Martin, one of the volunteers had taken me to see Vishal, a mechanic who had come from India to volunteer at LEL (!). He worked his magic and transformed my useless bike into something rideable: A single speed bike.

“I completed it single speed in 2013 with 4 hours to spare”.

I looked up from my second breakfast to the encouraging smile of another volunteer, “I’ll certainly have a good go.”

 James and Han were chasing the 100-hour finishing time, so had left Moffat at 5 am. Ellie, Ele and George had arrived there at midnight, so I planned to set out with them slightly later on, with the aim of at least making it to Edinburgh.

As it happened, the climbs in that 80 km were the least of my worries. The gearing on the bike was low and it was the flats that were painful. Painfully slow.

I started wishing for gradients and headwinds, and urged the others to go on without me; I hated holding them up. Luckily for me, the final 20 km was such that I could catch and ride with them and we rolled into Edinburgh together.

There’s no way I can ride back to London like that.

Aside from the infuriatingly slow speed I was traveling at on the flats, trying to pedal in the wrong gear is saddle-painful. George was struggling with an Achilles problem, so he and I were both contemplating getting the train home. Ele and Ellie headed out to commence the southward journey.

Again came the tears, as I messaged my family and friends:

You’ve done so well to get that far.

Shall I book a train for you?

Don’t worry – there’s always next time.

                                                                London to Scotland is amazing, Jess.

Can I help in any way?

No. No. No. No.

I wanted none of these things and, although I’d made the claim that I had dropped out, I hadn’t officially scratched from the race. Nor had George. We were at a silent impasse. No trains were being booked, no moves were being made to actually extract ourselves from the race. Because it’s the last thing either of us wanted.

Jess Fawcett Rides

Edinburgh to Brampton (should have been Barnard Castle)

We looked at each other and grinned as we rolled out of the control stop and straight into a hill. The mechanic had put on a new chain in a new gear. I rose from my saddle and we began to overtake other cyclists with starting letters far later than our own. This is OK. We can do this. We caught up to a guy on a fixed gear bike, again, confirming that maybe this wasn’t such a crazy idea – I mean, this chap had chosen to ride the entire thing fixed.

For the next few hours, we climbed into the clouds and descended into rain.

– Take care, sheep on the road –

You’re not wrong.

The onslaught of hail stones as we descended into Innerleithen was life affirming, the sunset as we left Eskdalemuir was jaw dropping, and in the time between, George and I learned to ride in tandem. Quickly establishing where we could make up time and where we just had to sit in and enjoy the views, as my top speed at that gear ratio was about 25 km/h.

The darkness closed in around us, as we paused by the side of the road to eat Mars bars and turn on our lights. The rain came down once more, but we were in high spirits. We’d almost made it to Brampton and we’d had a flipping good time.

Dinner: Cooked-breakfast-for-dinner; More chips please; Protein bar.

Day 4

The coffee’s run out?

If you know me, you’ll know this is bad; I’m 75% coffee. I settled for a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich. Then I found the porridge. So, I had that too.

We rolled out of Brampton with a big, BIG day ahead of us: 320 km and the North Pennines, with Louth as our final destination. The weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. We were moving well, crossing paths with people we’d met the day before.

Ahhhh single-speed girl, you’re still going!

A cobbled section in Alston was playing on my mind, as I worried I’d have to get off and push up it. Not something I wanted to do, because: pride. But, with a promise from George that there was a café stop soon, we flew up the cobbles no bother, then hit the North Pennines proper.


No café. 


No café.


Still. No. Café.

MICKLETON. Ohmygosh. MICKLETON has the café! We topped up on caffeine, I refilled my Jelly baby supply and we trucked on to Barnard Castle (FLAPJACK AND FOREST FRUITS).

228 km to go.

We passed through somewhere called Forcett, which I enjoyed immensely. Then, to make up for the fact I’d stayed upright during The Mechanical, I dove into a bush somewhere between Thirsk and Pocklington, and had to be lifted out because I was completely stuck in my right pedal and under my stupid bike. We chuckled about it all the way up and down, and up and down the Howardian Hills. I was enjoying the simplicity of having one gear; there was nothing to do but pedal or pedal harder, and I quickly learned to keep off my brakes.


 – Hannah knew what would motivate us.

We trundled into the control stop tired and soggy, wishing this was our sleep stop and knowing it was not.

Jess Fawcett Rides

Dinner: Chips, cheese, peas and gravy (this is getting embarrassing); Muffin; Banana; Double espressos all round.

 The next ~5 hours would turn out to be the worst of all the LEL hours. On account of the time and the weather, we opted to take a less winding, more direct route along A roads. I was excited about going over the Humber Bridge again, but it came and went; minus the magic plus an almost-bonk. Our lights were failing us one by one, and soon we were left with one pathetic front light and one small, but enthusiastic, flashing back light between us. I didn’t know at the time, but George had been carefully diverting my attention every time a sign with the remaining distance came up. But he missed one.

Louth – 25 miles

I sobbed, but I couldn’t cry. It was the strangest thing. It wasn’t that I was physically struggling. People aren’t lying when they say, your legs will just keep going. But it felt like we’d been on this lonnnnnnng, straaiiiiight road for hours (we had). Lorries would occasionally pass us so closely that I’d yelp. My bladder seems to shrink when it gets dark (?!), so I kept having to stop and do roadside stealth wees (and it was way too wet and cold to be getting undressed).

Then we had a puncture.

George somehow remained upbeat, calm, steady. I’d run out of words.

Two guys that we’d left Pocklington with, but subsequently lost, rolled over to us, their wonderfully powerful front lights and company providing the lift we needed.

4.30 a.m. – Louth.

I was delirious. I felt sick with tiredness, but knew I had to eat. I piled a plate high with pasta and mince, and returned to the table where George was sat with the smallest bowl of I don’t even know what. I giggled at the situation, as I force-fed myself this weird dinner-at-breakfast meal, all the while receiving texts from Hannah and James, who were about to set off on their final day.

Day 5

We were reunited with Ellie and Ele at Louth. We ate breakfast together and set out on our final day. The mechanics had done an excellent job on my bike, changing the gearing one final time to something that would allow me to get a bit more speed on the flats that were awaiting us.

It was the night before all over again: LONG, BLOODY STRAIGHT ROADS. Although this time we had light, so it all seemed a lot less hopeless. A few chain slips later and after another puncture for George, we rolled into Spalding, and in the loos, I came across Hannah, a twenty-year-old (!) rider who I’d briefly ridden with on Day 1. She was struggling with bad neck ache and had had an equally horrible night the night before.

“You’re amazing!” Shouted Ele from the toilet cubicle.

We hugged and wished each other a safe onward journey.

Between Spalding and St. Ives, George engineered our four into an efficient, wind conquering machine and we rotated our way through The windy Fens.

St. Ives came and went, then we tootled through the lovely Cambridge, to cheers from passers-by.

Allez allez! Go onnnn! Well done.

And soon we were approaching the second-to-last stop, with some ropey, gravelly tracks and, once again, inadequate lighting (notes to selves for 2021…). Everyone was tired. Sore. It was late. Much later than our initial plans (again…noted for 2021…forget the plan), but focusing on that was pointless, because we were going to make it.

Dinner: Vegetable curry and rice; Bowl of custard and chocolate sponge cake; Black coffee; Chocolate digestives, let’s say… 3.

“Guys it’s only 40 km and we’re done!”

“49 km”.

“Eh?… Just call it 40 km”.

I was eager to get going and get back. Our friends were waiting for us at Loughton, texting us pictures of them eating brownies and drinking tea. I was so grateful to them for being there so late on a work night and just wanted to arrive so they could all get home to bed!

“Easy now. We ride together…arrive together.” – I was getting carried away and dropping the others in my haste to get back. There wasn’t tiredness anymore, no real pain. I felt like I could have ridden forever. The roads were so much fun, rising and falling, flowing from left to right. I remember my lungs feeling so full of fresh cold air and I was smiling as we hurtled down short descents in the pitch black.

Civilisation (light pollution) began to rear up ahead and I slowed down.

I wanted to turn around.

“Shall we go back?”

“…Yeh. Let’s just get a shower and a sleep first.”

J x

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