Dancing with Delirium at Cape May Dyno

On the annual Cape May Dyno, cyclists depart the Liberty Bell at 7pm and follow the glow of their dynamo lights through the night to dip their toes in the Atlantic Ocean before sunrise.

Dancing with Delirium at Cape May Dyno
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It's 7:30 am, I'm in Stone Harbor, NJ, I've been riding for 120 miles, and all I can think to myself is “at least keep your mouth shut, dude.” I'm absolutely tanked, my tongue's hanging from my slackened jaws, and I'm doubting whether I'm physically capable of riding another 25 miles to catch the train from AC back to Philly. I'm pretty much desperate to catch that train. I've been awake for 26 hours now and I don't want anything else getting between me and my mattress. But I won't let the exhaustion beat me; I'm gonna dig deep, keep my face from looking stupid, and dance with the delirium.

This has been an absolutely incredible night, but seriously, how tf did I get here??

I'd been patiently waiting for Philadelphia Dynamo Headlight Society's flagship event, the Cape May Dyno (CMD), for weeks since they announced the details for this year's event on Instagram and in their listserv. The overnight ride from Philly to Cape May is totally unsanctioned, unsponsored, and unsupported, but is open to anyone with the confidence and energy to tackle such a feat. Gary from Philadelphia Dynamo Headlight Society (PDHS) described the group's followers endearingly as "a bunch of weirdos who like riding long distances together and sleep deprivation."

I'd heard about CMD in years past but was never sure if this ride was for me since I don't use a dynamo, a special kind of hub that generates electricity when the bike's wheels are turning, which generally provides enough power for a front and rear light with any surplus directed to charging a phone, GPS, or whatever. I came to learn that the ride is highly inclusive and that carrying spare lights/batteries for my existing setup would meet the requirements. A thorough overview of expectations and helpful hints is distributed by PDHS so the chances for silly surprises are slim to none.

The overview's Concluding Thoughts read: "For those who have never joined us for a previous Cape May Dyno, YOU WILL HAVE A GOOD TIME. The company is good, the route is flat, and there are Wawas every few hours to keep you chugging along." Sold.

My rain jacket was already shedding beads from my misty commute when I arrived at the Liberty Bell with a hoagie and a cup of coffee just before the ride would embark at 7pm. Spirits were high despite the rainy forecast as riders huddled under a trellis and surveyed one another's setups and traded stories of Dynos past. CJ distributed instructions for the night and spoke cards to remember it by before we set off into the mist and into the night.

An aside: Reviewing photos for this story, I was intrigued by the design of the Liberty Bell Center, built of modern material and mind in 2002 and, in my opinion, contrasting quite nicely with its surrounding modern and Colonial context. Digging a little deeper for the story, I found that the contrast persists. A great paradox is unveiled when we remember that the Liberty Bell's new home was built atop the unexcavated site of the quarters of humans enslaved by President Washington. Philadelphia's history, like a long bike ride, consists of plenty of ups and downs and room for reflection and improvement.

Heading east, the route traced Old City's vibrant streets crowded with folks enjoying a more conventional Friday night out. Three miles in, we conquered the night's most towering ascent by climbing up and over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and into the coastal plains of South Jersey.

I've been on all kinds of group rides over the years and I applaud the PDHS and CMD riders for their devoted discipline. The group waited patiently together at red lights in Camden and set a precedent early on that the ride would prioritize camaraderie and safety over all else. As we advanced along the Cooper River wondering if the rain would ever let up, I reveled in the novelty of experiencing a familiar place in a new light.

Over the course of the night, the miles and the Wawas began to blend together. The persistently misty air took its toll on my clothes at the same time that my mind took on a persistently misty air. Taking on calories and caffeine at maybe the night's second (third? fourth?) Wawa, the clock struck midnight and we sang Happy Birthday to Ello.

Riding through Belleplain State Forest in the Pine Barrens during the morning's earliest hours on wide and empty roads, we were able to spread out and loosen up. I've since asked some of the people I rode there with to boil down and summarize the experience of CMD into a single sentence to help illustrate what that night was like. Some of these aren't a single sentence but it's more fun to break the rules.

Bryce - Wawa has pizza

Ello - All hail the power of the almighty dynamo

Ryan - Night time is the right time for a light time

Robby - It was a great time but I couldn't help but wonder, what if it had rained?

Keean - At least we had a tailwind. Okay. Changing it up. At least we had a tailwind until we didn't.

CJ - A novice-friendly flat and sociable way to check off your first overnight ride, first century, or both at once!

Shmem - Biking 100 miles over night with self generated lights feels incredibly powerful yet extremely silly, especially around 3am when you’re eating a hard boiled egg in a Wawa parking lot.

Lex - Fixing a flat in front of a bunch of bike mechanics at 330 am in front of Wawa #4 really gave me the shot of adrenaline I needed to push on. A bit of a run-on but the night kind of felt like a run-on anyway.

Zack - For me, Cape May Dyno feels like an epic adventure across New Jersey punctuated by too many Wawa stops, questionable delirious snack choices, and camaraderie around undertaking an objectively silly bike ride

Mark - I made the decision to ride to Cape May at 6pm, one hour before the start - packed my bag, bike and headed out the door into the unknown. Deliberately starting a ride at night and riding overnight was a first for me, and I really enjoyed the ride, group, and Wawas!

Gary - Another wonderful ride to the beach overnight into the weird hours with friends - old and new - illuminated by Dynamo lights and the orange glow of every Wawa in South Jersey, fueled by gas station sandwiches and the thought of putting my feet into the ocean before the sunrise

Yoli - The first time I went to the coast in the US, it was riding the Cape May Dyno 2021. Through it, I met a lot of people and understood what the Philadelphia cycling community had to offer. Since then, I never want to miss it. I have participated in this ride for the last three years. Rain, shine...or with the leftovers of a hurricane, it's always fun and one of the most special rides for me in Philly!

Erik - One thing I’ve been thinking about is how much FUN the ride was. Like straight up just fun, I felt like I was buzzing from it (and sleep deprivation) during and after the ride. It felt like a party, not just in the overall vibe but in the actual mechanics of it. Like how at a party you’re chatting with some people, you step away to go to the bathroom or grab a beer from the fridge, then jump into a different circle of people and join their conversation. CMD felt the same way, floating between individuals or groups of people, chatting about whatever for a while, stopping at a Wawa or picking up your pace, then jumping on with a different group of riders. Also physically, I couldn’t believe how normal and good I felt the whole time despite the lack of sleep. The periodic Wawa espresso shots and strategic snacking went a long way for keeping my energy high throughout the night (and the 6 hours to AC in the morning).

By 5:30 am we'd ridden 100 miles to the sands of the Atlantic and a few celebrated the occasion by jumping right in. We all high fived and posed for pics at the conclusion of the Eighth Annual Cape May Dyno. The wiser of the bunch would eventually retire to an Airbnb in Cape May. A few of us would set off right away while others hung around a bit before taking on an extra 46 miles to catch that train home from Atlantic City.

Thanks to the encouragement of Ag, Ello, Gary, Mark, and Nick, and in spite of a ferocious and unrelenting headwind, I managed to grit my teeth and catch that train. I can't remember who asked the conductor how bad we smelled, but incredibly he said we were ok. I was conked before the train crossed Absecon Bay and we were back in Philly in a literal wink. This was a ride I'll surely never forget and I can't wait to do it again next year.