3:53am We are riding down the drive of a caravan park heading to the start. In front of me is a guy with a carrier bag full of food swinging off his handle bar with the other hand off the bars he is filming the twinkling lights that are snaking in front of us heading to the start. “What could possibly go wrong! The guy behind me mutters. I think very hard about my goal for the day….for nothing to go wrong, stay on the bike, rubber side down and just keep moving. Moving for the next 14 and a half hours. Moving for 207 miles. Moving from one coast to another. My legs, my heart, my lungs, my head are all going to move me from Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey to Burnham-on-Sea. East to West coast.
4:15am Arriving at the start we send our first text of the day to confirm our participation. A more senior gentleman comes over to us phone in hand ( Bike Boss bemoans the fact that I smile at everyone and have a come talk to me face) “lovely” he starts “have not sent a text for a long time and have forgotten how to do it can you help? The phone is outstretched towards us and although I have the reverse Midas touch with technology I think back to the briefing last night about helping each other. We explain the text thing and he seems happy. Good start.
4:41 We meet our competition for the day – the sun (yep the Fucking sun!) as adversaries go it’s pretty fierce! Been around a long time and knows it’s stuff. The challenge is to Chase the Sun and get to the other coast before it sets at 9:33pm tick tock tick tock. I listen to those gathered around us. Some still seem to be making plans. Ours was drawn up on the train on the way here yesterday and now we just need to deliver so there is nothing to say. One lad says “I just can’t compute what I am about to do” and then before you know it the sun has shown up and we are rolling. It’s cold and as I press start in my Garmin I realise that this is it for the day. Wheel to wheel with the Bike Boss a metronome of cadence and watts that I trust will get me there every time.
8:15 am Crystal Palace is the first planned stop 48 miles after rolling out over the freezing low lands by the coast before making our way through some rolling lanes and passing through a place called Rochester?! I thought this to be a mythical place where 19th Century period dramas were set…seems not! I promised myself I would look at the scenery along the way but for the first few sleepy hours little sticks in my head. Field, hedge, traffic light, gravel, an inordinate number of speed bumps and a peloton of riders snaking ahead through the lanes is all I can process. Then the hills of London ….equally as painful as I recall them! As we leave Crystal Palace and swing left there is an unbelievable city scape of an early morning London, the Shard, St Paul’s cathedral, the river laid out below. I try to commit to memory the pale blue sky and the stunning buildings all the while trying super hard to negotiate the traffic lights, red buses and erratic pedestrian behaviour!
Traffic light, bus lane, traffic light, traffic jam require a bold style of riding and confidence that is not my style of bike riding but I hang on, follow instructions and try to keep moving whenever possible! Moving is winning.
12:30 Bramley. This marks 101 miles and we have had a tough few hours. The sights have been epic but we have felt a bit ropy, maybe the heat? The 3:15am alarm? The quantity of speed humps and poor road services? which mean my body now feels well and truly jiggled! We marvel at the boom in cycling that has filled Richmond park with smash fest Bike teams. I really want to wear a sign saying “going slow as I have a long way to go” as folks hammer past us! The dear are splendid …the hill less so. We pass the time looking at the Grand Design houses along the river in Kingston, and the Bike Boss points out all the places he has worked over the years. When we arrive in Bramley we purchase baked goods from a bakery that did not know Chase the Sun was a thing and were not expecting hordes of cyclists…….the shop was pillaged and the service less than delighted to see us. No matter- a cheese and onion pasty is restorative. I mention I don’t feel too good… “Susan you have just cycled 101 miles in the heat you are not going to” end of conversation. Tick tock – keep moving.
4:15pm Devizes Sainsburys – there are places in our lives that hold special meaning to us that may not be obvious to others. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the car park of Sainsburys Devizes which I shall ever hold in my heart! 150 miles in and with a great chance of making it back before sunset we make our third stop of the day. The countryside over the last 3 hours has been stunning “like a windows screensaver, blues and greens that are almost too vibrant to be real” villages that are picture perfect. We have joined up with a guy we met on the station yesterday morning and the conversation of getting to “know you” passes the miles. Friendships forged on the road are always the best. Added to this for an unsupported ride there is more support than any ride I have ever done! Nearly every pub along the way has support teams parked up waiting for their riders and we are cheered on. “Go girl….keep spinning” “you are doing great” every cheer of support lifts the spirits and propels you on. England really is a green and pleasant land.
So leaving Sainsburys we now have to ride the part of the course we have practiced on….a blessing in some ways but I know what’s coming and there are some tough hills. Hills are not my friend but my 6mph crawl up them holds up, and after 170 miles in the saddle is as good and effective as anyone else’s! I am determined that on the “steep” hill I am not going to get off and walk …..my heart pounds and my fingers go numb as pins and needles pass through my hands. Before I can swear too much I am at the top.
I ask the Bike Boss to sing to keep me going and get a rather good rendition of Cuban Pete…..it’s always an amazing thing what is going on in his head.
The mendips are familiar riding for us and the decent down Cheddar Gorge has filled me with fear for weeks. The hairpins are tough at full strength. I am concerned my tired arms will find it too much. As long as I can see the Bike Boss I am ok. I can follow the line and copy which foot is up and which is down….we swoop down the Gorge. It’s still sunny, the roads are quiet and the Goats decide not to chance a road crossing in front of me. Keep moving.
“Luke’s on the corner waiting for you” I get a message from my husband. Knowing a friend is 10 miles from the finish willing to ride in with us fills me with determination to cover that ground as fast as I can. When people show up for you it means the world. Whatever distance we ride we “time trial” the last 10 miles. Today will be no different. Our Hare and Tortoise ride strategy has paid off, we are catching and passing those we saw earlier in the day. We fly round the corner and there Luke is! I scream “get on your bike and ride Mr Thomas” it’s head down, arse up and the Bike Boss is off. It’s our usual route now that we have ridden hundreds of time so we just have to keep moving ….now at pace! I chat to Luke as best I can whilst keeping the wheel still.
8:26pm Burnham-on-Sea. The sun is beaten it has not gone down on us! I had not expected such a big turn out but there was a strong gathering of supporters and cow bells to see us over the finish. We shook the the Lord Majors hand! What more can I say!
Standing on the Jetty with the sun still not touching the water I reflect on what a pleasure and joy it is to have just a single focus for the day. To start something and finish something in one day. In a complicated and busy life it’s been an incredible and memorable experience just to think about the sun (it’s the fucking sun after all!)