I used to live in England: Devon, to be precise. Once a year for 6 years I made the trek across to London with my bike ensconced on the train to tackle the Dunwich Dynamo. I loved it, with its balmy summer nights and the magical, liminal quality of the nocturnally deserted English countryside under the light of the moon.
I moved home to Scotland and the first year of being back was the last year I did the Dun Run; on fixed as a swan song. It is a very long way to go for a ride, and in recent years the large numbers taking part have made it somewhat less of a social occasion than it used to be. That same year was the inaugural run of the Exmouth Exodus. Ironic that they should get that off the ground just as I moved up north.
Not wanting to be deprived of my annual overnight century ride, I decided that if England can have two, Scotland should at least be able to manage one. I punted the idea to the League of Gentlemen Cyclists and received a smattering of enthusiasm.
The Dumb Run was born.
The Dumb Run starts at the foot of Dumbarton Castle, just west of Glasgow, finishing around 112 miles later at the car park for the Royal and Ancient Golf Course in St Andrews, in Fife on the east coast. It takes place on the shortest Saturday night of the year, sometime around the Summer Solstice. This is because there is a beautiful, dewy orange glow on the horizon all night. No, it’s not Grangemouth: we are far enough north for some trace of the sun to remain when further south there would be dark skies. We aim to hit the Forth Road Bridge for dawn and greet the summer sun’s birth from the silvery depths of the Firth of Forth and the North Sea beyond before continuing around the coast of Fife to the award-winning beaches at St Andrews. The route was originally designed with the aid of the relevant Landrangers and Google Earth, and both the starting point and the unnecessarily scenic first 30 miles are a result of catering for one of the League’s members stating that she didn’t want to go anywhere near Glasgow.
The first year we did it (2007) not one of the four intrepid souls taking part — Andy, Will, Tom and myself, and Tom was the only rider not on a fixed gear — had ever ridden those roads, which is why the lumpy nature of the first 20 miles came as a bit of a surprise. I certainly did not expect to be hanging over my handlebars after only 15 miles, wondering whether I’d ever be able to stuff my lungs back down my throat; nor contemplating a cut across to the nearest train station and thence home. Luckily we discovered Strathblane not long after that. There’s a pub in Strathblane. It’s called the Kirkwall Arms, is quite posh, and is not the sort of place I would ordinarily consider inflicting with smelly, damp cyclists. Nevertheless we stopped there, because it had been raining for ten miles. We were tired, depressed, wet, cold and miserable.
An hour later we had replenished ourselves with coffee and good malt, and made a tactical decision to revise the rest of the route. From that point the ride was fun. The weather cleared and we made good time to the Forth Road Bridge despite the confusing roundabouts of Cumbernauld (more of them later) and after another tactical route alteration in Falkirk to avoid the ‘hill’ implicit in Shieldhill.
My lasting memory from year one is setting up the four jellybabies on the rail of the Forth Road Bridge and taking a picture: two yellow, two black, reflecting the colours of our waterproofs. We called it the Sign of Four and I have a print of it next to my desk at work.
That year we failed to reach St Andrews. The skies opened when we hit Dalgety, unleashing a veritable deluge that would have given Noah pause for thought. Riding along Kirkcaldy Esplanade the water was six inches deep and fountaining out of the manholes. We stopped at what was then the flat I shared with my (rather more sensible and so, at the time, tucked up in bed) other half for a cup of tea. My parents phoned. They live on our route, about 12 miles from St Andrews as the crow flies. The East Neuk was flooded. They recommended discretion rather than valour. We looked at the weather and at each other and then at the beer and the bacon rolls and the tumble dryer and the hot shower and thought it might be sensible to follow that advice.
I posted the date for Dumb Run 2008 immediately after failing to finish Dumb Run 2007. We had a score to settle. The damn thing had beaten us. We couldn’t let that stand. The four of us who had made that valiant first attempt, only to be brought to an abrupt halt by foul weather, were each absolutely determined that we would manage it the next year. Hence the tagline: Dumb Run II – This Time It’s Personal.
People showed an interest. By May I was fairly sure we’d have a good ten or so people, doubling the previous year’s numbers. While I don’t particularly care for the idea of our overnight coast to coast becoming a mass event on the scale of the Dunwich Dynamo, it would have been nice to have fewer fingers than participants.
But the numbers started dropping as the event grew near. First came the inevitable claims of “not fit” and then a few others dropped out for one reason or another. Soon we were down to half a dozen, and I myself wasn’t feeling all that motivated as I was recovering from minor surgery and hadn’t ridden any distance further than 30 miles since the beginning of February. Plus we didn’t have the bail option at Kirkcaldy, not since Frood and I moved to Edinburgh.
However. We had two come all the way up from Englandshire — the League’s own Chairman, on a revenge trip for last year; and Erron, a lovely chap who made the long journey from Chelmsford just to do the ride. This ride was my idea. It was my fault. I could hardly back out, unfit or not. Besides, I knew the first twenty miles were the hardest and there would be a pub waiting at the end of them. The rest of the journey was a matter of keeping well fed and pacing ourselves.
We lost one more the night before for the strangest reason: getting the day wrong. Saturday morning found the League’s forum with one rather angry member, accusing us of not showing up. Well of course we hadn’t shown up. The ride was set for Saturday night. Not Friday. It was, apparently, a very pleasant ride nevertheless.
Dumb Run 2007 started off with a landslide blocking the Queen Street Tunnel in Glasgow, making even getting to the start something of an adventure. This year the trip across, safe within a Scotrail train, was uneventful. Sure there was rain splattering on the window, but a little bit of rain has never hurt anyone, right?
We knew better. Obsessive compulsive monitoring of the weather forecasts had given us the worst possible news: just before we were due to leave the prevailing light southwesterly was veering around to become a gale-force easterly for the duration of the ride before backing to recommence its career as a warm, Mediterranean zephyr.
I believe the word is “arse”.
DRII was brought to us by the words “wet” and “cold”. The biting lashing rain kept most of the midges off, at least. We paced ourselves up the hills to the first point of note: Merkins Farm. I’d suggested a more southerly option for the route but the Class of ’07 declared that Merkins Farm was an essential highlight, which says a lot about their brand of humour.
We made much better time than previously, inevitably leading to complaints from Will and the rest that I’d said I was unfit and yet here we were tooling along faster than last year. I put that down to being more familiar with the route and knowing that the pub was waiting. I particularly noticed the better light we had for the steep descent to Blanefield as a result of arriving earlier. Last year that had been a shrieking, 35W Lumicycle tunnel of downwards death, knees protesting and brakes squealing all the way. I was at least blessed with being unable to see any more than that patch of road in front of me. This year I could see what the road was like and, I have to confess, I preferred the bliss of ignorance.
We arrived at the Kirkwall Arms at half ten and they had the benefit of our company for well over an hour, as we downed round after round of whisky and coffee and tried to muster the courage to go back out into the increasingly filthy weather. When eventually we did emerge it was into near-horizontal rain, which produced a string of curses. Those curses turned to laughter bearing a brittle-edged note of hysteria when I realised, about halfway between Strathblane and Milton of Campsie, that it was sleeting. Sleeting. At midsummer.
And then we had to contend with the floods. Hub-deep in places, the roads were turned smooth and glassy only to be broken up into glimmering ripples by our tyres. The reflections from the various blinking lights and glow sticks gave it all a hallucinatory quality.
At half twelve I heard a strange noise from behind my head. Naaaaa nana nana na na na na… Katamari Damacy? It took me a few sleep-deprived and chilly minutes to work out that it was my phone ringing from its little pouch in my Camelback. It was my Dad, relaying a severe weather warning for Fife and Edinburgh and offering to come out and get us in his van. It was like déjà vu with knobs on.
By Croy I was suffering from the cold and taking a wrong turn into the interminable navigational hazard that was Cumbernauld didn’t help. By the time we reached the 24 hour services (with the coffee machine that is apparently still out of order) I was experiencing severe sense of humour failure and mild hypothermia. We were already questioning our commitment to beating this ride, especially given the thought of having to cross the Forth Road Bridge in the middle of a gale.
At Bonnybridge Will loaned me a set of dry gloves, because my hands were so cold I could no longer feel them except for the excrutiating pins and needles when I tried to grip my bars. Then it was Falkirk (no visit from the puncture fairy this year) and on through Laurieston and Polmont to the so-called Friendly Field at Linlithgow: everything was shut by then and when we girls need to relieve ourselves we can’t just stand up against a handy wall. Hedges and concealed corners are the preferred option. I announced that we needed to make a decision as to whether we were going to try for St Andrews or break off at Linlithgow and head straight for home, and the rest of them should discuss it while I availed myself of the facilities.
It was a consensus: Edinburgh. Rather than follow the route round to the coast and the Bridge we would cut up towards Kirkliston from Linlithgow, go down to Newbridge and then it was a straight run into Edinburgh past the airport. It was with a mixture of relief and profound disappointment that we went straight on up the Edinburgh Road instead of turning left towards Champany.
We set the date for DRIII the same day. The correlation was obvious, if probably non-causative: one person = good weather. Four people = foul weather. Five people = preposterously foul weather. We figured another 8 people would make 13 and that would bring about Armageddon.
In the end we managed 6, having gained the cyclist currently known as Mr 86 for turning up on an 86″ gear. And, do you know what? The weather was great. It was perfect. And we made it.
We rode through the night from the grey light of twilight in the west to the glory of a summer sunrise in the east. We had fine malt at the pub. We only got slightly lost in Cumbernauld, where the coffee machine in the services was broken for the third year in a row; were invited inside the services at Dalgety Bay for coffee and croissants; and woke my parents stopping to use their loo at 6am (they thought we might be burglars). We got to the beach and Frood was waiting with beer and all was glorious and lovely.
It was almost an anti-climax.
I have some astonishing memories from these rides. Being serenaded with Aerosmith through a car window at 3am. The surprise of Cumbernauld Services in the aftermath of a Take That concert. Seeing the other riders out of the saddle, grinding up the hill from Linlithgow into the low-lying cloud of a dank, grey dawn, breath steaming like horses in winter. The joy of setting up the Sign of Six and realising more than one of us had brought jelly babies specifically for that purpose. Being chased by a random, drunken stranger on foot between Kingsbarnes and St Andrews. The North Sea so mirror calm that it reflected the fluffy white clouds making it look like Poseidon had taken up sheep farming.
Excellent company. Good friends, good banter; the crack.
Last year three of us were too badly injured to do the ride, so it didn’t happen. But this year it will. This year is DRV – No Excuses. 18th June, 8pm, Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton.
It’s going to be good.
It’s going to be great.