Running summary for w/c 24th June
Miles: Negligible… 9 maybe, at a push
Cross training: Approx 180 miles cycling
Well readers, I am alive and well following my participation in this year’s Dunwich Dynamo. In fact I am more than just well. I feel bloody marvellous. I feel like a superhero. I feel like shouting at everyone I speak to (friends/colleagues/barristas/Morrison’s checkout assistants) “I cycled 120 miles in one night! I cycled to the beach!”
It still feels a bit bizarre and surreal to have cycled 120 miles in one night. My mind doesn’t seem seem quite able to grasp it. But cycle it I did, and what a wonderful experience it was.
There’s a lot of hype that floats around about this event. “Legendary” is one word that gets used a lot. “The stuff of legends” people kept saying. “You don’t ride, you fly” I heard. “You’ll be dreaming of those red lights in front” I was warned. I can confirm that it is all true.
I’ve been trying to write a suitably rousing post about my first Dunwich Dynamo experience, but it’s felt almost impossible to recall what exactly made it so special. There is nothing tangible to explain why the air felt so electric the whole way or why I still can’t stop smiling about it. Everything went smoothly, all the villages were where they were supposed to be, there were no flats, no mechanical problems beyond wonky pannier bags, no heroics. It was just a bike ride, A to B, 120 miles, overnight, the stuff of legends apparently…
I packed my pannier the night before. (Actually it wasn’t my pannier. It belonged to my flatmate, Rosa, who was also riding with us.) I think I managed to keep it pretty minimal. The only thing missing from this photo is the 1.5 litre water bottle that I packed and the 1 litre bottle that I carried in the back pocket of my jersey.
In this photo you can see:
tub of nutella flapjacks
3 rounds of corned beef sandwiches
flourless almond, banana and honey cake (wrapped in foil)
bikini (to go in the sea)
2 spare inner tubes
2 spare batteries
long sleeved layer, waterproof, clean t-shirt, clean knickers, spare socks
map covered in sticky notes
I didn’t parkrun on Saturday morning. I slept until 10am – unheard of! I cycled 11miles to collect my girlfriend and have a brief afternoon nap. We packed her pannier, posed for photos, cycled a few miles to the Pub on the Park, London Fields.
It was our first time in padded cycling shorts (mine were underpants that gave me sausage legs). They turned out to be lifechanging.
We pushed through the crowds numerous times to collect friends, make introductions, grab a pre-ride pint, sneak a ciggie, mock the Dulwich Paragon cycling club riders with their pockets full of energy gels and bananas and wait for the start horn to sound. We estimate around a thousand riders.
l-r, top to bottom: Stef; Dave; Rosa & Juliet; Paul; Louise; Stef, Rosa & Juliet; Dulwich Paragon
We talked about what time we wanted to set off and contemplated how we could even try to get moving given the density of the crowd. As it happens a horn sounded around half past 8 and so we started cycling as soon as there was space.
We cycled through Hackey and wiggled around buses in a long line, bunched up together at ASLs, took over the roads again when the lights turned green. It was far less graceful than at Critical Mass. There was no running red lights though, and very little shouting. Just lots of cyclists psyching up. We wormed our way towards Leytonestone, separated a few times at traffic lights, found each other in lay bys, looked curiously at cyclists who were already pissing at the road side 5 miles in, stocked up at petrol stations and saw one poor fellow who had a puncture before we’d even approached Epping.
I was baffled by how many people were taking breaks and eating before it had even got dark. I wanted to get some miles in before I got off the bike. I thought that 30 miles was a good point for a first pit stop. Rosa called me the battle axe of the Dynamo and said she would eat when she got hungry.
Our group got separated just before Epping. We rode on so that we could get the infamous gradient through Epping out of the way while we had some momentum. I am not exagerating at all when I say that I did not notice the gradient through Epping. It’s twice the height of Brixton Hill over a 10km distance. That’s not a hill. That’s barely even a slope. I don’t think I even changed gear. Anything you hear about the long climb through Epping is just not true.
We stopped off at a pub in North Weald called the King’s Head. We used their toilets, answered bemused locals’ questions and coaxed two guys along on their mountain bikes. I thought I had found one of them on the Dunwich Dynamo Facebook page, but it was someone else, which means that at least 4 people were coaxed along by groups of cyclists stopping! Do you know the man on the left? He is our mystery friend. I would love to know how far he made it!
We stopped again shortly afterwards at another pub in Moreton, called The Whitehart Inn. And then another called the Axe and Cleavers (location unknown), where we ate sandwiches, shared flapjacks and shared cake. This is also the pub where Juliet, encouraged by Louise, drank half a pint of Guiness that made her quite ill.
She felt ill all the way to the next pub, near Finchingfield.
After this final pub stop things got magical. The crowd spread out along the country lanes. Conversation lulled into silence. The swoosh of the air filled my ears. My light showed me bumps in the road, white lines, curbs and bends, but little else. I didn’t know a hill until I was on it. I didn’t see the downhill until I was at the bottom of it. There were fewer and fewer crossroads to dwell upon and fewer roundabouts to swing round. I just followed the two distant red lights in front of me and felt like I was flying along the winding country lanes. Flying really is the only word to describe those two hours. My legs didn’t need commanding anymore – I just flew.
After an hour I became aware that I was alone. I was enjoying my own company, but the red lights in front of me had become ever more distant, and as they moved around the bends of the country roads they disappeared for periods leaving me blind for directions, only to reappear briefly, and then disappear again. Soon the two lights became just one light. I began to wonder if there had ever been two lights at all. Were my eyes playing tricks on me in the dark? Then I began to wonder if that single remaining red light was there either. I listened hard. No swoosh of bikes behind me. I called out names, but could only hear my bike wheels against the ground. I tried to focus on the road, look out for turnings, signposts, landmarks – anything that could help me check my map and confirm I was on the right route other than that red light in front of me whose existence I had just called into question. There were no turnings. I just kept riding. I arrived at the halfway point to find some friends who had ridden ahead during a mechanical glitch. I was shaking and panicked and they were most unsympathetic. In fact Rosa laughed at me.
Those two hours of flying through the countryside were the most magical of the whole ride. They were also the most surreal.
We got to the village hall halfway pit stop just after 2am. It was packed full and the coffee had run out. It stank of damp lycra – that smell that lingers in your gym bag. We had some soup and rolls, shared more cake, drank water and tea. We were back on the road at 3am and the hall had virtually emptied.
There was a bright patch on the horizon as we set off again. At first I thought it might be light pollution from Sudbury, but the bright patch soon became the sunrise. The 25 miles that we rode between Sudbury and Needham Market during the sunrise felt like the longest of the ride. We constantly faced turnings and needed to check our directions, even taking a 5 mile detour at one point to correct a wrong turning. Everytime we stopped to consult our route guides and maps we had only covered a handful of miles. It felt like we weren’t making any progress. If the sunrise hadn’t been so beautiful and the villages so still and magical the whole ride would have felt much less pleasant, but as it happens it all balanced out.
At this point in Needham Market, just over 80 miles in and nearly 2 thirds of the way to Dunwich, myself, Juliet and Paul decided that we didn’t want to stop anymore. As our group of seven was now spreading out every pit stop inevitably meant waiting. The three of us had a similar pace going we decided to plough on as a trio and drag each other to the beach. We did those last 40-ish miles in one go, stopping only twice: once for a wee and once at a garage to get some more water. The hills felt tougher in those last miles. I don’t know if they were harder or if I was just more tired. Probably the latter, but I am proud that the only hill I walked up was one that we stopped at the bottom of (the above mentioned toilet stop), and I don’t think there is any shame in opting out of a hill start.
By the end of the ride all of the milestones that we should have celebrated lost their sparkle. I swore at the ‘Welcome to Suffolk’ sign (about f****** time I got to Suffolk) and I nodded threateningly to the first ‘Dunwich’ signpost we spotted (don’t mess us around Dunwich. I’ve met signposts before that think they can outsmart me and you will not succeed). I loved every one of those milestones, those signposts and landmarks, but I threatened them, challenged them and cycled towards them like a crazy person until we reached the beach at 9:15am, 12 and a half hours after we left Hackney. And by 10:30am our whole gang was on the beach.
The first thing that I did on the beach was shimmy under a towel, get my bikini on and jump in the sea. The water was just wonderful, waking me up and soothing my sore bits. I hold this dip in the sea entirely responsible for my recovery. Despite an uncomfortable and long coach ride back to London (accident on the road) I have had no real muscle fatigue to speak of. A few aches in my triceps and a little ache in my thighs, but no more than if I had gone for my long run Sunday morning instead.
The second thing I did on the beach was get a sausage sandwich from the cafe and a can of Carlsberg.
Would I do the Dunwich Dynamo again? Yes, in a heartbeat. If it was going again this weekend I’d be there. It really was the most wonderful bike ride I have ever been on. Granted I haven’t been on that many, but I’ve been on enough to know that this one really was something special. It was magical and it deserves its title of “the stuff of legends“.