I can’t be the only one who thinks that this year is disappearing at a rate of knots? It’s now the beginning of July, and British summer is progressing nicely.
Earlier this year, my small group of cycling buddies and I started discussing the idea of taking part in the Dunwich Dynamo for the first time. The unofficial event, 180km overnight ride from a pub in Hackney out to the East coast seaside town of Dunwich is a rapidly growing cycling pilgrimage which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.
With a week to go we had a group of three confirmed, with one rider hovering as a “maybe”. With my main 2017 target of Revolve24 rapidly approaching, I had decided that while the others would do the traditional London to Dunwich ride, I would add some miles on by starting in Ipswich and riding a large chunk of the route in reverse before meeting the group. We’d then all head back to Ipswich after the ride. This took my projected mileage up to 370km, coincidentally the same distance that I covered at Revolve24 in 2016.
With our plans confirmed I headed to Ipswich on Saturday morning with the bike and all of my kit in the back of my car. I found a quiet residential street near the station to park down and set about getting everything packed into my frame bags and jersey pockets. The weather gods looked down favourably on us and the forecast for the weekend looked good. I packed fairly lightly, with just my ashmei bib shorts, socks and classic short sleeve jersey, along with a gilet and arm/leg warmers for when it inevitably got colder in the dead of night.
My view for approximately 24 hours.
Loading up my eTrex at around 12.30 I set off to wind my way out of Ipswich town centre and up to Sudbury to join the Dynamo route. I had a 135km route to navigate to get to Hackney and the pub that marks the start point of the ride. With the weather hovering around, and tipping over the 30℃ the Merino in the ashmei gear was working hard to keep me dry and comfortable.
I made good progress on the first leg of the route, stopping twice to refill my bottles and making sure that I ate often. I’d made the decision before the ride to use mostly “real” food instead of gels, so my pockets were filled with neatly wrapped slices of pizza and date/almond based energy balls. I did carry a few gels, but kept these mostly for emergencies.
Sat in Hackney Fields waiting for the crew to arrive. The sun did a good job of toasting my face.
After a pleasant, if slightly warm ride I arrived in Hackney at 6pm, on schedule almost to the minute, and settled down in the park to re-hydrate and meet the rest of the group, Jim and Jules. They’d got the train to Euston and negotiated their way through London and met me just before 7pm. The park was bustling with cyclists of all sorts and atmosphere was almost carnival like.
The pub on the park had set up a BBQ outside which I took full advantage of, tucking into a burger, which went down particularly well. People started to filter out of the park at around 7.30pm and we decided to leave ourselves at around 8pm. As we got up to leave, Steve, our groups “maybe” arrived out of nowhere having made a last minute decision to join us. Steve has a reputation for posting big rides sporadically in amongst weeks of fairly low mileage and has a habit of popping up on the top of our social Strava group when the rest of us think we’ve had a good week. It was good to have a fourth member of the group.
After a particularly slow ride out of London and towards Epping through traffic and endless traffic lights and road works we finally made our way on to more open roads. Once we got to Epping we settled into a pace that really set the tone for the majority of the ride. Jim and Jules are both strong riders, diesel engines who are both happy smashing out a pace on the front that leaves other riders pushing hard to sit on their wheels, and tonight was no different. We motored along at a strong pace, passing groups containing just about every type of bike and cyclist you can imagine. There were Bromptons, Boris Bikes, Fixies, Hybrids, you name it there were people riding it. And everyone was having a ball. Some had lit their bikes up with fairy lights, or lights on the spokes, some had music playing from speakers attached to their handlebars, it really was a festival on wheels.
The procession out of London Town
As the ride progressed, darkness started to fall and there was a visible trail of red lights stretching as far as the eye could see in front of us as we wound our way through the country lanes of Essex and towards Suffolk. After a couple of short stops, we made our first proper food stop at the Bell Inn at Great Bardfield who had put out a stall selling bacon baps, coffee and other nibbles to a never ending queue of cyclists.
Our first short food stop/comfort break, and the pub that hosted our first proper food stop of the night
The next few hours were a blur of turns on the front, sitting in the wheels and occasionally taking wrong turns. One in particular that resulted in a 10km detour with another rider who had inadvertently followed us down the wrong road. Back on route we settled back into our ride with occasional stops to shake off the legs, take a bite from our supplies and generally remind each other that we were going to manage to get to the end. It’s amazing how much you rely on basic conversation at 2am when one or more members of the group is finding it hard going.
Jim had a particularly dark period at around 3am where he rapidly went off the idea of cycling and being on his bike. A bit of cajoling and a brief sit down at the side of the road to finish off his flapjack and he got going again. It was good to have him back in the group. These are the moments that make riding through the night special. Everyone has their own personal struggles, that’s what makes reaching the finish special.
The obligatory photo of the sunrise, perfect timing. And a thumbs up from Jules
We eventually made it to Dunwich beach at 4.49am. I’d been on a bike for around 12 hours and the boys had done a cracking job of keeping me awake and positive. A few selfies on the beach and it was time for breakfast. Never has a greasy fry up seemed so appealing without a hangover being involved!
That left us with a mere 50km ride back to Ipswich. On the plus side, the sun was out and it was starting to warm up again so the arm warmers came off, the sunglasses went back on and we set off to catch the boys a train and get me back to my car.
The ride back to the station was done mostly in silence as we were all exhausted, but the pace somehow still stayed high. A massive thanks to Jules for that who did about 45km on the front pulling us along until I took over for the run in to the town centre, mainly because it was my Garmin that was loaded up with the route to the train station.
Back at Ipswich train station. Broken, that’s my jubilant face, honest.
We got to the station with an hour and a half before the train that the boys had booked on too. Plenty of time to eat and drink some more, bask in the fact that we had just ridden through the night and remind ourselves that for most of us it was the longest ride we’d ever done, oh and to take some incredibly sleepy looking selfies.
I’ve got 9 weeks now until Revolve24. This will have been my biggest single ride before the event, but with the detour, unfortunately not captured by my Garmin due to a flat battery my total distance was just over 380km with around 14hours in the saddle. That leaves me better prepared for the race than I was last year, having learnt lessons on nutrition and pacing. Is my 500km target realistic? I think that it is, well, I hope that it is.
I’m doing the Chiltern 100 this coming weekend with a group from ashmei, if you’re there keep an eye out for us, we’ll be easy to spot in red merino jerseys and cool looking chequered socks.
Until next time.