At 20:00 hours tomorrow night, a number of cyclists equalling n, where 3 < n < 13 (as far as we know) will set off from the foot of Dumbarton Castle on our annual cross-country trip to the Royal and Ancient Golf Course of St Andrews on the east coast.
The ride takes after the much more famous Dunwich Dynamo, another annual nocturnal ride to the beach. A friend of mine, who runs the hugely successful Friday Night Ride to the Coast, observed recently that what makes a successful ride is the story, and the writer in me agrees. The Dun Run is successful because it has as its beginning the ultimate British conurbation of London, and wends its way through increasingly rural environs until it reaches the very opposite of a city: a village that no longer exists, having been swallowed by the sea.
The Dumb Run also tells a story, albeit a very different one. The divide between Scotland’s west and east is more than geographic. Dumbarton and St Andrews are the start and end point not just because they were handy. We travel from a place that both has the castle with the oldest recorded history of any stronghold in Great Britain and more recent industrialisation in the form of shipbuilding, to a quiet, picturesque town in one of the most visited parts of Scotland, which has the country’s oldest university. We travel from a land of grey ironworks and steel to a place of green grass and sandy beaches. The Clyde is nuclear submarines and religious rivalry played out on football pitches; the Forth is fishing boats, academia and princes falling in love.
The journey between the two travels a narrow corridor of quiet A-roads running through the heart of Scotland’s industry: further north it’s all tourism, shooting estates, salmon fishing and distilleries, with the exception of Aberdeen. Here Scotland’s population is concentrated, and we purr through in the night with nothing to show of our presence other than quiet laughter, the whirr of chains and the ticking of freewheels.
This isn’t the most scenic countryside Scotland has to offer, but it’s dark, so who cares? By the time the sun comes up we’re in Fife, which is prettier by far.
The Dumb Run is my favourite ride of all time. I love the Dunwich Dynamo, don’t get me wrong, yet the adventure has gone out of it. It’s not a question of if you’ll make it, but how fast. The challenge isn’t in making it from start to finish but in getting to the front of the queue at the feed stop, finding a place on the coach for the return trip, or getting your bike back without damaging it.
The Dumb Run is insanity on wheels. The first 30 miles has midges, the weather is cruel, the itinerant Buckfast Zombies more likely to throw stones than to cheer; the only feed stops are service stations — the coffee machine has been broken in one of them for the past 5 years and the other might not let you in at all.
We have only one rule: nobody gets left behind. That’s what makes the difference. This ride is a shared experience. It’s contending with the elements as a democratic collective; supporting one another with practical application of sugar and caffeine, banter and beef jerky, whisky and cake.
There’s no way for me to explain what makes this ride so good. You have to do it. You have to be there. You have to experience the highs and lows and the sheer preposterousness of it.
It’s not too late to join in. And if you can’t make it this year, check back on Sunday, when the date of DR VI will be posted.