It’s 03:15 on a Monday morning, the rain beats at the window of my seaside Travelodge room. The room fills with an unfamiliar electronic melody. It’s not a dream – that’s my mobile phone alarm and there’s no denying it no matter how far under the covers I try to hide. I look at my trusty Lexi, my ever-faithful and long-suffering road-bike, sparkling clean with her new cassette, chain and tires, saddle-bag and pump attached, ready to go. On any other day I might tell her we’ll hang on till it brightens up but not today. Today we have a mission. Today we will chase the sun.
Back in January, it seemed like such a great idea. Watch the sun rise over the sea in Poole then ride over to Cornwall and watch it set over Widemouth Bay. Timing our ride around the summer solstice would guarantee maximum daylight and there would be a good chance of decent weather, right? Well, unfortunately here in this green and pleasant land of ours anything can and will happen, even in June. But we’re made of strong stuff here and I was glad to see all 17 of my fellow riders from Ordnance Survey kitted up and ready to go at the start, smiling, happy, even excited. We gathered on the beach for a ‘sunrise’ photograph, joking about the absence of any sun, determined that we would find it by the end of the day.Through the rain, into the head-wind, we started to head West.
We spent the first segment pedalling through rain-slicked suburban streets, over countless roundabouts past still-sleeping households. The roads were blissfully quiet and thankfully relatively flat, allowing our half-asleep legs to gently wake up for the distance ahead. It wasn’t long before we arrived at our first pit-stop, a Waitrose in the slightly surreal experimental town of Poundbury. However, by that point we were thoroughly soaked, dishevelled, and ready for a nice cup of tea and then maybe back to bed. Feeling slightly apprehensive about inflicting our water-logged, mud-splashed selves on the pristine little supermarket, we were instantly put at ease and made welcome and even offered two-for-ones on hot drinks. Warmed and fortified with baked goods and coffee, we set back out with a renewed energy, ready to tackle the busy A-roads of the next stretch. We attacked the cat 4 Mutton Street climb with the incentive of the next pit-stop at the top. Or was it? Well…not quite… Post-ride Strava analysis revealed we had just stopped short of the end of the segment meaning that my time of 34 minutes and 17 seconds was never going to worry the reigning QOM at just over 7 minutes.
Onwards West, 53 miles done, 87 to go, now we were getting to the fun bit. Hills, hills, hills, if we weren’t climbing, we were descending narrow country roads, brakes squealing round blind corners, cautious of the slippery wet gravel and inexplicable number of vehicles on this rainy Monday. We were stronger than the wind and the rain though. The miles melted away as we rode on side by side, chatting and smiling and laughing under dark grey skies, and maybe that cheer was wearing down that elusive sunshine. As the morning became afternoon, we started to notice the stubborn clouds began to part. At first just a snippet of blue, then a glimpse of sunlight. The rain had a few goes but simply couldn’t summon the energy to hang around. By the time we reached the third stop at the Crossways Tavern in Hele, we were sailing along dry roads. Although the pub itself was sadly closed, all we needed was water, bananas and a little something sweet to get us through the penultimate stage.
With 83 miles in the bag and only 57 to go, we were getting into the real hilly country. The flashes of sunshine interspersed with bouts of rain made the rolling patchwork fields glow all shades of green. As we finally passed the sign marking the edge of Cornwall, cheers rang through the peleton and we pushed on with renewed energy. It wasn’t long before we started to see our final destination of Bude appeared on the road signs. With over 100 miles in our legs, it became a case of simply getting to the next sign. Climbing and descending, climbing and descending, double-figures became single figures and suddenly we found ourselves looking at the most beautiful view of the day. At just the right moment, the summit of yet another climb, the clouds parted to illuminate a vast and glistening sea. More cheers. We were almost there, with less than ten miles to go. We were so near yet the more we pedalled on, the further it seemed; around every corner, yet another climb, short and sharp. Another climb, but as the sky cleared for the last time that day, I realised I could smell the sea and I knew that this was going to be my last climb. We had made it. Swooping majestically down a long descent alongside a jewelled sea, bedraggled and slightly dazed, we had arrived at Widemouth Bay. Settling down with well-deserved beers, we watched the waves and waited for the sun to set.
After months of planning, this was a ride I will never forget. I consider myself privileged to have shared the experience with such an incredible and determined group; some had never cycled even 100 km in one go until a few months ago. By the end of that day we had all completed 140 miles in adverse weather that would make most people stay at home. There’s no way we could have done it without our four amazing volunteers who gave their time to drive around after us and make sure we were safe and well looked after. So now the only question is, what’s the next challenge?
Members of the Ordnance Survey Cycling Club organised this ride as a personal challenge and as an opportunity to raise funds to support the excellent work of Solent Mind, a local charity working with people experiencing mental difficulties. It’s not too late to sponsor us through our Just Giving page. Thank you.
All photos by Alan Rolfe. See more of his work at alanrolfe.com .