Travellers' Tales: The longest day

Louise Bell, at the start on the Isle of Sheppey
Chase the Sun UK South is a 205-mile sportive from Kent to Somerset. Louise Bell rode it last year

Three weeks before tackling Chase the Sun I tested my legs on the RideLondon. I left at 4.45am, rode the 30 miles there, and finished the 100-mile event feeling strong. I was just about ready for the east-to-west, coast-to-coast Chase the Sun. I planned to ride solo and self-supported, aiming not for sunset but simply to plod the distance with minimal stops.

The day’s high point was locking eyes with another solo rider at the start in Minster. We instantly became a team. She fed me flapjack; I fed her cake. She waited as I sorted a mechanical; I navigated when her Garmin died. She was in a relay team so we cycled miles 1-60 and 100-150 together. Those miles tripped by and were an absolute joy.

A group of cyclists pose on a beach. They're poised ready to start a long-distance bike ride

My low point was before lunch, riding on my own for two hours after I had burned too many matches joining stronger riders. My legs were leaden and I couldn’t keep from dwelling on the task still ahead. Not yet halfway, the urge to stop was fierce.

From Devizes, at 150 miles, I was solo again. This time, however, my mind was strong. Although the rain, wind and cold on that English summer day were brutal, I gained comfort from being part of a small wave of cycling humanity, inching forward, united in bearing terrible conditions.

My navigation failed in Cheddar Gorge and my hands were too frozen to right the problem. Instead, I followed a twinkle of red lights, pedalling fast for the last hour to keep them in sight and keep from freezing. We arrived in Burnham at 9pm, half an hour before sunset, to cheering supporters.