Last year around 1000 took part, with around 500 people on the coaches back organised by Southwark cyclists. This year was expected to be the biggest ever – by Wednesday SC had already sold around 600 tickets, and then a Guardian article about the ride was published, linking to ticket sales. Overnight 150 more were sold, before Barry stopped the sales because it was getting silly.
London Fields, for the start, certainly felt busier than last year, and throughout the night the roads seemed to have more cyclists. The weather was excellent, warm, with a slight tail wind, and no rain.
The ride went well, although 1 mile from the start my bracket for my front lights broke, and I had to have them on the handlebars for the rest of the night.
Along the Lea Bridge Road, with heavy vehicle traffic plus all the cyclists, our group got separated, but Bea, David, Paola and myself were still together. The night progressed as expected, with, fortunately for cycling, but unfortunately for story telling, very few incidents of note.
At 1am, just outside Finchingfield we came to halt, with a few cars stopped, and a lady with a torch walking back along the road asking cyclists to stop and wait. Ahead, we could see the blue flashing lights of an Ambulance, and hoped no one was seriously hurt. Around 10 minutes later we were off again. From the fact the cyclist in the Ambulance was speaking to the paramedics, and the Ambulance wasn’t racing with sirens to the nearest hospital, I expect he’ll be ok.
At the halfway point, we missed a turning to the village hall, and so had our own picnic on a pub bench with the cheesiest songs playing for a lock-in party. For the rest of the night I had the Mr Blobby song stuck in my head!
Just after Little Waldingfield, we missed a turning after following some other people. Bea had gone past David, EJ and myself before we could shout to stop her continuing. Fortunately, we were in the one part of Suffolk with mobile signal, and Google maps showed us a nice back-road back to the official route. This was the darkest time of the night, with cloud cover to stop the moonlight, and in a tree tunnel along a single lane road. It was quite a spooky.
With 50km to go, and at the bottom of one of the few hills, my knees finally realised I wasn’t joking when I asked them to cycle 200km, and refused to continue. A couple of Ibuprofen for the pain and inflammation in my knees and a Red Bull for the tiredness had me going again. And not just ‘going’, but flying it seemed. The next 30km went very fast indeed, but I paid for it later.
Somewhere there was a house selling bacon rolls and tea. Would have stopped but had a really good rhythm and momentum going, but ploughed through loudly sighing ‘bacon rolls’.
I have new cycling shoes, some Shimano SPDs, which are great. But I’ve never ridden this far in them. For the last 20km, the padding over the metal plates that the cleats bolt on to had become too compressed, and the balls of my feet were pushing down onto what felt like nails. For the rest of the ride I had to pull up on the back-stroke rather than push down on the forward stroke.
Finally I saw the infamous “Dunwich” road sign, and as the final KMs passed I mentally ticked off the landmarks on my commute to work. “That tree was London Bridge, and this one is Southwark Bridge Road, Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo”. Finally I made it to
Westminster Dunwich at around 6:30am, a little later than I hoped, but I felt in much better condition than last year.
Just before Dunwich I met Maggie on her way to Darsham station to find a train. EJ was already at the finish, and we welcomed our group members as they trickled in. A nice cup of tea and a sit down with a full English breakfast, then a lie on the beach before the coaches back. This year four furniture trucks of bikes and 15 coaches! The coaches were excellently organised, and by 4pm I was back at Smithfield market, my bike was unloaded first off one truck (last on, first off!), and I cycled home.
Unlike last year’s knees of frozen treacle, I still felt good, and sped back home racing taxi’s away from traffic lights (honestly, I did!). Maybe next year I’ll go for the Dunwich and back double!