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REVIEW: Chase The Sun

by Caven O'Hara

Chase the sun - three words that conjure up images of madcap adventures, pursuits driven by a desire to capture the prize. What prize you may ask? The unconfined joy, the pleasure, the satisfaction and the kudos to be feted unconditionally on those who arrive before the sun sets. Simple in essence, a bit more challenging in reality when you consider the route. 


You start at sunrise on the Kent coast, the Isle of Sheppey to be precise and you have until the sun sets to reach the Somerset coast at Burnham on Sea. Why would someone organise this? Mainly through one man's desire to see what he could do in day, to under-estimate the drive and determination of said man to see if he could discover a route to navigate between the two coasts and then ride it. Setting off with three mates it would take Olly three years to get it just right and now ten years after he first had this slightly nutty idea, 550 equally nutty riders were lined up to tackle Chase the Sun.

Chase The Sun

What also sets this ride apart is the fact it is free. This isn't a typo. Yes, there are logistical challenges, you start and finish in very different locations, do you carry your stuff with you, if so how much? Another very pleasant surprise was the number of volunteers, supporters who would accompany the riders, providing valuable assistance and encouragement along the way. What I haven't mentioned so far is the distance, 336Km between 04:43 and 21:21, a shade over 16:30 hrs. 

Riders Ready

Arriving on the Kent coast the evening before was straight-forward. Getting the train over from Gatwick went well despite two changes, lugging your stuff with you takes a bit more effort. I rode over to the hotel where the rider briefing was being held later and contacted Olly to let him know I had arrived and to arrange a time to meet. The venue was already filling up with riders arriving all the time, others were taking advantage of the food available, there were a few options on the menu and plenty of it. I decided to join the queue and get an early dinner. With the World Cup on the TV there was a distraction for riders who were trying to switch off. I spoke to some riders who had ridden the previous year or had taken part in a few editions to get a feel for what the day my entail. One message that came across was the importance of a good support network. 

Richmond Park

I eventually caught up with Olly and one of his partners in crime, Phil as the evening wore on. It is always good to put faces to names as we chatted generally and discussed the next day. We than listened to the humorous and informative rider briefing before getting back to our accommodation to get some sleep before our early start. By early I mean up before 4 to get a shower to help wake up and a quick bike to eat before riding to the sea front for the mass start. Whilst there, I took the chance to grab some photos and the team had put a Chase the Sun logo on the sea wall to give riders a special memento to include in their pictures. 


Before long, the allotted sun rise time approached and with a peloton style group lined up, the countdown to the off began. The sound of riders clicking in en-masse was impressive. The road out was un-surprisingly quiet. In the distance you could see the Sheppey Crossing that crosses the Swale river. We would cross the river using the Kingsferry Bridge which used to be the main crossing over the A249, a single lane in each direction and characterised by the lift section in the middle to allow sea traffic through. It has never been an issue in the previous years but this time around we got held up as a boat was coming up the channel meaning the bridge was raised. I didn't time it, but it was a while and when you're on the clock it proved a long wait. 


We eventually resumed our trek and apart from one slight detour we headed towards London approaching from the south-east through Chatham and onto Bromley before hitting Crystal Palace and the day's first suggested stop at Cadence Performance Ltd, a bike shop that has a café. For a fiver you got a coffee and a bacon roll which after 80 odd Km was very welcome. Again, hats off to Olly and his team, they had spoken to a few establishments along the way to warm them of our arrival and negotiate some great prices. Always useful to know on a long day out. Working to a tight schedule meant we were keeping an eye on time and geeing up those who were dallying a tad.  Having done a few rides through parts of London this year, you quickly realise the landmarks are great to see, dealing with the amount of traffic and number of traffic lights, is not so.

Couldn't Do It Without The Team

There were some perks, riding through Richmond Park, especially in the sunshine is glorious. Clearly a lot of cyclists had the same idea given the huge number of them we saw. We were soon out the other side and making our across to Camberley where again, the logistical challenge of avoiding the busy roads without adding significant mileage cannot be done. The lunch stop, the Bramley Inn, hit the spot as we reached the halfway point on our adventure. A traditional pub and for those who like their football, a huge amount of memorabilia. For us cyclists, the only matter of interest was the food and cold drinks available. With all the hallmarks of good team work, some queued for food whilst others grabbed cold drinks. Both were very welcome, and it was good to take a few minutes off the bike, chill and not contemplate what we had done but take stock of what was left.


Despite being at the halfway point there was still a sense that there was still a sizeable chunk to ride and given there was more climbing in the second half only added to this foreboding. With time waiting for no-one we mounted up and headed off west, towards the North Wessex Downs and the Mendips. The trick to any long-distance ride is gauging your effort, keeping within yourself whilst keeping within your time limit. This meant the pit stops became more important, especially with the terrain getting lumpier and there was more to come. Not before a quick stop in Shalbourne, on any other day the Plough Inn would have proven to be a great place to tarry for longer. However, a quick coke and some crisps had to be enough with the next stop over 40 Kms away we needed to keep chipping away. The scheduled stop around Devizes would still leave 80 odd Kms to complete. Some of the group were flagging as the heat and rolling terrain began to take its toll. More liquid and ice cream eased the situation.


There was no chance of any respite, with a sense of irony after we had ridden through Rode, the terrain took an upturn, quite literally. With several hills now virtually coming back to back the riding became a little more ragged. Round near Faulkland the gradients got shorter and sharper and the rest in-between less as we made progress towards the Mendips. With that in mind another pitstop was required, the need for a can of fizzy drink and a sandwich had started to occupy my thoughts. The sight of a Co-Op in Chilcompton was very welcome and a chance to re-group. With the highest points on the route still to come it was something of a relief to hit some shade after we passed Bathway and motored on towards Cheddar Gorge. There was plenty to occupy the eye and even more so as we entered into the upper reaches of the gorge. If you haven't ridden it in either direction, it is a real treat. The descent perhaps more so as you swoop almost round the bends in an almost alpine manner. Plenty of room, decent surface it was an absolute joy. Alas it was over way too soon but with the caveat that we probably had about 20km to go. 

We Did!

With a final lump the other side of Clewer to the real battle was keeping the legs going into a slight headwind, obviously, with little left in the tank for the final push. The roads were longer, straighter and less visually appealing but the prospect of finishing and within daylight hours was a significant driving force. The conversation had been reduced to directional instructions. The need to get it done was the over-riding thought, closely followed by the prospect of a beer and in third place, the idea of sitting on a normal seat. It's funny how the mind goes into survival mode, giving you random thoughts as your body continues to graft.


After what seemed an endless stretch of road we entered the outskirts of Burnham on Sea and shortly after we were riding parallel to the sea wall and heading towards the pier. The final destination on this glorious journey. The sight of the Town Crier greeting the riders as they reached the finish was terrific and really good indication of how the town has embraced the event. 

Cheddar George

Stepping off the bike, gingerly, there were hugs and high fives all round as the enormity of what we had achieved began to register. You spend so long actually doing you need a few minutes to recalibrate. After the obligatory photos at the end of the sea ramp, a slightly hazardous task as the tide had left the area very slippery and covered in seaweed especially in cleats, it was back up to the pub opposite the finish to swap stories over a very well-earnt beer.


The unique feature for Chase the Sun, is the sense of involvement. Not just for the riders, but for family or friends who choose to support them. There is a real sense of achievement that you don't get anywhere else. Most will identify with the large amount of time dedicated to the training and then hear about the event from afar. With Chase the Sun everyone is involved all of the time. Yes, supporters can cheer you along at any event, here it can be at several points along the route. 

We Did It!

If this takes your fancy, then the date is set for 2019. June 22nd, put it in your diary and you and your support team will not be disappointed. If you want a little more adventure, then look at the Italian version. 


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1 Comment

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