The Dunwich Dynamo. 125 miles overnight from London to the lost village of Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast. Look it up on the map. Dunwich is north of Sizewell Nuclear Power Station. It’s past Ipswich. You need a 1:250k map to fit the whole route onto one page. I’ve been talking about doing this ride for years. It would be my first century ride (100 miles or more). At night. When I should be in bed. Well, I couldn’t not do it this year, not after telling you lot that I was going to, so the Booze Monkey and I duly loaded our bikes onto the First Great Western guards van on Saturday the 20th July (excellent facilities, and they even do apex!) for the trip to Paddington. We met a couple from Cornwall on the train who were also bound for Dunwich, via London, of whom the young lady was meeting a tandem buddy at the other end, and the young man (a very nice lad called William with an overwhelming fondness for jelly babies) going solo on a road bike. Andy somehow got offered a jelly baby and I didn’t.
Then it was hell-mell through the streets of London (Hyde Park and Green Park) to Waterloo East, only to find that the train that we had been advised to catch didn’t run during the one hour of the day we needed to catch it. So it was a case of batting my eyelashes at a taxi driver and squeezing the bike in for a mad dash to Greenwich, where we met the Greenwich Cycling Campaign for the 4 mile ride to the start in Hackney.
It was a fantastic experience. More than 100 cyclists took off in close formation, a critical mass forming just because we were all fighting to get out of the city. Then it was a long line of bobbing rear lights as the riders in front took in the topography, some flashing, some dancing, all of them together looking like some weird alien river. Many was the person who came up to tell me that I ought to get the “Death Star Award” for the brightest, most eye-catching rear lights.
I rode for part of the way with Jim, a very well kitted out gentleman on a Street Machine recumbent and with a head torch on his lid (he could navigate). Then I rode some of the way with Tim and Hugh who were riding a BikeFriday tandem, thinking I was safe because the stoker could navigate – only to find out later that Hugh is almost blind and rides a tandem because he can’t ride otherwise. He can certainly stoke though! All the way along there were candles at junctions and occasionally on road signs, put there earlier by the candle fairies to keep you on track.
It was fairly miserable towards the end of the first stage, with 60 odd miles under the saddle and the 3am depression hitting hard. Out of the darkness there was suddenly the candle fairy palace! A village hall, staffed by gracious volunteers, bedecked in candles and emitting the most welcoming glow. LEDs blinked on bikes left outside, music came from within like some 60s beatnik veggie bar. 50p in the box, tea, coffee, all you want. Spicy beans and rice for a couple of quid, a plate so full you could feed a family. Some of the riders looked like they had the starving millions in their bellies. On the wall, two 1:50k maps showing the second half of the ride. That was intimidating. I went over to have a look and immediately wished I hadn’t. I wondered how I would ever manage it.
“Don’t worry,” said Barry, who got me into this mess in the first place. He looked grey. “The sun will be up soon and then it’s a whole different ride, you’ll see.” I didn’t believe him. I struggled outside into the cold pre-dawn air at about 4am, made sure Andy was ready to go, and then we two, Tim and Hugh, and a nice lad called John on a classic road bike hit the road.
By gum Barry was right, though. As the first sun’s rays came poking over the horizon it really was a whole new ride. It was as if the previous 60 miles hadn’t existed. Quite a miraculous thing. Off we went through the countryside, roads to ourselves, nothing but birds for company and the odd twinkle of distant LEDs shining from bikes that had left before us.
60 more miles, with a ten mile sprint at the end when the road signs started to show our destination, and we were there. I had never guessed that there was such a thing as a metabolic compulsion to drink tea, but I have experienced it. I remember nothing of getting off my bike and locking it up, have very vague memories of shouting “Tea!” in a tone that would not be lost on zombies calling for more paramedics, hazily recall threatening someone who tried to get in between me and my tea, but there’s nothing really clear until halfway through the second pot.
First solo female. Nothing to shout home about because it wasn’t a race. But the only other woman in there ahead of me was on a tandem, and I secretly feel dead chuffed.
A few hours of lazing about in the sun on the beach later, and we were packed into the coaches, bikes into trailers or the separate moving lorry, and shipped back to London. A pack of snoring, smelly cyclists covered in road grime and sand, and very, very happy.
Just over 8 hours in the saddle. Certainly not Tour de France standards, but then, you have to admit, Lance Armstrong is a bit weird. The cafe at the end was great, the weather perfect, the company brilliant and the organisation/route directions absolutely spot on.
I’ll be going again next year if anyone else fancies coming along. It won’t be as far, because every year the sea encroaches that little bit further. Drop me a mail if you fancy it.