Sunday, 23 June 2013 13:53

Chase The Sun

4.30am.  Sheerness on Sea.  Sunrise of the summer solstice.  211 miles of cycling. Sunset.  Burnham on Sea. 10pm.  Curry.  Sleep.  

At the invitation of Chrissie Wellington (who was with us in spirit but not in actuality), Brian Tilley, Debbie and I, supported by Hannah Davies in our support van, joined Olly and 17 other cyclists to make the annual (organised by Olly) trek across England "chasing the sun" on the longest day of the year.  We started shoreside, just next to the Abbey Hotel (where we stayed on Friday night), on the Isle of Sheppey at the mouth of the Thames esturary, in a glorious dry sunrise (photo).  Looking west in the first morning light, there was a wonderful rainbow highlighted by glowering clouds - ominous in its beauty - foretelling the day to come.  The rain started within 100 yards of setting off and continued intermittently, varying from light drizzle to heavy downpour, for the rest of the day.  The group of cyclists were of varying ability, ranging from Tim at the front, experienced, speedy but sometimes navigationally challenged (take it from one who knows), to Sunny (perfectly named), who had only begun cycling 2 months before.  Groups formed, broke up, re-formed, strung out, joked, laughed and settled down into a dogged rhythm into a nagging headwind, ranging from a zephyr to 30 knots of roaring gale.  Our group eventually whittled down to 3 - Brian, Debbie and me and we made good time, even with 5 punctures - the last 2 of which were within 2 miles of the finish in pitch black night, driving rain and gale force winds!  We averaged 15.5 mph over the 211 miles and over 3,000 metres of vertical climbing in total.

The countryside was the real star - beautiful and varied, quintissentially English rolling hills, green (and dripping) vistas, forests, wooded lanes, sleepy villages of half timbered, thatched cottages, impressive Tudor mansions, castles, the peaceful Vale of Pewsey, the rather more challenging Mendips with cheeky climbs of up to 20%, ending in the magnificent Cheddar Gorge, and the flat lands of the Somerset coast.  There were remarkably few cars!  We ate food aplenty, with a Costa coffee breakfast stop in Bromley, an unexpected but very welcome bacon butty stop in Richmond Park (thank you support volunteers, led by Emma in the "official" support van), a wonderful lunch stop at the bakery on the outskirts of Bramley (great pasties and sausage rolls), an early evening replenishment of supplies from Hannah in Devises and a superb curry in Burnham on Sea at 11.30pm - thanks to the very kind manager who took pity on us bedraggled and gaunt cyclists to call the cook back in and supply us with delicious samosas, popadoms, naan breads, mixed grills, prawn and chicken jalfreize curries - delicious!  And then a welcome sleep at the quaint Royal Clarence Hotel right on the foreshore - which was just about blown away by the fierce gales which lashed in from the west all night and the following morning.

The group gathered for lashings of complementary full English breakfast on Sunday morning in the Royal Clarence before saying our farewells and heading back to Brum.  New friends made.  Job done.

Published in Cycling News