I’m not nocturnal. Never will be. I prefer to sleep when I can’t see anything outside. So it was unsurprising that I started questioning my decision to be on my bike and still pedalling as I watched the sun drop below the horizon. With 160km still to go.
My (soon to be ex-riding) mate had got me all pumped up for this, the Dunwich Dynamo and then promptly dropped out a few days before. I decided to give it a go anyway. The challenge of completing the distance and in the dark looked like too good a challenge and adventure to turn down.
And it was a challenge. It was tough, it was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating, fun and the satisfaction of finishing was immense. I arrived at the start at the Pub in the Park not really knowing what to expect and feeling like I was gate crashing some underground in-the-know secret cycling society. The vibe however was brilliant and I was blown away by the amount of ‘casual’ riders, like they were on they way home from the pub on a borrowed bike, but had decided to ride 185km to Dunwich instead. There was a very ecletic scene of characters and all types of riding personalities and bikes, from the most expensive carbon machines to Bromptons to tandems to some guy on a Bakers bike! Really? On that? Really?
It seemed the good weather had made this years ride one of the biggest and I wonder how long before it explodes. I managed to latch on to a couple of guys who had done the ride before, so it was good to get some insider information and tips from them. Although as we headed out of London and night set in, they started saying things like ‘Thats the last place to get food” and “That’s the last pub that will be open”, I didn’t know whether to get in for last orders or start putting 999 into my speed dial on my mobile.
Also as we left London, loads of people kept asking us what on earth was going on.
“What’s this in aid of?”
“Is it a race?”
Where are you going?
“Why are you doing it then?”
So off I went, seriously wondering whether I had the legs for the distance and wondering if I was going to fall asleep on my handlebars while I just closed my eyes just for a little bit. Once outside of London, it was rather cool to be zipping along country roads and we got a good pace going. It’s fairly obvious, but riding at night is a completely different experience. Surreal at times and often hard to tell whether you were going uphill or downhill. As they said, the memory of flashing red lights stretching into the distance and darkness will linger for awhile! I had also invested in a Hope Vision 1 light for the ride which was brilliant.
So I tried to ignore the voice in my head, telling me that it was actually night-time and I should be sleeping. Everyone around me seemed to think the whole ride was perfectly normal, so I pretended it was too. The next stop was going to be the halfway feed station at around 90km or 60miles. Apparently stopping time could be as long as an hour. I was mentally rubbing my hands in glee hearing that. At about midnight I was really struggling to stay awake and couldn’t work out whether I was just sleepy tired or physically tired. At about 60miles and just before 1am, I was both and was praying for the halfway point to come. Another 10miles and having now also lost my riding partners, I asked another rider if the halfway point was near.
“Mate, that was about an hour ago, it’s long gone.”
A tear formed in the corner of my eye. Then another. But I valiently fought them back and pulled over at the next village green for ‘dinner’. This was around 2am. After recovering from the shock of missing the halfway point, I realised that it was probably a good thing as I had now come further than I thought and was a long way past halfway. Buoyed by this thought I pushed on, always making sure I had a flashing red light in view, so that I didn’t get lost and end up in Manchester. I was really starting to tire around 4.30am and wondering again if I was going to pull it off when I came across heaven, an oasis and all my dreams come true, all rolled into one. That one was a bacon roll and coffee stop that had been set up about 50km from the finish. Whoever that was I thank you from the bottom of heart and the depths of my derailleur. You saved me. I also hooked up with my riding partners again which was a bonus and we headed off on the last 5okm as dawn was breaking.
Being able to see my computer again was a curse as the closer I got the more I couldn’t stop looking at it. With about 20km to go I really just wanted to be at the finish. The last 12km I really struggled and I can’t explain how long the last kilometre seemed! But then all of a sudden you’re finished and there was the sea. Done! 185km in the bag. I finished at 6am and went to straight to the queue to get a fry up from the local cafe.
After the best fry up in the history of fry ups, I went to check out the beach which was littered with sleeping cyclists, quite a bizarre sight. Sleeping on stones has never felt so comfortable though. I got the bus that was put on for the cyclists who had booked and was home by 5:30pm that afternoon.
To everyone who did it on anything other than a road bike, respect. To all the fixies, respect. To everyone who rode another 50km to Ipswich to catch the train, respect. To the guys I rode with and met along the way, thanks for the company and hopefully see you again next year!
Also a big thanks to all who were involved in the organisation. I thought for an event where no one signed in and there was no start and end time, the whole thing seemed to run pretty smoothly!
Read more about it on the Southwark Cyclists website here. Described as “A turn-up-and-go challenging slightly-scary free-entry overnight on-tarmac just under 120 mile bicycle ride to the lovely lonely Suffolk sea at Dunwich.”
To everyone who did it, love your work and good night.