Monday, July 25, 2005

Dunwich Dynamo

The Dunwich Dynamo is a 185 km cycle ride from London to a little Suffolk town called Dunwich. The original Dunwich is under the sea. The Suffolk coast is eroding at a phenomenal rate and as the coast crumbles away, occasionally villages go with it. Right, me at the start, thinking about the 120 miles of cycling ahead of me.

I wasn’t sure that I could do it, to be honest. Last time I cycled this sort of distance was in 1988. I was a student, living in Plumstead, quite young, and quite fit. On the other hand I had a shit bike, no water, I was wearing jeans, and not at all prepared for what turned out to be a ride from London, to Brighton, up the road to Beachy Head, then back to Seven Oaks. By Seven Oaks I couldn’t ride any more, and could barely walk. The next day I couldn’t walk, nor could I walk very well for about a week. The bike fared even less well. The next time I took it out the frame snapped. I moved out of Plumstead days later and left the dumped bike at the house we rented. me at the start, right.

This time I managed to finished it in about 12 hours - not bad considering I did no training at all for it. I probably tried to go a bit too fast early on - eager to get out of London and put as many miles behind me while I was still wide awake. S and K saw me off from London Fields. I was surprised how many cyclists were drinking beer just before setting off. I know that if I tried it – I doubt I’d be able to cycle far afterwards. My main battle, I knew, was to prevent dehydration, and prevent myself getting a crippling headache. The other battle was to be against chafing around the inner thigh area.

I set off at 8.40 and immediately lost my way. This was in Hackney. I wasn’t the only one. It turned out that we were supposed to cycle a little way up the wrong way on a one way road, and turn right into a church yard. Not what I expected. But the road out through East London, towards Epping, was pretty clear, and I had no further trouble – not till I got to Suffolk anyway.

The Essex section was interesting - hundreds of cyclists riding through the middle of the Essex Saturday night - dodgy clubs, bouncers, souped up motors - we attracted comments - one being the bloke who stuck his head out of his car window and shouted "WAAAANKERRRS!!". So many cyclists in one place must have made his head hurt.

I’d been told that the ride was “flat as a witches tits” to coin a phrase. This was from someone who enjoyed cycling up mountains as a past-time. It wasn’t quite as flat as that, not that I know any witches. Nor am I quite sure how flat a witches tits are supposed to be. I struggled to keep up with the cyclists ahead of me. Generally catching up on the flat bits, but falling behind on the uphill bits. This due to my bike being extremely heavy. I was laden down with 6 bottles of water at this point too. I could feel the strain on my chest as I struggled to keep my breathing under control. I quickly realised that I’d have to take the uphill sections at my own pace, and not worry about being overtaken by everyone – even tandems.

Epping Forest is much more pleasant looking than I expected (admittedly it was in the dark). And large too. While cycling through there was an unbroken line of cyclists ahead and behind me. It was dark by now, and I could see thousands of flashing red tail-lights ahead. A 24 hour garage provided us with a final chance to buy batteries, sandwiches, drinks etc. A few took the chance for a piss in the bushes opposite.

I continued on, but I got a bit confused around this point. For some reason I thought it was an hour later than it really was, and started to get quite disorientated. This may have been directly related to a dip in my sugar levels that became apparent a little later on. I had to have a quick boost to my sugar levels after this brief wobble. I started tucking into the food I had in my panniers. I had these muesli bars and ate one after the other. Soon felt much better.

By now we had entered what appeared to be countryside. I decided to stop and text S. “No idea where I am but its all fields here.” A few people passed, with one asking if I was ok. I affirmed I was, and then drank a huge amount of water. Think I took a couple of pain killers round this time too – I knew that I needed to avoid getting a headache – and this was one way of doing it.

Little villages, pubs still open, and little groups of cyclists had stopped to have a pint or two before closing time. One of these – I distinctly remember, was called Fyfield, and there were about 30 or 40 cyclists partaking in drinking intoxicating fermented juice, around 10.30. Apparently the DD used to start earlier in the evening and participants used to have a bit of a pub crawl on the way out of Essex.

Another participant joined me for a few miles – he told me that we’d hit the 30 miles point – quarter way. And we had a chat for a few miles– we met again later at the feeding station, though I forgot to ask his name – and again back in London.

After the pubs shut - I cycled for miles in the pitch black, barely another cyclist in sight, hardly a car in ten miles. Pot holes were a constant threat, not many, but completely invisible, and at reasonable high speed coming down the hills, hitting one could send me flying. I saw a tandem come a cropper at some point. By around midnight I'd hit my natural pace, and I was truly enjoying the experience.

This was the hard slog part of the journey. I had to put miles and miles behind me. I went as fast as I could down hill and tried to harness the momentum achieved to get up the next one. None of these hills were particularly big, but the route was never completely flat. Occasionally I could see blinking red LEDs in the distance and knew I was catching up with a group of cyclists. I’d ride with a group for a while – until either I left them behind – usually going on an extended down hill bit, or couldn’t keep up any more – usually going up a hill. Sometimes, though, it was because I’d received a text message, and could hear the sound of my phone alerting me to the fact about every 5 minutes. I began noting the distances on the road signs, counting down to the next village, realising around 1 or 2 am that I must be around the half way point, though not really having a clue where I was.

I continued to text S – “aythorpe roding”; “now I’m in flitch”; “Gt Bardfield 43 miles”; “Tis excellent wine gums a life saver”; “im in Suffolk”; and such-like, receiving suitably encouraging text messages back such as “Yay” and “keep going, you’re doing well”, although my phone seems not to have saved any of them, so I’m guessing at the exact content.

At 3.00 I reached the feeding station. I knew it was the feeding station because the occasional candle in a jar I’d been following so far suddenly became a mass of them, leading up a hill to some sort of hall. Cyclists were leaving as I went up the hill, bikes laying everywhere on the grass around the hall, bright lights on inside the hall, people helping themselves to nosh, tea, etc. The queue was huge – but I wanted hot food. I really wanted hot food. Hot carbohydrate heavy food. So I joined the queue. I texted S while waiting in line.

“im at the catering café thing which is a bit surreal there is a massive queue in middle of tiny village and hundreds of bikes”; “Looking forward to sun coming up. my bum is very sore. hoping I get fresh burst of energy after this”; “still queueing”; “I don’t think many drop out” – I think this was an answer to a query about whether I felt like calling it a day or not. At this point dropping out wasn’t an option.

Once in the hall I saw tables laid out like a café, with people in cycling gear at every table – most eating, some sleeping, lots of chatter, photographs being taken. I got the chance to look at a map of the remaining portion of the journey – and it really didn’t look too bad.
Hot food looked really good. I couldn’t wait.

More texts: “damn they ran out of food”; “im having a cup of tea”; “clock just struck four”; “now tea and flap jack are finished”. seven miles from Dunwich, right

At 4.00 I set off again, reassuringly there were cyclists still arriving. Failing to look at the route, I got lost with another cyclist - called Dave - and we ended up doing a 6 mile detour to get back on the Dynamo route. Instead of seeing the sunrise we were battling with a couple of inadequate maps, trying to find the village we should have been through by now. It didn’t get much easier because the sun had come up. I was worried about the heat – but it never did get particularly warm. But it was back to hard slog again, and for the first time I feel people became competitive. Noone wanted to be the last to arrive. 40 miles to go. 30 miles to go. I knew I was slowing up, but by the time I was around the 100 miles mark, I also knew I was going to finish.

Then I just couldn't believe it - looking back i couldn't see anyone - even though id just passed a load of people. i stopped to take stock, and concerned going back as it seemed i'd taken yet another wrong turn. then a couple of Dutch cyclists passed me and seemed to know where they were going; i followed them. We did find the main route again, but it was another damned detour, and added more milage to the route.

“100 miles”; “you still up?”; “I got about eight miles to go before I get my beer”;

with an unfeesibly sore bum, achey legs, beginnings of a headache, a streaming nose, i limped through the last ten or so miles. the (cruel) rumour that the last 15 miles were all downhill turned out to be complete bollocks. I walked the uphill stretches, passing people who seemed to be in a worse state than me. I reached Dunwich Moor, a bumpy ride, frustratingly long. Cyclists who had finished and were heading back came past us. wonder what they thought of us? I felt like saying - but I would have finished by now if only I hadn't done about 10 miles of unecessary detours.

Signs for Dunwich now. Then Dunwich. Then Dunwich Beach. I went straight for the beach. Parked my bike up, opened up a beer and sat - next to a boat with a couple of cyclists sleeping in it - and drank my bottle of London Porter. Seven miles from Dunwich, right.

“Ive arrived”; “in now on the beach drinking my beer”; “Ta. I’m queuing up for breakfast now”;

Then I had a fried breakfast, found a place on the grass and slept till it was time to load the coaches. It did get extremely chilly though, and I suddenly realised why some cyclists had wrapped themselves up in shiny stuff.

Dunwich Beach cafe, left.

On the way we lost our bikes; we'd been taken to Smithfield Market and the bikes went to Kings Cross. It took an hour or two for bikes and riders to be reunited. No one seemed unduly upset about it though, most were fairly chilled sitting on the pavement.

So my plan for next year is to wear proper shorts - carry more sweet sugary food, about the same amount of water, a decent map – have my route mounted onto the handlebars – get a brighter front light. If I don’t get lost that’ll save me about an hour on its own. I plan to complete the whole thing in 10 hours - leave at 8 - finish at 6. this way I won't have to queue up quite so much, and be at the beach just in time for the cafe opening.

I'm making S come along too - she should have been with me this year, but was clearly too ill on the day.

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