not finishing the dunwich dynamo

I’ve not bothered to look but I suspect it’s probably quite hard to find a blog post about not actually finishing the “easy” Dunwich Dynamo cycle ride. The cycle ride reputedly started by a bunch of bike couriers and a cycling club sat in a bar in London and saying “it’s a nice night lets ride to the seaside and have a few beers on the way” is a night time ride from London Fields to Dunwich in Suffolk. The cycle route is about 112 miles all told and according to almost anyone who as done it “very flat” and “easier than you think.” I can’t really confirm either of those things though as I quit the ride after (what Google tells me is) 42 miles in Great Bardfield at The Bell public house.

Matt on Ipswich station with the other train bound riders
Matt on Ipswich station with the other train bound riders
the crowd of riders in London Fields
the crowd of riders in London Fields

The logisics of cheaply getting 2 bikes to London and back to Nottingham are relatively complex. I elected to drive my van to Halesworth near Southwold which is very near the end of the ride in Dunwich and catch the train into London on the day of the ride. My friend and fellow cycling enthusiast Matt Little came with me. The car journey was 3 hours and then a 2 hour train ride into London. Stupidly I miss checked the train ticket price and we ended up paying over £40 when had we have booked in advance we’d have saved quite a bit of money on that. We paid so much in fact that I may as well have just gotten the train from Nottingham to London!

James and his mates in London Fields
James and his mates in London Fields
the one picture that my GoPro managed to take before shutting down. This is James getting to the start of the ride.
the one picture that my GoPro managed to take before shutting down. This is James getting to the start of the ride.

it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be high demand from other cyclist who had the same idea, to drive to near the end and then train it into London. Two other cyclist were waiting on the station and when the train arrived there was already 6 bikes in the small bike area on the multiple-unit type train. We managed to pile our 4 extra bikes in and along the way to Ipswich they got at least another 6 on board. We joined a huge number of cyclings at Ipswich waiting to get on the London train. Thankfully that train had a proper guards van which we literally filled with bike, the riders forming a chain gang at London Liverpool Street to pass the bikes out onto the station.

The ride starts in London Fields which is in trendy Hackney very close to the London Hackspace. We met up with friends at the Hackspace, enjoyed a cold drink and a small bike to eat before heading to the start. When we got to London Fields which was plumb packed with cyclist. There must have been well over a thousand in total with bikes and gear everywhere. We could see on the road that people were already queuing up to leave and there was a constant stream of people heading to the start point and arriving at the Fields. The atmosphere was amazing, being a part of such a large crowd of cyclist of such varied interest in cycling from tight Lyrca clad racing teams to novelty bike riders, people on Brompton’s and of course someone on a Barclay’s TFL”Boris” bike.

You might be reading this and wondering WHY I thought I could do a 112 mile bike ride? I  cycle a lot. I’ve done quite a few long distance rides of about 50 to 60 miles before. I wanted to try this one. I knew I’d not really done enough cycling this year and I wasn’t really ready for it, but it was important to me to start. Finishing wasn’t so important. I want to get the point across that I’d said it was okay to quit. What mattered to me was being there to start and to try. I suspect some people don’t see the point of starting something you think you might fail and other might suggest “well you were always going to fail with that attitude.” I had nothing to prove to anyone really and I knew I probably couldn’t make 112 miles. Being there to start, ready on the day was very important to me though.

So what happened next? We all rode out of London hundreds and hundreds of us in a long long line. Matt had brought along his MP3 player and a big amplified speaker and battery and had a great selection of his funk and sole collection. Matt is often asked to DJ and has some of the best selection of music I’ve heard. He’s a deep knowledge of these genres and a huge varied and unusual collection of really great tunes that are simply PERFECT music for this sort of thing. I kept pace with Matt and the music right to the edge of London. Progress through London was hampered by the traffic and traffic lights but was a lot of fun to be in such a huge group together. A huge long line of cyclist. It reminded me a little of the Critical Mass rides I’d done in Nottingham before but with a lot more riders. If you want a great experience and love to cycle but know you can’t do 112 miles, do try this. I can’t see how adding more riders to the London section (though pissing off more London drivers) would harm anything.

100s of riders in a long line here we wait at a red light in Hackney
100s of riders in a long line here we wait at a red light in Hackney

After London the riders start to spread out a little more as you get into Epping Forest, the roads are bigger and faster and you meet the first hill. I still felt good at this point and was really enjoying the ride. For some reason known only to himself Matt dropped a gear at this point an disappeared into the long line of cyclists ahead of us. I couldn’t have kept up with him (and perhaps he needed a quicker pace) and I missed the music a lot. Alone my spirits started to flag a little but I was determined to press on as I felt good so far.  (London Fields to Moreton)

From Epping you head towards the village of Morton. Just before Morteon I ate an apple and that helped me a lot. There are (at least) two pubs in Moreton the Nag’s Head and the Whiteheart. Hundred of riders were there, in the street in the beer garden. It was a mass of people. This is the first proper stopping place. The pub was very busy. It wasn’t clear if they’d made any extra arrangements for the Dynamo though they had kindly setup their hosepipe for the refilling of bottles (both mine where already empty). There seemed to be a bit more fuss made by the Whiteheart possibly, who had fireworks going. I purchased a pint of lemonade at the pub but was quite surprised to see many beers being ordered by the riders. My understanding is that it’s fairly traditional to get a beer in each of the pubs along the ride. Personally I think that is quite a terrible idea, but I may not have thought so when I was 20. On age there was a good mixture of ages, additionally I was the fattest rider I saw either though more about that later. There were not many kids and those that were quite young were mostly with what looked to be cycling clubs.

Leaving Moreton and regretting necking my lemonaid and perhaps not sitting down for a proper rest or having any proper food (Matt had the food) other than fruit. After Morton you are properly in the countryside. A fog descended and had a bit of rain in it. It was quite chilling really and made for a very surreal atmosphere when really out in the open. An enduring image of the ride for me is the long long line of winking red tail lights of the riders ahead and the white haze of head lights when I looked behind me of the riders behind me. The sound too of so many zipping bike tires (road bikes with narrow racing tires outnumbered any other type of bike by 10 to 1) and the occasional sound of gear changing and freewheeling too. Very occasionally (more especially in London) we’d ring our cycle bells as people called out encouragement or waved at us. This seemed to not be a thing that the cycling club people or those with the better racing kit did though and at times I felt a little embarrassed to do so maybe I should have played it a little more cool? (Morton to Great Dunmow)

little LED candles had been dropped by someone all along the route
little LED candles had been dropped by someone all along the route

All the villages after Morton seemed to be called Dunmow. When I got to Great Dunmow I was starting to feel tired and it passed my mind that I might have to quit. I could still go at this point but the realisation that I might need to stop dawned on me. It being the first place with anything like a proper phone signal after London, I stopped and had a look at Google maps. At this point I got a text from Matt at 11:40pm telling me he was at “The Bell” and that he’d eat something. I was to look out for the flashing blue lights he’d strapped to his bike. I didn’t know what The Bell was or where it was, I was. It turns out that he was already 8 miles ahead of me and it took me another forty minutes reach The Bell in Great Bardfield. (Great Dunmow to Great Bardfield)

It was here that I started to think about stopping, quitting, tapping out. Somewhere out in the fields before the never appearing Bell. It seemed clear that I wasn’t going to get to The Bell and that Matt would have long since moved on. I told myself I’d think about my situation at The Bell when I got there. I took a phone call from Matt and asked him about Great Dunmow (the large village) he was so far past that by then and was somewhere past Flinching Field. I could hardly breath and speak on the phone to him. By this time I was really flagging and I had started to dismount on some of the hills (people will tell you there aren’t any) and riders passing me asked occasionally if I was “alright?” I’d seen some others quit and I can’t think that I was by any standard the first, slowest or whatever. It doesn’t even really matter to me about that. I never was delusional that I needed to “win” or “not be over taken” or whatever. I certainly heard other people even older people talking like that being competitive. I suppose everyone has different reasons for doing things and different ways they interact with each other. Out on the road I met people who were arrogant ass holes. I also met very kind and lovely people, just a mirror of the world really. For all that, I felt there was a kindred spirit between the riders something in common at least and whilst we might not all have been nice to each other, there was an US and a THEM, riders and those who were not riding with us.

DSCF3105
the “last” riders leave Great Bardfield – the symbolic picture I wanted but couldn’t quite get in the dark

All along the route in any shop or pub or sitting place there were riders resting or eating or drinking. It would have been impossible to reach the back of the ride or possibly even the front (though I suppose there must have been both). From the air It must be quite a sight. I’ve been told by people who are interested in things like Le Tour that when you see it all the riders pass in seconds. No danger of that with the Dynamo. It was lovely to see families out to watch the riders, an old couple in their garden in chairs enjoying the spectacle and many people shouting encouragement. Such long lines of riders must be quite a site to watch pass. It certainly was a sight to see being among them.

At Great Bardfield there were hundreds of riders. I tried to find James and his friends who had been with Matt and I at the start but it was nearly impossible to find anyone and he may have been well ahead by then though I don’t know for sure as I’d kept pace with his group generally in the first quarter and left Moreton ahead of them and gotten ahead a couple of times when they stopped at shops and things which I didn’t stop at. In the dark though it’d be easy to pass someone and not notice each other. I certainly didn’t look at every cyclist that overtook me. Either way I couldn’t find James and I knew Matt had long since moved on. I’d eaten a banana and that had made me feel really sick. I think by this time I needed more salt and protein of which I had neither. One of the mistakes I made was not taking my own food along with me. I’d had a notion I’d pick something up in a shop and didn’t actually take the time to go to one! I didn’t want to eat chips and takeaway like some of the others had done and didn’t want to feel “full” before riding. Dizzily I popped into The Bell. They’d sold out of crisps (I wanted salt) but I was relieved when I saw they had peanuts! Salt and protein!! After eating my bowl of peanuts I had a careful think about what to do which primarily stemmed from checking train times and what the nearest station was. Some helpful texts from Gillian really helped me at this point and I decided I was done.

My tweet “Watching the last few riders leave Great Bardfield is one of the most moving things I’ve witness for a king time” (obviously I meant to write long, not king).

It wasn’t relief that flooded over me, but a huge bunch of emotions and sadness no doubt heightened by my fatigue and tiredness. I felt very moved as I watched the hundreds of riders leave Great Bardfield and decided I wasn’t going to leave there myself until most of the others had gone. It might be my own silly sense of romance that made me want to stay until the last riders had left. The village was finally empty at about 2am… but of course a few swished through on their own even as I was setting off toward Braintree Station. Why didn’t I try and go on? Well I knew I couldn’t make it. I wasn’t even halfway round and the hardest section was to come. I possibly should have gone on to try and find a different station but it didn’t really matter which one I went to non would get me to Halesworth quicker. So what was wrong with me? The simple truth is I wasn’t fit enough, I’m very over weight and I started to get bad stitches and couldn’t breath right. My bum was hurting from my saddle (despite the fact I had a new “WonderGel” cover on it and I felt sick and dizzy and had no extra energy. i was done and still needed to get home.

Where I left the ride, the Dynamo continued to Flinchingfield and I tapped out to Braintree.
Where I left the ride, the Dynamo continued to Finchingfield and I tapped out to Braintree.

The 9 miles to Braintree (where I got lost momentarily and went out of my way quite a bit) where quite lonely but determined ones. I’d made my decision and I was okay with tapping out. As I got into the small but very well provisioned town of Braintree I toyed with the idea of getting a price from a taxi driver to take me and my bike to Halesworth Station so I could drive to Dunwich and see the riders arrive and be there to help Matt when he finished. But it was only a fantasy as even when I saw some taxis I didn’t ask them for a quote, probably because I knew it would be a lot of money. I found Braintree station at about 2:45am which had a bench in the dry. I felt fairly cozy just as it started to rain heavily and settled in for a long wait for my 8am train. A couple of other cyclists appear in the night, one with a bad knee and another with a busted deralia. We were quite annoyed when we saw that the 08:00 train (still two hours or more away) had been cancelled and I ended up cycling to Witham about 9 miles further on from where I caught the train back to Halesworth and my van. I collect Matt from Dunwich at about 12 noon and drove home, feeling a little more sleepy than you should when driving.

Oh, did I mention Saturday 12th July was my fortieth birthday?

2 thoughts on “not finishing the dunwich dynamo

  1. Your mate should have stayed with you. If he did the journey would have been better and you may have finished.

    At least you started 🙂

    1. Perhaps, but for the record I don’t think that made the difference and though I won’t be changing the transcript of my post, I want to be clear it wasn’t my intention to suggest that Matt moving ahead was really a big problem. He had his reasons and we talked about it later. I should have prepared more for riding alone, such as brought proper food and drink, had music of my own ready to listen to. Even with all that I’d not have made it. Matt had his own struggle and at the edge of Epping Forest he needed to up his pace. I’d have liked him to drop back a second to tell me what he was doing is all.

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