I led a couple of dozen cyclists on a feeder from Greenwich to the start point in Hackney. Or at least we set off from Southwark Needle with that number; by the time we reached London Fields the group had grown considerably by accretion, with the mood heightened by excitement mixed with apprehension at the epic task ahead.
That is the nature of events such as the Dunwich Dynamo: they develop a group dynamic considerably greater than the sum of their parts, yet the individual elements are still clearly visible, and will most certainly do their own thing. The general consensus is that around 1,500 cyclists took part in Dunwich Dynamo XX, with the return transport arrangements of 850 taken care of by the Southwark Cyclists organisers.
I lost count of the number of Dunwich veterans who sagely advised me and other novices that one should avoid a racing start. Leave the skinny greyhounds to their own devices, we were told, and set a easy pace. In my case this wise counsel was ignored by friends who offered it, who in their excitement sprinted off on their multi-geared road bikes with go faster decals, while I on my fixed-wheel Surly trailed an ever-increasing distance behind.
That left me riding most of the Dunwich Dynamo on my own, with only brief snippets of conversation with strangers along the way. The skinny greyhounds seemed obsessed with reaching Dunwich by dawn. And so they did.
With long-distance cycle rides such as the Dunwich Dynamo, you move through a series of emotions and physical states, but there is no universal formula. With me, there was the pre-dusk ride out of London, with light-hearted chatter amid the traffic din. And then the slow climb through Epping Forest, and from there a slog through rural Essex in the blackness of night, with a bright moon occasionally visible through thinning clouds. At some point it became very dark, and head torches came out to supplement the standard blinky urban bike lights.
Speaking from personal experience, with the darkness there came tedium. And intense arse-ache. I was completely on my own by this point, and as soon as the 80-kilometre mark I was beginning to tire considerably, with 120 kilometres still to go. At the half-way point, with a food stop in the Essex village of Sible Hedingham, I was feeling at my lowest, and the back pain from a kidney infection was great. Time for another dose of analgesics.
After another 10 kilometres along the road we crossed the River Stour by Sudbury, and knew that we had reached our target county, Suffolk. No turning back now. But Suffolk is a big country, and, whatever you may hear about East Anglia being flat, do not believe it. Suffolk is hilly. Not big hills, but move through the region and it’s up and down, up and down, all the way.
Suffolk is also picture-postcard pretty. Not that this could be appreciated by the sprinters in the first half of the Dun Run mass streaming through it in the middle of the night. I was somewhere in the middle, and reached Needham Lake shortly before dawn, with the mozzies feasting on human flesh protected by no more than a thin covering of Lycra.
By this time my backside was numb, and there was still a way to go. Several tens of kilometres, to be more exact, but by then I was no longer counting, or indeed caring. With the dawn my spirit lifted, and I got to appreciate the scenic beauty around me. It was very special indeed.
Saxon Suffolk at its best – Coddenham, Hemingstone, Gosbeck, Helmingham, Framsden, Kettleburgh, Framlingham, Bruisyard, Peasanhall, Sibton, Darsham… And finally the last few kilometres into Dunwich, to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of people and bikes strewn across the shingle beach. Some asleep, a few in the water, a fair number outside the pub, and others queuing for food by the beach café.
I arrived sometime around 07:30, which didn’t leave me much opportunity for rest before I presented myself to help Bermondsey Bill with the mass transport of cyclists and bikes back to London. This was a logistical challenge, with 850 bikes to be loaded onto pantechnicons, and their riders onto coaches, with
four five [I was able to count on the day, honest!] coaches for every bike lorry, and the need to coordinate departure and arrival times. I’m amazed at how well this went, with very few problems encountered.
With all the ticketed Dunrunners sent on their way, I made my way back to London with Bill and another organiser in a small truck, with a detour to avoid a massive traffic jam on the southbound A12. Not that I noticed the journey, as I fell into a deep sleep soon after setting off from Dunwich, and didn’t wake up until we were close to the capital. By the time we arrived at Chambers Wharf, most of our 850 charges had collected their bikes and left for home. I made my way home via the Thames Path, without even the strength to ride up the modest hill from Greenwich.
Late Sunday afternoon, back at the ranch, my GPS odometer read 210 kilometres, which is a personal record. Today I’m feeling fine. The joints are a little stiff, but my back pain has subsided, and the muscles are in reasonably good shape. Now I have to do some work, in preparation for a union meeting this evening, and am also planning some more local rides for the coming month. For example, next weekend I shall lead a 70 kilometre spin around the Darent Valley, and the weekend after, on my 48th birthday, a mystery ride that will include a nice pub or two. Hint hint.
Many thanks to the organisers of the Dunwich Dynamo, with special mention for Alex Crawford, Coordinator of Southwark Cyclists, and the free-lance, free-spirited cycling troubleshooter and logistical wizard Bill Owen of the Parish of Bermondsey.