Between meeting Stuart at Ealing Common tube station at 6.30 on Saturday evening, and collapsing at my parents' door at 9.00 the next morning, I completed 166.27 miles in 10 hours, 22 minutes and 42 seconds, averaging 16mph. But this only tells less-than-half of the story.
PART I: EALING TO HACKNEY
Distance: 12.72 miles
Time: 57 minutes 00 seconds
Average speed: 13.3 mph
Maximum speed: 29 mph
With no rush to get to the start, this hack across town (Ealing - Acton - Shepherds Bush - Notting Hill - Bayswater Road - Sussex Gardens - Euston Road - Grays Inn Road - Farringdon Road - Old Street - Shoreditch - Bethnal Green - London Fields, Hackney) was taken at a sedate pace, conserving energy for the horrors to come.
Headed via Bethnal Green so that Stuart could meet up with his fellow fixed gear riders, a breed which eschews lycra and powerbars for baggy shorts, Guinness and cigarettes.
London Fields was packed as ever with bikes - the threat of rain clearly wasn't going to put off the DD faithful. Some of the non-cycling patrons of the pub on the park made a few sarky comments ('how would you like it if we parked our cars all over the pavement'), but generally the mood was excited albeit nervous. The presence of a gigantic bicycle-powered soundsystem, pumping out 'The Final Countdown' and 'We Are The Champions', added a certain ambience to proceedings.
Procured a route sheet, made use of the pub's toilet (some 'normal' punters making comments about all the spandex clad 'deviants') and, after some stretching, was poised to go. It was about half eight, and the clouds were massing...
PART II: HACKNEY TO DUNWICH
Distance: 112.62 miles
Time: 6 hours 57 minutes 44 seconds
Average speed: 16.2mph
Maximum speed: 28.5mph
After the usual chaos of getting a few hundred cyclists out of Hackney and into Epping Forest, I got into a good rhythm, overtaking lots of earlier starters, and finding a couple of other riders who wanted to go a bit faster than the bunches that were starting to form. The forest passed by in a blur, then we plunged onto the North Weald road, towards Moreton. Although it was getting dark, enough daylight remained to ride this section at some pace. I know the road through the Rodings and Dunmow very well, so even when it got 'proper dark' I didn't let up much. However, I could no longer see my computer, so I began to lose track of distance, time, speed and all those other things that stop me from going insane on long rides.
I can't remember the exact point that the rain arrived, but I do recall thinking that it wasn't that bad - from Walthamstow onwards I'd been sweating a fair bit owing to my many layers of clothes, and the light drizzle was refreshing. However, it did make group riding a bit precarious given the lack of visibility and fact that some riders didn't seem used to riding close together and would change position drastically and with no notice. Still, the company was good even if there wasn't much conversation - it is a psychological boost to know you are headed in the right direction and not lost in the middle of nowhere on a rainy night.
By the time we reached Finchingfield, the rain was coming down more solidly. A chap who'd been riding with us since Epping decided enough was enough and got off his bike at Castle Hedingham - this was lucky for him because he had a house there. As I continued into the rain, I kept thinking back to the fact this guy had been able to slip out of his wet clothes, make a hot drink and get into a warm bed. Bastard!
After Castle Hedingham, I fell back a bit, and rode across the Suffolk border and into Sudbury alone. I finally checked the time: midnight exactly! Just over halfway in three and a half hours.
Got a bit lost, as ever, in Sudbury - ended up going down a terrifying road that became a terrifying, muddy pathway. Not wishing to be murdered, I turned around and cycled past several bemused (and possibly be-sozzled) denizens of Sudbury.
Sudbury is approximately 2 hours cycle away from my parents'house and usually marks the point of self-doubt. Because at this point I was also riding alone, I made a mental pledge: the feed stop at Great Waldingfield wasn't supposed to open til 1:30. If it was closed when I turned up, I'd head back to Shotley and warmth. If it was open, I'd grab some coffee and food and soldier on.
Great Waldingfield is a couple of miles out of Sudbury, and they are the longest miles of the ride. Luckily, the feed stop was open - and virtually deserted, except for handful of quick cyclists, a documentary crew and the helpers who made me an excellent cup of minestrone with a hot roll, some pasta salad and two cups of coffee.
My clothes were all a bit damp, and I wasn't looking forward to the shock of heading back outside, so I put on my kagoule. The plastic, I figured, would keep the rain out and my body heat in. It was also at this point, surveying other riders' soggy feet, that I thanked my surprising foresight in putting on overshoes.
Three other cyclists were saddling up as I left (and suddenly a huge rush of riders were arriving at the stop - I'd been there some time, I figured) so I joined them. I didn't think I'd last long with them, as I was seized with cold, but some furious pedalling and a couple of small hills got the blood flowing again. And we were off! The people I was with didn't talk much, but when they did it was to bark out directions. Very useful! It always makes sense on such rides to tuck in with the chap in the Audax UK shirt, and Ian (as I later found out he was called) saved us from getting lost on many occasions.
This was when it really struck me how different this Dynamo experience was from the previous 2 I'd done. Previously, it had been much more sociable - riding with friends who didn't usually do long distances, stopping fairly frequently and, in my case, getting really cold. I didn't get cold at all on this ride: the warm clothes and riding at my pace prevented that. But, more significantly, I'd previously arrived at the feed stop at around 3 in the morning - when it was jammed solid - and left around 4 when the light was starting to show. This time, I undertook the entire second leg of the Dynamo in the darkness. It gave the route an entirely different character, and played enormous tricks with my mind. As did the constant, worsening rain.
We ploughed on through villages whose names I barely caught - on one particularly straight, fast stretch of road I began to experience serious pain in my left eye - the rain water was dissolving whatever product I'd used in my hair and forcing rivulets of what felt like sulphuric acid into my eye. Luckily this wore off after a few miles.
The rain had made the road exceptionally dangerous in places, and I kept worrying that my caution would throw me off the back of the group. But there were always chances to catch up, and while we passed some other riders, nobody went past us.
It was nice this year to really steam through the last segment of the Dynamo route - we made the sometimes-tricky Needham Market turn with no drama, and from thereon mentally ticked off the villages towards Framlingham, and after that knew we were nearly home and dry. Which was apt, because the rain stopped. We did have one moment where we stopped at a junction to check the route, eat some food and fix Ian's puncture (and take advantage of nearby hedges to answer calls of nature). This was the only stop I made other than Great Waldingfield.
Around the Sibton area there's a tricky, gravelly descent, which was negotiated successfully and then we were on the home straight. The pace revved up a notch as the darkness began to relent a little, and before we knew it - Darsham, Westleton - and then the loooong straight down to Dunwich. It became a bit of a sprint finish, with the excellent prize of the Flora Cafe's welcoming lights:
It was incredible - arriving at Dunwich just 8 hours after setting off from Hackney in pretty grim conditions. We were the first group to arrive (some insane bloke had got there earlier on his own, he was sat stoically drinking tea). We even beat the documentary crew who showed up later and seemed annoyingly nonplussed by our achievement - preferring, I guess, to wait to interview 'normal' people.
Ordered a fry up (NO BEANS, I made clear, though would have probably eaten them if they'd arrived) and a coffee, and chatted to the guys I'd just spent several hours getting damp with. We were four cyclists of very different stripes, but had worked extremely well to get through to the end so quickly and with minimum fuss. I can't remember the guy in the white t-shirt's name (according to an email from Oliver, he was called Jamie), but he wasn't riding a road bike, had squeaky toys on his handlebars (good man) and was possessed of a variety of impressive BMX injuries.
I've never eaten a fry up so quickly - I ambled down to the beach, totally rejected the idea of swimming this year, sought the hot air dryers in the cafe toilets and proceeded to make my damp clothes less cold (but, unfortunately, no less damp). Oliver, one of the guys from our group, wanted to cycle back to Ipswich for 8, so I decided to join him. Ian headed off to Beccles, and the BMX guy (Jamie) stayed behind to wait for his friend. And so our legendary grouping parted.
PART III: DUNWICH TO SHOTLEY
Distance: 40.93 miles
Time: 2 hours 27 minutes 58 seconds
Average speed: 16.5mph
Maximum speed: 30 mph
Here was the killer. Had you told me I'd be in the first group to finish, I'd have taken that and got the train to Ipswich. However, to add varnish to the achievement, I had decided, long ago, that I would turn around and cycle to my parents', down the coast in Shotley. Another 40 miles. 30 of these were accompanied by Oliver, a strong rider who should race more. Hailing from Mainz, Oliver punctuated this section of the journey with information about the differences between English and German woodpigeons. Or at least I think he did. I was probably hallucinating by then. We helped a Dynamista who had punctured and was cycling home to Felixstowe - the same guy then flew past us when my front tyre punctured. When my rear went down a few miles later, a whole group flew past us. I felt sorry for Oliver because he could have joined them and got to Ipswich quicker, but he stuck with me. Thankfully - because my minipump had broken.
We followed the pleasant, quiet route I usually take when cycling Shotley - Southwold - Shotley, but it was far from pleasant. The damp conditions had caused horrific chafing and I spent most of the 40 miles back to Shotley out of the saddle. Still, the sun had come out and the damp roads were starting to dry out a bit. At Ipswich, before saying farewell to Oliver who was off to the station, I put more air in my rear tyre as it was going down again. The last ten miles of my ordeal were undertaken with a slow puncture, but I absolutely refused to give up and call my parents to collect me.
At 9 in the morning, I staggered up my parents' driveway and discovered the back door was locked. They were out walking the dog, who found me laying in the grass a few minutes later.
Had my second breakfast of the morning (though I was barely able to sit), recounted some of my adventures, and went off for a well-deserved shower.
Perhaps not the most 'pleasant' ride ever, but I'm extremely glad I did it - it goes to show the powerful sway cycling holds over people, and why the sport is not destined to die the death that various pundits keep predicting for it. Who knows what impact this will have on my overall fitness, but it has certainly had a negative impact on my tyres, inner tube supply, minipump, cleats, and general bike condition. I think my Trek is owed a long-overdue service...
Odometer at end of all this nonsense: 13038