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What beautiful madness – Dunwich Dynamo 2014

I’ve been talking about wanting to do this since 2008 on and off and it always made my list of things to do. But somehow I never either felt confident enough to do it or it clashed with Birthdays or some other excuse was found. This year I’ve increased my cycling considerably, mainly as a result of getting a Garmin and using Strava. More on that another time, but essentially I’ve been tracking all my riding and upping the distance at every opportunity.

So I tried to get a bunch of people together and see if they’d be up for it. Graham, James and Paul and Magnus all agreed. Some of whom had done it before but James and Paul hadn’t. I also mentioned it to Andy who surprisingly to me hadn’t done it before either.

I’d spent a while thinking about the whole event and planning it in my mind. I was really keen to not ride with a rucksack at all and see if I could keep everything I needed in my jersey pockets. It’s so much nicer riding a road bike without a bag and I’ve even started trying to get to work some days without one. The only concession I did make was a little saddle bag, which although ugly, did a great job of keeping tubes and tools out of my jersey. My layering consisted of a jersey, arm warmers, gilet and then soft shell. I carried the gilet and soft shell in a little Rapha feed bag knowing that I’d put them on soon enough and fold the bag up in my jacket pocket.

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The day before I dropped my van off with supplies in at the car park at Dunwich before cycling the 50k to Ipswich on the Brompton. I left a cool box with bacon, eggs, sausages coffee and beer in so that we could cook when we got there rather than queuing for the cafe. This proved to be well worth the effort in the end. On the actual day of the ride I had hoped to get a nap in the afternoon, in anticipation of the sleepless night ahead. Unfortunately I was too excited to sleep although closed my eyes for a bit. Emma cooked me a big bowl of wholemeal pasta before I left and I ended up getting ready a bit early before proceeding to pace around the flat a bit with all those nerves and excitement running through me.

We met James, Magnus and his friend, who was on a Brompton, at Camberwell before heading up to London Fields where a substantial crowd had already formed. We stood by the pub for a bit to watch the spectacle of it all and had a chat with a few random people as well as admiring the bikes. Everyone arrived and we headed off about 8.30. There was all sorts in terms of bikes and riders. Your usual roadie variety, the old bearded tourer, tandems with couples on, Boris bikes, plenty of Bromptons, trikes, recumbent trikes, recumbents as well as a tall bike and lots of other weird and wonderful things including one guy riding a BMX and another riding one of those cross trainer type contraptions you sometimes see round Hyde Park.

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Magnus got a route card just in case and at the bottom of the page was this fantastic quote.

In England they ask: “Is it for charity?”
In France, Spain, Italy or Flanders they murmur: “What beautiful madness.”

Madness indeed!

Trying to get out of London with the thousands of people on bikes wasn’t all that easy due to the sheer number of people on the roads and we lost Magnus and his mate on the way. These roads clearly were not normally design for or used to seeing these numbers as well as Sat traffic. A few young lads stopped outside a shop to high five everyone going past which was great. You could see there was the chance of some conflict with frustrated drivers though so we took a left through the side streets thanks to Andy and a bit of local knowledge. When we rejoined the ride we were on the stretch up to Epping Forest which has a gentle incline. Nothing too much but a reminder that it wasn’t going to be flat all the way. A neat group of us was formed although I found it all too tempting to ramp up the pace and chase others down. I had to remind myself that I was the only one with the map in the Garmin and that I should really be riding with and looking out for James and Paul who I had coerced into doing it. I also had to think of the many kilometres ahead!

As the night drew in the line of red lights formed this amazing long line of light stretching into the distance. A few people stopped to watch as we all came past and a group of three young girls told us they “… Loved us all!” which was nice. We settled into a reasonable rhythm but ultimately the pace was a little quick to keep everyone together. It felt great to be moving at such a good pace and felt like I was being dragged along by the whole event. A gentle south westerly wind also seemed to push us further along.

After a while we got separated from Andy and his other buddies. It’s not that easy keeping a group of around 8-9 people together mixed in with thousands of other riders. James, Paul, Graham and myself settled in to our own little group and caught up with the main group at the first pub stop. Whilst I didn’t dare touch the booze a few others had a pint. Having not ridden that kind of distance before I was really keen to make sure nothing jeopardised it at all. Orange juice and lemonade was fine for me.

We joined the group again and headed back out. By this point we were well outside London, past the M25 and into the rolling countryside. At points the blinking red lights stretched out for seemingly miles on end as the landscaped allowed. It was such an unusual and strangely moving sight to see. All these people moving as one through the night to their destination of the sea in such a peaceful way. There seemed to be very little noise that I was aware of, just the hum of the tyres in the road and the occasional change of gear.

The air was hot and humid when we started and I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to need my jacket. Shortly after this the heavens opened and we were subjected to what felt like 30mins of torrential rain. I put my jacket on and within five minutes it had wetted through. Shortly after it started collecting water on the inside around the cuffs. It felt nice at first to be a bit cooler but then it was just grim. Thoughts of cycling the whole thing like this just couldn’t be entertained as it was too depressing. It felt like one of those silly Rapha videos where they’re suffering on the Isle of Sky in the pouring rain. But it’s all good because it’s all about the suffering right?

Anyway it stopped after a while and our minds stopped freaking out so much. We stopped at another pub to dry out a bit and have some bars before pushing on. We didn’t really ever stop for very long at each place as I didn’t want us to get cold or too settled in. I was also quite keen to get to the beach before it got too mobbed as well as see sunrise on the coast.

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Throughout the ride you never really felt alone at any point. There was always someone around either riding or fixing a puncture or just stopped for a breather. There were also pretty good signals from a lot of the riders pointing out pot holes or man hole covers which made it even more pleasurable. One person hadn’t been so lucky and had taken a bad hit on their wheel. Fortunately their friends stayed there with a light to warn others of the danger. The road was generally smooth and it really did feel like you were gliding along. I tried really hard to keep a high cadence and not grind away at the gears. This seemed to do the trick and also eased the pain in my right calf which had appeared when we started – probably from the 50k Brompton trip the day before. My right knee had also started to flare up a little but by spinning out it soon subsided.

As the Garmin showed 100k down I felt like we had passed a milestone. It felt like it was simply a matter of ticking down in 5k increments to get there. It all felt quite achievable although I did feel like you had to turn something off in your head to get to this place and keep going.

I had the occasional chat with the odd stranger whilst sharing a similar pace. The one I enjoyed the most was talking to a couple on a tandem who were steaming along at a fair old pace. I also had a quick chat with a woman on a fixed who “…thought it seemed like a good idea earlier“. I passed her a bit later and tried to reassure her that it was only another 20k to go.

At one point we got to the bottom of a large hill and I stopped to re-group. A female police officer on the other side of the road wound down her window to tell me there was a cafe just round the corner that was open and drive up there to show me. It was very kind of her and we stopped there for a bacon roll (only £1.70) and coffee. I had a second with an egg as the first one was so delicious. It was so so good to eat some proper food and not energy gels or bars and it went down a treat.

Back on the road the water from the downpour had started to evaporate and we had this lovely cycle through winding country lanes in the mist again with the lights trailing off into the distance. Visibility was pretty poor but it further added to the atmosphere of it all. We got the occasional glimpse of the moon but it was cloudy for most of the night. I can imagine it would have been so different with the bright moon shining down lighting the way, maybe next year.

We stopped again later in a little village where we caught up with Andy and Big John having another pint. This was about 2am and a few of the locals were propped at the bar a little worse for wear. One of them took a shine to my hat asking if he could have it whilst I asked the barmaid for some water. Having paid good money for it I declined but passed him over to Andy who had the same one on. I left him to it and when he left the pub was minus a hat having sold it for £5 to a very drunk man who claimed it was his birthday.


Onwards again and by the time we got to about 140k we were treated to a lightning show on the horizon. Then the sun started to appear – well the light lifted as it was still cloudy and dawn appeared over the horizon. James had a bit of a mechanical, just a stiff link, which we attended to and then pushed on for the beach.

The route I had downloaded to the Garmin was completely incorrect by around 120k. So we gave up and just followed people which worked fine for the most part. Obviously this further reinforces the idea that you shouldn’t trust everything you get off the internet!

The last leg of the ride I got a bit carried away with the pace and left the group. I waited for them every now and then to regroup but then as we all seemed to know what we were doing I kept on. I got onto a bit of a power burn in my enthusiasm to get there although some Dulwich Paragon riders seemed to object to that. They kept passing me then trying to force me over as the other riders tried to sit behind the leader. A lack of hand signals from them further compounded my frustration. They were the only rude riders I met throughout the whole thing. I eased off the gas and just let them do their thing as tiredness and a dangerous group ride didn’t seem like an ideal combination. They had also led me off the actual route which was a bit annoying. Fortunately two others came past who seemed to have made the same mistake but knew how to get back. I had a really nice chat with them and it transpired that they had managed to avoid the rain through a carefully timed food stop. I couldn’t quite believe it as I still hadn’t finished drying out from our soaking 60k in! Back on the route I headed straight for the beach. On the corner where you turn in the the long road down I met another bunch and gave my remaining water to a women who had run out. We all discussed how utterly exhausted we were and then rode on. As I’d driven down this road on Friday I had a rough idea of what was left and decided to really give it some just to shake out every last bit of energy from my legs. I even ended up with 4th place on the Strava segment as a result!

Fuck yeah Dunwich!

It was such an incredible feeling getting to the beach. It wasn’t too busy yet but I got down there and shortly after James and Paul joined us. Graham had stopped for a coffee and arrived a little later. We had a few pictures and I bumped into Bakes from Chocolate Foot (an old mtb forum) who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Having done the pictures thing and trying to send a text to Emma to tell her I was still alive, I found Andy and his mates and got the beer open. It was delicious! I’ve never tasted anything so good. It started to rain again so we sheltered in the van for a bit before getting the stove out to make a stove top full of coffee.

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I did Andy’s group first as they were due to ride to Ipswich to get the train. Then after we had coffee I went for a swim. Whilst a little cold, but not as bad as I had expected, it was great to have some cool water on my legs and stretch out. Also it was great to clean of all that sweat and road muck.

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It felt like such an incredible achievement. I was particularly pleased that James made it and at a decent pace at that. This is after he emailed me earlier in the week saying he’d struggled to cycle to work one day! It’s hard to describe how it feels to have done that overnight and such a long distance – it’s the longest ride I’ve ever done. It is also meant I cycled 380k last week which is by far the biggest week I’ve ever had on a bike. There was a real sense of euphoria at the end as well as relief. We were also lucky to not have any punctures or mechanicals along our way.

Dunwich breakfast

After cooking our breakfast an enormous queue had formed at the cafe which I was so glad we didn’t need to use. We loaded the van and headed back via Ipswich to drop Paul off. I then stopped a bit after to have a nap before driving the rest of the way back.

Tired, really tired

I got in and proceeded to tell Emma all about it still bursting with excitement and also strangely emotional about the whole thing. It’s like someone had let you in to a secret club of sorts – those who have done the Dynamo are clearly different from this who haven’t. I then eat loads, slept for three hours, ate a bit more then slept for a little longer before getting up to eat even more and watch the football. I then slept like a baby overnight and unfortunately had to go to work the next day. I couldn’t face cycling so got the bus which I can’t remember the last time I did that. I spent all Monday thinking about our mad little adventure. I tried explaining it to some people but no one really understood. That’s fine though but it stands as the best bike riding experience I’ve ever had and so pleased I did it and with such an amazing bunch of people!

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And the vital stats? 7 hours 10 mins actual pedalling time, 1330m of ascent and 193.8km covered. Amazing what you can do really.