It was that time of year again. The time for heading down to That London to meet a couple of thousand of my closest mates to ride 120 miles through the night across Essex & Suffolk and end up on the beach.
I’m talking about the Dunwich Dynamo, of course.
Firstly, there was the small matter of my diary management though. I’d successfully double-booked myself for the day, and had to lead a group ride of around a dozen novices from Lanchester to Consett & then down to Durham (~25 miles), and I was picking one of these up at South Shields to ride to the start (another 30 miles). Oh, and add to that the dash to and from the train station, and I was setting myself up to ride 180 miles in 24 hours. Not absolutely epic, but still quite a long way.
Friday night didn’t go according to plan, and I ended up getting just five hours’ sleep. But the daytime ride went really well, and everyone had a great time. I introduced the guy I’d ridden down with to the delights of Second Breakfast; we all rode as a group, with lots of banter & fun; lunch at the Red Kite was great (and excellent value); and we got to our destination with a little time to spare for presentations.
My plan was then to get the train down with Tom’s bike. He’d driven his camper van down to Dunwich, and me taking his bike on the train would mean he didn’t have the nightmare of trying to get onto the intercity from Ipswich with a bike and no reservation. Turning up at Newcastle station with two bikes (both with train reservations) raised a couple of eyebrows, but I explained that I didn’t know how to fix a puncture, so having a spare bike seemed the sensible option. 😉
What I meant to do on the train was have a snooze, fill my belly, and basically get ready for the night’s ride. What I actually did was chat to a bunch of people on Twitter, nibble a sandwich, listen to music & look out the window.
So when I met Algernond at King’s Cross, I was already feeling a bit tired. But soon after, Tom arrived, and the three of us headed off along the Regent’s Canal to London Fields. We were a bit early, so ducked down to Briadway Market for some chips…
And then it was over to the Pub on The Park for the start.
The first few miles were classic Dynamo – so many bikes that the other traffic couldn’t even get impatient as they couldn’t see the front of the queue. At one point we missed a turning and everyone in the group I was with was anxious not to be the one at the front and responsible for everyone getting lost. But it worked out OK – after a couple of turns we were back on track.
I think the Dynamo’s numbers must be up even on last year’s. The good weather probably helps… But there were also signs of the kind of things that made me stop running the Great North Run: Official shirts, quite a lot of fancy dress, and a lot of obviously inexperienced riders. I’m not saying the latter is a bad thing – the Dynamo is doable by pretty much anyone who rides a few miles to work regularly. But I really don’t like riding in a large, closely bunched group with a lot of obvious newbies – mistakes occur, wheels clash, collar bones get broken, etc.
The numbers were obviously up on the section through Epping Forest. Usually by this point the ride has started to stretch out into single file groups or pairs, but this year there were still large bunches of riders. This had an obvious impact on people trying to drive along our route and I saw a lot of dangerous impatient overtaking.
At one of the first villages we came to (about 25 miles in?), we rounded a corner to find a couple of hundred cyclists milling around outside a pub. They’d spilled right across the road, with people standing around chatting amiably over a pint. The guy riding ahead of us obviously wasn’t expecting this and yanked on his brakes. The bike stood up on its front wheel and he vaulted over the handlebars – I think he even landed on his feet, but it was a lesson in how not to do it.
We stopped at a couple of pubs (I had a lemonade in the second), and then started making mistakes. I was putting too much or too little electrolyte in the water. We forgot to fill our water bottles in the second. We had a sausage roll there instead of more suitable fuel. We decided not to get delayed at the village hall fuel stop, and so didn’t fill our bottles there either.
Later, just before heading down to Subury (2:30am, I think?), a rider in front of us had the sort of crash that you normally only see on You’ve Been Framed. He seemed to lose concentration for a second, veer off to the left and slide his front wheel along the kerb. The bike was obviously going down and he leapt off it, over the path and into a bush. I thought he was going to be seriously injured, but was almost completely unscathed. I thought the bike was wrecked (had I heard spokes snapping?), but it too was fine. One of the guy’s friends recognised me (well my bike, actually) from this blog. I was feeling a little tired & emotional by this point in the day, and so just mumbled something and rode off. Sorry.
Then just as we got to Needham Market on the other side of the Suffolk prairies, it all caught up with me. A light drizzle had started, and I found myself actually falling asleep while I pedalled. No really – head nodding, dreams starting to merge with reality, sudden big wobbles, the lot. Never been that tired on a bike! I stopped at the roadside, and sat with my back leaning against a pharmacy wall (ironic, no?). After a couple of minutes, Tom caught me up, propped his bike up and lay on the grass, similarly exhausted.
People riding past found this very funny, and I would have too, except I just wanted to sleep. Slowly through the fog of exhaustion, I realised that I needed sugar and we both needed water. I had a couple of gels in my bag and forced one down my throat. The only water we had left was a half litre bottle. We drank about a half of this between us, and Tom tucked the bottle into a pocket. I felt better for this, and heading up the road we caught Algernond waiting for us at Needham Lake, and carried on with the ride, making very slow progress.
Around Framlingham the Sleep came to get me again. Riding slowly through the town with Algernond, I was scouting every house’s driveway to see if they had an outside tap to fill up from. We pulled into a garage forecourt, but all they had was one of those coily hose things that would no doubt be full of something stagnant & undrinkable. I was already riding off when Algernond found that their customer toilets were unlocked and they had a tap. I filled up and drank greedily.
A couple of miles later we caught up with Tom, and I rode the rest of the way with him, sharing the water, digging out flapjacks, and trying to get him talking to distract the pair of us from how grim we felt.
We eventually got to the beach 12 hours after setting off from London – my slowest Dynamo, including the twice that I did it on a tandem. For comparison, last year’s ride was around eight hours.
Tom crawled into the camper van, more desperate for sleep than for the traditional fry-up. But Algernond and me… yeah, we wolfed down the Flora Café’s finest with several cups of tea.
Then I did the swim in the sea thing (Algernond: You. Are. A. Chicken.), before we too put our heads down for a couple of hours in the van.
So not my finest Dynamo. Still, there’s always next year!