Monday, 3 August 2015

Dunwich Dynamo - Done....

After the nightmare of the Bruges expedition our next challenge arrived with barely a chance for the wounds to heal. I’d muttered to Gary that I’d probably give it a miss – I was down and defeated after Bruges and didn’t feel strong enough to tackle another 100+ ride. My back is still sore, mentally I feel weak – I just wanted to have a rest, look into what I can do to help my back problem and ease off on the cycling for a while. But we’d booked accommodation in Southwold after the ride and I decided I might as well have a go – couldn’t be any worse than Bruges.
The Dunwich Dynamo is a 120 mile ride through the night from Hackney in London to the lost city of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. The story goes that, one night in the pub, some London bike couriers decided it would be good to ride through some countryside – they ended up watching the sunrise on the Suffolk coast and the Dynamo was born. It has been running since the early 90s I think, every year on the Saturday closest to full moon in July. Thousands of cyclists gather at London Fields and gradually set off for Dunwich – there’s no organisation; no support; no logical reason to do it. It’s a beautiful thing.

We loaded the car and drove down late on Saturday afternoon – our plan was to arrive at the ‘gathering’ point at around 7.00 and see what happened. When we arrived the streets and park were already teaming with cycles and cyclists of every description and denomination. The atmosphere was more like a pop festival than a cycle ride, the pub was rammed with queues for drinks spilling out onto the pavement. Already there were people drifting off in dribs and drabs, under the blue bridge and disappearing out of sight, like they’d passed into another dimension. Difficult to be accurate with numbers – as people set off more seem to arrive – I heard someone say that there were about 5000 riders this year – I wouldn’t dispute that.

One of the nicest things about the DD is it’s total lack of organisation – no slick advertising campaign, no merchandise, no emails, no letters, nobody to question and no one to complain to. The whole thing works on tradition and word of mouth – you’re pretty much on your own on this one.

As we were hanging round deciding what to do a man with a camera asked us for an interview for a documentary he is making about the ride – this wasn’t a TV or film crew, just a lone individual, spending his time recording the event and the riders. Turned out that he’s done the ride four times anyway, this year his plan was to capture as many interviews and footage as he could. With that out of the way we ambled towards the unofficial ‘start line’ – the road from the pub to the blue bridge. And we were off.

The first miles are very urban – stop-start-stop-start – traffic lights, roundabouts, pelican crossings, lots of traffic – we picked our way through the masses, always it seemed, travelling a little quicker than those in front of us. Before long we are out of the tentacles of London and into the Essex countryside, the sun fades and the ride starts proper with twinkling lights fading into the distance and trees lurking in distinctively thrilling shapes. No need to worry about navigation on this ride – just follow the constant stream of riders and look out for the occasional jam-jar with a candle in it to indicate a turn off. We were going well, riding at a steady high pace and passing many, many riders. Every pub had a buzzing swarm of cyclists gathered outside eager for the nectar inside – we joined in at one pub, 11.00ish, sitting outside at a wooden table amazed at the neverending passage of blinking white and red lights. Apparently we pass through some beautiful countryside on this route – possibly – we couldn’t see much further than the few yards in front of us. We passed a few ‘pop-up’ stalls, set up by enterprising folk making a few quid on the side selling, drinks, food, innertubes, to support flagging riders. We even spotted a bike shop – open at about 3.30am! Somewhere or other we came across a firestation – turned over to a burger-bar with the firemen selling their wares for charity – the place is packed, there are queues for burgers from every direction, the grassy verges outside the station are strewn with bikes – there a number of riders curled up asleep – it all seems totally wacky.

In the dark I see a shape zoom past that I believe to be Gary – I chase after him, struggling to keep up as he gradually edges further into the gloomy murk. For some miles I pedal hard hoping to catch him – I pass a couple of pubs with crowds of cyclists strewn around, there are locals having a barbie, drinking and shouting encouragement as we pass – but still no sign of Gary?

After probably 10 miles I stop and try to reach him on the mobile – I cross to the opposite side of the road to make it easier to set off again afterwards – He picks up but then the signal is lost – next second my phone rings and I can see its Gary calling – I answer, at the same time turning to look across the road – there, underneath the lamppost is Gary calling me! – Turns out he wasn’t in front of me after all – he’d been trying to catch up with me!

The thing about the Dunwich Dynamo is gloriously without point, and times almost surreal. All of life on wheels is represented; club riders whooshing off into the distance, couples on tourers and tandems, their lives bundled up into their weighty panniers, pals from the pub out for a lark whose jocularity fades as dawn approaches… The question from querulous bystanders is ‘what is it for’ – a difficult question to answer really, but ‘for fun’ sums it up – or even ‘absolutely nothing’ But bemusement isn’t the only reaction, it is amazing how many people are still up in the early hours, clapping and cheering as we pass. In some cases we could hear them but not see them.

Suddenly its light again – we’ve cycled from London – we’re almost at the coast – My back is aching and Gary’s back wheel sounds like a cement mixer – but we’re okay. Another few miles and we’ve made it. We arrive at Dunwich and walk onto the beach. Cycles and cyclists are strewn about on the pebbles, some riders are fast asleep as if on expensive mattresses. The cafĂ© is open and doing a roaring trade – its warm, there’s laughter and chit-chat waffling around, people are posing for celebratory selfies – I take off my shoes and take a paddle in the sea – there are a few people going the whole hog, totally stripped and swimming. We wander to the pub – already packed solid and serving breakfasts for £20 a pop. We opt for a couple of pints and a bag of crisps - its 5.00am.

We chat to a few people, drink another pint and then start thinking about carrying on our journey to meet with the girls and friends in Southwold. Strangely I don’t feel tired? – The adrenaline rush has left me elated, I feel high, The prospect of another 10 miles to Southwold doesn’t worry me – although I question the sanity of quite a number of riders who are setting off to cycle back to London! – One way is good enough for us.

Having ‘ticked off’ the Dynamo I’m amused by a description of the event from one of the websites….. it’s a traditional event, something like Christmas but with less eating and more travelling by bike.

This blog is out of sync - sorry - can't keep up with everything thats going on. Next up though, The Prudential Ride London 2015!

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