Dunwich Dynamo XX
London Fields, 8pm. Hundreds of cyclists mill about, some in groups, some by themselves, some nonchalantly sipping pints, as if they weren’t about to cycle over 100 miles. Some excited, some apprehensive, all ready to ride. Road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, a Boris bike. Single speeds, tandems, tourers, some heavily laden, some with no luggage save a camel pak and a towel strapped to the back. Lycra and hi-viz is everywhere.
A constant stream of cyclists heads towards the coast as riders start out on their journey. East, through Hackney and Clapton, across the park and up Lea Bridge Road, drivers honking as the river of bikes floods towards Essex.
The convoy thins out as it reaches Epping Forest, riders choosing their pace for the next 100 or so miles. The sun is starting to set, the moon rising in the twilight sky.
Epping, 9.30pm. Pubs spill out with drunken revellers, some cheering us on, some shouting abuse. The bright lights and sights of an Essex Saturday night. We ride on. Deeper into the woods, the daylight slowly fading as the roads get quieter and narrower, away from the buzz of the suburbs. The sun sinks over the horizon. Trees enclose the road. Bike lights come on and suddenly the road is alive with hundreds of flashing bulbs. Follow the red lights ahead.
Punctures fixed by the roadside, fields, villages flash by. Last orders at a country pub. Bemused bar staff serve the closing-time visitors. It’s dark. Snacks, coffee, a pint: riders refuel for the remaining 92 miles. Onwards, onwards, into the night.
Midnight. The darkness of the sky is absolute. Stars prick the black ceiling, some hidden by a blanket of cloud. Fields pass without remark, all features hidden from sight. Only the blink of red lights ahead and the pools on the road from white head lamps punctuate the darkness. At 1am there is a unique kind of beauty: the almost full moon reflecting the sun’s hidden rays, a tree picked out against its light, the profound peacefulness of a world asleep. Silent except for the whirring of hundreds of bicycle wheels. Red lights snake ahead, an endless line following the meandering road.
3am and the sky is gradually lightening, a pale blue colour poised on the eastern horizon as sunlight slowly edges into the pre-dawn sky. The world begins to regain its shape, silhouettes of trees appearing and shaded grey clouds floating on the horizon. Pedalling onwards and onwards, we chase the dawn. Colours emerge: pale blue, yellow, orange. Details of hedgerows and flowers appear and the dawn soundtrack begins as birds anticipate the pending sunrise. The road is now light, featureless riders once only identifiable by the character of their bike lights now becoming faces. The intensity of the flashing red fades as visibility increases. The night ride is over.
Another tea stop, and while sipping the hot revitalising liquid, excitement bubbles over as a yellow globe surfaces over the horizon in a bloom of gold. “The sun!” Colour floods the landscape, the brilliant blue sky edged with pink and orange, white clouds floating at its edge. The break of day gives renewed energy to the riders, spurred onwards by the sun’s rays. 100 miles down. Cockerels crow, birds sing. The world wakes up.
The final painful 16 miles. At last, a signpost that says Dunwich. 7 miles. Sand begins to line the roads. The glimpse of a nuclear power station above the trees. The coast is near.
The long road to Dunwich stretches into the distance, the energetic few who have made it to the beach already passing us on their return journey.
Past the sign welcoming us to Dunwich, then at the crest of a hill, a strip of blue stretching across the horizon. Down the final hill, round a corner, and there, on the beach, hundreds upon hundreds of bikes. Riders eating, drinking, sleeping, scattered prone across the pebbles. Shrieks from the sea as a brave few venture into its cold waters.
Everyone seems dazed, whether from sleep deprivation, exhaustion, hunger, or simply the accomplishment of 116 miles under the wheels. Did we really ride all night? The journey becomes a surreal memory as sleep takes over on the shingle of the beach.
The sun beats down. Another Dun Run done.