by Lisa Tolley
Why did I decide to ride ‘Chase the Sun’? I think, I just liked the title, it seemed really cool, so I signed up and didn’t really think about what it might entail.
I was into mountain biking until my early thirties, then 6 years ago, after having kids, I bought a road bike and since then I just keep looking for the next challenge. “Chase the Sun’ seemed unique; ride across the country from the Isle of Sheppey to Burnham on Sea, in one day, coast to coast, east to west, dawn to dusk; cycling a total of 330km.
kept training over the winter and figured if I could ride 100-120km comfortably and still have plenty left ‘in the tank’, the challenge was achievable. Next hurdle was a training ride to Brighton and back of 200km. That done I relaxed and looked forward to the ride, however what is different about ‘Chase the Sun’ is that you can’t just sit back and relax, because it is completely self supported; from route mapping, nutrition, support vehicles and logistics.
BellaVelo riders, Charlie Holly and Alison Dex did an amazing job pulling all the details together and getting everyone organised. Two group meetings later we had picked through the detail of the route and set an action plan. Everything had to be planned from transport to and from the start and finish (including bikes), accommodation, support crew, food, mechanical support and even spare bikes and wheels.
To start the ride we needed to get to the Isle of Sheppey. I decided on train from Victoria with my bike, followed by a brief overnight stay for the early start the following morning. Just before sun rise on 24th June (the longest day!) we found ourselves cycling down to the start through the cold and dark with just a glimmer of dawn, and as we set off from the beach at 4.35 am the sun was just peaking over the horizon. It was already turning into a unique experience.
Everybody had a different strategy to complete the ride, some looked at the timing points and clocked each kilometre, some just turned up (the young ones!), mine was eat, drink, pedal and don’t look at the kilometres left! I had a great group of seven riders and we quickly settled into a rhythm. The roads were empty, it was the most beautiful day and we were completely happy.
The route started through Kent, which was mainly small country lanes, then into Outer London with the urban stretches giving us a chance to catch our breath at the traffic lights. Before I knew it, we were on home territory through Richmond Park, Kingston and Hampton Court, and this proved to be my toughest section. I was so close to home and there was nothing new and interesting to distract me. Bagshot marked the half way point, then on through Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset. The route was challenging but with some good stretches of flat to make sure the kilometres rolled.
Did we make it to Burnham on Sea by sunset? Of course! We pedalled down to the beach at 9.10pm with a real sense of achievement.
When I look back at what had kept us going, it was the beautiful scenery, the other cycling groups with their natter and encouragement and the sense of gaining momentum as you crossed the country.
The secret to our success was the truly great BellaVelo support crew; four volunteers following the route in a van, setting up 6 pit stops and providing us with moral support, super snacks, smiles and even a shoulder massage.
Would I recommend it? Yes. It was a fantastic weekend and a true benchmark of my love of cycling. I am feeling nostalgic already!