420km (260 miles), in 24 hours; how hard can it be? This isn't a joke, it is a serious question - these distances are just a matter of riding the bicycle - get on with it. Along with top tips like, "don't faff about at controls" and "do try to understand the route-sheet in advance", are great gems of wisdom like; "don't fall off" and "don't die".
This is probably my last chance to complete an Easter Arrow. Easter is such a significant event in the Christian calendar that taking the time to do a 24 hour bike ride is quite difficult; emotionally and spiritually. Last year the weather conspired to stop us in our (snow) tracks. This year we were determined to succeed! Our team was:
- Dean - VC167 - ancien of Paris-Brest-Paris and Captain of the Ambling Arrows.
- Chris - VC167 and vastly experienced in the Audax world. Tandem points champion of 2013 (with Lindsay), and so far in the 2014 season has ridden 15 events, scored 23 points and covered 2,411km in audax rides alone.
- Mark - Long distance natural - from non-AUK to London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) finisher in a year.
- Steve - Non-AUK but the only rider to complete the "Brief Encounter".
- And me, myself and I.
On the morning of Good Friday I caught the train down to York and met Steve at the station. Greg (of DIY 300
fame) also arrived because I had a 39t chainring for him. Greg led Steve and I through the maze of York to chez Crinkly Lion (aka Kat) for bacon rolls and coffee. This was our gathering point for the start of the Arrow.
Our route had been planned for both scenery and fast riding. A 100km daytime pootle over the moors followed by a predominantly flat 300km circular ending up in York. "Gather anecdotes" we'd been instructed by the Easter Arrow organiser.
We set off at 9:15am from the petrol station close to chez Crinkles while the bacon rolls were still warm in our respective tummies. Steve had arranged with the York department of traffic control that all signals should be red, but once we escaped the red mist of York on the A166 we made a really good pace to Stamford Bridge, taking turns on the front and keeping together as a paceline really well. In Stamford Bridge I bought a Freddo Frog for 20p to gain a receipt and Dean applied the anti-faff technique of simply cycling away from the control, forcing us to sort ourselves out and follow him.
We were now in one of the most delightful parts of the United Kingdom, the East Riding of Yorkshire. We cycled in a bunch on deserted lanes, side-by-side without holding up traffic or having to "single out" to allow motorised metal boxes past. Chris commented that the north of England is his favourite place to cycle. He and Lindsay have abandoned rides in the south for the simple reason that the motorised traffic is relentless and either aggressive, or dangerously ignorant.
We found ourselves on single track lanes, with grass in the centre and loose surfaces to each side. At one point this loose surface became sandy, and Steve thought this would be a good opportunity to 'gather anecdotes'. His front wheel slipped in the sand. From our perspective Steve just came to a stop and then threw himself into a beautiful judo roll across the field to his left, moments after the photo I'd taken above. No injuries, but a lot of laughing followed and we knew that this was going to be the funny story to share when we reached the 'spoons in York on Saturday morning.
The promised clear blue skies had not materialised yet and there was a coolness to the air, but as the clouds passed the sunshine illuminated the countryside around us.
The ripples in our route began to gain amplitude as we reached Castle Howard in the Howardian Hills. Chris and Dean were riding something silly like a 72" fixed gear each. As Mark, Steve and I twiddled our way up easily, Chris and Dean swept back and forth in mini-switchbacks alongside us. I know that many of last year's LELers will remember the view of the gate to Castle Howard, and probably remember the hills less fondly.
Our team had managed to stay together very well, but one of the steepest ramps spread us out and I paused for Chris at the top. He was feeling uncomfortable and the effort had hit him much harder than expected. He said his chest hurt - which I believed, because that was a tough climb and he didn't have the luxury of the gearing I did. Here we had a photo stop - the day was really lovely and this is an excellent view of the house beyond the lake, from the lay-by by the northern exit gate.
We gained speed from here to the moors but once again the road ramped up, with a 10.5km (6.5 mile) climb from 102m to 392m above sea level. Mark and I were slightly ahead of the others as we left Hutton-le-Hole and we chatted for the entire climb to the Lion Inn.
The Lion Inn seemed like a good place to reform the group, and I had no plans to stop here but thought I could grab a swift pint of Thwaites Wainwright while I waited. Dean rolled up as I emerged from the bar, pint in hand.
We rested for a moment while Steve joined us, but we were surprised that it was taking Chris so long to reach the summit. Eventually he wobbled into view. We waved and shouted until he saw us and made his way across the car park. I'm sorry Chris, but you looked really unsteady.
Chris was unsteady, the pain in his chest had worsened and he complained that he felt short of breath. He even told us that he had stopped to vomit half way up the climb. This was totally unlike Chris, so we made the decision to stop here and have a rest instead of heading for Marske. As a group we came inside and settled down for Giant Yorkshire Pudding and Gravy. It was warm and welcoming.
The symptoms of a heart attack
are: tightness and pain in the chest, shortness of breath, pain in the arms, feeling sick, being sick, being light headed. If this happens call the emergency service immediately.
As Chris became light headed and slipped from the chair, Dean and Mark caught him. We lowered him to the floor and Dean immediately called 999. There was a nurse in the bar who rushed over, we were joined by two GPs.
I lay on the floor next to him as he stopped breathing and shut his eyes.
I remember what happened next with crystal clarity; from the tears that dripped off my cheeks as I coerced Chris to breathe, to the absurdity of explaining that we didn't want the Giant Yorkshire Pudding right now. The nurse was amazing. We wouldn't let Chris go. The staff at the Lion Inn were wonderful, bringing pillows and moving furniture, coping with the chaos we created with grace. Eventually the Air Ambulance crew arrived, and they brought Chris back, forcing him to speak lucidly. The ground based ambulance arrived too.
The pressure was released. Chris was okay, there were professionals here with equipment and drugs. The relief which swept over us all was like a dam-release, as we relaxed and began to joke with Chris and the crew and with each other.
"Go on without me... " Chris said.
It is just a bike ride.