I had read about the Dunwich Dynamo even before I moved to London and I had always wanted to ride it. Despite having lived in London now for nearly 3 years I missed out on the last two, last year I was in France riding in the Alps and the year before that, let's say I wasn't really all that ready. The past month I've been doing long rides in the countryside every weekend as preparation until July 12th came along.
The attraction of the Dunwich Dynamo is that it starts on a Saturday evening in East London and goes through until the early hours of Sunday morning somewhere on the Suffolk coast in the sleepy seaside town of Dunwich, this nocturnal aspect gives it its namesake. The total distance is 187km and mostly flat, through quiet back lanes.
20:00 The starting point was luckily right in my neighbourhood, at the Pub on the Park in London Fields. There were a few cyclists downing a few pints, but most were standing around checking their bikes, chatting, stuffing a last banana down and some were actually starting to leave. It's a semi-organised ride with paid for return coaches, some extra train services and some food and drink stops but generally you just show up and ride.
I was a bit wary as the weather forecast was thunderstorms and rain, however it had been warm and sunny the whole day, I decided to take my chances.
So by the time I arrived and I was all ready I more or less left at 8pm. There was a slow start getting through the traffic of East London. By the time we reached Epping Forest the pace had gotten to a comfortable rhythm. Oh yes, there was a token high bike which attracted a lot of attention with its blaring speakers.
A steady stream of riders down the middle of Epping Forest, with a light mist hanging over the road but no rain yet. I did however see a bad accident, as I was riding along I heard a loud cracking sound, like the sound of a glass bottle smashing only to turn around and see a rider hit the deck. I heard later that his seatpost snapped... The sun set at about 9:30pm and my dynamo slowly became brighter and brighter as the night fell around me.
23:00 The first third of the ride felt reasonably easy, although my back was starting to feel a little tight and my bum sore, so I decided to take a rest break at Castle Hedingham. There was a little stall with hot tea and mars bars. A this point I had cycled about 65km and was still feeling fresh, however I soon had to keep on going and decided to head off. Along the way I managed to hang onto several groups, since I'm usually used to riding alone or riding with slower riders, it was nice to be able to hang in someone's slipstream and keep a good pace going. We passed by a lot of people by the side of the road with punctures, I suspect a lot of them may have been pinch flats due to potholes, probably because they had poor lighting. Navigation is quite easy, despite cycling only by moonlight, there is a slow but steady stream of red lights, all wiggling their way down the route to Dunwich, this meant that navigating was quite easy... as long as you could keep the lights in front of you in sight.
Luckily the weather held up ok, and there was only very light rain. I seemed to have tracked the dry spot between the rain as the roads ahead of us were soaking wet. The occasional flash of lightning was unnerving, the thought of being soaked in the wee hours of the morning in the dark countryside wasn't appealing. However the flash never followed up with an audible crack which meant it was far away which was a relief.
01:30 After a few more hours I was starting to fatigue, my bum was even more sore and I needed a break so I decided to stop at Needham where there was conveniently a portable cafe setup and hot dogs. However my stomach didn't feel too good after I downed a coffee so I wasn't particularly in the mood for hot dogs. I had a pasta I bought earlier which I consumed with some gusto, as well as some chit chat with fellow riders. This would be my last stop before the end.. I set off soon after for the final leg. I hitched onto another group and before long we weren't able to see anyone in front of us and it turned out I was the only person with a map. Using my trusty handlebar bag setup to hold my phone, I was able to guide the small group through the moonlit lanes of the Suffolk countryside. The occasional flash of lightning kept us on our toes and kept our legs spinning.
Eventually the distant glow of red light gave us a slight relief, that we were on the right track. Slowly the sun started to rise and the sky's dark shadow turned into a dusky pink haze. The towns started to whizz by, the halfway point Sudbury came by too quickly, then Framlingham, Darsham and finally the sign to Dunwich.
There were already a few riders on their way out, the final road through to Dunwich village pierces right through the woods as well as passing by an medieval Friary.
04:20 Finally I hit Dunwich after a long night of riding, just as the sun was rising. Suprisingly I didn't feel too sleepy in the past few hours. Luckily it hadn't rained all that heavily the whole time I was riding, also I got to Dunwich early enough to not have to wait for a well deserved cup of tea and a scone, scoffed down quickly after a quick dip in the North Sea.
Despite having cycled 187km which was the furthest I had ever cycled to date, I decided to cycle further to Ipswich which was an additional 44km away to catch a fast train. The alternative was to wait a few hours for a very slow train at Darsham which would have been absolutely packed with the main group of arrivals. This leg of the journey proved to be harder than the actual ride, it rained quite heavily at several points and it seemed to take an eternity to get to Ipswich. However I finally made it and had a good nap on the train ride home... Maybe I'll have another crack at it next year.