Each year, a pilgrimage of cyclists rides from London Fields in Hackney to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. It’s called the Dunwich Dynamo, a ride that began twenty years ago when a group of couriers decided to cycle until they reached the sea one day after finishing work. They rode all night, running with the wind, until they reached the sleepy village of Dunwich 120 miles later. Each year more people hear of it, more riders join it. It’s not an organised ride. There’s no sponsorship, no timetable, no support vehicles — just lots of people with the desire to ride their bikes.
I have ridden the Dunwich Dynamo for the past two years, and I will be doing it again (this year it’s on Saturday 20th July). It’s a fantastic ride, and the sight of an endless snake of flashing red lights stretching ahead along the country lanes alone is worth staying up all night.
But even without the hundreds of people, an overnight bike ride is something to experience, wherever you start and wherever you end up. Nowhere on our island is more than 130 miles from the beach. Get a couple of friends and after you finish work one Friday, get on your bikes, and see where the wind takes you.
The Dunwich Dynamo
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. 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.
From the edge of the pack, a stream of cyclists emerges, riders gradually starting out on their journey to the coast. East, through Hackney and Clapton, up Lea Bridge Road, drivers honking impatiently 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. 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.
Midnight. The darkness of the sky is absolute. There is a unique kind of beauty in the dead of night, as stars prick the black ceiling, the almost full moon reflecting the sun’s hidden rays, washing the fields with a shaft of ghostly light. It’s the profound peacefulness of a world asleep. Silent except for the whirring of hundreds of bicycle wheels.
3am and the sky is gradually lightening, a pale blue colour poised on the eastern horizon. The world begins to regain its shape, silhouettes of trees appearing out of the fields 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 becoming faces.
Then suddenly, the sun bursts over the fields, flooding the world with its colour. We keep riding, onwards, onwards, spurred on by the sun’s rays. The joy is immense. The long road to Dunwich stretches into the distance, then at the crest of a hill, a strip of blue sits on 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 120 miles under the wheels. Did we really ride all night? The journey becomes a surreal memory as sleep takes over on the shingle beach.
The sun beats down. Another Dun Run done.
Anna Hughes works as a cycle trainer and mechanic in London. In 2011 she cycled the 4000 mile coastline of the UK, and is currently on a sailing adventure also round Britain. She is soon to publish her first book about her bicycle adventure.
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