Dunwich Dynamo XXI – 2013-07-23
I’d like to start with a big thanks to the Baddow Anglia CC (most of whom are also CTC members) – for having me along. Since I last reported on this event in the September Spotlight of 2008 it has grown immensely in both size and fame. To illustrate the point, our small informal group of Chelmsford riders set out to catch the 18:21 to Stratford. It arrived, loco-hauled, full-sized with a proper guards van, but it was completely full up with cyclists. “Sorry, lads, no more bike spaces.” No worries, we took the following train without difficulty. Stratford station was buzzing, and more riders joined us there for the short canal-path ride across to Hackney.
We left fairly early, but our plans to beat the rush were thwarted by a puncture half a mile in. I’d say we rejoined with the 8:40 leavers, many of whom were club riders, lightly equipped and going for a quick run. The sheer volume of cyclists throttled back the traffic and it was stop-go all the way to the North Circular. The usual carnival atmosphere was enjoyed, with supporters cheering us on and (almost unbelievably) positive comments from drivers. By the time we reached Epping it was getting properly dark and I was beginning to realise that the head wind would necessitate pacing myself a little bit. Sitting in the midst of a long, brightly lit snake of bikes can be an almost surreal experience, as if you were a fish in a huge electrified shoal being carried downstream on a fast current. Every street lamp now had a small group of moth-like cyclists huddled under it checking or adjusting or mending things. After Epping, very pub, every village, every garage had cycles spilling out onto the road in a pool of yellow, white and red light.
On the outskirts of Dunmow, the group halted briefly to allow the back end (myself included) to catch up. I rested, ate and switched on my rear-facing camera to film the next 20-mile stretch. It was soon becoming obvious that the pace of approximately 15 MPH average, would kill off my legs if I just kept going, so at Hedingham I made my excuses and pulled into the village hall stop for a rest and a feed. The facilities provided were superb as before and for me it has become an essential part of the experience to make the big half-way stop. For £5 I got soup, a roll, a coffee and a flapjack and the chance to sit down for 20 minutes and chat with the other complete strangers brought together by this event. It was quarter past one and the night was cooling down already. I put on my leggings and the rest of my kit before settling back to the task ahead. The wind seemed to be strengthening as I went. Of course, it had been less of a problem in the group but was sapping away at me once I was alone. I made up my mind not to push too hard, and in return, not to stop before Framlingham, (45-miles ahead). Its strange how even if you don’t feel tired (I personally was buoyed up by roaring adrenaline) you nevertheless are, and your mental processes can become slow and lazy. The sunrise failed, instead a grey mist gradually closed in and my vision blurred as it settled on my glasses. I should have stopped but somehow couldn’t be bothered. Stupidly, I wiped them with my rather slimy track-mit, and was temporarily blinded by a white smear. I removed them quickly, but could not then read signposts and my headlamp batteries chose this moment to begin fading. With streaming eyes, I followed a group of red lights, trusting them to navigate; they of course, immediately went off-route!
I stopped, sorted out all the various logistical problems, re-gained the route and buckled down once more. Framlingham arrived at about a quarter to five, and one of the many wayside refreshment points shortly afterwards. More coffee, some food and an essential replenishment of water all came at just the right time. I bumped into Martin Cockersole and had a morale-boosting chat (for me, if not for him).
It was by then fully light, a cloudy, slightly soggy, breezy morning. I wasn’t soaked but just cold and clammy. I knew I must dig deep now and ride hard enough to stay warm.
Dunwich hove into view. A cheering crowd pointed me to the finish. It was 6:15 and I was surprised at how far up the field I seemed to be. I parked up, but couldn’t find the group, which had evidently already left. I soon felt the onset of cramp and realized that once stopped, I was cooling down fast and had no dry kit. Looking around me I saw many who seemed far worse off. After queuing 20-minutes in the cold breeze I revived myself with a hot tea. Sleeping on the shingled beach (my original plan) was ruled out by the cool windy conditions coupled with my damp gear.
I had planned a leisurely ride south, but almost automatically found myself in a phone call home. Near Woodbridge I met my daughter coming the other way and was soon home. It had been a superb experience, some of which I had managed to capture on camera: Despite pedaling all night, and covering almost 140 miles (including rides to and from) – I slept intermittently, for just 3 hours, my sub-conscious senses still enjoying the brilliant night ride. Roll on the next one.