Tuesday, August 4, 2009
The roads of LEL 2009
The roads we traveled on this year's LEL were generally in good shape, with the exception of substantial potholes that we'd been warned about near the Eskdalemuir Control. Overall, the surfaces were not broken up but were rarely smooth, being some variation of chip-and-seal.
Of the greatest surprise to the U.S. riders were the many lanes we used. Some were exceptionally narrow, no more than historic cartways that had been paved over but otherwise left untouched. They were just wide enough for three cyclists; anytime we met an oncoming car it was a tight squeeze.
Here's a picture that I borrowed from Jimmy Williams' blog. This is one of those lanes.
Another surprise: Many of the lanes were unnamed, and that meant the roads were also unnamed on the cue sheet. Thus, a cue might read: "soon R Green Bank no sign" or "follow road on sharp L bend no sign." In those places it was critical to have your computer synched to the section of the course you were on.
Even many of the wider roads had a lane feel, especially on the southern end of the course, because there were rarely drainage ditches. Hedges and undergrowth were allowed to grow right up to the asphalt's edge. Here's an example.
The lack of drainage meant that water often pooled in the roads. In one section after Thorne, the lanes we traveled down had two or three inches of water on them, even though the rain had stopped.
At the other end of the spectrum were the A roads, England's modern high-speed, high-traffic motorways. The organizers did their best to keep those roads to a minimum, but there were places where we had to mix in with cars and trucks blasting by. We hit a few A roads in rush hour conditions, when the roads were packed. We sometimes had to wait three or four minutes to cross wall-to-wall traffic. I didn't stop for any pictures on those.
The very best roads were the deserted stretches through the glacially carved grassy canyons of Scotland. The roads were no different than what we'd seen before but they transported us into a pastoral backdrop unlike anything I'd ever seen before. That leg of our route -- especially with a trailing wind -- was pure magic and by itself worth the price of admission.