For anyone who’s been paying attention, you may have noticed I’ve mentioned ONCE OR TWICE this daft Olympic project I had on the go, last year, the point of which had initially been to find my very own Olympic sport. I didn’t really find one specific sport that I had a natural aptitude for, though I did find a few that I wanted to keep up. The one that seems to have stuck is cycling.
It’s been a bit of a learning curve, dealing with aggressive MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra), irate taxi drivers and even one red-faced white van driver from Chingford who actually tried to knock me off my bike. But I’m not one to be told and Beyonce (my road bike) and I have become firm friends over the year we’ve spent together, dicing with death on the streets of London.
Still, as I think we’ve established, I enjoy a challenge, in a way that I’m starting to consider might not be normal. So when the Dunwich Dynamo came around this year, I was only too keen to commit to cycling 120 miles from London Fields in Hackney, to Dunwich beach in Suffolk, overnight with no sleep, knowledge of the route, or training. Despite this and at points, not for the first time, the very real fear that my life may be about to end, I managed to make it round in a mere 12 hours (yes, 12) without so much as a puncture.
It’s a pretty special ride, is the Dunwich Dynamo, and I actually still can’t believe I completed it. Because I’m senselessly competitive with myself, I’ll probably even go back for more next year, but I hope I will heed the following learnings, which I will share with you:
• 120 miles is a really long distance to travel under your own actual, physical steam. Do some training first – you won’t regret it.
• I suspect many cyclists would be contestants on the Crystal Maze, were it still televised. And by this I mean I suspect many of them are members of the Territorial Army and/or Geography teachers. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, here.
• Pay a quid for the route sheet. You don’t know the way to Dunwich, really you don’t. And you’ll want to know the way if you wind up on your own.
• Cycle with people who are similarly paced or you’ll be cycling on your own for QUITE a long time. I didn’t mind it, actually, but aside from the whole getting lost multiple times because you didn’t pay a quid for the route sheet, your sleep deprived mind can start doing slightly odd things in the wee small hours.
• By odd, I mean repeatedly, internally shouting “F*CK YEAH CASTLE HEADINGHAM!” and physically restraining yourself from administering a fist pump, when you reach the place of which your only memories are miserable field trips during the early parts of Year Seven and Eight activities week, before you get to the good shit – Chessington World of Adventures.
• So, yes, I did grow up in this part of the world, and despite having held the county of Suffolk in almost pathological contempt since my early teens (I largely blame Ipswich Town Football Club for this), it’s really very pretty. You’ll like that when the sun starts rising at 4am.
• Before that point, it’s also really pretty being able to see little else but a train of red lights bobbing along the hills in the distance. Nonetheless, you’re going to want some fully functioning lights on your bike, because some of those hills are genuinely terrifying under the cover of COMPLETE darkness.
• Consider a disco bike. You’ll make someone indescribably happy if you pull up beside them, as one woman did me, at 4.30am accompanied by a robust blare of “SEAN-A-PAUL”.
• Now, I don’t know if this is technically speaking the correct advice, but I tried to limit the quantity of bacon butties I stuffed in my face, along the way. I don’t care if it’s dark – no one wants to have to take a crap on the side of the road.
• When you reach your destination at 8.30 am, your undercarriage in shreds and your knees screaming with pain, having stopped bothering to internalise and actually shouted “MOTHER F*CKER!” (or in the case of one of my long-lost companions “YOU UNDULATING B*STARD!”) approximately 20 times in the last hour (the last bit is hilly, I’ll not lie to you), you’ll be genuinely surprised how well a pint of pale ale goes down at that time. Don’t feel bad, give in to it – there is no other set of circumstances under which drinking at that hour is socially acceptable.
• Book one of the return coach tickets in advance. Unless you are one of my cycling spirit guides, you will not want to cycle another 40KM to Ipswich. You actually won’t ever want to go to Ipswich, I’m almost certain of this.
I’ll be cycling Ride London-Surrey 100 on 10th August for an exceptionally wonderful charity, The Samaritans. If you feel sorry for my wretched knees, you can sponsor me on my Just Giving page, or make a direct donation to them here.