For the third time, I did the Dunwich Dynamo, 180 km of overnight cycling from London to what little of Dunwich the sea has not yet finished reclaiming. I previously took part seven years ago, in 2016, and thirteen years ago, in 2010. Perhaps six or seven years is about how long it takes for my memories to fade enough for it to seem like a good idea again.
Once again, I did it on my faithful yellow single-speed. Once again, I found myself wishing for lower gears on the steeper hills. I had to get off and push a couple of times.
I bought a handlebar mount for my phone this time, which made following the route much easier. I bought this one from Decathlon. It’s reasonably priced (£15), reassuringly well engineered, and very effective.
For the route, I imported a GPS route into Organic Maps. I started using it because I was sick of Google Maps showing places based on commercial considerations instead of user utility. Organic Maps uses OpenStreetMap data, and works offline – ideal for a journey through the countryside. It worked well for navigation. Perhaps some forewarning of hills would also be useful.
I set off a bit before 20:00, following others as they moved out from London Fields. The first part of the journey was nicer than last time, as there’s more protected cycle lane. You lose that once you get out into Essex, and there it’s more a case of safety in numbers from aggravated manchildren racing past in their pathetically enloudened hatchbacks. I think the A104 was the only place I encountered discourteous driving. I didn’t see anything worse than ostentatious revving and speeding, accompanied by the occasional shouted message that was impossible to decipher over the engine noise. It seems to be the kind of place where the sight of bicycles causes a kind of mania in certain people. I think if I lived their lifestyle I’d probably be angry too.
(There was an angry man stuck in traffic later on, shouting about it being the fault of “all you cunts on bicycles”. The reason for his delay was actually a set of temporary traffic lights where the road narrowed at roadworks. It was cars slowing him down, not bicycles: we sailed past the unmoving column. I wonder if he worked it out.)
I succumbed to a puncture somewhere in Epping Forest. I couldn’t find any source of a leak, and concluded that it must be a slow puncture. I replaced my inner tube (it was the front one, by luck) and rode on to test my hypothesis. It held up for the remaining 160 km, and I suffered no further technical difficulties.
The weather was better than it had looked at the start of the week. There was no rain, and only a little cloud. However, it was cold overnight. My body was fine, and I didn’t need to resort to the extra layer in my pannier, but my hands suffered.
I caught up with Jonathan at Brandeston, and enjoyed the company for the last part of the ride. The last part is in many ways the worst part: you’re tired, there are several short climbs, and you know the end is really close and yet not nearly close enough.
We took a minor detour at Peasenhall where the GPS route I was using differed from the official route. It made no significant difference, and we rejoined within a few kilometres.
We arrived at the beach at about 07:45, meaning that I completed the whole distance in about twelve hours. It was a glorious sunny morning. Not hot, but warm enough in the sun. I dropped off my bike to be transported back to London, changed into swimming trunks, and got into the sea. Given how many bathing spots are plagued by floating turds after years of successful value extraction by private equity, I was pleased to see that the water quality is rated as excellent. That’s excellent by British standards, though, so make your own mind up.
Why did I do it? A hundred kilometres in, in the darkness, climbing a hill, I asked myself the same thing. It’s hard work in places, but it’s also joyous. Coasting downhill through the empty roads in the middle of the night is magical. There’s a celebratory atmosphere from the thousands of people taking part. It’s immensely satisfying to have done it, and to have proven to myself that I can achieve something that sounds on the face of it like a very hard thing. (I don’t think it’s actually as hard as it sounds. Any reasonably fit regular cyclist could do it. You don’t have to be a Serious Cyclist, although they seem to make up a majority of participants.)
The journey back was faster than last time, but the bicycles didn’t arrive for a further half an hour, and it took almost another half an hour until they got to the deepest part of the van where mine was. At least the drop-off point (Millwall stadium) was convenient, and I only needed five more minutes to get home.
I slept on the coach. I slept for two hours on Sunday evening. I slept for a solid eight hours overnight. But stairs were difficult on Monday, and I needed two daytime naps, and I didn’t really feel back to normal until Tuesday morning.
I have made a GPX file of the official route. For next time?