30 June 2012

It's Tour Time!

The Tour de France starts today with the prologue in Liege. I'm really looking forward to following the tour this year, although I don't seem to have been clever enough to have a week of holiday coincide with it as I did last year - so it will be harder to keep up with all the comings and goings.

Road Cycling UK are running a fantasy Tour de France where you can pick a team of riders, and Alberto and I are both participating in that. I appear to have bought into Britain's hype about Bradley Wiggins as my team is centred around him and Samuel Sanchez, as well as featuring most of my favourite pros like Jens Voigt and Tommy Voeckler.

My fantasy Tour de France team
Alberto has selected an all-Spain team headed up by Samuel Sanchez and with sprinting prowess provided by JJ Rojas. It wasn't easy to create a team of all Spaniards within the game's rules; you aren't allowed to have more than two players from each real team on your team, and Spain's representatives in the tour are concentrated in Euskatel-Euskadi and Movistar. But we've managed to make it work!

Alberto's fantasy Tour de France team - Viva Espanya!
Fortunately we're able to make changes to the team as the Tour goes on, as we all know how unpredictable and unforgiving the Tour can be!

28 June 2012

Camino de Santiago de 5: Zubiri - Los Arcos

We got a late start as breakfast only started at 7am. We enjoyed conversation over breakfast with a Korean couple who were walking St Jean to Pamplona and hoped to return another year to do the rest of the Camino. By the time we were on the road it was almost nine.

We had hoped to push on quite quickly to Pamplona, but the trails were quite tough with lots of ups and downs and we made slow progress. The day was already hot, even before midday. Shortly before Pamplona we were going through a tricky, narrrow section and I fell over to the left-hand side, where unfortunately the ground sloped away from the trail. I ended up upside-down in some bushes, and my bike ended up upside-down, perfectly balanced on the edge of the trail. Alberto was out of sight ahead of me, but we had just passed a French walking pilgrim who rushed to up to me and threw her pack on the ground to try and help me. I wasn't injured, just a bit scratched, but it must have looked scary from her point of view. She didn't speak English, but I managed to communicate that I was okay, and she helped me climb back up the trail.

I ended up in some bushes like these!
Although nothing was physically wrong with me, my confidence was shaken and I walked my way through the rest of that particular stretch of trail. Fortunately, what followed was a long approach to Pamplona on a paved path through a riverside park. Just what I needed!

We arrived in Pamplona and had some delicious pastries from a bakery on Estafeta (the street that the bulls run down). It was almost noon, and we had only covered about 20km. Then, as we were getting ready to leave Pamplona, Alberto discovered a puncture. We headed to the central square to change it under the shade--and then discovered that our 'good' pump was missing. I had been carrying it in the outside pocket of my Camelbak, and it must have fallen out when I took my fall. It seemed like nothing could go our way.

Fixing the puncture in Pamplona

We fixed the puncture and inflated the tire with our backup pump. Then we found a bike shop and bought a better pump again. By the time this was all done with it was nearly 2pm. We assessed our options and decided to call ahead to Los Arcos, some 70km away, to reserve places in a private albergue. Then at least we wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to sleep. Still, it was a tall order to cover in an afternoon three times what we'd managed to in the morning.

Almost immediately, we were glad we had called ahead as the heat was becoming a significant factor and we had some serious climbs out of Pamplona. On our way out of the city I had a clipless fall at a pedestrian crossing -- just to compound the frustration we were both feeling. But there was nothing to do but press on.

We climbed and climbed on a gravel path, up and up above pamplona. I walked a lot of it -- and even walking was exhausting work in the heat. At the top of the hill were the iconic metal statues of peregrinos, built by the Amigos de Santiago de Navarra, along with several windmills taking advantage of the great, cooling breeze. Alberto was chatting with a British guy who was walking the Camino, but was an avid cyclist. After a rest and a snack, we decided to take the roads on the descent, seeing as how we were short on time.

Climbing away from Pamplona
Windmills in the distance


The descent to Puente de la Reina was a ton of fun -- the wide, smooth roads were nearly deserted and even though I was quite timid with speed, I still had a great time. After Puente de la Reina we rejoined the trail and had some more tough, steep climbs. On one short section, I literally could not walk the bike up the hill. I had to brake the bike with bent arms and anchor my feet, then extend my arms forward to push the bike up, take a step and then repeat the whole process. The heat was relentless and there was very little shade.

I started to feel very discouraged that we were still so far away from Los Arcos, so we switched to roads again. The NA-1110 was empty again, apart from a few Navarran machacas on their road bikes. We passed through the town of Estella which looked really cute, and I was sorry we didn't have time to explore it. We stopped to eat some more food just outside Estella and a man stopped us to give advice on which parts of the Camino to follow and which parts to stick to the road. He also alerted us to the fact that there was a fountain of wine in the next town! Of course it was up a massive hill, and as soon as we had seen the fountain (and tasted the wine!) we descended again. We were learning that this was standard practice on the Camino. Gratuitous hills just to pass through towns, as if there weren't enough hills in Spain already.

Fountain with wine and water

Tasting the wine
The trail started to get better after this, wider and with fewer obstacles, although there were still plenty of ups and downs. Eventually, we headed back to the roads for the final 10km or so into Los Arcos. By that time I was hot, sore, tired, sunburned, covered in mud and bugs. I've rarely experienced such relief at reaching a destination on the bike. Certainly not any time this year, not even the finish of the 300km ride!

Los Arcos
When we arrived in Los Arcos we discovered that our albergue was pretty crap -- full of young cool kids who were having beers in the garden, more like a typical youth hostel than a pilgrim's resting point. It was 8pm by that point so we went straight to find dinner, without even showering. We found a restaurant serving a menu del peregrino and shared a table with a French couple who spoke very little English (are you noticing a pattern?) We tried to communicate the best we could and managed to get across the basics such as where we had started and how long our trips were, but mainly we just ate ravenously.

We got back to the albergue and showered and headed for bed almost immediately. We were feeling very defeated, although looking back on the day there were lots of great moments to go along with the bad. I worried about how I'd cope the following day - I had a bit of soreness from the fall, and the tops of my thighs were badly sunburned - they hadn't seen sun in over a year and all the sunscreen I had applied on just seemed to sweat off immediately. I did discover that chamois cream makes an excellent substitute for aloe vera and was able to go to bed without too much pain. We would have 100km to cover the next day if we wanted to make it to the refugio in Tosantos.

Stats for the day:
Odometer: 95.47
Moving time: 6h52m
Stopped time: 3h53m
Overall average: 8.9kph
Max speed: 68.4kph

26 June 2012

Camino de Santiago day 4: St Jean Pied de Port - Zubiri

A very early start this time. Got some ok-ish sleep in a crowded dorm full of snorers. We now carry ear plugs whenever sleeping in shared accommodation, but somewhere in the middle of the night I seemed to have lost one, but was so tired that could not be bothered to find it.

We were sat down at the breakfast table by 6 am, where an old charming French lady had prepared a simple but plentiful breakfast for everybody. This was included in the 8 euros that we paid for the the night in the albergue municipal. The weather did not look great out of the window, with a very thick fog which had settled in the valley, but we (well, I) were so excited about crossing the Pyrinees that we did not mind it that much. Some 1300 m (~4000 feet) of climb awaited us, all in one go, just short of 23 km.

The advice from other cyclists the day before was NOT to take the walkers route (the Napoleon's route) and use the road instead (the N135). The claimed it was very steep and rough in places. We then asked the hostelero and he said it was absolutely fine, except the last bit, where we would need to walk a bit. The weather forecast was not too bad, except for the morning fog. I had read that the walkers route was much more scenic and so I sort of persuaded Lucy into taking that...While having breakfast, other peregrinos confirmed that the N135 was not the nicest road, with plenty of fast flowing traffic rushing to St Jean, so there was no doubt we would tackle the walkers path. That's why we brought the mountain bikes also, isn't it?

Lucy getting her stuff ready in the albergue's backyard
Crossing the river Nive, still smiling
On our way down the main street Rue de la Citadelle of St Jean, we waved a few other (Dutch) cyclists in touring bikes. They surely were taking the N135. Very shortly after leaving the town, we encountered the first proper hill, which had us on our lowest gear pretty much immediately! This hill was in fact the steepest of the whole climb.

First hill of many
For the first 17 km the route took us on a single-lane super quiet road where we barely saw any motorised traffic. Plenty of human traffic though, as St Jean is the start of many peregrinos! When I say plenty I really mean it, it was probably the busiest day in terms of walking peregrinos, but everyone seemed in very good spirits on the first day! No pain, no blisters, no dodgy knees. All good. Some of them were carrying incredibly bulky and heavy backpacks which no doubt they either unloaded/sent home soon after that or have someone carry them for them.

Getting over the fog, Lucy takes a rest
Coming out of the fog
Funnily enough, we seemed to be catching up with the early risers from our albergue, and sometimes went at pretty much the same speed as them with all the stopping. This in a way was good, as I kept talking to the same people on a very comfortable way as I was pedalling on a very low gear. When the climb started to flatten, we pressed on a bit, losing most of them, only to encounter even more of them that had probably set out at night. We later learnt that loads of walkers fear not getting beds at the albergues, and so set off in the middle of the night to get a head start against the rest of the pack.

At one point the Camino seemed to take on a trail (full of walkers) and so I decided to stick to the road. Because of the fog, Lucy had not seen me and started going up the trail. When I shouted at her she fell. This was one clipless moment to add to her collection! Luckily she was going at nearly no speed, so no harm done, and all the walkers immediately went to help her. The road it was then. She was now full of mud, as the rain had left plenty of puddles from a few days earlier. 

Enjoying the hills
Despite the fog it was getting warm
The road continued uphill, and we had to take it easy so that Lucy could get some rests. She did not need to walk any hills, except when we stopped, when she found it difficult to get started. In one such occasion, she even got a push from some walkers, as if she was a pro!

Eventually we reached what looked like the summit. But of course, it wasn't. Yet we had another break and some food to take in the views.

Nearly there
Beautiful road
Eventually we crested the summit, but instead of a speedy downhill, we got walking again as it was way too rocky and too packed with peregrinos. We did not see any other cyclists on the day, but got some reassurance that we had not been the only ones when we got on the trails and saw some fat tyres tracks.

Nearing the summit, shame it was overcast below us
Some more pushing required for the last few meters
A fountain on the downhill, peak time for walkers
The machacas at the summit
The downhill, once cleared of walkers, was pretty exciting. However, it felt a bit much for Lucy, having not been on a mtb for more than a handful of times, so she had to walk down some sections. I tried to teach her some of the basics, and at some point she did follow me and got a high on "mtb excitement". She actually said "I really am enjoying myself!". I was glad she was having fun on those downhills. I personally was having a re-encounter with my old days on the mountains of Madrid, going down on technical singletrack and all that. Not that we do much these days, but I just hope one day I can enjoy good trails near home. There were really nice sections through dense forests, and in no time we hit Roncesvalles.

One last, clear view, of the Spanish side before hitting the trail down to Roncesvalles
Steep downhill
Dense forests
Roncesvalles is the starting point of most Spaniards. It is a tiny little town on the Navarran side of the Pyrenees, but gets all busy with peregrinos. In fact, the albergue municipal is well known for being able to host hundreds of them in one single room. If you have seen the movie "The Way", it shows up at the very beginning.

Happy faces after having just crossed the Pyrinees
I popped into one of the restaurants to ask for a stamp on our credenciales, and asked the waitress about how hilly it was to Pamplona. I recalled the profile being mostly downhill, but I just wanted reassurance. We were not doing great with timing, as it had taken us a while to climb up and a bit more to make it down here. She said "va para abajo" meaning "it goes downhill". Good. Told Lucy and hit the path. Another cyclist from the Basque country was also starting here, and we would keep meeting up with him for the rest of the Camino.

The trail was really nice although very narrow. What we hoped it was going to be flat or downhill, turned out to be a "leg killer" or a continuous sharp up and downs that really tested our tired legs. Not only that, but also it got even more technical than ever before, with massive rocks, roots and singletrack. It was really taken its toll on Lucy, which meant more walking. I took the opportunity to chat to a walker, who turned out to be from Pamplona. He had just been made redundant in his job in finance, so had taken the opportunity to walk the Camino at slow pace to think about his next move. A nice chap, but we had to push on. He seemed very keen to learn English so it was nice to be able to give him some advice, and he even mentioned his plans to come over to the UK for a while. Lucy rode on some of the sections though, and seemed to be gaining confidence pretty quickly. "I seemed to be enjoying it" she wrote on the diary. Because of all the sudden confidence, she had a few close calls, and finally another fall, luckily at low speed. This time I even was behind her, so all good, only a cut on her knee with some blood dripping down her leg. She now looked like a proper mountain biker, full of mud, blood and a tired face! 

The path from Roncesvalles
We hit Zubiri some 50-ish km into the ride. It seemed like a pleasant town to stop, and so we decided to call it a day and check in to the most expensive (15 euros, with breakfast) albergue of the whole trip. Yes, it was nice and clean, but 2-3 times more expensive than the rest. We would be looking at cheaper options from here on.

 It was 4 pm and quite sunny. Our clothes were still wet from France, so it was an ideal time to dry them out, have a quick shower and enjoy the first day of proper good weather. The bikes too needed a good clean, as they had picked up so much mud on the downhill.

Garden of the albergue
While going around the village, we saw plenty of machacas on the roads. We later learnt that the road that passes through Zubiri is on a very common loop that people from Pamplona do as an after-work training ride. Wish I lived in such a beautiful and convenient place...

After a visit to the local groceries, we loaded up on local red wine and jamón, made our bocadillos and enjoy a quiet night chatting to other peregrinos. One of them was an American guy who seemed to have travelled the world. He was an interior designer who had worked teaching art in locations such as Kuwait. He described Kuwait as "soul-destroying", and was now living in Sri Lanka with his wife. He had also spent quite some time in México, yet his Spanish was not too good, as he spent most of his time with expats. We shared the local wines we had got from the local groceries, chatted over the horrendous weather he had on the Pyrinees and went to bed on the late side.

All in all it had been a fantastic day on the bike. For most this is the best stage of the Camino, so in a way I was feeling sad the high mountains were over. 

The stats for the day:

- Overall distance: 49.60 km
- Moving average: 8.6 km/h
- Overall average: 5.7 km/h
- Moving time: 5h 47 min
- Stopped time: 2h 54 min
- Max speed: 41.6 km/h

25 June 2012

A 50 km mtb loop in the North Downs

We've been many times in and around the North Down on our roadies, but never on the mtbs. On an overcast Saturday morning I decided to train it down to Dorking for a bumpy  50 km loop.

I pulled the route out of one of the online-shop websites, as they are normally ok. I knew it would not take me on the very best bits of the North Down, but for that I will need to do a bit more research. Still, the route can be seen below:

I started the loop going anticlockwise. The first hill came very shortly after leaving the station, and crossed the biggest single-state vineyard in the UK. Not a very usual sight on these latitudes, but still quite impressive. I managed to capture a shot of it as I climbed up to Ranmore Common.

This could be La Rioja, but not, it is Surrey!
The weather was pretty benign, and soon after reaching the top of Ranmore Common I encountered the first cattle gate crossing. Fortunately, I would cross no more than 10 by the end of the day, which is pretty good. I then made my first descent of the day, which, full of wet roots and rocks, almost saw me on the floor. I think I need to refresh my mtb skills on the wet!

Leith Hill came almost half way on the course. Being the highest point of the North Downs, it affords some good vistas reaching to the South Downs on a clear day. I had my ration of cake and continued down the hill.

View from Leith Hill
The route was quite nice for being relatively close to London. Not massive hills, but some that will see me on my lowest gear towards the end of the day. The scenery changes quite a bit, from vineryards and open green fields, to Pine Forest in the Peaslake area. Not very singletracky either - it ran mostly on wide paths covered with vegetation, so plain easy in the dry. The only downside of the day was the mud, of which I seemed to have brought loads back home.

Pine forests

Wood industry
All in all, a very pleasant ride, with very few roads in sight and plenty of fast going paths. I managed finish it in under 4 hours, so really doable throughout the year and with limited time.

23 June 2012

Ride report: the National 400 Audax

 The National 400 was back on the calendar this year. Apparently it used to be an annual 400 km ride organised in a way to help new riders complete their first ever 400. It sounded good for us Audax newbies, yet the distance and time on the saddle is quite considerable. 400km, or 250 miles, is roughly equivalent to a ride from Madrid to Valencia (and a bit more, yet not as hilly), or from New York to Washington DC (and again, a bit more). The ride was intended to be pretty flat and looped around East Anglia as seen below:

On Friday eventing, after a pleasant train journey through Suffolk and Norfolk, we arrived in Norwich, from where we cycled down the 17 km to Seething, location of the hall that the organisers had arranged for the pre-ride dinner and overnight stay. Most people were either camping or staying in their campervans, but we, poor youngsters, chose the hall. It turned out to be a good option actually, as there were only a few of us there and the snoring was not too bad. Despite the ride being targeted at unexperienced audaxers like us, we had the impression that everyone was pretty hardcore when we were chatting over dinner.

Saturday Morning - by 6 am people started to get ready. Despite the horrendous weather forecasted for the weekend, it was warm and with relatively calm winds for the start. During breakfast I was asked if I was eating my toast the French way. As it happens, people do not dip their toast in their coffee here! After some last minute preparations, we headed over to Hempnall, the official start of the route. Getting there 20 minutes prior to the off, we met a few familiar faces, got our brevet cards and left minutes after 9 am. A good day of cycling awaited us.

The luxurious Hempnall Hall at the start, 8:45 am
Hempnall to Thordon (81 km)

75 of us rode off at 9:01am. 402 km ahead of us.
Initially we got rolling with a large group, which ended up in 15-20 riders. Similarly to my Dean audax ride in March, people tend to stick together until the first control. With them we made very good progress despite the persistent cross winds coming from the south. The route headed east towards the coast, where we found the first info control, some 32 km into the ride. This control was in Dunwich, a mini coastal town that we have visited on two occasions already, famous for being the end of the Dunwich Dynamo.

Roads leading up to Dunwich
 The riders in the front of our mini-peloton were working hard against the wind, and we, at the very back, enjoyed a very pleasant tow. At some point I decided that I should also do my turn at the front, so there I went with another fellow audaxer. We were so focused on keeping a good pace that ended up missing a turn, although luckily, the rest of the riders did not follow us. Playing catch up proved a bit hard, and at this point I started to see that Lucy was finding it hard to keep up. She's still not very confident with group riding, and the pace was just a bit outside her comfort zone. Despite all our efforts, we had to let them go and rode the last 15 km on our own. Even then, we averaged above 25 km/h and it was a very fast 81 km, quite possibly the fastest we've ever done together!

Thorndon control
The control was in a village hall (as were all the controls on this ride) and had plenty of cake and drink. Good fuel for audaxing. Everyone was (still) in very good spirits, fresh, and smiley. Got our brevets stamped, ate some cake and left half an hour later. From here on we would just set our own pace, which in a way, worried me a little because of the winds we will later encounter. Riding in a group is always much easier, especially against the wind.

Thorndon to Long Melford (81 km)

With sugar levels replenished, we set off into the cross winds again. The terrain was quite familiar to us, and it looped around the north of Bury St Edmunds to then head back south and finally east. That meant we would, at some point, encounter the promised head winds. We would also be passing through Hartest, a nice little town that we visited a couple years ago when Lucy's parents came over to visit her and some of their friends.

Superb lanes of Suffolk
Despite the winds, we managed to stay ahead of our initial plan, which was to get to Hartest between 5 and 6 pm. After a little detour, we were knocking on the door of Lucy's parents' friends to say hi just past 4:30 pm. It felt a little weird, being in audax mode, smelly, full lycra, and still with 240 km ahead of us, talking to other, more civilised people. The usual questions arose: are you doing it for charity? where are you staying overnight? when did you say you started this morning? where are you going now? and best of all...why? I let Lucy answer to all these questions. We filled our water bottles but didn't stay long, as we had the steepest hill in Suffolk coming up just past Hartest.

At the front of Lucy's friends' cute cottage
Contrasting colours
We left Hartest the hard way, up Hartest Hill. This would be the only hill that would test our legs on this ride, especially since our legs are still used to the hills of Spain!

Lucy machacando Hartest hill
The last 10 km into the control were tough. Lots of wind and my energy levels dropped very suddenly. I started to sweat quite a bit, feel sleepy and super tired all of the sudden. I had to stop and get some snacks in or else I was seeing myself bonking. I slowed the pace and hoped to get to the control as soon as possible. Luckily we got there and the food was plentiful. Very good job by the Sudbury CC, they had even printed out menus...all included in the entry fee.

Menu at the 2nd control
Somehow I managed to refuel by eating 5 sandwiches, beans on toast (a classic!), 4 or 5 cakes, rice pudding with strawberry jam and some other snacks that I thought would do me good. Shortly after indulging on all this, I had to visit the toilet 3 times in a row. This seems also a classic on all my long audax outings, and have yet to figure out why or what ingredient causes it.

Long Melfod to Barnham Broom (82 km)

Left the control just before 6pm hoping to do this stage in daylight. We would now be wind assisted all the way to the coast, so that would help us keep the momentum going, and probably up our average speed a little. 

Rolling terrain on the way to the north of Norfolk
The km seemed to fly by, and we managed to keep 25 km/h for almost the whole leg. It started to get dark towards the end of the stage, and that was one of the best moments of the ride. Rolling on quiet lanes, with no one else around. Sometimes one thinks that this whole 24 h riding thing is pointless, but in moments like this it is all worth it. Speeding up the lanes into the sunset was great, and we arrived in good spirits into the control. A wonderful hot soup was waiting for us, along with the usual cakes. Here we caught up with one other rider who was also doing this as his first 400 and who had also ridden the Green and Yellow fields 300. He reckoned that at our current speed we will be well within the time limit of 27 hours, despite already being at the back of the peloton. By the time we left it was past 10 pm and completely dark, so all night riding gear on and lights ready to go.

This says it all. Riding into the sunset.

Barnham Broom to Salthouse (75 km)

Left the control with another couple. They were following their routesheet and at some point we parted ways. We followed the gps track and they apparently followed the routesheet. We do check the routesheet, but at night it becomes tricky unless you wear a headtorch as well, so we stick to the GPS and its backlight. 

Despite that we told them that we were pretty certain that they were taking the wrong turn, they carried on their own way. They had a map, so we did not worry much about them, and also seemed very experienced. Our GPS however indicated that the road they took lead nowhere near the route. Oh well. Lucy and I carried on from here until Salthouse completely on our own. We both love night riding, and even better when it's only us and nothing else on the roads.

Night riding deceives you into thinking you're going much faster than you are. We still had a tailwind, but were not going any faster than 20 km/h on the flat. It took us quite a while to hit the north, where we had to work a bit to find an info control. Sleep deprivation and dark was not a good combination to find the road sign in quesiton, but we somehow managed after having double back a few meters. 

Lucy in night riding mode
After a right turn and a quick incursion in Cley-next-the-sea (which actually looked nice in the middle of the night) we progressed along the coastal road A149. Normally busy, it was completely empty at 2 am. Not a single car for almost the last 2 h into the control.

The A149 was really enjoyable, but we were also looking forward to stopping for some tea and coffee. At 2:45 am we pulled into the control to find a bunch of bikes resting outside. Some fellow riders were getting ready for the final leg into the headwind, while others, apparently, were having some sleep inside. We were warned of the snorers.

A hot drink and some cereal were most welcome. I still find it amazing that 4 or 5 people were there waiting for us, in a random town, in the middle of the night, to give us hospitality. I could not thank them enough. 

Most riders were having some sleep in one way or another. It was very funny to see their faces as they fell asleep on the table or anywhere really. Some were snoring quite loudly and seemed to be enjoying some good rest. We were not sure whether to give it a go or not to having some rest on the floor, but figured we'd rather sleep at the control than carry on and then have to nap later on out in the cold. Lucy went first. I tried to follow, but due to the adrenalin and also feeling a bit worried about oversleeping, I could only shut my eyes for a few minutes. 
Lucy sneaking in a nap
After 30 minutes, we had some more coffee and chatted with the helpers as we got ready for our final leg. One interesting fact is that the first rider in to this control left it at 21:15! So that is more than 6 h earlier than us. Very fit people out there. 

Salthouse to Hempnal (82 km)

Past 4 am we made our departure after thanking the controller and the helpers. They too seemed very tired. One thing I love about audaxes is the normality of everything. Despite the length of the ride, and silly hours, the cold, and sometimes the rain, it all seems normal and you don't get any "well dones" or anything like that. There's no reward other than your own achievement. There's no record of the rider's time after the event. They don't publish the order you've finished the ride in, just your name if you have completed it.

A few meters after the control the road went uphill. It was not a "massive hill" as other riders had described it , but it had us on our lowest gear pretty quickly. We were tired, a bit cold and about to face some headwinds for the last 80 km. Luckily, the sun was rising quickly and we no longer needed our front lights. When I looked back I could see the sea, the green fields and the sunrise. We were lucky to be at the right place at the right time I guess!

Climbing up away from the sea. 4:30 am
The terrain in northern Norfolk qualifies as rolling, so more ups and downs came while we made our way back down to Hempnall. Not surprisingly, given the time and it being a Sunday, we did not see a single car until 40 km into the stage. However, we had to stop more than usual as Lucy was feeling quite tired. We ate our snacks and kept pedalling. Eventually we made it to our last info control and turned East towards Hempnall.

On one of these roads we saw three guys on triathlon bikes flying, quite literally, in front of us. Pretty impressive speed, but surely they had not been cycling for 24 hours. At 9:43 am we got to the hall in Hempnal, where Keith (the main organiser) kindly validated our cards and gave us the commemorative key ring. That meant 24h and 43 min to complete the 403 km of the event. Another 7 riders were still behind us, but most seemed gone by the time we arrived. Our train back to London was not due until the afternoon, so we took it easy, ate and chatted to Tim, a guy we know from the Fnrttc who had also been riding all night in his own 400 km DIY event from the Easternmost town in Wales to the Easternmost town in England. 

This was my longest day on the bike and overall I really enjoyed it. It was tough at times, especially since we were on our own on the windiest bits, but we do not this because it is easy or comfortable, do we? It certainly felt a lot easier than the 300 we did in April, the Green and Yellow Fields. Maybe the reasonable weather helped a bit. Surely the great organisation and plenty of food/beverages did. I am now looking forward to riding the 600 km event I have planned in September. Lucy has decided not to do any more 400s until at least 2015 (that is Paris-Brest-Paris year!).  


Our souvenir 

All in all the stats said:

- 406 km (plus another 40 km on the day)
- Moving average: 20.9 km/h
- Overall average: 16.7 km/h
- Max speed: 56.7 km/h
- Total moving time: 19h 27min
- Total stopped time: 4h 50min