Here’s where it all began, my interest in long(ish) one day cycle rides. I was cycling a bit more and enjoying riding longer distances then I read about the Dunwich Dynamo and got hooked. Here’s my story back from June 2006 of riding my first Dun Run (it’s interesting for me to read this again as pretty much everything about how I ride has changed since then):
Dunwich Dynamo XIV: “What Beautiful Madness…”
The Dunwich Dynamo (or Dun Run as it is also known) is alleged to have started when after a late night in the pub a bunch of London cycle couriers decided to race each other to the sea. Why they didn’t ride the 60 or so miles to Southend or Brighton is not recorded, instead they carried clear across London, Essex and Suffolk all the way to the empty and pebbly north sea coast at Dunwich (just a little bit up the coast from a nuclear power plant).
Dunwich itself is now a very small place; once a thriving town, an important centre for the north European wool trade in medieval times, the sea has claimed almost all of this town.
The ride is now in its fourteenth year and keeps getting more popular.
Obsessing about preparations and packing right up to (and past) the last minute, I finally left home at about 18:15. I took the short and uneventful ride to Hammersmith to get used to the now weighty front end, following the addition of a new bar-bag (absolute godsend, meant that I didn’t have to wear a backpack all night).
The small but roomy bag had space for my waterproof, my long sleeved cycling top, my leggings, my waterproof jacket, malt loaf, coffee milkshake, first aid supplies, maglite, spare batteries, a multitude of cereal bars and two small boxes of chocolate covered coffee beans.
The transparent detachable map pocket on top held a 1:250,000 scale map of South East England and the route sheet.
I had a multitude of tools and spares in the under saddle bag and with a few final cereal bars and pump in the back of my cycling jersey.
I had two big water bottles for hydration, two rear lights and two front lights and reflective ankle bands for extra visibility. No mudguards, so apologies to anyone riding behind me in the rain.
Took the train from Hammersmith to Monument; attracted a few quizzical looks with my fully kitted up bike. I suspect they were thinking “With all that gear why are you on the train?”. Because I have got 120 miles to go after this.
I met up with some people I had got in touch with through a (now defunct) cycle forum at the Monument (incidentally, the street the Monument is on is one of my favourite street names in London: Fish Street Hill) and shortly after 7pm we made our way to Hackney. Not going to go into a lot of detail or be too Daily Mail about it, but was glad to be in a biggish group for the ride through some of those quiet backstreets. One person was mugged for their bike last year just after starting.
In London Fields there were a huge mass of cyclists (some have estimated over 700 riders, 600 route sheets were handed out and not everyone got one).
Scoffed down some egg fried rice with the *tiniest* spot of sweet and sour sauce on it as a final carb boost (and a quick half pint). It was already getting a bit breezy and chilly so I put on my long sleeve top, with the cycling jersey over that as was getting cold.
We started off sometime after 8.30 pm, barely moving in the mass of riders for the first few streets. I missed the scary small child that many riders saw and heard – he kept repeating “You’re going to the seaside, you’re going to the seaside…” which was apparently quite disturbing in a “Are you my Mummy?” sort of way. Many riders did get to shout “The Beach!” quite exuberantly when asked where we were going by random passers by though.
Such a huge stream of riders attracts attention and the concept of the excursion provokes incredulity – I read a good quote from another cyclist on this sort of thing; to paraphrase: “In England, where there must be a product, they ask “Is it for charity?”, in Italy, Spain and rural France, where such eccentricity is respected, they say “What beautiful madness!”
Getting out of London by almost any route can be awful and this ride was no different, possibly worse than some – probably my hairiest moment of the whole trip was the boy racer who wanted to get onto the North Circular and didn’t understand that he should have probably indicated that intention and been in the right lane. His response was to go faster and beep his horn a lot. Drivers like this kill people.
After that scare I enjoyed the run up through Epping Forest, despite the narrowness of the road and speed of the traffic. We stopped at the 24 hour garage just after the Wake Arms roundabout to stock up on food and water. I topped up my water bottles and ate half a duo mars bar. In retrospect I wish I had had more chocolate with me. We set off from the garage and into Epping proper, then turned right onto the B181 towards North Weald. While on the way to Epping we were passed by an ambulance and a doctors car which at that point I didn’t think anything of.
As we got into North Weald Bassett we could see a lot of emergency lights – someone I was riding with said “I don’t like the look of this, I hope it isn’t one of us”. Sadly it was and we stopped just past the emergency vehicles to see if we could help in any way. It was immediately clear that the best way we could help was by clearing off so we did.
We kept going at a pretty good pace for a bit and were riding within a largeish group. Some of them were slowing a bit and taking up more road space than I would have liked so we made a mutual decision to leave them and powered on for a bit. We met up with a guy on a fixed wheel bike who was going at a good pace – he had a great green light on his rear wheel spokes that was visible for some distance. We kept up with him for a fair bit but he dropped us when we stopped for a short break, (I think in Great Dunmow). A drunk told us in a very friendly way that he was “Proud of you” when he found out how far we had already come.
Some of the slower riders caught us up here but then stopped for a kebab! This made me think of my friend Rupert who I’m sure would have happily joined them.
Somewhere between here and the food stop I lost the people I was riding with , I’m not 100% sure who passed who but I think I got ahead of them. I was on my own for a bit then later joined on to the back of a bunch of other people I knew who were going fairly quick (by my standards).
I stayed with them all the way into Suffolk and the food stop at Great Waldingfield (about 64 miles in). It had already been raining for a bit by then so I was fairly wet already. The food queue was immense and was out the door for some way. Stupidly I joined it and stood outside in the rain for something like 35-40 minutes, that’s where I was told that one of the riders hit by the van had died – it was an aussie guy who told me, I think he passed me when I was riding on my own for a bit.
By the time I actually got inside the village hall I found out that there was only cold food so didn’t fancy it (I think it’s great that they put stuff on for us but at that time of the morning it would be a real morale boost to have something hot to eat). I got offered some pasta but could barely force it down (I finally understand the expression “Like ashes in your mouth”), I was doubly stupid for queuing in the rain for food I wouldn’t have been able to eat. I realised that I was about to get into trouble (with another 55 or something miles to go) if I couldn’t eat something. I tried to eat one of the gels I had with me; people swear by these for the instant energy hit, I wouldn’t know as the texture almost made me throw up, so I binned that. I had my coffee milkshake then which really helped, a few bits of malt loaf and some of the chocolate covered coffee beans. While I had a headache from then on, I was ok to ride on. Note to self, next time, more chocolate.
After changing into my leggings (I was now wearing all the clothes I had brought with me, including my waterproof) I started off again with the riders I had originally set out with. We kept to a slower pace and got used to riding again in the rain and dark. It gets light really early and it was pretty much full light before the time we reached the 80 mile mark at Needham Market. We didn’t see the burnt out car that some of the faster riders reported. Sadly, apart for one short clear patch with a tinge of orange, we didn’t get to see the sunrise either which I had been really looking forward to.
It kept raining for much of the rest of the ride, finally stopping about an hour or so before I reached Dunwich. There was a crappy stretch shortly before the first signpost for Dunwich, which was both uphill for a while (gently for most of it) and poorly surfaced – was concerned about getting punctures.
Finally we reached the sign for Dunwich indicating 7 miles to go. I carried on here while the others waited. I passed lots of riders, enjoyed the last bit on my own and got to Dunwich at about 7.45 am with actual cycling time of just over eight hours. My bike computer said I had ridden a 13.8mph average but only showed 112 miles (others told me it was about 118). So I’m not sure. I do know that I did the whole ride at the same average speed that I ride at on the way to work (although there are less red lights on the Dun Run) so I’m very happy with that.
Having been forewarned about the poor quality breakfast on previous rides, I ordered a few bacon rolls instead. I tried to order bacon and egg rolls but was told that it was either or. No idea why as before and after I was served, I saw endless amounts of bacon and egg or sausage and egg rolls being served. The rolls were horrible and to add insult to injury the full breakfasts looked fantastic. No idea what happened there.
Stood around for a bit. Felt a bit dazed and headachey, wished I had more chocolate again. Went and looked at the sea for a bit. Packed up bike into van, got on coach and quickly fell asleep.
After getting back to Paddington and getting my bike unpacked I rode home not too badly – I didn’t clip into the pedals though as was very tired and didn’t trust my reaction times. Roads were pretty empty though and got home ok.
Looking back I didn’t need the malt loaf, gels, quite so many cereal bars or for it to rain on me for 70 miles. Luckily, other than tightening up my spd pedals at the start, I didn’t need any of the quite weighty set of tools and spares I had with me. I passed a lot of riders stopped with either punctures or mechanical problems on the way to Dunwich, I don’t think the weather helped much and I’m very glad it wasn’t me.
Two final points:
1. Almost anyone could train up to do what I did – with a month of fairly good training (about 600 miles) I went from being a keen commuter and occasional leisure cyclist to being able to complete this long ride in a time I’m happy with.
2. Sometime between 4 and 5 am I started noticing other riders on their way back. Yes, while some of us flopped onto the shingle and said “never again”, some brave and crazy souls turned round after a short break and did it all again. I have read some of their ride reports and have discovered that I was benefiting from quite a generous tailwind for much of the time. They know because they were riding into it on their way back. What beautiful madness…
PS I was wrong about the Malt Loaf when I wrote that. Food of the gods…