30 July 2012

A Hilly Ride through North London

It's been difficult to find time for our weekend rides lately while Alberto is in the final stages of his PhD, but on Sunday we managed to squeeze in a quick but effective route through the hills of North London.

View over North London
You may have heard about an important international sporting event that's going on in London right now (more on that in future blog posts!). One of the happy consequences for us is that, away from the actual venues, the streets of London are quieter than usual as people are afraid of all the crazy traffic. This, combined with the normal Sunday morning lull, meant that we could go for a ride straight from our doorstep without too much trouble.

Alberto loaded up our computers with his 30km North London Hills route and we headed out about 7:30am. We headed up Swains Lane and then for a tour around the neighbourhoods of North London and their many many hills. I've always been quite intimidated by the hills to the north of us, but actually they were okay - the right amount of challenge without needing to get off and walk at any point. Actually, the downhills were scarier with all the potholes on the roads and the need to be prepared to stop at any point for traffic lights or other obstacles.

Cresting the hill at Ally Pally
Towards the end of the ride we headed up to Alexandra Palace to find some Olympic Banners and a great view of London in the sun. Then it was mostly downhill to home just after 9am, so Alberto could get started with his work. We felt even more smug when heavy downpours came through at about 1pm and didn't let up all day!

28 July 2012

A 10$ cardboard bike

Carbon, titanium, aluminium, steel and even wood are commonplace in bike frames. Well, maybe wood not so much. But how about cardboard? This bloke shows that a bike entirely made of cardboard is possible, or at least ride-able! All under 10$.

24 July 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 9: Sahagún - Hospital de Órbigo

As per usual, we took a while getting up in the morning and departed Sahagún around 8:30am. We had only eaten a few biscuits for breakfast so were on the lookout for a bar or cafe in the morning. We stopped in Bercianos del Real Camino for a coffee and waited around for a grocery store that was set to open at 9am, but when it didn't we continued on to El Burgo Ranero where we did find a grocery store, and bought breakfast food as well as the makings of bocadillos (sandwiches) for lunch. We spent most of the morning cycling on the road, as the camino went right alongside it. Again I found myself really grateful that I didn't have to walk this long stretch -- on the bike it was quite pleasant and the km's passed quickly.

Miguel and the camino of La Meseta (walker's path on the left)

Just after noon we reached León--50km into the ride. We took a bit of a spin around town and then went to get our credentials stamped in the cathedral. While I was at the ticket office getting them stamped, a German tour group came in. The tour guide asked me if he could show the credential to his tour, and explained that I had come from Bordeaux and was headed to Santiago - with oohs and ahhs from the crowd. I couldn't believe I was a tourist attraction!

Cathedral in León

We asked some priests to direct us to a park and ate our bocadillos in the shade. The boys had a little siesta and by the time we were ready to leave it was 2pm. The exit from León was not very pleasant -- it was along a big, busy road (although sometimes there was a cycle lane) and uphill the whole way. We stopped in a small town and found a fountain to refill our water as I had run out completely in the heat. But I think I was a little dehydrated already as I soon started to feel a bit nauseous. Fortunately, Alberto had found that his GPS track had the 'Camino Alternativo' which takes you off of the main road. So when I started to feel bad we were on quiet roads and I could potter along slowly until we got to an albergue where we stopped and had a coke, after which I felt better.

The hospitalero at the albergue told us we had 28 km to Astorga, "flat" as they always said, so we presssed on. The camino was still wide and smooth so we did alright, but somehow our calculations got confused and as we approached Hospital de Órbigo, Alberto thought we were only 8km from Astorga while I thought it was more like 16. We were immediately enchanted by the cuteness of the bridge into Hospital de Órbigo and were already thinking that maybe we should stay here for the night, when we spoke to a local and confirmed we still had 15km to Astorga including a big hill. We had already done 100km and it was starting to get late, so we decided to stay in the municipal albergue for the evening.

Miguel's first 100km!
Bridge into Hospital de Órbigo
The albergue looked nice at first - it was very old with a lovely cobblestone courtyard, a large garden, and a ktichen. But the rooms were crowded, the garden full of loud North Americans, and the kitchen in high demand. Still, we all showered, did some laundry, and went out to buy some food to cook for dinner. The evening entertainment was provided by the mother and daughter Canadians who were very loud and outspoken. The Mom had taken the bus as she had picked up an ankle injury and suffering was not part of her plan. She kept saying "I'm here to have fun!" and she was asking one of the Spanish guys there how to say "Let's go have fun" in  Spanish -- apparently unaware of how ridiculous she was sounding. Meanwhile the daughter had recently walked through the entire night because she thought it sounded cool.

Alberto and I on the bridge
Alberto and Miguel cooked the dinner of rice and lentils with chorizo and we headed to bed.... but at about midnight I woke up feeling very nauseous. It must have been a bad reaction to the food, but Alberto and Miguel were both fine. I'll spare you the worst of the details but suffice to say I couldn't get out of my top bunk in time and vomited all over my sleeping bag. I then commenced the very difficult process of trying to deal with this while not waking up anyone else in the room. I did wake Alberto up and he amazingly agreed to help me by cleaning my sleeping bag in the sink while I showered to get everything out of my hair. He nearly vomited himself in the process, but he did a great job of taking care of me. Afterwards, I still felt pretty bad and was afraid to go back into the room lest the whole thing happen again, so I spent the rest of the night on a couch in the albergue's courtyard, with one of the hostel's spare blankets. Both Alberto and I were worried about how I'd feel in the morning, but for the time being there was nothing to do but try to get some sleep.

Stats for the day:
Moving average: 16.6kph
Overall average: 10.1kph
Odometer: 100km
Moving time: 5h58m
Stopped time: 3h49m
Max speed: 44.1kph

19 July 2012

Camino De Santiago Day 8: San Anton - Sahagún

It took us a while to get going (as per usual) as we engaged in coversation with our hospitalero in San Anton. Plus, it was the first day that Miguel would be with us from the morning so we had to get our routine down again. Alberto was having allergies; there must have been some new types of plants now that we were in Castilla y Leon. Jose Manuel told us about the different types of people who come into the ruins of San Anton each day. The French always travel in big groups and families, the Germans are the most polite, etc.

We finally got going about 9am and headed to Castrojeriz, only 3.5km away. It was still chilly in the morning, so we pushed on a bit to warm up. Jose Manuel had warned us about a hill after Castrojeriz, and we had by now picked up on the fact that the Spanish always seem to underestimate the severity of their hills, so when he said it was a tough one, we were very worried.

Approaching Castrojeriz

As we approached the hill we got caught behind a shepherd and his flock of sheep along with some walkers. When a small crowd of us had formed behind them the shepherd got his dogs to drive the sheep up onto the bank next to the road to let us pass. When we got to the other side of the sheep Miguel and I looked back and saw that Alberto had somehow not made it past. I told Miguel we could keep going, the hill was just ahead and Alberto would catch up with us on the hill. Sure enough, he did - but when we were almost at the top. I was pleased to make it all the way to the top without stopping or walking, and thought those days in the Pyrenees must be paying off. When it was time to go down the other side it was a different story. The gradient was 18% and I was feeling very timid, so I got off and walked down the hill. I felt a bit silly but the day before had been the first day of the Camino that I hadn't fallen and I was hoping to make it two days in a row.

Behind the flock. You can see the camino snaking up the hill in the background.

View from the top - and confirmation of the steep gradient!
Alberto's allergies were still pretty bad and Miguel had a lot of saddle soreness, though I was feeling pretty good. We stopped just before Carrión de los Condes for lunch, having a bocata (sandwhich) and some homemade cakes from a bar. We were in the meseta region of the Camino, which walkers always talk about as some of the hardest days, and I can see why. Miles and miles of flat, straight roads with no trees and no changing landscape. This would take us about two days, but it would talk a walker almost two weeks. The Camino here went alongside a very quiet road, so we took the road for much of the time - easier on Miguel's but and less effort to push the pedals for all of us.

Camino and road. Me and miguel.
Later in the afternoon we passed by a man and woman cyclist who were walking their bikes. Miguel and I passed them first, and checked that everything was okay. They said yeah, they were just resting their butts! Alberto was a few minutes behind us and stopped to chat with them. He noticed they were using those gel-pad saddle covers and advised them to take them off. When we saw them later at the albergue in Sahagún they said it had helped a bit.

We carried on to Terradillos de los Templarios where we stopped to have an ice cream and for Miguel to rest his butt. It was also our last chance to call ahead to the albergues in Sahagún and check how they were filling up, as Terradillos was the last major stopping point behore Sahagún. The municipal albergue said they weren't too full so we decided to head there for the night.

Pilgrim with Donkey somewhere befoe Sahagún

In Sahagún we found the municipal albergue without too much trouble. It was housed in a massive church, with one big room which was divided by bunk beds into little cubicles. It only cost 4 euros and had clean toilets and a kitchen, so we couldn't complain much. We actually went out to eat though, enjoying a pilgrim's menu on the central square of the town, watching kids run around and plenty of locals hanging out as well. The menu was only 8 euros for three courses, but Miguel and Alberto wanted to try a starter of the local specialty of leeks filled with a seafood paste. They said it was very tasty, until we were brought the bill and we found out it was 10 euros! Oh well! We also took care of some errands in town, finding a candy shop open we went in to re-stock our supplies of gummy sweets which were a good snack on the bike, and bought some pastries for breakfast the following morning.

Back at the hostel we looked at our options for the following day and decided that if possible we would push on to Astorga, as it was supposed to be a really nice city. It was 110km away though, so we weren't sure Miguel (and more imporantly his butt!) was up to it. We spoke to a middle-aged couple who were getting ready to give up their Camino. The guy had twisted his ankle and couldn't even walk on it. Even after two weeks where he had taken busses to meet up with his wife who would walk each day, the ankle just wasn't getting better. It made us realise how good we have it on the bikes, not having to carry all that weight on our backs and having the option to freewheel down the hills.

Stats for the day:
Odometer 88km
Moving average: 14.3kph
Overall average: 9.9kph
Moving time: 6h9m
Total time: ??
Max speed: 42kph

15 July 2012

Camino de Santiago day 7: Tosantos - San Anton

We woke up requested by Jose Luis at 6:30 and had breakfast at 7. After some more chats with Jose Luis and the other hospitaleros we were on our way by 8:30. The ride was pretty easy in the morning, wide trails and not too many steep hills. We saw many more cyclists on the Camino than any previous day and figured we must be getting into the more popular section for MTBs.

At about 10:30am we stopped for a quick bite in Atapuerca so we could get stamps for our credencial from the town that is famous for its UNESCO world heritage archaeological site -- some of the earliest human beings in Europe dwelled in the caves in this region. With only about 20km until Burgos we called Miguel to let him know we'd be arriving an hour and a half maximum -- the locals told us it was all downhill to Burgos.

Just after Atapuerca we encountered a steep and very rocky hill (I thought it was all downhill to Burgos?!?!) which I had to walk a good portion of, not due to the gradient so much as the big rocks that I just didn't know how to climb. At the top was a big cross where passing pilgrims place stones. I placed my stone - Alberto thought it was too cheesy - and we continued on our way.

After that it really was all downhill to Burgos. The approach into Burgos was really nasty with lots of traffic, but we joined forces with another cyclist who we had been passing on and off since Roncesvalles. As we cycled along towards the center we spotted our two French friends from the hostel in St Paul les Dax! It was funny to run into them. Even though we couldn't communicate much, it felt like seeing old friends.

We said goodbye to them and carried on into central Burgos where we met Miguel and his friend Pablo, who was from Burgos and would join us for our afternoon of cycling. We spent a while in Burgos, eating good food and walking around the cathedral, before finally heading back to the Camino.

At the side of the cathedral with Miguel and Pablo

On the Camino out of Burgos
The road was nice and flat with only a few small hills. We made good at time but then the domingueros (i.e. Miguel & Pablo) needed a rest! Afterwards Pablo's butt started to hurt from all the riding and it never seemed like he made a full recovery. Still, we made good progress and reached Hontanas around 5pm. We had some cakes in a nice square in Hontanas, which seemed to be a very big stop for pilgrims. We found a Dutch cyclist who had stayed at Tosantos with us the night before--he was done for the day. While we waited for Pablo's dad to come pick him up, we made the decision to continue on another 4km to the hostel at San Anton, which the hospitaleros of Tosantos had recommended. We took the roads and were there in no time at all - and were so glad we came!

The hostel was in the ruins of a big cathedral or monastery or something -- the rooms had been built into one section of the ruins and it was just a simple room with bunk beds, the kitchen in another room, and the bathroom in another. Again, we were surprised that it wasn't full of pilgrims, but the hospitalero, Juan Manuel, told us that due to the lack of electricity and hot water, it only fills up on the very hottest summer days. We were thrilled to be there, anyway.

Entrance to the hostel at San Anton

The bedroom is on the left (where the bikes are) and the dining room on the right. 
Juan Manuel cooked dinner for us -- me, Alberto, and Miguel, plus two other pilgrims, a youngish Austrian named Gunther and a Brit named Spike. Funnily enough, Spike was a Londoner living permanently in Spain with no intention of ever returning. Despite having been more than 12 years in Spain, he still had a hard time speaking or even understanding Spanish. Very surprising, but perhaps not so much when he said he lives in Málaga, where some >300.000 Brits have settled down. We had pasta and salad, with wine to drink, which Juan Manuel added pineapple chunks to as desert. The other two pilgrims were a bit strange but we had a nice time chatting with Juan Manuel about the Camino, global politics, and life in general! He told us he spends a few weeks a year at San Anton, but it is a hard job as these things go because pilgrims wander in all day long wanting to see the ruins - he makes coffee for them and generally chats with them. The hostel is donativo (donation-only) and makes some money by selling little souvenirs.

After dinner we went for a short walk on the road behind the ruins as Miguel wasn't quite ready for bed, this being his first day. We headed to bed just as the last light was fading from the sky.

Ruins of San Anton from afar
The stats for the day:
Odometer: 82km
Moving average: 14.1kph
Overall average: 9.8kph
Stopped time: 2h34m
(we forgot to write the rest down!)

12 July 2012

Camino de Santiago day 6: Los Arcos - Tosantos

We managed to get an early start and were on the road by 7:30am, which was good because it was predicted to be another hot one with temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius (mid-90s Fahrenheit). We passed many pilgirms in the morning, but the camino was generally wide and not too gravelly, so we had no problem getting around them. We were making good time and made it to Logroño shortly after 9am. We took advantage of being in a bigger town by replenishing our supplies of cash and taking a trip to the pharmacy where I could buy some better sunscreen.

Entering Logroño
Wide Camino in La Rioja
We then pressed on a while longer until we stopped for some jamón in Najera. The day was starting to get very hot, and after Azorfa we hit a nasty climb, made nastier by the heat. I was able to make it up the whole thing without walking but reached the top feeling very weak. It was so wonderful to find a fuente and some benches, although there wasn't much shade. I had to rest for a few minutes until I felt back to normal. I guess that climb causes lots of people problems as this sign was displayed at the edge of the farm near the rest area:

That's me cresting the hill (behind the walker)
Just after the climb we went through a town called Cirueña which was a striking sign of the economic crisis in Spain. It was a completely new town, with a golf club and loads of newly built houses, but it was completely empty, like a ghost town. All of the flats had 'for sale' signs on them - I guess they were built during the boom and now no one can be found to buy them.

Next we passed through Grañon and stopped for a much-needed coke before setting off on the final stretch of the day. As we were cycling along up a gentle climb, my chain came off (which had become a common occurence) and I couldn't manage to unclip in time--I fell over to the right and banged my knee hard on a rock on the side of the Camino. It hurt, but it was just another injury to add to my growing list.

We passed through Belorado, which seemed to be a pretty big stopping point for walkers, and carried on a few more kilometers to Tosantos, which had been recommended to us by the hostalero back in Dax. It was a very old building that we could tell had been serving pilgrims for many centuries.

The hostel in Tosantos
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the hosts, who sat down with us, gave us a glass of water, and chatted with us about our journey. Jose Luis, the man in charge, explained the few rules that they had in the house: No one was to get up before 6:30am as the house was so old that noises can be heard everywhere and it wakes everyone else up. Breakfast was at 7. We were surprised that the place wasn't full, but they said most pilgrims don't like to sleep on mattresses on the floor. They were very pleased to hear that Alberto spoke English as they had some notes written by previous pilgrims in English that they asked him to translate.

We showered and did some laundry while the Italian pilgrims cooked dinner. They made pasta carbonara in a massive pot - Alberto and I had three servings each! Jose Luis had many announcements to make over dinner, and he got Alberto to translate them into English and another pilgrim, David, to translate into Italian. One of which was that the electricity had gone out due to a flash thunderstorm, so we would hopefully finish dinner before the sun went down! He was also obsessed with communicating to us that there was no point in getting up in the middle of the night to walk, and then spending all afternoon inside a hostel. He said, enjoy the camino in the daytime and spend your night indoors, not the other way around!

Interior of the hostel in Tosantos

Then Jose Luis started singing songs, and getting otheres to join in. It was amusing but also kind of sweet. After dinner we did the dishes, with several people (including Alberto and I) bringing down their headtorches as the lights still weren't back on. We all joked that we were glad we had to use them as it meant we could justify having carried it all this way! Then the lights came back on so they were able to have their prayer in the hostel's chapel. We gave it a miss and got ready for bed instead. Tomorrow we would be heading into Burgos to meet up with our friend Miguel who would join us for the rest of the trip.

Stats for the day:
Odometer: 110km
Moving average: 14.9kph
Overall average:10.3kph
Moving time: 7h 24m
Stopped time: 2h 40m
Max speed: 54kph

11 July 2012

Ride report: Hereward the Wake 300 (via Ireland!)

Friday July 6th and I found myself on a commuter train full of suits out of central London heading for Bishop's Stortford. What a complicated name for a town, even worse to pronounce if you are Spanish! I was about to embark on yet another loooong (overnight) ride. On this occasion also, with a night time start. The distance to cover, something in excess of 300 km.

The 15 km or so from the station to the start in Great Dunmow were not the most pleasant, with plenty of traffic due to the proximity of the area to Stansted Airport. But the roads were pretty well surfaced and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. At the car park the usual sight of people assembling their bikes, chatting, getting the brevet cards etc, and a very pleasant sunset with warm temperatures to allow shorts and short-sleeves.

Sunset in Essex before the off. 8:45 pm
At 9:01 pm, with British punctuality, the town crier (dressed in the most appropriate clothes) gave a speech and let us go. It certainly was the most special off for an Audax I have been to.

19 of us and the town crier
The first 50 something km to Cambridge were ridden in almost no time. Despite trying not to push very hard (I thought - I still have 300 km ahead of me!) I found myself at the front with a guy sporting a PBP vest (the Paris-Brest-Paris official), a woman with a time trial bike and bigger calves than mine, and Nick with proper audax gear (i.e. steel frame, bar bag and all that). The four of us made very good progress and managed to average nearly 29 km/h. The time trial woman was doing this as her very first audax, and funnily enough, was fluent in Spanish. So there I found myself having an interesting chat in Spanish, on a warm Friday night. This is lots of fun! Getting into Cambridge, being a Friday night, was sort of amusing, but could not stick around for long. Got our ATM receipt and carried on.

The next section was also very flat and I could feel a bit of tailwind pushing us up North towards Peterborough. At some point, time trial woman and PBP guy shot off and so I rode with Nick until the next control. Together we made good progress at a more relaxed pace, yet managed to keep the average pretty high for my standards, completing more than 100 km in less than 3h 30 min. Quite impressed at myself, although I think the wind helped a lot!

At the Peterborough control we saw PBP guy and time trial woman again, but they left minutes after our arrival, and we would not see them again. Ate a chocolate bar and drunk an orange juice to obtain the precious receipt. The roads were completely empty at this point, and I decided to (finally, being almost 1 am) put knee and arm warmers on. Still, quite amazed at the British summer, so far so good. 

Heading out of Peterborough, we took the lanes again. Mist had settled down in the area and made the whole thing very atmospheric as Nick described. The terrain became more rolling, and we could now feel not only the little hills, but also the headwind. The average dropped a bit, but we were still in good spirits. It was good to have Nick as a companion, as so far I had never ridden on my own at night. Also, it meant some conversation in the darker hours, when you feel more sleepy. Luckily, despite the lack of caffeine intake thus far, I was quite awake. However, the stomach was starting to make funny noises and I could feel problems coming. At some point they became so bad that I had to tell Nick to carry on. I stopped a few times to recover, feeling weaker and weaker every time. Eventually, I sort of felt a bit better and pressed on on my own. This was at 140 km into the ride.

For the next 60 km I would ride solo, through the night. There has to be a first time for everything, so here I was in the countryside enjoying the misty, wet roads of Bedfordshire. But I was having a great time to my surprise, and really enjoyed my solo time. Got to see the sunrise and felt obliged to take some pictures

The sun is about to rise. 4:00 am, somewhere in Bedfordshire
I kept on riding, and stopping every time stomach problems came back, until the third control at Newport Pagnell. I was very much looking forward to getting some hot food and drink here, but realised they only opened the services proper at 6:00 am, and it was 5:00 am. Luckily I had been carrying my own pasta salad (being inspired by Javier's reports on diariodeunbiciorejon) just in case I could not find palatable/convenient food. Also, because I am not new to an upset stomach on long rides, and I thought home-made stuff was a safer bet should problems arise). Made yet another visit to the toilets, and ate half of the pasta.

While waiting, another rider arrived. It was Bruce, who I had seen sleeping some km earlier in true audax style, in a bus shelter. He had been feeling very sleepy and decided to go for a 20 min nap. After some chatting I felt a lot better and said good bye to him.

The roads were still super quiet, and I was again on my own. Felt quite energetic, so tried to press on a bit. I had noticed that the routesheet was not fully accurate with respect to the km markings and meant the ride will be 15 over the proposed km. Not a big deal I thought, but I was probably not going to make it under 15 h (my quickest 300, the Dean) anyway, so slowed down a bit and stopped every now and then for pictures, food and water.

Empty roads. Silly o'clock.
Nice isn't it?
I was not sleep deprived, but started to see signs indicating Ireland 3/4 of a mille to go. I knew I was travelling West and long distances, but not as far as Ireland! Yep, there's an Ireland, England. 

I don't appear too convinced
Not far from Ireland I stopped for some more food. Stomach problems had gone for now, so I decided to get a coffee and a baguette at the Biggleswade control. Sat down on the sun and relaxed for a bit. By then Bruce had also arrived, and we chatted for a while. Not sure if because I had been riding for very long or what, but he did not seem to understand much of what I was saying, and I was finding it quite frustrating! I think my accent deteriorates significantly when riding and especially when tired. But could not do much else other than repeating...

More riders arrived, and I had to visit the toiled one more time. It would be the last, luckily. Bruce set off, and I followed him shortly afterwards. The roads were still quiet. Started to see quite a lot of club riders, and even another guy riding a Canyon. He had a top end bike, but despite his efforts to stick to my wheel, he could not catch up. I was trying to keep an steady pace, but felt that it would be nice to talk bikes with him. After I slowed down and chatted a bit, I found out he was on his way to a club ride, to which I was kindly invited. I had to decline though. Told him that I had been riding since 9 pm and for some 280 km, to which he replied: in two days right? - No, since yesterday. Non-stop. Oh, so you may want to take it easy then - he said. He was quite right!

I then caught up with Bruce. He was a very experienced audaxer, having just ridden the Mille Alba up in Scotland, a 1000 km ride in the most precarious of the Scottish weathers. Together we made good progress to the last control in Reed, at a "biker's" cafe. But bikes of the motorised type. Grabbed a quick drink and set off again, for the last 50 km. It was good having Bruce as a companion, it made the last section seem a lot easier. Also, got good advice regarding rides and cycling clubs in London, as well as some funny memories of his audax outings. 

The weather had been fantastic so far, but of course, we had to get some rain, this being the rainiest July in recent years. I had just got a text from Lucy saying that rain was super heavy in London, so I guess we would get it sometime soon. I was right, and it hit us with no time for putting the water proofs on. The roads became so slippery that when I tried to stop to put the rain gear on, I slipped off. Not harm or injury, but it was such a stupid fall.

With non-stop heavy downpours we managed to get back to Great Dunmow by 12:30 pm. Tom and his son, who had organised the ride, greeted us with a bacon/sausage/egg/onion rolls, which I ate in milliseconds. After some more chatting I was ready to head back to the Smoke.

Back at HQ
All in all a very good ride despite my stomach problems. Home by 3 pm having ridden for more than 360 km since leaving work on Friday...not too bad is it? My fastest ever 100, and 200 km distances, and a good rolling average for such a long ride. A 9 pm start means very little traffic, sunrise and sunset all in one go. Very nice scenery in the morning hours. And very good company. Definitely on my list for 2013, perhaps as training for London-Edinburgh-London (or Madrid-Gijón-Madrid, or even both?). Who knows. Being caught by the bug, as the veterans call it.

The stats for the day:

08 July 2012

Ride report: Dunwich Dynamo XX

It is nearly a year ago when we first joined the infamous Dunwich Dynamo peloton from London Fields, in central London, to Dunwich in the Suffolk Coast. This year the ride had been proposed a bit earlier than last year to avoid clashing with the Olympics.

It was also the first time I was going to attempt a ride of more than 130 km on my Long Haul Trucker, with a yet unbroken-in saddle. A lot to fear, maybe, but surely would add a bit of spice to an otherwise easy and flat ride to the coast.

Saturday evening and we, as always, are rushing to get things done on time. Pack loads of food, drink, check bikes, lights, clothing, weather forecast, routes, batteries, spares, and again, weather forecasts. The night promised to be very pleasant, with temperatures above 10C throughout and a tailwind all the way to the beach. Lovely, especially when comparing with last years predictions of rain (which never turned out to be true though!).

Relaxed atmosphere before the off
At 8:15 pm we made an appearance in the park, where we met our companion for the night, Dan, on his very first night ride. People were chilling on the grass, drinking beer, and some were already gone or about to go. We took things easy, chatted a bit and waited until almost 9 pm for the off, tagging along with a large group of relaxed cyclists. The fast boys had either departed already, or were leaving it till the end. Still, quite do not get why some folk take this really nice ride as if it was a race. There were large groups of club riders in their club gear and sporting featherlight bikes, with no more than a tiny saddlebag attach to it. I, on the contrary, was carrying a >15 kg bike and two half-full panniers, totalling more than 25 kg. There really is no rush in getting to the beach as it is usually freezing at silly o'clock and I rather have a siesta when it is nice and warm.

By 9 pm we were already battling our way through traffic to get out of Hackney. Heading North East we soon got on the road leading to Epping Forest. I grabbed a coke here as was already feeling tired and sleepy after a busy week with not much sleep. We re-joined the train of riders and made good progress, crossing the M25 still in (some sort of) daylight.

Audaxer (left) meets Mario Bros

Through Epping Forest
While passing through the town of Epping, we got the usual cheers from the drunk locals. Exactly the same thing as last year! It is fun though. Shortly after Epping, there's the first pub stop, or rather, where people stop to drink/eat something before the pubs start to shut.

Crazy number of cyclists going through
From here the ride become more laney, and our recollection from last year was that the field spread all over and you do not feel a part of large group anymore, seeing the occasional cyclist every now and then. However, this year, numbers have increased quite a lot, and we were surrounded by other cyclists throughout the ride.

Proper night time cycling it was now. Very few motorised traffic, and the lanes became ours, with the exception of a few random drunkards that we saw on the roads, in the dark, going who knows where. We made progress passing through familiar Essex towns, and eventually got to the half way stop in Sibble Hendigham by 2 am. As expected, it was packed with cyclists, with queues that were completely off-putting for getting food. Luckily we had brought our own food, and it was still relatively warm, so ate our sandwiches happily while observing others pulling in and out.

All types of bikes, at the half way stop
Still another 90 km or so to go. Sunrise scheduled for 4 am, so very little left of night riding and clear skies were to be expected after we left. Still, plenty of us on the road. I was feeling great - all the night riding done up until now seemed to have a positive effect. Also Lucy was in very good spirits, and so was Dan, who was doing very well for his first night excursion - and was clearly capable of going much faster than us if he had wanted to.

Sunrise in the countryside
Lucy in good spirits
50 km or so to the coast we came across the famous bacon butties stop, in someone's garden. We too stopped here last year, both feeling completely knackered and in much need of a rest. This time though, we knew what to expect and made a quick incursion into the garden for some hot food and a coffee. Dan was being hit by the sleep deprivation bug, so he was happy to get some caffeine in. Pop up stops are all over the place now - people have realised there's potential for business here! The owners of this garden had also set up a tent where people seemed to be having naps in their cozy sleeping bags! Had it been cold and rainy I would not have minded, but it was time to go hit the roads again for the last stretch to the beach.

Bacon roll and coffee stop
Wheat fields and sunshine
The final km to the beach were rather nice, pootling around with others at a very relaxed pace. You could notice the type of bike and rider at this point. Most of us carrying panniers, heavy bikes, and lots of them not even wearing cycling-specific clothes. But it does not matter, this ride accommodates everyone. Some of the faster guys were already heading back home, having probably reached the beach by 4 am or so.

Lucy enjoying the final kms
Lucy & Dan followed by many others
The final bit into the beach is always very pleasurable as it passes through the Dunwich Heath. A bit of gentle up and downs, the famous sign to Dunwich, and we were there!

Final lanes
Made it!
Rolling into the beach, although not as spectacular as the very first time you do this ride, is always a highlight. A field packed with sleeping cyclists is something that we cannot get to see everyday and something that will certainly impress anyone. It was 8:30 am.

Finding a clear spot for a snooze
The beach full of tired bodies
After we found a clear space and ate some of our snacks, we went for a well-deserved siesta. For most, this is the end of a very long night on the saddle. Plenty of coaches organised by the Southwark Cyclists would take them back to London, but we found this to be extremely stressful last year. Also, prices had gone up, and the bikes got some abuse being loaded onto the trucks last year. For said reasons, we had decided to return by train, via Diss, some 40 km East of Dunwich.

Some folk came very well prepared!
Siesta time!
All in all, it was an excellent ride with great and warmer weather than last years. Something I would suggest all people to do at least once. Everyone gets to the beach, on all sorts of bike and styles. It was also the first time I had taken the tourer (>25 kg of weight!) on a >200 km ride, and it felt so comfortable, despite slowing me down quite considerably on the hills! The brooks saddle seems to be breaking in and had no sores at the end of the day

Bring on Dunwich Dynamo 2013!!!