to find a South Korean rider who was also lost—and had a flat tyre. If it weren’t for me, he’d have had to stay there or push his bicycle to the next control point. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have been wandering around, or had to stop at the side of the road. I guess finding each other gave us renewed strength—we managed to take the shortest route possible to our next control point.
The second: in the Scottish Lowlands, when we took a village road that took me in circles. I had to ask around a lot to get back on track, but that was after hours of trying to pinpoint my exact location. The silver lining: the beautiful streams and ruins.
London Edinburgh London is as much about camaraderie among riders from across the world as it is about the passion for long-distance cycling. Boundaries are forgotten and new friendships forged in the furnace of this challenge, as 100 hours seem like days, at first, and then pass all too quickly. One thing I took away: If you can complete the ride, you will see a side of you that you didn’t know existed. And that you can never be too happy to see hot food and inflatable beds and blankets at the race’s control points.