I think it was on the Audax UK member’s forum that I first heard that Phil was organising an Easter Arrow team. In fact, I thought he was organising two, so I was pleased to hear I had been selected to ride with the man himself. There were two other team members, Dan and Dave that I couldn’t recall having met before.
I had been keen to lead a team from Hertfordshire for the Easter Arrow 2018. So keen that I created an event bookmark on Facebook back in early 2017 to see if there was any interest. Later in the year I also posted in the Audax UK forum. In total that attracted 9 riders who were interested in forming Easter Arrow teams from Hertfordshire to York. The maximum number of bicycles for an Arrow is five. Since no one planned to ride a tandem that meant each team could have a maximum of five riders. I split us up into two teams, one of four, and one of five. Richard Bragg stepped up to lead the latter team. The teams were split based on what length of Arrow they would like to ride, and which start they preferred (if any). Richard’s team would have a slightly longer route and start in the west of Hertfordshire. I organised a meeting over a pie and a pint in a pub in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. We discussed the outline details of what Richard and I had planned for the teams. Then moved on to discussing PBP for 2019. Jack and Dan could not make it.
It is not surprising I suppose considering the work that Phil contributed to LEL that he clearly spent some time researching our route to York. We got regular emails including valuable details to prepare us for the journey ahead. We were to start from Stevenage on the Thursday evening. This timing proved fortuitous in the end given the way the weather played out for us.
I love pouring over a map, tracing out possible routes, joining those wonderful quiet lanes and ways together into a whole. An Easter Arrow has to be at least 360km as measured by Google Maps, using walking directions. Proof of passage is traditional, obtaining receipts at your chosen control points.
I chose a flat route through the Fens, using a mix of new and old routes. There are some channels / rivers in the Fens that are only crossed by one or two roads. So any route you design has to get to those crossing points. There are also no motorways in the area, so some of the A roads can be de facto motorways, and should be avoided, even at night. Ride with GPS said my route was just under 800m of climbing in 400km. It was flat, though I think the reality is nearer 1400m. Still, very flat.
You never quite know what weather you will get at Easter. So I planned the overnight legs around 24 hour McDonalds; so we could get inside and out the weather if necessary. I also planned a pub breakfast; again to get indoors with some hot food. I planned our 22 hour stop at a brewery town, about 39km from York.
I opted to keep the route relatively short, and with fewer controls than previous years. This would allow us more time at controls, and give us less pressure trying get to York in the 24 hours. It is the team side of an Arrow that I particularly enjoy, and trying to maximise the distance did not interest me. The route I came up with got us past 400km without any extra fat.
Being a first time team captain; I had a number of exchanges with Lucy clarifying the rules, and what paperwork she would require from me. For instance Google walking was routing down some Bridleways and A roads you would not want to go near. She said it was acceptable to drag it off those sections as long as I included notes on where I had changed it, and why. It seemed complicated, but in reality it was not.
The winter had been cold wet, snowy, and not particularly inspiring. So I kept the team motivated and interested in the Arrow by providing regular updates, including route sections, pictures, aspects of team riding, and talk of a possible York Arrow ale. The last thing I wanted was drop outs as Easter got nearer.
I opted for a Thursday night start as it had worked well the year before, and would allow us to cover the night section whilst we were relatively fresh. I submitted the paperwork, a signed entry form from each team member, plus our team entry form which includes our team name, a list of members, plus a list of controls with outline schedule / min distances. I submitted it quite early in case I had made a mistake, but Lucy confirmed everything was in order.
I live in Norwich, so spent Thursday morning getting ready, before catching the train down. My first worry was the connection from Peterborough at 16:58. I envisaged a packed rush hour train, but this did not materialise, and the train journey went without a hitch.
It’s always good when the pedalling starts, and following Phil’s advice, I rode nearly all the way to the start control using the Stevenage system of dedicated cycle paths. It was at this point that I noticed my last minute attempt at a full length mudguard flap was woefully too flappy! I wasn’t convinced the material I’d cut from an old space hopper would offer much protection. Dan later commented that it wasn’t a complete waste of time (faint praise!) so I left it on.
I have to admit that it was a bit dispiriting when I arrived at the Glebe shopping precinct as it got dark, and the rain set in properly. I nevertheless enjoyed a steaming hot vegetable spring roll and chips whilst I waited for the others to arrive.
I planned the start to be nearest the highest point of town, as every minute might count on an Arrow! Because of this I had provided a GPX track from the railway station to the start as well as written directions. The start had a number of shops and takeaways, including Fish and Chips, Pizza, Indian, Chinese, and Korean; so the team members could get something hot before the start.
There had been talk of snow at Easter but in the end it was wind and rain. The forecast winds looked favourable for a southerly start. The rain wasn’t favourable for anyone. The Heavens opened as I got my bike out, and rode down to the shops. It started as it meant to go on, wet and windy.
After a team photo taken by my wife, I grabbed an ATM receipt, and soon enough we were underway.
They were friendly folks, and we all put on our best optimistic faces, as we headed off into the rain. It was indeed good to roll out of the urban landscape and into the rural. We all got colder and wetter before we arrived at our first control; a small Tesco express. After the usual conclave in the corner, I decided I would put on my last remaining extra bit of clothing (glove liners). We were still able to maintain fairly good spirits, as we knew the forecast was for the weather to improve by the morning.
The first control was a Tesco Express in Great Shelford, south of Cambridge. Most of the team were complaining they were cold. I was reasonably warm (but far from dry) at that point, wrapped in my merino layers. I changed my sodden gloves. We did all stand inside the shop to eat our purchases.
As we left our first control, the rain began to ease off into a drizzle. The wind was a side / cross wind and occasional head wind as we mostly tacked east across to Suffolk.
We rode some roads that were reasonably familiar to me then, as we approached the next control at the McDonalds at Barton Mills. Coffee and hot food set us up for the next stage as we spent some time learning to keep together as a team as we crossed the dark open fenland. There was officially a road closure, but we soldiered on as the road was peeled back layer after layer down to a short section of sand. It all felt vaguely surreal in the middle of the night.
I had planned an A road north from Barton Mills, to Littleport, as it would by then be after midnight and the road would be quiet. It was however a bit too quiet and the road closed signs, at the side, explained why. Or rather they didn’t, they just said it was closed. You can get through most road closures on a bike, but I was still silently concerned we might have to reroute, adding night time km we did not need.
It was to prove significant that our route crossed a railway 6 times over the next 82km. Dan and I commented on a sign as we approached one of the level crossings ‘Cyclists Dismount’. The railway crosses the road at such an angle that you have to cross the full width of the road to come even close to crossing perpendicular to the rails. Sadly, Phil came a cropper as a wheel got caught. His recumbent seemed fine, so we continued on. Phil dropped back for a snack shortly after, but once he had been relocated, we were soon rolling into our second and final 24hr McDonalds control.
I fell on my right side. Because of the way you sit in a recumbent you do not get thrown from the bike like an upright. I was still sat in my recumbent, but lying on my right. My right elbow, upper thigh, and knee had impacted being the stickiest out bits. It hurt, a lot, but nothing seemed to be broken, and the bike was fine. Just bruising, and a few scratches, or so I thought. So I wheeled across the rest of the crossing, and quickly started pedalling again. It was 3:20am.
I found my heart rate was elevated for any given effort, and my energy levels were down. I put it down to just being that time of night. I fell off the back after Whittlesey; my energy levels crashing. I stopped to have a Scotch Egg. Once more it changed from a light drizzle to heavy rain. I got drenched and soon chilled, but needed to take on food, so continued eating. I got going again just as the others had come back to see what had happened to me. It was only another 20 minutes to our control, a McDonalds, at Eye Green; but my extra stop was necessary.
Everyone was suffering a bit from the cold, but it seemed to have hit Phil the hardest. And then there was the blood. It was all over the plastic chair. It wasn’t a nose bleed, and we discovered it was coming from Phil’s elbow. Seems his off had been worse than we realised. I have to give credit to the young McDonalds night manager at this point, who was calm, friendly, and capable with his first aid kit. Nevertheless, after being sick into a cup, Phil wisely decided to bow out, and catch the train home from Peterborough.
It was Jack who pointed out the blood to me. I had not even noticed; I was too busy biting into my burger. How on earth I had not noticed that much blood coming out of me or felt more pain I do not know. I can only put that down to the cold and wet conditions masking it. I must have also been running on adrenaline, which would explain the elevated heart rate then crash in energy levels about 40 mins after my accident.
The McDonald’s first aider came over whilst a whole pile of serviettes were used to clean up the pool of blood and stem the flow. He said the anti-septic wipe might sting. I laughed, the sting had already happened, when the level crossing beat me up.
I did not feel anything; as he cleaned my elbow. God it was a mess. I thought I saw the pale white of some bone, but after tentatively poking it, decided it was not. But there was a lot of swelling. The elbow bandaged and with help I ate my burger and had my milkshake. The shakes began. I began to shiver. In retrospect I think I was going into shock at the sight of so much of my blood and the mess my elbow was in. I must have been losing it all the way down the road as well. It was not just the cold and wet.
I did not feel great. Not dizzy or anything as my head had got nowhere near the road, and I had been conscious the full time. But not great. Dan got me a hot coffee. I don’t even like coffee, I am a tea drinker. I continued to drink it as it was helping with the shivers. It was not mixing well, not a drink I am used to. I brought up a little back up into the cup. I then went to the toilet in case there was more, but there wasn’t.
I decided that continuing, especially on the next leg into the coldest part of the night, and away from the nearest railway station, would be a foolish decision on my part. I still was not certain the elbow did not have chipped bone. It was still bleeding, more slowly. The temperature was hovering only a few degrees above freezing, and it was raining and windy. The others said I looked pale. It would be selfish to put the team in a difficult position out in those conditions. I bowed out.
I gave the team my master schedule which listed all the controls. Against each control I had a list of potential arrival times, then for each time, it would give different stop times and average speeds, to keep to schedule for York.
Dan wrapped his silver blanket round me. After a few false starts, they were away from the control without me. I leant against the bench in McDonalds, and closed my eyes, surrounded by my half wiped blood. I would make my way to Peterborough station after daylight came.
It was a solemn moment when he handed me the detailed planning sheet designed to guide us through to York. Dan, Dave and I decided to continue.
Naturally, the stop had been longer than intended, so we all felt we had time to make up. We pressed on and decided en route to forego the planned pub breakfast in Boston. Daylight returned and the convenience store was connected to a bakery which served rather good pastries, which was nice.
Dan prompted a faster ride to take advantage of the tailwind. I couldn’t sustain it for too long, and went through a subsequent period of feeling fatigued. Dave persuaded me to accept his kind offer of a can of Redbull. I don’t drink much caffeine, so needless to say, this turned things around!
The first aider checked on me regularly to ensure I was alright. He had also arranged for the heating to be turned up, which helped. I stopped shivering. Shortly after 7am, with daylight; I got myself a bacon roll and coke. I would need some extra energy to get home.
I got my phone out to tell my wife about the accident. A little later Caroline Fenton, in one of the ACME teams, texted to see how our team was going. I informed her, I was out but the remaining three (team members) were still going.
I left for Peterborough station. It was still cold, wet and windy. I went south across the A47 then turned right at Eye and picked up signs for Peterborough. I then found a good cycle track which led me towards the centre. But like many cycle tracks the signs ran out, just as you are closing in on your target. I had to ask a couple of people which way to the station, and made a couple of u turns. Fortunately the roads were still quiet. My arrival at the railway station was perfect and 10 minutes later I was on a train home with my bike.
I got home around 10am and had a cup of tea then a shower. After the shower, my wife changed the dressing on my elbow. With it washed by the shower, and a careful check, we could see that there was no bone chipped or broken, just a flesh wound, with the swelling showing more clearly. I also saw the scrapes to my upper thigh and knee at this point. But these were just scratches in comparison to the elbow. I went to bed with a hot water bottle, with instructions not to bleed all over the sheets. I lay on my left side, with my right arm out, and soon fell asleep.
Bardney to Lincoln passed easily on a cycle path by the water’s edge (The Water Railway - Phil). We passed through Lincoln with a combined navigational effort from my route sheet and Dave and Dan’s GPS. There was another decent section of cycle path leading out of town bringing us close to the next control in Skellingthorpe.
It was as we approached our 22 hour control in Snaith that we started to spot other Arrow riders. This felt like an added bonus, and different to other audax. First a tandem was glimpsed, then we were passed by a group going much faster than us. It later turned out to be one of the ACME teams chasing a deadline.
The Snaith control included a special treat organised by Phil at the Old Mill Brewery: a York Arrow bitter! We spent a very pleasant extended break here sampling the beer and taking a photo behind the bar.
When planning the 22 hour control I had come across Snaith, a suitable distance from York, and noted it had a small brewery. I had chosen the pub tied to the brewery as our control as it served a good range of food for the entire possible time window we could be there. It would also be another chance to warm up if the weather was poor. In my enthusiasm, I had written to the brewery asking if they could do us a York Arrow ale; explaining what the York Arrow was about, with a link to the Audax UK page. I did not think anything would come of it, but to my surprise they said yes. Big shout out to Kelly Wood at the Old Mill Brewery, Snaith.
Eventually we were on our way and coincided with Carl who’d fallen off the back of the ACME team. He later got ahead of us using local knowledge of Selby, as we suffered across mud, potholes and rocks on some very poor cycle paths. This should not overshadow the good Sustrans way we took from Riccall all the way into York.
Of course we rode to the finish control in fine fettle and collected our final receipt at the Postern Gate pub. I was quickly back out the door to catch my train back to Norwich with 30 minutes to spare. I was back at home by midnight. My bike was filthy, and before I could get some well-earned rest, I had to face removing overshoes, socks and shoes, wet for 24 hours…
Overall, I was pleased how the ride went given lack of training over winter / post-LEL. Massive thanks again to Phil, Dave and Dan. It was grand.
I awoke after four hours sleep. My resting heart rate was 20 bpm over its baseline that week. After another 24 hours my resting heart rate was down to 10 bpm over its baseline. A full 48 hours after the accident my resting heart rate was back to normal. Five days later I was able to ride my Brompton back out on the road. The elbow has scabbed over, the swelling is gone, and it is healing well. The human body has an incredible capacity to heal.
I was really pleased when I saw the team has been successful, after all the planning and organisation. It was a shame I could not be there, but already I have been planning a new route for Easter 2019. It does not include any level crossings.