An Idea

I floated the idea of riding the Cambridge Tour of East Anglia 300 perm on the London Edinburgh London FB Group . The idea was to ride it overnight as practice for the Easter Arrow and also LEL practice for anyone who wanted to.  There were two who put their hands up, Alex Brown and Nigel Deakins.

Changing Plans

The original plan was to set off between 9-10pm on Friday 31st March and ride through the night to a Saturday afternoon finish. There was some debate as to which way to go. Anti-clockwise is the way the perm is traditionally described. This tackles the hills first and it gets gradually flatter the further round you get till you hit the pan flat Fens to finish. Or the opposite.

The traditional way appealed to me, as I'd be riding my recumbent low racer. The others preferred a clockwise circuit getting the Fens out the way first.

In the end I settled on anti-clockwise with an earlier afternoon start between 2-3pm. The others opted for a start in Cambridge city centre just between 9-10pm. Alex has written an account of their ride, so I'll just write about my own ride now.

The Route

The route of the perm broadly heads south and east from Cambridge to Ipswich. At Ipswich the route trends north east to Norwich. From Norwich the route heads back west through Swaffham, enters the Fens around Downham Market, before turning south at March and back to Cambridge.

The Ride

I've broken the ride down into it's various sections as they each had a different character.

Girton - Ipswich

Nick Wilkinson (the creator of the perm) had said he'd accept a start at Girton. Girton has free parking at the Pavilion, and a COOP to get a receipt.

After a lunch of beans of toast I loaded up the car with the recumbent and drove over to Girton.  Nick had said not to park near the playground as mums and dads liked to park there during the day. So I parked the opposite side in plenty of space.

I was fairly relaxed getting started. Till you've got the first receipt the clock doesn't start on a perm. So there's no rush.  I had my vapour rise vest and a long sleeve merino base layer with me.  As it was so warm I opted to put those in my top box and just have my LEL jersey on my top half. On my lower half I had some stretchy running bottoms.

I rolled down the the road the 800 metres to COOP and got a ATM receipt for my first proof of passage, 14:23. The clock had now started and I was off. The start was not entirely random I'd noted that Swaffham 24hr McDonalds was at 217km for me, and would be 105km for Alex and Nigel. So I'd roughly worked out that if I left around 5 hours ahead of them we should hit Swaffham about the same time.

The forecast was for a sunny day with 24-27 km/h winds blowing from the south, turning more to the west as we headed into the evening.  As I rolled down to Cambridge city centre the forecast was proving correct.

I usually avoid cycle "infrastructure" but Cambridge is one of the UK's cycling cities and it's quite good compared to most. So I joined cycle lane south and rolled on into the headwind.  As I neared the town centre I rejoined the road and passed along some sections that only allowed cycles and pedestrians in that direction.

As usual I had the GPS set at a zoom level that allows me to see what's coming up roughly a km ahead. It's also allows me to see turns coming up with plenty of notice.  Not so great in a dense urban environment.  I rode past the market, took a left then right and ended up in the centre of Cambridge by the official start. I think I went the right way.

Another ATM receipt this time at Natwest bank on the corner.  A few twists and turns finds you on the main road out to Newmarket. There's a bus / cycle lane marked on the road for the first few km out of the city, past the airport.

The road also takes you out towards the A11 and A14 and carries a reasonable amount of traffic.  I was given plenty of space, and riding on the road was pleasant enough.

At Stow Cum Quay you join a cycle route that takes you past the A14 and traffic significantly lightens.  A few more km towards Newmarket and a turn right takes you towards the Wilbraham's.

As I headed towards Six Mile Bottom I could feel the southerly headwind.  Being on the recumbent means the headwinds aren't tiring like they can be on the road bike. My overall average continued to climb.

At Six Mile Bottom I crossed the A11 and then began the entry into ever quieter roads and lanes.  The first hill began here a long drag up, a descent, then another climb.  But it wasn't the Himalayas that Ride with GPS had led me to believe. I was pleasantly surprised on my recumbent.

Soon I was in Suffolk and rolling along hedge filled lanes. The sky was a brilliant blue with fluffy clouds being blown north. I turned more east and the southerly headwind became a cross wind, now no longer helping or hindering.  I gazed at the sky as your position on a recumbent means you can spend a lot of time doing that. A couple of Red Kites flew overhead.

I find it takes the first hour or so for me to settle into a ride. I was now settling in, relaxed into the back of my seat, immersed in the landscape and environment around me. The legs span steadily, and an inner peace settled over me. I was flowing along the route, as water flows along a river.

I turned down trotting horse lane, which tickled my fancy, when I came across a woman walking her dogs.  I'm not very good at taking photos on the move.  I asked if she'd take my picture. One of the dogs wanted to be in the picture and was licking my hands. She eventually managed to get her dog out the shot.

Trotting Horse Lane
Trotting Horse Lane

The gently rolling hills lulled me into a false sense of security. So far Nick had avoided the steepest or longest hills. But he always seems to have a twist somewhere in his routes. A hill slightly longer and slightly steeper than the rest made an appearance.  My lungs gasped and heart beat harder as the legs spun up the hill. I was glad to reach the top without stopping. Thankfully it was the only such hill.

The landscape continued to roll, littered with stone built churches, thatched cottages, and pubs. Occasionally old windmills were spotted, no longer adorned with the essential sails to catch the wind..

After 4 hours I found myself rolling into Ipswich. Rush hour wasn't quite over but it wasn't so bad, just a shock after the quiet lanes. I hadn't eaten since the start 90 km earlier, so stopped at Dominos pizza. I ordered a small pizza, declining larger size upgrades and experience says that's a sure fire way to shut your stomach down. Whilst waiting for the pizza I nipped over the road and bought some lightly carbonated water to top up the water bottles.

Yum yum
Yum yum

After a 30 minute stop I continued on. Even just that 30 minutes allowed the traffic levels to drop and I exited Ipswich in light traffic shortly after 19:00.

Ipswich - Norwich

Initially there was a climb out of Ipswich but it soon settled down to a reasonably flat route with the odd climb and descent hear and there.  The roads became quieter and quieter. It was a mix of nice road surfaces on some b roads and then rough lanes where mostly farm vehicles travelled.

As sunset approached I stopped, took off my LEL jersey, put the merino jersey on as a base, then put my jersey back on. I also put on an orange high viz mesh vest with reflectives over the top. I leave my dynamo lighting on sensor and the lights came on as the sky darkened.

Sunset approaches
Sunset Approaches

I love riding the lanes in the night. Traffic all but disappears and you have the world to yourself.  That is, apart from the many nocturnal animals you encounter. Sometimes you see them in your lights on the road, but most often you'll just hear them scurrying about their business.  A hare, hedgehog, fox, and owl were encountered along here. Others just made noises as I passed or I saw eyes reflected back at me silently watching.  It was also a clear night, with the moon out, and stars clearly visible in the darkness.  I think I could also see Mars up there.

Wind often drops at night but the wind was continuing to blow. Heading north I had at last a tail wind to help me on my way. I now flowed north through the night towards Framlingham.

Framlingham I planned on an  ATM receipt and onwards to Norwich. As I rolled in there was a police car blocking to way to the high street. I was advised to continue left as they were dealing with an "incident". I rolled left hoping to find an ATM or a convenience store to grab a snack and receipt. I didn't. Before long I found myself leaving town. I took a picture of my bike outside Framlingham college as proof of passage. It was 20:30 and I rolled on into the night.

Proof of passage
Proof of Passage

I continue on into the dark lanes, undisturbed by traffic. Occasionally someone would look out their window in a village and see me gliding through.  I wondered what they thought, did they wonder why someone was cycling through at that time, and what on earth was he riding?

All is dark
All is dark

Before long the orange glow of Norwich could be seen in the distance. I looked to be in a dip and I was right.  A long fast descent saw me heading into Norwich.  A short climb and I was now heading to Norwich centre.

At the GPS zoom level I missed a turn onto a disused railway, now a cycle track. I'd forgotten about this cycle track, and so when on the bridge above it, in the night, I assumed it was a railway. After turning round a couple of times across the bridge and not finding a way ahead I assumed I had an error in my GPS track.  I went right then left to join the route further up before the castle.

Near the castle I turned into the pedestrianised zone looking for an ATM or a quick stop. It was just after 2315 and it was full of merry revellers. It was here, down one quiet pedestrianised bit, that three drunken Norwich girls decided to flash me.  I can confirm that the term Norwich, has basis in reality.  Having declined requests to give them a ride home (on my magic machine), I escaped back onto the road.

Further out I found a garage on the right. I stopped here to have a coke and get a receipt. Norwich being one of the control towns. Not long after Nick had picked more cycle infrastructure which caused a minor turn around after I turned slightly earlier on a  road. The barriers weren't recumbent friendly and I had to walk through the barriers either end before rejoining a quiet road. A bit of main road and then I was on a quiet lane leaving Norwich.

Norwich - Swaffham

The wind had very much veered to the south west over the evening. I was now riding directly into a headwind. But on the recumbent headwinds aren't the energy sapping demoralising thing they are on a road bike.  I won't say you can't feel them, you can, but they seem to blow over you and you can mostly still make good progress without expending too much energy.

There was a nice little climb out of Norwich after which it settled back down into a gently undulating route. A mix of rough lanes and smoother B roads.

I passed through some small villages but there were no more shops or services open at this time.  Before long I saw a red transmitter on a hill in the distance. Sure enough the route headed that way. All else was dark with the sounds of the night.

As I crested the hill I heard this woosh, woosh, woosh noise.  There was a large turbine I'd failed to notice, but it was now making it's presence felt. Very spooky in the darkness with just this noise and the red lights of the transmitter for company.

I rolled down the hill and shortly after made the right turn for Swaffham McDonalds. As I crossed the roundabout and came to the entrance I saw two bikes parked up outside.  I could see the other two stood at the counter inside.  The timing was perfect I'd rolled up literally 2 minutes after them.  We'd set off 5 hours apart, I'd covered 217km, they'd covered 105km; but here we were.  It couldn't have worked better.

I ordered a Big Mac meal with a Fanta drink and joined them at a table overlooking the bikes.  We were the only people there.  The staff were friendly and brought our meals over when they were ready.  The air conditioning was on and it felt quite cold now we were stopped. (Alex in his blog later reveals that it was between 3-6C outside).

Alex said look ravenous!
Alex said look ravenous

Alex and Neil mentioned they had made really good progress across the Fens with the strong tailwind blowing them along. That was headwind I'd been riding into but which would get that bit more forceful in the Fens.  I was fairly relaxed about that, it just doesn't have the same energy sapping affect on the recumbent.

I realised that not having eaten since Ipswich, 130km of riding ago, was perhaps stretching it a bit far.  But I felt ok if a little hungry. The food certainly went down ok and I wasn't having any appetite or stomach issues.

After a pleasant conversation and meal it was time for us to continue on our way. Me on to March and Alex and Nigel onwards to Norwich. After making use of the facilities it was time to head out. I put my Rab Vapour Rise vest on for extra warmth. I also put my gloves on for warmth, having ridden with bare hands thus far.

The others rolled off down the A47 before a right would take them back to the route. I circled the roundabout once before picking the right exit.

Swaffham - March

Initially cold I soon warmed up to operating temperature as I pedalled into Swaffham town centre. Deserted, as it was, approaching 4:00 in the morning. I rolled on into the dawn and by Downham Market hunger once again arrived at my door.

Here I stopped for a second breakfast and to restock supplies at the Tesco.  From here the land flattened as I entered the East Anglian Fens. As I cycled into the dawn a strong headwind was blowing but the recumbent shrugged it off and I made good progress to March.

From March the route turned south through Chatteris and soon enough I found myself covering the final stages to Girton. Here I got my final receipt for a sandwich, some crisps and a drink.  Thence I headed back to the car park and home.

A good outing; although as I was to discover Nigel and Alex did not have such a good run.