Dunwich Dynamo 2014 [XXII]

The Dunwich Dynamo has been on my radar as a possible bucket-list addition for a while. One that would be easy to decide to take part in fairly spontaneously, and equally easy to drop out of last minute. I was sort of half thinking that it would be doable this year - I cycled consistently through the winter, commuted plenty, and knew I would be getting plenty of kms in my legs on my Yorkshire Grand Départ trip - but it wasn't until George mentioned he was thinking of it too, that the prospect, sort of, crystallised. We procrastinated booking return coach tickets long enough for them to sell out, and it wasn't until G's dad offered to come pick us up from the beach, 200km away from the start point of this informal point-to-point audax, that we both finally committed. I then made a point of telling as many people as I could, out loud, so that I couldn't back out without shame.

By way of explanation, the Dunwich Dynamo, or Dun Run, is an annual, unsupported, free-to-enter bike ride that starts in London Fields, Hackney and ends on the beach at Dunwich, a once-prosperous medieval port town which has since been largely washed into the sea, leaving a pub and a couple of houses. There is no time limit and no official start time, though people tend to set off between 8-9pm meaning you ride it overnight. 

In fact our little group assembled about 9 and set off shortly after. The initial roll through Saturday evening Hackney was entertaining and thankfully easy to navigate by following the string of blinking rear lights, a tactic that would serve us well throughout. The route takes you through Essex, via Epping Forest, and by about 10.30 we were onto quiet country lanes. Rolling into a little village just before pub closing time we found the main street mobbed with cyclists, and decided it would be rude not to stop for a cheeky half and a Clif bar.

By this time it was dark, with thick fog and cloud cover preventing the nearly-full moon from helping us out any. We pushed on in a blur of blinking lights, dimly-lit villages and the odd roadside puncture repair, constantly stretching out our party, before regrouping at the next pee/banana stop. The pattern repeated until Tom dropped his chain and it wrapped itself impossibly around the crank arm. Not knowing exactly where we were in relation to the rest of our group I stopped with him at the side of the road, found the split link and set it right. It could have been worse but it cost us about 10 minutes on the rest of the guys and we would only catch up with them an hour or so later.

Tom and I found Peggy and Jack noshing pasta outside the only official food stop; a village hall just short of the halfway point. Jayesh was inside too, but George and Hassan had missed the detour and continued on the route. Tom made the call and we caught up with them half an hour later, hanging out at an enterprisingly-open greasy spoon in a Sudbury industrial estate. Of course we couldn't set off before quite a bit more peeing, bottle refills, Clif bars, bananas, Jelly Babies & arm warmers on/off, but eventually we did, putting our heads down and following the blinky lights again. 

Somewhere along the next stretch we stuck with a group playing rap from a boom box, which we quickly decided to push past, and somewhere in there George flatted, though I can't remember exactly when. 

The sun came up slowly and burned off some of the spooky fog that we'd ridden through all night, revealing regular bacon roll stops and the relentlessly quaint Suffolk countryside. We were keen to push on, but managed to stop for a couple of photo ops.

I'd felt ok throughout, but the last 30km or so was pretty tough. By this point we all really just wanted to be at the beach, which seemed a teasingly long way off. Tom and I stuck our heads down and formed a 2-man breakaway, smashing into Dunwich at 8.30am to be greeted by the wry smile of Paul, G's dad, and a cup of tea. A quick photo op on the beach and we piled into the team bus/broom wagon for a comatose ride back into London.

I'd like to extend my gratitude to everyone involved in the Dunwich Dynamo, in a general sense, but specifically to my fellow riders; George, Jayesh, Hassan, Tom, Peggy and Jack, each of whom brought something valuable to this amazing experience. Also my overwhelming thanks go to Paul and Clare for the ride home!

Total time: 11.5 hours, moving time 8 hours. Total distance 187km, but the 13k from my house to the start makes it a nice round 200 for me. The Strava activity.


Radavist Redback Kit Preorder

When John Watson rebranded his PiNP blog as The Radavist, he got graphic design faves Land to do the visual identity. Now he's only gone a stuck it on a lovely kit, which I suggest you do yourself a favour and pull the trigger on. Preorder is up until 25/7 so don't dilly-dally.


Tour de France 2014: Yorkshire Grand Départ Diary Pt. 3

By day five of our trip to Yorkshire we were spent. We'd ridden over 300k with 4,500m of climbing in 4 days; way more than we ever thought we'd manage. I was contemplating the ride down to the nearest point on the Tour route for Stage 2 - somewhere just South of Skipton - but just couldn't push myself out the door at 8 am. George and I both agreed that we would limit our Tour experience to the great day we'd had on Stage 1, and catch the action on a big screen, or at the pub.

We ended up doing a short loop up to an old quarry where we got off our bikes and walked, for what felt like the first time in months. It was a nice change of pace, and a worthwhile reccy for a future rock climbing trip we may or may not do.

After a couple of hours scrambling around some industrial archaeology, we headed to a pub just in time to grab a pint and catch the last 15k of the stage.

Monday was day six, and the final day of the trip. We packed early and debated the pros and cons of trying to get back to Leeds to catch our train, either by local train service or by riding. We hedged our bets; the train from Settle was already jammed with bicycles, but we could ride the 25k to Skipton and try to catch one of the more frequent trains from there, or failing that we could ride the full 70k or so to leeds. We had all day.

The ride as far as Skipton was not without it's challenges: a 27% uphill gradient and an unpredictable, cyclocross-style canal towpath section were the only ways to avoid certain death on one of the most dangerous A roads in the country. We were filthy and totally beat as we pulled into Skipton train station, but the gods of public transport smiled on us and we managed to squeeze on a train with just seconds to spare.

Pulling into Leeds we had a couple of hours to kill. We changed out of our grubby ride kit and into civilian clothes, and George navigated us to a breathtakingly stocked bar where we toasted the holiday in style.

This trip has been a learning curve. I've learned a little bit more about how to handle my bike, handle myself, handle tough rides, and how to ride with others. I've also become more fond of my 1982 Raleigh Rapide which asked for only as much as a spot of oil on the rear mech all week. Finally I'd like to extend my gratitude to Sally, G's mum for putting us up and putting up with us. What a star. And love to G for making this all happen, and for being the best ride buddy.

(Check out Part 1 & Part 2 of the trip write-up too!)


Tour de France 2014: Yorkshire Grand Départ Diary Pt. 2

On day three we woke with tired legs and some figurative, as well as literal, black clouds hanging over us. If yesterday was tough, today was going to be tough and wet.

But we had a plan, and a reason for the plan. My dad was setting up a satellite communications system on the top of Buttertubs Pass - aka Cote de Buttertubs, a major climb on stage one of the Tour - and would be there all day. I knew that he was sharing a compound with a local mountain rescue team, and that he would be parked just over the top of the climb (if heading South-North, as the racers would be less than 24 hours after us). Buttertubs Pass would be the longest climb we'd attempt all week, but with a clear objective in mind and the prospect of some father-son bonding on the horizon, not even the prospect of heading back along the desolate Ribblehead road was enough to dampen our spirits. With a sense of purpose we headed out into the decidedly inclement weather.

Eventually we rolled through Hawes, and with lots of decorations hung, souvenir stands set up and cyclists milling about, things were looking seriously festive. Nerves about weather we could manage Buttertubs were beginning to form watching the carbon frames and shaved legs glide by, so before too much doubt crept in we made a start.

The little road out to the start of the climb was busy. There was a sportive happening, on top of all the individual and club cyclists who'd come out to ride this part of the route just a day before the pros. George and I agreed to look out for each other at the top, and with nerves really kicking in we pushed on. On my big gearing I was quickly away from G, despite the killer ramps at the bottom of the climb. after a couple of minutes it levelled off before getting even steeper - like front-wheel-lifting-off-tarmac, falling-off-the-back-of-your-bike type of steep. Grinding away in my 42-26 I just about made it through this section, after which it immediately levelled off to more like 2-3%, and a chap from Brighton pulled alongside for a chat. It seemed like easy going for a while and we were just about to congratulate ourselves when another ramp loomed. We dug in and pretty soon it was back to a gentle gradient which would continue for the next couple of kms to the top.

The weather was really coming in by this point and as I got my bearings I managed to spot the fabled satellite system, it turned out that my dad had already been and moved on to another site. We'd missed him by a good few hours; in fact he'd left before we even set off.

Sheepishly I relayed this to George and there was nothing to it than to head back, gingerly descending on mist-slick tarmac, against the flow of ascending riders. By the time we made it back to Hawes, though, we'd dropped out of the clouds and managed to find a sunny spot to enjoy some well deserved ale and chips. There was no rush to head back to Settle (via the infamous Ribblehead road) but finally we got a bottle refill and rolled out. the ride back was a tough, filthy, 25kph horizontal-rain type of affair and by the time we got back I couldn't even open the screw cap on my hip flask. We had an early night in preparation for the main event the next day.

This was it; the central focus of the whole trip. Neither of us being early risers we grudgingly got out of bed and forced some breakfast down. We packed a bag with real food and some extra lycra layers and headed over the top, looking for a similar route to the one we'd taken on our day two reccy. It was great to see plenty of other heading to watch the Tour; in cars; on foot; and on bikes of all flavours. By the time we made it to our chosen little hill at Cray, it was already looking busy, and as we ascended to scattered claps and cheers, we could tell that the atmosphere was already starting to build.

Leaning our bikes against a dry-stone wall, we settled down on the grass verge and awaited the caravan - still two hours away - while our usually lonely hill got busier and busier with spectators.

There was plenty of anticipation and when the circus that is the Tour de France finally did arrive, it didn't disappoint. A carnival of promotional floats punctuated with press cars, official cars, police cars and countless motorcycle outriders came high-fiving their way through Yorkshire.

The appearance of helicopters streaming out of the valley below announced the imminent arrival of the peloton, which of course came and went with breathtaking speed, even on the kind of gradient that had forced dozens of mortals to unclip and walk up a couple of hours before, and before we knew it, our Tour was over. With a calm contentment, the hundreds of accumulated spectators gathered their bikes and their promotional KOM hats and shuffled back down the hill.

The ride back to Settle was steady, interrupted only by a quick pub stop. Coming into Settle, G put the hammer down on me and I let him go.

Take a look at Part 1 too...


Tour de France 2014: Yorkshire Grand Départ Diary Pt. 1

As I mentioned last week, I'm lucky enough to have a good buddy who cycles and whose mum lives within spitting distance of Stage 1 of the Tour de France Grand Départ up in Yorkshire. The whole thing was so on-a-plate for us that we just had to do it, and as it eventually turned out we managed to spin the trip out to six days. Six days of thinking about nothing but bikes, bikes, beer, food and bikes. Bliss.

George and I met at Kings Cross early on Wednesday, grabbed a quick coffee & croissant and headed off to find our train. Ours were the only two bikes in the guard's van, despite warnings of overcrowding, and just over 2 hours later we arrived in Leeds. There was time to sink a quick half before catching our connection to Settle, a chocolate-box pretty market town in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and our HQ for the week.

Staring at the rolling green hills and country lanes from the train I was itching to get the pedals turning, so not long after we arrived we suited up and headed out, and up. Rolling out of the town we quickly discovered that the hills in this part of the world are bigger, longer and steeper than anything we'd come across on a road bike before, and you can't go far without running into one. Before we left I'd managed to source a freewheel for the 1982 Raleigh Rapide I was riding, with a range of 13-26, and this combined with the 52/42 up front meant that gearing was a talking point with other riders we'd meet later in the week, who were often on modern compact chain rings with up to 34T rear cassettes.

The ride that afternoon turned into a nice 40k loop skirting Malham Tarn, with a fair bit of climbing and more than our fair share of glorious empty tarmac and stunning views.

The plan for Day 2 was simple: reccy the route of Saturday's stage. It turned into the biggest ride of the week, ending with 100k on the odometer and 1500m of the toughest climbing we'd find. We first headed east, over the 'Tops' - a colloquial name for the open moorland on the top of ridges between valleys - taking in the classic climb of Langcliffe Scar.

The descent to Halton Gill was equally wonderful, and we were even clapped by a group of schoolchildren on a field trip, practicing their spectating skills for the coming weekend.

The road from there down to Kettlewell was an undulating, very slight descent and was a total blast. A quick cafe stop in the village was in order, and we bumped into a few fellow cyclists who were taking in the yellow bunting and the bacon rolls. A bit of George's local knowledge revealed a little climb about 10k further up the road at Cray, and when we arrived it looked like a likely spot for viewing the race, though neither of us fancied ascending just to come straight back down so we turned in the general direction of home, and unwittingly towards the nastiest climb of the trip; Fleet Moss.

Ascending over 300m in 5.5k with some incredibly steep ramps and tricky hairpins was just too much for my Raleigh, and my legs, and it was the only time all week I had to stop and take a breather half way up a climb. Thankfully the descent down into Hawes more than made up for the pain, and feeling jubilant, we picked up a bar of Kendal Mint Cake and turned straight towards Ribblehead, on the road that would eventually loop us back round to Settle.

The landscape in this part of the Dale is really, really stark and our jubilation quickly dissipated in the 25kph headwinds and constant 4% uphill gradient. Our dispositions turned as bleak as the scenery. We definitely hit the low point of the trip on this road, and by the time we made it to the safety of a little hiker's cafe, thankfully stocking Clif bars, the atmosphere between us was pretty frosty. Somehow this ride had turned out much tougher than we'd anticipated, and we had no one to take it out on apart from each other. It was a long time before we summoned up the motivation for the final 10k roll home...


Consolations of the Forest

Just finished up reading Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson, the diary of a French travel writer who spent six months living in a log cabin in the Russian Taiga. Much of his time there revolved around working his way through the extensive library he took with, and drinking vodka - either alone or with surly Russian woodsmen. Tesson helpfully notes his equipment list near the start of the book, reproduced here for reference:


Axe and cleaver
Burlap bag
Drip net
Ice skates
Snow shoes
Kayak and paddle
Fishing poles, lines, weights
Fly-fishing flies and spoons
Kitchen utensils
Ice drill
Dagger and Swiss knife
Kerosene lamp
GPS, compass, map
Solar panels, cables, rechargeable batteries
Matches and lighters
Mountain backpacks
Duffel bags
Felt carpet
Sleeping bags
Mountaineering equipment
Mosquito net face mask
Felt boots
Ice axe
Pharmaceuticals (10 boxes acetaminophen for vodka hangovers)
Hammer, nails, screws, file
French flag for Bastille Day
Hand-launched anti-bear flares
Flare gun
Rain cape
Outdoor grill
Folding saw
Ground cloth
-40º F sleeping bag
Royal Canadian Mounted Police jacket
Plastic luge
Boots with gaiters
Liquor glasses and vodka
90% alcohol to make up for any shortage of the above article
Personal library
Cigars, cigarillos, incense paper and Tupperware container 'humidor'
Icons (Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Nicholas, the imperial family of the last Romanovs, Tsar Nicholas II, black Virgin)
Wooden trunks
Electronic appliances
Pens and notebooks
Provisions (six-month supply of pasta, rice, Tabasco, hardtack, canned fruit, red and black pepper, salt, coffee, honey and tea)"

Image from here.


South East London Gravel Grinding

When a track is marked as 'off-road bikes recommended' on the map, it kind of piques my interest. For this reason - in an effort to scratch a gravelly itch - I headed out last week to the Southern end of National Cycle Route 21 at Biggin Hill, which takes in quite a few miles of rough bridleway/singletrack before hitting tarmac.

For maximum un-paved points I also took in Riddlesdown which, from the North, is a real treat, but do watch out for pinch-flats... ahem.

The full route on Strava. Managed fine on my road bike with 25mm Panaracer Paselas.