After a while, when there was still no sign of the Weasels' tandem, we took to asking riders if they'd seen what they were doing. Something rear-wheel-related apparently. We waited some more. Charlotte attempted to use the power of the didgeridoo to entice them up the hill. It didn't work, but was at least highly entertaining, not least for the looks on the faces of the other riders as they came round the corner. After a while they appeared, having broken at least 5 spokes (11 plus a knackered freehub by the time they eventually arrived at the beach). I suppose that if you're going to have a mechanical, making it a really epic one is always best for the horror stories later.
The briefest of pauses for andygates to have his wicked way with the "Dunwich 7" sign (some joker had done such an excellent job of adding the '1' using insulating tape that nobody wanted to remove it), and we were off again. I'd dismissed talk of the psychological boost that the sign gives, but the lumpy bits genuinely did seem easier after that. Nothing needs to be said about that final roll into Dunwich. If you haven't done it yourself, you've probably seen it on video. It's like that, but bigger.
And there was Annie and her awesome spread of awesomeness. I rolled up and paused to fiddle with the Garmin for a moment (which was, frustratingly displaying a trip odometer reading of 197km, leading to serious thoughts of laps of the car park style craziness) while the others tucked in (in both the food and blanket sense). After a minute I decided that actually I was quite comfortable where I was and couldn't actually face having to lift a leg to dismount the bike. So I must have sat there for a full ten minutes. I took some photos and posted to twitter. Made "still alive" noises on IRC. Then eventually summoned the energy to get off.
People dozed, congratulated each other and consumed gallons of tea as we watched the remainder of Team Slow arrive, in various states of griminess and exhaustion (or not, as the case may be). We ate bacon sandwiches as the last of the removal vans departed and people attempted to blag bikes onto the coaches back to London. I ate rather a lot of bacon sandwiches, in fact. Nobody else seem to want them, and it seemed a shame to let them go to waste. I observed that it was strange that I of all people should end up in the traditional Teethgrinder role.
As the other cyclists left by various means, and Annie packed up the majority of the picnic and the broken tandem wheel and went home via a bike shop (who diagnosed a knackered freehub, but lacked a suitable replacement), we variously slept, swam, got sunburnt and just sat around chatting. We watched as coach loads of people appeared, seemingly with the sole intention of visiting the fish & chip shop, and later departed. A brave and hardy crew set off with unladen trailer and the ever-versatile Yuba Mundo in search of food, beer and combustibles. I decided that the knee had stopped hurting, and much as I would have liked to join them and roll that odometer past the 200 mark, it was best not to do anything silly at that point.
We moved our bikes and the remainder of Annie's picnic supplies about 500m down the dunes. This was surprisingly hard work, as the surface was a mixture of packed stones and vegetation, with patches of loose stones. The firmer bits were just about ridable, at least to my fully suspended bike, and the Yuba with its awesomely huge tyres. The others were less successful and wheeled the whole way. Pleading knees I opted out of making a second trip for the rest of the stuff, and set about inspecting the site for dog-related nasties and constructing the henge that Charlotte requested.
As we started putting our tents up, it started to rain. Fortunately it was but a brief shower - decent enough drops, but didn't last long enough to get anything properly wet. As my tent pitches inner-first, this was a very good thing. The ground, being packed stones is fairly suboptimal for tents. It's not very even, and getting the pegs in proved to be a challenge (the most successful techniques seemed to be a wiggling motion with careful attention to peg angle, or the brute force mallet approach). I discovered that my cheapo Argos tent - a hideous bright orange colour - was a magnet for the little black flies, and took care to make sure I didn't leave it unzipped.
Though at least it wasn't fluorescent yellow.
I took the opportunity to change out of my cycling clothes and make extensive use of the antiseptic wipes I'd brought in lieu of a shower or strong desire to go swimming in the sea (I'm not a strong swimmer, and didn't want to be cold). Discovered that the cheapo sandals I'd brought as an alternative to cycling shoes in the presence of sand and water had died of old age, and had to reinforce them with copious amounts of gaffer tape, much to the amusement of onlookers.
Assorted levels of fire-based technology were brought into play, food was cooked, drink was consumed, and insects were for the most part repelled. As darkness fell, the fire poi came out and ensured that the effort we'd gone to to make our camp an inconspicuously long way from the car park was largely pointless. Which was a bit of a shame, as it was an awfully long walk to the loos. I was too tired for energetic forms of pyromania, so made do with stoking Charlotte's wood burning stove for a bit and tokenistically playing with sparklers. Inevitably the beasties started to attack, in spite of the smoke, so I got out my secret weapon: 97% DEET. I've used this stuff against mozzies and tetses in southern Africa, and unlike most insect repellents I've used over the years, it actually works. It did an excellent job on the midges and little black flies. What it doesn't work against is earwigs. Not in a useful way, anyway, it's not like you can spray a lightweight tent in the stuff. And oh my, were there a lot of earwigs.
Not something you really think about, earwigs. They don't fly and they don't bite, so you don't really consider repelling them. Even if you could. Which you can't. Once darkness fell the earwigs started to roam, and they were roaming in the direction of our tents. Even though I'd been extra cautious to keep the black flies from getting in, as I settled down to sleep, I saw an earwig crawling across the mesh of the tent inner. As it passed from the mesh to the solid fabric, I realised it was on the *inside* so I was forced to murder it with my spare phone battery (Through a poor state of preparedness, it was the nearest convenient weapon. Yes, I know, I'll be instant zombie fodder if I go around making rookie mistakes like that.) and evict it using gaffer tape. That done, I made a brief report to the internets, turned over, and slept solidly until about 06:30.
The morning after the Night Of The Earwigs was little better. After deciding to forgo the long trek to the loos in favour of a convenient alternative involving the use of gaffer tape (but let's not have that discussion yet again), I got down to the serious business of evicting a substantial colony of earwigs from my Trangia and cooking up some rice. TimO was doing something scientific with custard and bananananas, and the others were being unenthusiastic about waking up, or overly enthusiastic about skinnydipping (something I fail to see the attraction of, especially first thing in the morning). While the others were catching up with breakfast, I evicted yet more earwigs from my delightfully dry tent and panniers, and did a neat if not particularly quick job of packing everything up into logical places. I also succeeded in lashing all three of Annie's folding chairs across the top of my rear rack for the trip back to the Flora Cafe.
At which point there was another call for tools: Speshact had forgotten the key for his lock. Well, someone had to do it I suppose. After a quick check to see if anyone happened to have a matching key (stranger things have happened), we set about attacking it with a combination of the hacksaw blade on my well-worn swiss army knife and the awkward cable-cutter on TimO's Leatherman. It must have taken less than 10 minutes, including rest breaks. Cable locks: they're basically crap.
Eventually the camp was packed up, the only remaining evidence of our presence being the Henge, a small pile of charcoal and a large number of bemused earwigs. We rode / pushed our bikes back to the cafe, loads and tyres permitting, where Annie's things were left for her to collect later in the week. We made use of the loos (which were impressively most of the way to spotless, though the gents' was far worse, according to the cleaner) and filled up with water, said goodbyes and went our various ways.
In the absence of a better plan, I'd booked a ticket for the train back to London from Ipswich that people were using that afternoon. This involved a suboptimal wait in London for my onward train to Brum, but seemed the least failure-prone route given my general unease about untested faffing with a heavily loaded recumbent on CrossCountry trains. Thus began what was an utterly delightful ride to Ipswich. Well, I say utterly delightful. I was a bit tired, but my dodgy knee issues and associated left leg pains had vanished overnight, and I was generally feeling like riding a bike was the thing to be doing. Other members of the group were obviously suffering in the knee and saddle departments. I briefly wondered if, given the lateness of my Birmingham train, I had time to ride back to London. Fortunately someone had the foresight to put a bloody great hill on the route to dispel that idea.
There was silliness involving strawberry laces and assorted piercings. The Pikes' tandem chain snapped, but spares and tools were readily produced (and facial wipes did a spectacular job of grime-removal). Garmins were consulted. Photographs were taken. I noticed my dynamo-powered phone charger didn't appear to be working. The blinkenlight on the regulator output was illuminating as I spinned the wheel, but the phone didn't appear to be taking a charge. I tried swapping USB ports, and switching back to the battery which hadn't been used to kill an earwig, but that didn't seem to help, so I gave up and hoped for the best. But mostly it was a lovely smooth ride, and we got to Ipswich (yes Nat, if you're reading this - I actually went to Ipswich!) in plenty of time for the train.
I nipped to the loos to wash the sunblock and road grime from my face. When I looked down, there was an earwig drowning in the sink.
The train was one of those lovely retro East Angular ones with a proper guard's van. An absolute joy to cram full of silly shaped touring bicycles, and well worth going to Ipswich for. This whisked us to London while the remaining supplies of E-numbers and bizarrely-flavoured crisps were played with, photographed and eventually consumed. Arriving at Liverpool Street station, the consensus was to make a tactical retreat to Weatherspoons until such a time as the various train companies saw fit to carry full-sized bikes on the trains out of London. This suited me perfectly, as I had about four hours to kill. Having made a convoluted dalek-mode exit of the station via the ticket office, an improbably small lift and the awkwardly lacking in ramps concourse, we succeeded in creating a large mass of locked-together and largely unusual bicycles in good view of the pub. While locking up, I got some abuse from a member of a group of smokers who had been standing beside the area we put the bikes. Apparently I should have said excuse me and asked them to move, instead of just putting the bikes there. When I pointed out that I (and presumably the others) had thought it unnecessary on the grounds that they weren't actually in the way, they muttered something about being rude, and wandered off. Odd.
A couple of hours of drinks, food and conversation later (including the inevitable arses conversation that groups of cyclists seem destined to have), we went our separate ways, with me following the Ealing posse, who were heading for Paddington, as far as Euston. I got to see my first (though still bikeless) London cycle hire scheme rack on the way. I arrived in plenty of time for my train, and settled down on the platform to finish off the last of my emergency chocolate supply. This was a London Midland train, which is pretty much the slowest and most tedious way to travel between London and Birmingham, but it is pretty much foolproof in terms of traveling with an awkwardly-shaped bike (you just occupy the foldy seat area by the reveal-a-door toilet), and was dirt cheap.
I arrived at Mordor Central on time, and was pleasantly surprised not to be frozen to death as soon as I stepped off the train. The ride home was uneventful, for Birmingham. That is to say I'd gone three days and 160 odd miles on a recumbent, around London and across Essex and Suffolk, without anything more than genuine interest from other cyclists and one witty comment from a BMX kid in Ipswich. Whereas in three miles, in the dark, mostly on a fast main road, in Birmingham I got hooted at twice and shouted at by pedestrians at least once. *sigh*
Home was quickly followed by the most satisfying shower I've had in ages, a couple of pints of liquid, brief unintelligible wibbling at the internet and bed. Today, I woke up, washed some stuff, ate some food, downloaded some photos
and wrote this. I'm happy to report that my knee still works. As does my dynamo charger - having bench-tested it, it seems that the fault lies with the teeny tiny Nokia plug which has gone intermittent, rather than anything interesting and electronic.
Looking forward to 2011.