Sunday, September 16, 2018

SO many Audaxes I need to squeeze them all into one post.

My last two rides before 'cross really takes over have been like chalk and cheese and have lifted me up and then broken me down.

After my DNF in Scotland on the 600 I entered a 200 DIY the week after to get my August ride in and then entered another 600 one month later.

In the meantime I decided I didn't trust myself to finish the 600 so I bunged another 200 in the week before in North Wales - a notoriously hilly one - to offset the flat 600 and the flat 200 I did on bank holiday weekend.  Both passed too close to Scunthorpe - a place where I am actively spending my working week too.  So the Welsh 200 went ahead. 

The forecast was unbelievable for 1st September..  Around 50 of us set off from Old Ma's tea room at 0800 for Pistyll Rhayader, stopping at Chirk on the way.  Whilst guys rushed for the shop, I sat and drank coffee and ate cake.  Chirk is too nice to rush.  My ride plan was to cruise the time limits and enjoy myself, saving my legs for next weekend.

The first hills started and I really enjoyed them.  Sure they were taxing but not stupidly steep and gloriously gloriously remote.  I chatted to Steve Ogden who was out to try and improve his hill climbing and Shaun Hargreaves, nursing a calf injury but sporting his fixie regardless because "a 200 on gears aggravated it last weekend so it clearly doesn't matter".  Both regulars on the Audax scene, it was a pleasure to spend time with them and it did my ego good to keep dropping Shaun on the descents.

I stopped in a shop before lake Vyrnwy which was a relief as the tourist facing service was shockingly slow.

I got my coffee and ate my pre-bought sausage roll in full view as the staff were too busy to care. 

Some sportive riders on our ride chided me for my saddlebag but then I caught them at the top of the hill suffering Di2 issues.  They soon passed me back. 

In Bala I headed straight to the Eco cafe for more coffee and cake and received a hand written receipt so I had her sign the time on my brevet card.  Around the corner I met Steve looking for the speed of a convenience store as I was trying to get my Garmin to load / start.  He suggested my battery had died and was right.  He saved my bacon from a Trep meltdown.

I stuck the Garmin on charge on my spare battery and headed off back into the hills.  As I descended  a steep slope musing about how you never really get the hill climb time back on the descents, I met a slow-moving tractor - just to prove my point.  It took him a while to find space to pull over but he did it just ahead of a large 4 inch deep patch of gravel across the road.  I suspect that also saved my bacon.

By 6pm I was really rather hungry.  I knew the pub at the last check point was closed and we were instead relying on an info control so when I happened across another pub 2 miles before the control, a quick (badly informed) maths reckoning concluded I could be pushing the time limits but I knew I needed real food.

I ordered a burger and pint of lemonade and just as I was finishing the last of my chips I was excited to see Steve go by.  I caught him on a hill climb and we had a little chat before I surged ahead, knowing I'd see him soon.  I actually felt a little guilty about leaving him to the darkening potholed descents but he caught me up soon enough waiting for some never-changing roadworks traffic lights.  We rode into the darkness together. 

He was out of water.  After my lemonade, I was down to a couple of mouthfulls of drink left in my bottle.  My bat-sonar detected a Spar behind us at a junction so we doubled-back and I repayed the bacon-saving by sitting with the bikes whilst Steve got water and juice which we split between us.  Pace picked up again on the flat as we gossiped away the evening with our life-tales.  We arrived at the finish just after Shaun and sat about talking crap with the organisers until gone 10:30 pm.  It was a brilliant ride that left me relaxed, yet brimming with pride.

In similarity my 600 start was quite relaxed, with a 200 in the bag for September the 600 was only really worthy of having a go.  What a lot of commitment for just "having a go".

My hotel was booked last minute but ended up conveniently close to the start - all looking good so far.  I went to register but no-one was there so I kicked-off my Garmin only to find that none of my routes were on it.  I rushed back to the car and spent the next 15 minutes uploading routes from my work laptop email onto Garmin Connect then transferring from my phone to the Garmin device.  I slithered in to the organiser with 5 minutes to go, caught the end of the briefing then set off with the peloton to ride into the wind.

Boy did we need it!  We had a man-down within 30 minutes.  I dropped off the back just long enough to make sure he'd got up again then battled hard to get back on the group into the headwind. 

They were knocking out 26kph on the fens.  I am usually chuffed with 24 kph for the first 80k so was worried about burning out but the truth is, I'd have been trying even harder to make 21kph on my own so sticking with the group was my top priority and I tied my urethra in a knot whilst others dropped off the back for a pee. 

I held on as long as I could and then drifted along on my own for a bit until a railway crossing got me a few more companions but I couldn't keep up with them either so I let it all go.

I walked into Chatteris Green Welly Cafe alone, only to meet the impressive and lovely Judith Swallow in the undesirable location of the loo queue.  She was on the other 600k ride, travelling in the opposite direction.  I took a moment to chat and embrace as she was on her way out.  I timed in then, heeding warnings not to spend too much time, opted for a flapjack in a packet and a milky instant coffee.

I also bumped into Steve in the queue for food which was nice to catch up.  With riding most of the morning with Shaun, it was like 5 days of working week had never happened.

It also felt like the beginning of the end already - only 12:00 and I was knackered.  I got outside and it was raining so more time was spent coating-up.  I was on for a late lunch

Back on the road, the next stop was at Great Dunmow and the end of the first chunk of 173 kms.  The route passed through Cambridge which I confirm I still have little time for with its tiny streets of meandering gormless tourists.  I had a sandwich in a petrol station for lunch and paused to remove coat and rain legs.

A young couple caught me up and towed me out of town.

I really liked Dunmow although I almost missed the control as I didn't fancy a pub but control was at the pub.  Near miss!  They had ran out of baked potato so I settled for a Sandwich which brought me to the uncomfortable position of having eaten two lumps of white bread and very little hot, real food.  I left a little depressed with only a civilian couple out for a bimble on their bikes before dinner to draft for a while... and in the end I was towing them along.  Only 3 people were on the road behind me.

I enjoyed the last few Essex hills before the long slog to Boston started.

The intermediary control was at Whittlesey which we passed in the morning.  A promising-looking place with a marked square and toll bar building.  No toilets though and the suggested petrol station control was closed leaving me to retrace my steps several times to a little corner shop to furnish me with cold coffee, a sausage roll and the most delicious, hot home made samosa.  The 3 guys behind me were joined by 2 more but people split with some going home to a DNF and the rest continuing on.  I was joined by an older chap who was pretty quiet.  We rode together for a while but then I started with the dozies so started looking out for a convenient stopping place.

A bench presented itself with a nice comfy-looking water pumping station behind.  Never mind that the constant buzz of the A15 was not far away - I would sleep anywhere.  I'd calculated I was 3 hours up on time and I would sleep right back up to the time limit, give or take an hour to get myself sorted then get myself moving again.  I unfurled my bivi on a fine mat of ivy, put on my oh-shit coat and lay down. Shoes off, I was happy as anything with a quick look-up at the starts and the canopy of trees above.  I farted into my bivi for extra warmth and pulled the hood over my head.  Nothing, nothing would keep me awake.

My watch sounded 2 hours later and I could hear the spatter of rain and resolved to wait for my 2:15 alarm but the onset of shivers fixed that decision and gave my body different ideas.  The effort of rolling up a 6ft tall bivi was enough to warm me up then I ate the last of the sausage roll for breakfast and headed towards Boston for coffee.  Then I discovered that my rear tyre was flat.  I walked back to my bench, pumped it up again to see how it went and started dealing with the concerned enquiries from the fast lads, starting to head back the other way in the Fenland Flier ride.

10 minutes down the road I decided to just fix the puncture at a nice walled bridge giving me excellent cover from the wind and somewhere to lean the bike. 

It was around 5am when I arrived at Boston and I'd been dreaming of a cheese burger for about 12 hours but unfortunately you can't get that at McDonalds at 5am so I did with a bagel instead.  I felt neither full, nor appetised when a Romanian guy with a BMW and a swagger like a drug dealer started buying everyone espressos. 

Steve and I had another chat and he very kindly gave me a confidence-boosting speach about me being a stronger rider than him and he thought he would finish.  Sadly I think I left all of my strength and courage in the Welsh hills.

I left him (wisely) to his porridge and pancakes and rejoined the road, riders now consistently streaming past in the opposite direction but Judith Swallow now long gone.

I decided that Romanian guy had definitely put cocaine in the espressos as a steady string of riders who I had previously been riding with came flying past me at a frightening speed. 

I plodded on to Lincoln alone, eventually spilling onto the canal towpath where I was finally joined by the couple on the tandem.  We exchanged some stories of our days before they drew ahead as soon as we hit the road.

When I arrived at Lincoln I made a beeline for the first cafe I saw but it was closed so I rode on looking for a cash machine.  I was 2 minutes ahead of time.  I asked a Deliveroo rider where I could find a decent cafe.  He regretted there were plenty of decent ones but they were all closed so I would have to make do with an indecent one.  Crap, it was 9am Sunday morning wasn't it?  I had a steak sandwich in Subway, struggling to understand the server's northern accent and friendliness.
"Sorry, I was in Essex this morning".
I looked at my watch, Shit it was still this morning.  She laughed suspiciously at the deluded lady.

I sat in the square, leaning against a wall watching my bike.  We'd come a long way together.  I hardly dared look how far it was.  A homeless man shuffled by in wool trousers and coat, sandals and a silk nightdress.  He was better dressed than me.  We smelt about the same.

I got back on the bike and set off for Goole.  First there were Wolds to climb up out of Lincoln - some respite for my legs which quite enjoy hills and my bum which really needed a saddle break.  Beautiful sunshine, some roadies whooshing past and stragglers on the Fenland route in as much trouble as me and then I bounced over a crack in the tarmac and whoomph, my rear tyre went flat again.  I crossed the road to a driveway which got me out of the wind and off the road and sat down on the concrete to set about the repair getting nervous that my tyres were getting old or my bag was too heavy.  At least I found the glass which had been gradually whittling away at the new inner-tube and could rest assured that the problem was fixed but my only spare tube had a wonky valve which, after all the effort of pumping it up, unscrewed with the pump head.  I stood up and cleanly kicked the wheel right across the concrete driveway.  This at least kick-started my brain into action and then I calmly unscrewed the valve head of one of my punctured inner tubes, fitted it to the new tube and started again. 

I toyed with the idea of riding back into Lincoln to get a train to Sheffield and going out to get the van on Monday but riding my bike for another day didn't appeal so I decided to carry on, heading North West now towards the Trent. 

I was on familiar territory from my Bank Holiday weekend ride and stopped in Kirton Lindsey for some respite and food.  I remember this as being around dinner time but the lady in the shop wished me "good mid-day" and went on to have a monologue with herself about how she should greet me at "1200hrs".  I say monologue because I stared at her blankly, not knowing how to reply.  "There were a lot of you here yesterday, is there some kind of event on?" 

I glibly told her I was the end of it and, thankful for clear weather, went and sat on the kerbside with my bike to avoid further questioning.  At least the village toilets were free, open and clean.

The fens to Goole were going to be a nightmare - turning 270 degrees of wrong direction - South, West, North, East a bit, then North then West.  Not long with a tail wind before you're unceremoniously forced to ride into a head wind for a bit.  And then the rear tyre went flat again.  All out of inner tubes.  I pumped the tyre up to see how long it lasted and the answer was, about 4 miles into the next village and with blackening skies, I walked a way to find a bus stop to set up my repair service.

Trust me, in the meantime I considered calling for a taxi to Sleaford but that seemed like it might be expensive. 

I considered riding back to Sleaford but that would involve retracing my path into the headwind - also not popular. 

This time a blown patch was to blame.  I replaced the patch, pumped up the tyre and it held.  No excuses for not finishing and plenty for not being finished in time.  To add to the embarrassment I had 100 Sportive riders to deal with coming in the opposite direction.  100 awake, jolly, exiteable sportive riders - everyone offering a cheery hello for my pissed off and exhausted brain. 

I had a little tail wind up the Trent where I expertly avoided riding into Scunthorpe to go and sleep on the Alsatian dog belonging to the security guard in my site office.  The only thing stopping me: that I didn't have my work pass in my cycling wallet.  I rolled dubiously into Goole at 6pm, starving hungry.  Whilst I should have been chasing down the time limits, I was instead, ordering tasty Mac meals, hot apple pies and coffee, more glorious coffee.  I wasted further time changing into fresh shorts for the night time riding and was 2 hrs behind schedule when I left and headed back into the headwind and setting sun.  It felt like abject torture to be passing the exact spot where I sat and decided to push on to the finish in favour of riding back the way I came into the headwind back to Sleaford only to find that I was heading out to ride back the way I came into the headwind to ride back to Sleaford.  All sense of achievement had diminished.

Not much makes sense after that except for the village of Haxey where, looking for a place to sit down and eat my stash of crisps from Kirton Linsey, I decided to throw the time limits to the wind and sit on the swings to eat my food.  It was the happiest I would be for a while.

Gainsborough was next up.  I thought I was going to die from a steady stream of boy racers close-passing along the A631.  If ever there was a reason to stick to a time schedule, Gainsborough at pub-closing time on a school night was it.  Yes, I was now riding at 15kph.  My wheels had fallen off and it was late!  Then the footpath was a tree-rooted pavement which would have been a) illegal and b) would have snapped off my feet and arse - also leading to certain death.  Pulling into town I found a petrol station to control and witnessed my first ever drive-away at a fuel station as a young voice shouted "fuck you" at the CCTV then roared off in his plate-less hot hatch.  I spent the next two hours dodging a red Vauxhall Corsa which continuously close passed me until I dived into the bushes behind the scary phone-box, extinguishing all lights and watching him prowl up and down the street a couple of times whilst I put my leggings and extra layers on.  Who knows?  Perhaps he was just delivering pizza and I was paranoid.  Perhaps he wanted to scare a girl on a bike. After a while he gave up looking, or whatever it was he was doing. 

In Lincoln it was now 11pm.  Retracing then not getting lost on the Canal.  Constant back-tracking.  Some, "Oh, I'm here - always wondered where that came out".  I started up a hill again, not sure why I was going up a hill but happy to be standing up for a short time then I seemed to go back down before urgently needing to go back up again.  Damn this was cruel.  I decided to take a walk.

I cycled as far as the end of the streetlights then found myself a tree for a pee and a bench to sit on.  I faffed for a while eating an apple then pushed my bike so far up before re-mounting.  At least I was to quickly turn out of Lincoln onto more minor roads, just in time for SLEEPYTIMES!

According to my Garmin, from Lincoln, the route trended gradually downwards.  It's obvious from my trendline that I gradually fell deeper and deeper into lala land, my average speed hitting 15kph then 14 then 12 then 11.

Everywhere I looked the view was the same.  A grey bowl of concrete where my light shone and nothing else but lines of plastic carrier bags along the side of the road filled with sticks and lined up one after the other.  Occasionally a gateway broke the monotony of the plastic carrier-bag-weeds, a black and inhosptable gateway to darkness.  There was no moon or stars just darkness and then I was talking to Brian from work and asking his guys to wear their PPE and planning our test programme but then I would wake up still talking but Brian wasn't there and still the world was grey and the carrier bags rolled by so I closed my eyes to think about something more interesting.

This time I talked to Matt until something rustled inside a carrier bag and so I sprinted in case a deer was about to knock me off.  The rustling continued and I thought it might be a dog so I sprinted and sprinted until I had no more and then realised that the noise was coming from my coat and I went back to sleep.  Who knows how much time this went on for?  I did have enough mental capacity to watch the distance to my next turning come down each time I woke up but then I reached Digby and it was a village with stuff and things - like bus stops and I found the perfect shelter to keep the wind off.

Sadly the bench was made of iron slats but I could sleep on anything.  I put on all my layers but couldn't be bothered to get my bivi out.  I spent 10 minutes checking my phone to text TSK I was OK but sleeping and trying to persuade my body that it didn't really need a poo so I could sleep soundly for 40 minutes before waking up shivering uncontrollably.  I added my final layer - waterproof trousers - and set off into the dark still wearing my Oh-Shit coat over my waterproof with my hood snugly crammed under my helmet.

I was, of course, off-course, having missed the turning I had been so carefully looking out for but took an alternative route which didn't add too much distance.  Of all the wrong turnings in all the ride, I picked the wrong turn that did least damage.

At 3:15 I arrived at Sleaford McDonalds but couldn't face human interactions to I overshot to an ATM and got a statement from there.

I had done it.  I had actually ridden 600km in one effort, between two showers, with one change of clothes.  I didn't really care that I was out of time but then I wasn't really glowing with pride.  It was embarrassingly hard and depressingly difficult.  It helps only slightly that others suffered with the wind and punctures and also thought it was hard.  I was not sure, not convinced, if it was something I would ever be motivated to do again, the point is, it was over.  In my preparedness, this time I had proved that I was still too stubborn to quit.

None of that needed thinking of then though.  I took the wheels off the bike, put it in the front of the car, blew up my mattress, unfurled my sleeping bag and with a streetlight shining straight in my face and an air conditioning rumbling and gassing outside the van window, I slept for 7 hours straight, waking only to email the organiser to let him know I was OK and stop my Garmin. 

That was Audax for another month.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Tiny Flat One

After my DNF in Scotland but then not really feeling all that bad about it at all (I did "only" do 3530km) I decided it might be feasible to do a 200km ride this weekend to make sure I got my August RRtY in.  No point in dropping all the balls right?

I had a Perm ride in my in-tray.  An organiser-published routesheet and card which can be completed at a rider's liesure - once they have paid their entry fee.

I could have done it on Monday to get better weather but by Saturday afternoon I was already itching to get out on my bike so I decided to ride the wave of enthusiasm and head out to Thorne early Sunday morning to get a run on the traffic.

The ride from Thorne, through Bawtry to Gainsborough of 40km wasn't so bad.  A bit main roady but dry and pleasant enough riding past the fields.  I started with a bit of a head wind, then cross winds.  I stuck to my plan not to race too hard this time and pottered around 21-22kmph.  Occasionally I strayed up to 24 - 26 but this was mostly when I experienced brief bouts of tail wind.

I had toast and tea at Rosies at 10:30 but that was too early for lunch so carried on out into the fens and flatlands at 11.  The weather gifted rain as I left the cafe and I quickly walked back under the smoking shelter to put on my waterproof coat, shoe covers and rain legs.

As I left I realised I'd forgotten to fill my water bottle but still had about half a bottle left so decided it would be OK until lunch. 

As 11:45 rocked by I started to feel a bit concerned.  There were few places on the radar until Caistor which would have involved a detour.  Thankfully at 11:50 I started to see signs for "Uncle Henry's" and sure enough, a farm shop materialised on the horizon.  I didn't really fancy the half-mile long lane to reach it but decided not to look the gift-horse in the mouth and continued in.

The bike parking was some horrible self-made wooden frame which was hungry to eat rear derailleurs and spit the bike back out without any gears so I walked around the back and locked it to some scaffolding tubes cemented into breeze blocks.  Great until I realised the one I had locked to was completely free-moving.  5 more minutes down the toilet.  I promised myself I wasn't going to stress about time today.  I nearly upped and left - but a quick Garmin reccee confirmed there was nothing for miles so thankfully I persevered.

The cafe operated an Ikea-style one-way system to make sure you saw ALL of the products on offer.  Having located the cafe and secured a table, I had to do two laps of the one way system to get my bottle off my bike and then find the toilets.  By the time my food came I was nearly livid! but then relaxed and felt lucky as a steady stream of people with reservations and people without reservations quickly filled the remaining tables.  Just in time doesn't do it justice.

My sandwich was not a terrible rip off but also insufficient to get me to Cleethorpes so I had to do the decent thing and have cake too.

I was right to stop, I covered quite a few miles before I hit civilisation again.  There was nothing on the route out and then I passed the point of my turn-back.  With still 40km of out-and-back to do, there was nothing really until I got to Waltham.  There were a few more turn notifications to give me something to do except for look at fields but little else along the way to Cleethorpes.

It was still raining outside but now I at least had a hill to look forwards to. 

Given the name of this ride, the routesheet contains the disclaimer, "This ride is not completely flat it includes one section over the Yorkshire Wolds..."

The route finally took me away from main and B-roads and on to some lovely lanes through quaint Lincolnshire villages (or was it Yorkshire? I lost count).  The hill was a little taxing.,I certainly hit my lowest gear, but it was not too long and I was soon correcting the dent in my average speed for that 25 mile section.  The descents on the other side were fast and empty of cars with only one section of bad road surface.

Cleethorpes had a little bit of life to it.  We are, after all, still in season.  The cafe I stopped at had a few seats remaining but most others were taken up with soggy holiday makers and soggy, bored kids.  Hot chocolate and an Eccles cake were all I could muster.  Nothing too sweet and sticky. 

I didn't dawdle, although I did stand under the hand-driers for a while and ring my gloves out into a napkin or two.  I'm gutted I forgot to ring-out my socks. 

So, the ride back.  Well, it rained a little less hard but there must have been the dry front coming as the wind suddenly got very blustery.  I nearly lost my grip on the bars a few times.  The h
ill was a little more sapping in the opposite direction.  The downhill was more thrilling and I got to see the view along the Wold instead of climbing up it. 

It felt good to make the turn towards home and realise I had only 15k to go to my next stop and then a 40k ride to the finish.

Just as I thought it was safe to stop and take my waterproofs off in favour of dry clothes, the heavens opened again and put me in my place.

Although I knew I was out of time for the windmill cafe, I went to see it anyway then headed into Kirton Lindsey for a receipt.  At 6pm, I simulated dinner with a packet of Doritos, a chocolate croissant and a cold laté.  I stood in the doorway by the heaters for a while then, to get a sit down on the only bit of dry wall in the place, I sat right next to the bin to finish my Doritos.  At least it was a clean bin, or the cool temperatures were keeping any odours at bay.

I joined the north-bound road alongside the river trent.  Checking the Garmin, I had around 5km of riding straight North before turning around and riding back down the South side.  I'd not normally describe the M180 motorway to Scunthorpe and Doncaster as majestic but when you look at it from Fen level, sweeping over the flood planes it looks like something from Northern France or Holland and I have to admit to being impressed.  That was nothing compared to the Keadby King George V bridge that I crossed.


Better photo here

Onto the South-bound ride, to my relief the wind had dropped and I was putting out enough energy to warm up for the first time since climbing over the wold.  The rain legs came on, the lights went on and I set about the last 30 kms.

I counted them down most expectantly but the route did deliver comfortable lanes riding with brief stints on airport service roads, fenland lanes wide enough for only one vehicle, tiny humpback bridges over streams and a sudden arrival at my destination - so sudden I skidded as I turned into the Co-op at full-speed when I nearly missed it.

Chocolate milk was the finishing order and perfectly price reduced water melon for easy-consumption on the way home.  My van provided the perfect cover from drunk people walking home from the pub for taking off wet gear and putting on civilian clothes.



Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Borderlands Late Season Explorer

Me (in green) and TSK (in blue/yellow) at the start, thanks to Rob Imrie for the pic. 
My camera stayed firmly in my bags this time.
The night before the Borderlands was wild and windy and I foolishly forgot that although the Tipi is strong in the wind, it can be a bit flappy.  I shouldda parked it near the road (hedge).  I shouldda booked a hotel but I didn't and so, the night was disturbed and shit but hey, when I got up the next morning my RHR had dropped down to 46 so yay for that.

Uneventful beginning in that it was brilliant and fast. I got in with a decent group and when they dropped me I had a steady stream of riders to draft or ride alongside for a chat including Derby Mercury Fixie and Tache.

I got recognised for my blog on TAW by a fellow racer, which was nice and talked to a lot of people about the forks.

My clothing choices were perfect in a thin, long sleeve patagonia top and my wool Isadore jersey and Rapha shorts. I coated up when the rain fell and when I stopped everything dried out pretty quickly.

I went out fast into the head-wind to do as much riding as possible before the U turn at 150km, meaning I would get as many hours as possible of the tail wind home before it dropped at 7pm.  This was the only bit of weather planning I managed.

On the way to Eskdale Muir, I got dropped by the group then Tache caught me up and we chatted for a while side by side before he surged ahead on the climbs.  It started raining properly this time and I stopped first to put on my rain coat then caught him up also coating-up.  "I knew I was gonna get wet but I dinnae realise it would be so soon".  You and me both sunshine.

He rode ahead and then I was caught by Derby Mercury Fixie.  I shamelessly wheel-sucked for a few miles.  I mean whilst I would have got on the front and done my bit, he seemed happer at 23.4km/hr rather than 21 kmph.

We all puddled in to Eskdale Muir tea shop to be treated to sausage and beans on a bagel and coffee.

After Eskdale the sun started to come out again on and off.

Really, I should have dropped the idea of racing the headwind as at Gretna the route turned east-then-west and all bets on the North South wind were off.

I bought a few snacks from the control for later, made the man's baby smile then nipped back into the shop to get the receipt I'd forgotten what with all the chatting.

After Gretna I saw TSK riding the other way and he gestured to me to stop.  He had not recovered from the sickness he's suffered for the last two weeks and was riding a loop to the finish.  I kissed him goodbye and set off on my journey alone.

As I set off up the climb to Alston, the sun came out properly for the first time and I tucked my water proof away.  I felt good as I was ahead of quite a few people.  I enjoyed the climbing and the wind riding but battling through this section used up a large proportion of the day and a large proportion of my energy so only a few hours of tail wind were left.  I bounced up the cobbles in Alston to the tea shop but now I felt like I'd burned myself out.  Still, it was nice to know that I had done "the hard bit".  Tea and cake went down well and I got to see the highest village in England in the sunshine.

The cafe wrote me out a receipt so I had to stop at the petrol station to get a time stamped one instead.

Down the hill was wind assisted and I took great pleasure in cheering to all the other riders going in.

I enjoyed every moment of the ride back to Langholm and was still in my shorts and jersey going back.  I did a double-lap of the village deciding where to eat.  I really fancied a sit down meal but the pubs didn't look tempting enough for me to go to the effort of locking my bike up outside so I ended up in the chip shop.  I have thought a lot about whether my meal choice in Langholm affected my outcome later or I should have gone to the shop for a salad or a sandwich but the haggis was too tempting and 1.5 hours later I was at Eskdale Muir feeling fine and chatting with the staff whilst eating apple crumble and custard and throwing a double Gin Mudra at the Bhudist temple as I rode past. Look mum no hands.

When I left Eskdale Muir it had started to drizzle so I put on waterproof coat, knee warmers and my rain legs and set off slightly warmer and now into the night proper.  I was blessed with sightings of: an owl; a hawk I thought was going to pick me off on the climb; two hares - one which I chased down the road for about 300m before he found a turn-off he wanted to take, the other which sprang 4 feet into the air to clear the grass at the side of the road; and most alarmingly, a deer who, captured in my headlights had a think about darting into the road in front of me until I roared like a lion which scared it into going the opposite way.  I think I frightened myself as much.  That was good for a few adrenaline points.

As I pulled onto the A7 in Selkirk it started raining properly again.  Thankfully I was already wearing all the layers so I didn't need to stop.  I stayed on the main road all the way back as there was hardly any traffic and found myself a cash machine to do the midnight control

At 00:10 I gingerly  rode back to my van through the drunk Herriot Watt students then climbed into the van and stripped off all the wet clothes and crawled into the sleeping bag for 30 minutes kip which would get me back onto my accellerated programme (a 1am departure from Gala).

My logic behind the short sleep was a turbo kip which wouldn't give my body chance to seize up but just enough to let my brain think it had had a sleep.  In reality, I didn't know whether to stop or not but as it was raining I decided 30 mins sleep couldn't hurt, it might even give the weather chance to improve.

 When I resurfaced it was still raining.

The couple next door had just got back.  I had missed my alarm (I never turned it on).  They were the only reason I woke up.  Otherwise it could have been a big mistake on my part of sleeping through the control... or was it?

I sat up and TSK attempted to pour some real Waitrose food into me.  A grain salad went down surprisingly well.  I chowed back some smoothie, rejected the cookies, stuck some random salty snacks in my pockets then started shivering violently.  I put on 3/4 length leggings, long waterproof Omm trousers and my Oh-Shit coat with my Omm waterproof coat over the top with a hood to keep my head and hair dry.  I know I was in Scotland but in August I really shouldn't have been dressed up the same as I would for a winter commute.

 I very grumpily set out back into the rain, trying not to accuse TSK of it all being his fault because this was most definitely my own idea and I then hated myself for being so stupid.

I didnt have half the things with me that I meant to but I was fed up with standing about in the rain so I started riding my bike.  I wish I could tell you I had instantly felt better but I didn't.  I got a bit lost in town then sat on the A7 for ease.   After 5 minutes in the Oh-shit coat I was too hot so stopped to take it off.  I stopped in a bus shelter which was actually a box of swallows, pissed off at me for disturbing their nests and I got tweeted at and dive-bombed in the darkness for 5 minutes.  My gloves were already sodden and slapped noisily onto the bench.

In Selkirk I went too far up the A7 road, missing the turnoff for the nice, local road that runs alongside the river.  Realising my mistake late, I turned off down a footpath which steepened then turned into two tracks of concrete flagstones with cement between them and a handrail down the middle.  I know I'm good at bike handling but I just prayed there were no steps and slithered my way down, praying I wouldn't slide off as I was likely to knock myself out on the handrail and no-one would find me till 6am when someone's dog started to lick up the remnants of my spilled brain matter (yes I was wearing a helmet and I should shut up).

The footpath did not deliver any steps, it did however deliver two tarmac speed bumps, presumably to prevent moped use which succeeded in lifting both of my tyres off the road in quick succession.  I have no idea how I spilled out of the bottom still alive.

Through Selkirk and onto the Moffat road I was soon reminded of the horror of this road's surface.  It hurt my bum when  I sat on the saddle and my feet when I stood on the pedals. My right big toe in particular was suddenly hammering into the toe box on my shoes.

As I reached the top of the first rise and started to go downhill the snoozies started.  I nearly lost it on a few corners and often found myself swerving across the road as my brain lurched me awake just as I was about to crash into the undergrowth. Each time the immediate rush of adrenaline kept me alert for around 20s before it started again. This was not safe but there was nowhere to go to be safe.

I  checked the profile. Not only was I but half way up the climb, I also had a very steep section at the top to do. I had only ridden 30k of an 80k out. The back would be the real killer and it wasn't like I didn't know what was to come as I'd ridden this route on the 400k ride: 50km of climb followed by repeating this broken road.

Even the lauf forks weren't giving me any respite and where I was climbing I was out of the saddle, giving my bum a break but resting too much on my hands and wrists which were starting to feel over used and acheing badly where I leaned on them. With the broken road surface and my dehydrated head I felt like my shrunken brain was bashing into my skull with every pebble and headaches seared through me.

Raindrops ran down my light making patterns on the road and the light reflected in the occasional drip off my helmet made me think a car was coming but there was nothing there.  Occasionally another rider going the other way cheered me on with encouragement to keep going but then they were gone and I had the blackness to myself again the the falling off - but not quite - would recommence.

As I approached Yarrow Feus I could see a bright light in the distance.  In between the feelings of anger at their inconsideration for my eyesight, I also thought I would use their light to help me find the paracetamol in my frame bag to at least end my headache.

As I realised it wasn't a street light but someone's outside light, set well away from the road, my thoughts of paracetamol turned to thoughts about stopping.  It was a very attractive prospect.  I decided to go back.  I turned around in the road and started riding over the section I had just done. It was hard and it hurt. If I kept going I would have to endure this pain later. If I stopped now that would be it for my RRtY and my PBP pre-qualifier. I shrugged, I could deal with that.  No! Wait! What was I doing?  Throwing away 8 months of rides! Then I remembered the Super Brevet and  turned back around and kept going. It felt good. 20s later I was falling asleep again.

15 minutes later I thought I could stop there and get Andrew to come and get me.  I could give Andrew directions to Yarrow Feus but there was nowhere for me to shelter in Yarrow Feus so I kept going.

I  got off to push the bike up a  small slope to do something different for a while. 20s later, I tripped over the pedal as I meandered across the road half asleep.

I got back on and rode for a bit. At least it was quicker. I checked my average speed.  For the rest of the ride when I had been being slow my average was 20kph. Now it was 14.9. I hadn't even stopped to rest and I was below the ride allowable minimum speed. I hadn't even reached the steep bit yet.

I tried going back again and then remembered that road surface. If I was going to stop I needed to find somewhere Andrew could come and find me in the van. I was literally getting to that point where it was no longer safe to continue.

Unfortunately with the rain and my slow speed, I was getting colder and it didn't even feel safe to stop either and now I needed to pee as well. The though of pulling down wet leggings was almost too much to bear. The thought of pulling them on again really was too much to bear. I carried on snoozing down the short descent before it turned up again onto the lake shore. I had forgotten about this lake. I was sure there was a campsite or a car park here.  2h 45 after I left the van, I started looking for the car park.

I tried to think positive thoughts to keep my mind off the pain and the darkness but I just ended up thinking about shit at work and I tried to remind myself that I was out here, enjoying my bike to get away from the shit at work but that just made me cry because I wasn't enjoying riding my bike either.

I tried thinking bout Ireland but it just made me feel sick like I couldn't cope with the excitement and the pure perfection of that race.  I was jealous that I couldn't just roll out my sleeping kit then and there.

Why was I even doing this? Was I even enjoying myself? (NO). I used to have a rule that if you're not enjoying it anymore stop but that was before I discovered racing. Would I enjoy racing now? What did I buy this bike for? What will I do with it if I don't enjoy long distance anymore? Why is it no longer comfortable? Why cant I keep my eyes open?  Why did I convince myself I can enjoy this when clearly I can't?  Who am I doing this for?

I  knew I needed to eat but all I had with me were crisps and marmite cashews. I fancied sugar but had none. I downed he last of my sugary drink from some time ago and only had water. I left the sweets I bought at Gretna in the other waterproof in the van. Why did I change my waterproof?

Finding anything else would involve stopping and touching with wet hands things that I didn't want wet hands to touch, like my jersey pockets, still dry thanks to my Omm waterproof.  My sleeves were piss wet through though, thanks to the hygroscopic motion of water up sleeves from my wet gloves.

Finally some tents appeared on the lake shore and across the road a wooden building that looked like a village hall, glowed cheap blue paint reflections through the rain.  Some kind of outside light flickered ominously like every bad poltergeist movie there ever was.

I randomly wondered if there would be any shelter by the building - a porch would do... or the toilets!  Those ones - right there!  By the signpost! Now then! Hopes were dashed just as quickly.

My rapid dismissal of any qualms about the prospect of sleeping on a floor covered in someone else's piss were just as quickly dashed by the disappointment of a pay-machine (would I have the right change?) which said 'shut' on the price. Double slap-down.

Round the back, the disabled loo was firmly locked (no pay to pee here) but it did have a plastic lean-to roof shelter which included that elusive dry patch of concrete.

My fate was sealed.

I rang Andrew immediately so that I wouldn't go into hypothermia before he got there. It took me a while to get the phone to work as the screen was saturated and it thought all buttons were being pressed at once and I couldn't find a dry surface to wipe the screen on.

With him on his way, I set about making myself as warm as possible. Suddenly the brain started working. I guess it finally had something it could get on board with.  The waterproof came off and the oh-shit coat went back on - a bit damp but it is synthetic so it should still work.

It seemed like the only dry long sleeve top I had with me was my wind proof so I stuck that on underneath the oh-shit coat and ditched my wet club jersey.  The windproof went on inside out of course because that was easier than turning the sleeves the right way out with wet skin.

The waterproof hung up to drip dry in case I had to carry on to find Andrew when he couldn't find me.

I kept my wet leggings on over my wet 3/4 tights and wet wool socks. Even if they were wet they were keeping the breeze off. I found a dry fleecy jersey but rather than re-juggling the oh shit coat one more time I decided to wear this jersey over my head for extra warmth.  The club jersey went over my knees like an old lady blanket as the body was dry and insulating but the sodden sleeves hung down by my side and slapped on the floor.

I slumped against the door of the disabled toilet.  After a few moments I popped around the front and put one of my rear lights on a picnic bench to indicate my position to Andrew and hoped no-one would helpfully pick it up as they passed.

I had crisps and I tried to use them but they wouldn't go down so they sat, opened by my side. I had made the right choice to stop. So why would the sleep now not come?

I tried lying down but it was too cold so I had to make do with my head on my knees and I snoozed.

Two guys turned up and joined me in the dry space.  It was a pair from Derby Mercury.  We talked a little. I had thought I was the lanterne rouge but they'd caught me up.  I enquired about my neighbours from the Gala car park and they reported that they were also on the road behind us.  The guys changed tops and ate then packed up again just as Andrew arrived. It was dawning and a little bit of me wanted to go with Derby Mercury but having summoned rescue I felt like I should use it.  I checked the weather for them.  The rain was due to ease of at 6am - in 1 hours time - and cease completely by 7.

I was so tempted to go with them but in the end, even more tempted to get in the van.  My muscles were ok (given the circumstances) but my wrists and ankles were shot.

It was still raining and despite the DNF, the end of the RRtY and the Super Brevet for this year, I realised the place I needed to be right now was safe and asleep in the back of my van, not lying on the piss stained step of a toilet block or dead in a ditch on the A708 to Moffat. It was the right decision on this day.

So what did go wrong?

Head winds: shouldn't have fought them, shouldn't have taken off like a rocket to keep with people waaay above my fitness just for a tow.

Lunch: should have stopped sooner. Might have had more company that way later in the day.

Dinner: maybe chips and haggis not such a great idea on this one

Dresscode: I actually felt ok all the way back to Gala but then I got a soaking and decided to stop. Instead of wrapping myself up in my oh-shit coat I should have stuck with my previous waterproof layers which had worked well all day and maybe just added the wool gilet. Instead I sweated like mad in the new waterproofs and made the dehydration situation steadily worse.  I definitely want to get another thin wool jersey for wet audax days as it really did the job. Drying out quick but keeping me warm regardless of how wet.

The rain legs really are the best wet weather gear for riding legs except extreme cold.

Toes: the one that was hurting could have had a much shorter toe nail. BASICS! ARGH!

Un-tinted glasses. Forgot them. Could have made a difference if I didn't have to blink the water out of my eyes and stop falling asleep at the same time.

Lack of planning. I planned the clock on this one to the nth degree and,as it happens - I nailed it the plan and beat it. Where I hit the plan I did OK. Where I exceeded the plan I had gone too fast or not stopped where I should have. In doing that level of planning I forgot to think about feed stops properly and freelanced too much.  Where I needed a long sit down my only options were chippie or supermarket.  If I had ridden slower I could have done Brampton instead for good food.

Stopping: I know from TAW that when I stop, I stop hard. It takes me hours to get going again. Clearly we have also learned that stopping for 30 minutes is just not enough. My current theory is now I need to carry something to sleep under or in, in emergency sleep situations instead of trying to preempt sleep. I think I might have been better off keeping going from Gala with my bivi on board and getting miles under my belt whilst my legs were mobile before stopping only when I needed it.

Three hours sleep and sacrificing the fast plan would probably have had a much better effect than 30 minutes with some time in the tank for later.  Of course I can not know the outcome of this until I try it.

Eating: when it's wet I don't like to stop. The TT bars are currently in the way of my food bag. I have to be used to life without these for PBP so getting rid of my TT bars might improve my on the road feeding habits.  I'd be better off with two feed bags up front.  I scaled it down with the intention of stopping more... then didn't stop more.  The saddle pack, though lighter, didn't give me easy access to my lock so I half filled my only feed bag with the lock - which I then didn't use because I didn't stop

The oh-shit coat works and I did call for help too soon. I doubt I would have completed especially given how I feel today but I think I could have continued for longer to find out how I went.  I didn't die of hypothermia, in fact I was quite toasty in my coat using a damp jersey as a blanket and managed to help the Derby guy do up his coat because of it - which was nice.

Going too fast: Pacing is important!  At least beat my 300k record by 13 minutes - which ain't bad for an extra 800m of climbing.

It wasn't just mental. I was, and still am, in a lot of pain. More training. Some insole mods and possibly reverting to old shoes. Back strength. Arms wrists. Saddle bruising (no chafing yay!)

Headaches. Like the food, I stopped going into bags to look for anything and to keep everything dry. I need a lightweight removable bike light to supplement my immobile dynamo light for rooting for stuff in bags - particularly paracetamol which, on post-ride inspection were right there! Where they should have been.

No more camping before bad weather audaxes. Was fine in sunshine last time but I don't need a sleepless night before that again!

Finally: Despite knowing that I did the right thing at the time, the pangs of envy I felt as I saw Tache riding back in the opposite direction at 5pm on Sunday were overwhelming.  I am on the radar for a late season completion - to be confirmed when I have come to my senses - or at least after I have eaten some lunch.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

A hilly day out

I went out for a ride yesterday.

I enjoyed TSK's company for the first 50k of the ride out to a little cafe bookshop on the edge of Derbyshire.  We stopped at Hope on the way for traditional second breakfast then lunched on oatcakes before he headed home in a round about way and I set off into the Goyt Valley to play on some hills.

First I rode over the Cat & Fiddle like it was the easiest thing in the world then dropped down into the Goyt at Lamaload reservoir and hauled up a few 30% rises in amongst the 20% ones.  After that it eased off to the usual climb over Whingather rocks and Pym Chair to drop down towards Whaley Bridge, from where I planned to ride to Glossop on main roads before heading home.

However, I got distracted by some fine little lanes coming off the Kettleshulme Road and joined them to do some exploring.  I wondered why my dad had never taken me this way when I was a kid.  The sign, "Not Suitable for motor vehicles" is sometimes welcome, sometimes bad news.  This one certainly had me on the brakes and then off them again really quickly as I hit large swathes of gravel.

I kept my Dignity (literally, managed to keep the bike up and me on top of it) then set about the climb back out as the needle hit 30% again and my heart rate hit 180.  I realised why dad never took me this way as I stared at the road, 4 feet from my face and started to haul up the other side.  Mind you, my legs were still in pretty good shape at this point.

I mean I'd only done 70km.

Down the other side and I dropped into a little village, looking at the Garmin I was heading for New Mills and then Hadfield.  It took me a while to realise that the village was Disley on the A6!  One wrong turn and I'd be in Stockport in 10 minutes.  I had inadvertently almost ridden to my parents house and still had to get home with my legs full of hill.

I set about finding a nice way into Glossop from Disley.  I squirrelled between Hayfield and Marple (Marple!) past places like Thornsett and Mellor - places I'd heard of but never been.  I popped out on to a main road to be passed by some knob in a blue fiesta who was clearly so threatened by me he needed to roar his engine as he passed.  OK the legs were starting to get tired now.

We both took a turn into the Rowarth road.  I hesitated at the end to check the map as there was a dead end sign on the post at the end of the lane.  There seemed to be a bridlepath through and I hesitated as to whether to go that way but concluded that: I had the right bike, it wasn't far, it's been dry, the benefit outweighed the inconvenience, I could always turn around and come back.  Both me and Mr angry overshot the lane into the village.  I waited patiently for him to roar past the other way whilst I turned around in the road then followed him up to the carpark whereby I passed him as he poured all his offspring out in the carpark, like a woodlouse releasing its young, and started heading for the pub.

I bounced steadily over the speed bumps designed to prevent intrepid motorists continuing.  I saw my bridlepath but continued along the lane in hope, only to find it barred by a Private Road gate so I retraced and tackled the gravel and baby's head boulders.

It was only around 300m long and spit me out onto another pleasant lane which eventually took me up to the Hayfield - Charlesworth road which I doubled-back on to join the Chunnal descent into Glossop.

Yeah, I was finally properly cooked.  It was 4:30pm and hungry.

A wavering motorist hanging right without any indicators then changing to a left turn had me slamming on the brakes and skidding in the road.  That woke me up and reduced me to a shaking bundle of mess as I walked into the Glossop Costa, by now in dire need of cooling down, caffeinating and a feed.

I sat on the bench outside.  2135m of climbing in 97km.  Oops.  That's good.  Only the Snake Pass to go. 

It took me a while to get warmed up but once I did I enjoyed the Snake immensely.  I didn't have much gusto left but I just churned it out. 1hr 44 mins to the front door, including a swing up to Moscar Top to try and sneak a few more metres climbing.

It was dinner time when I got in after 133km and 2688m of up.  Vaguely tempted to go out and bag a further 70km on the flat after dinner to round it up but not really.  The last stage of the tour was calling, to watch the presentation we missed last weekend.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Nae Bother to Us Audax 400km

Approximately by checkpoint:

1-why am I stoping already? 37km to Moorebattle

2 - 67km Wooler. I will have a scone with Darren from Durham. Darren then disappeared and was replaced by Simon who talked quite a lot about his fitness numbers (audax rarity), Rich and Esmond who were nice.

3- 96km Berwick is backwards. I don't like towns.  Got cash and carried on

4-143km why did I not eat at Berwick?  Snacking all the way to Eglingham and the pub with lovely salmon sandwiches.


5 - 187km Elsdon Best 'gypsy toast' finally at 13.30!  Marion and Alan did indeed look after my every need.
Richard enjoying the village green 


6-that was fast, does 'gypsy toast' have cocaine in it?  What was all that off road about?
Demonstrating the capabilities of the Lauf forks by photographing Rich and Esmond on the move... on a trail

Dropping people in headwinds across the moors (thanks TAW). Never ending ups and downs.

207km Freestyle dinner stop - Chinese food in Bellingham where we finally found the vegan diabetic some chips!   Rich moaned a bit and huffed a lot and updated me (badly) on distance and elevations, earning himself the title, "Data".
Catching up with "Mersey" on the moors

Went off on my own on the next bit.  Just as I was getting low on energy a bat flew into my throat. That got the adrenaline going.

7- 286km OH MY GOD I JUST RODE COAST TO COAST and NOW I AM GOING BACK! Beattock. Cool. Beattock is a summit pass  on the M74. That explains why I have been feeling like I was riding uphill all the time.
Moorland and floral displays

8- 324km When will this headwind end? What shall I get from McDonald's? I acquire James, a South African whose mate just dropped out into a B&B. Rich goes back to find Esmond who got lost leaving Gretna services. James is much faster but is using me as a pacer and a brain as he isn't local and is tired from nursing his mate around all day. He disappears as soon as the Arrivee is next control.

By 3am I had reverted to singing 90's pop as a deterrent to snoozles.

9-340km Moffatt then here comes the sun doobe doobe. Where has my tail wind gone? I deserve a fucking tail wind! These boys are nice but why do I feel like their mum? Now I wish they would stop talking because I have no more answers. How did I not just crash? I was cycling in my sleep.  The guys switch back and forth between getting on my nerves and saving my life by keeping me awake with chatter until they stop for a team puke! (not really but it's what it looked like to me).


407km Arrivee - I must be good at this as I have not been sick yet. Why do Mc Donalds not do salad at 7am? How can I be so hot and shivering cold at once?

How's it feel now?
Lots of sleeping. Now re-caffeinating as have withdrawl. Last coffee was 3am in Johnstonebridge.

Was the weather good? Almost perfect in the day (20C max) except headwinds on top though nowt compared to Ireland so I just had to listen to everyone else grumble. An offshore thunder storm in Gretna caused showers which cooled the climb till sunrise.

Any aches and pains? Just knees and very fatigued in general. Backside pain rating at 6/10 where TAW was 9/10. I need to flatten the saddle a little for improvements but couldn't face the faff last night.

Richard made more use of the tiny pot of Irish sudocreme than I did!

Other new friends included Amanda and her husband / partner - PBP veterans on various bikes including solo and tandem (in different years). A 60yr old riding the roadie version of my bike - present to himself. Quite frankly behind the times with this, "buying your retirement" stuff.  A couple from Sheffield, with whom Fitz is a mutual friend so they dot watched us on TAW!

Conclusions:  Brilliant, looking forwards to 600 now.  PBP on the cards.



Sunday, July 15, 2018

My next new favourite thing. MiniTAW. Adventuroar

Playing with words.

After I finished the Transatlantic Way, I wanted to get something done.  Enter something to keep me going.  I had audaxes to book for my RrTY and wanted to decide whether to do and organise my third Torino Nice Rally or whether to commit to something else.  I have it in my mind that next year I will either return to the Transatlantic Way or head up to Scotland for the Highland Trail race.  So I had my eye on a few Scottish mountain bike and cyclo-cross enduro events.  There's also the 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross in September where, the last few years, I have been steadily improving my time by doing the Torino Nice Rally 2-3 weeks before.

I've never been sure whether this leaves me just a little too tired to do my best in the race but actually, also, much fitter for the race given 300-odd miles of hilly mountain biking at altitude.

This year, I wanted enough cycling events to keep me trained but also the time to properly develop my hill running and be decently rested, not knackered and unsure of myself.

At first when I got back from TAW I thought I was in quite good form.  I certainly looked the part - not an ounce of body fat on me last week (it's all back now).  I was so used to getting through life tired, I felt positively perky without 100 miles to ride every day.

I managed a few gentle runs of a few kms each then last Friday I felt pretty good.  The lads in the office announced they were off to the pub and since I'd brought my run kit, I decided to do my run then join them in the pub.  I gave myself half an hour so I had to run the whole 7km loop - no walking this time.  After 34 minutes, I ran through the pub doorway, ordered a sandwich and pint of tap water and put on the teeshirt I'd carried round in my hand - something nice to wear once I got to the bar!

On Saturday I went out for a ride with Norton Wheelers which was extremely short lived as they rode away into the distance so I went off and did my own 135km ride to make up for it.  It was bloody hilly and I cruised all the hills in a way that I have not known the day after my first 7km run in a while.

I made it out to Pym Chair on the edge of Cheshire and rode above the aeroplanes queing up to land in Manchester Airport.  Instead of diverting South of Buxton as per my usual long ride out that way, I decided to ride straight home from Pym Chair.  Buxton was quiet because football and I had 12 miles of the A6 pretty much to myself over to the edges of the Peak where I could get off the A6 and ride into Tideswell for an icecream.

It was hot and tiring and I fell into bed again when I got home.  Needless to say, I gave myself a few days rest, with only one ride to work until Wednesday when England were due to be playing again.

I met up with TSK and Mr Landsley in Eccleshall and wet set out at a moderate pace to go for a pint in Great Longstone, a pub called The Crispin, after my friend.

It was a beautiful ride - the sun was shining, the cars were few and far between and when we arrived at the pub everyone was happy because we had scored a goal.

The beer was really good and so a second one was purchased and we went into sad mode as another goal was scored - this time by the wrong team - still, at least we had extra time to make the journey home.

I left in twilight with a couple of guys who had neglected their rear lighting over the summer and so I did duty at the back whilst charging TSK's light on my dynamo whilst Mr L rode on the front in his bright orange coat.

After the first long descent, TSK had enough red rear light for them to ride ahead up Froggatt leaving me to enjoy the ride at my own pace - one which I was pretty happy with.  TSK waited for me at the top and then we waved to Mr L as we passed him chatting with other friends in the carpark at Lady Cannings, suspectedly trying to procure a rear light.

We rolled into Crookes about 10:45 pm and bought pizza for tea, Dominos staying open 5 minutes late to let us finish eating sitting down.

It's no wonder my legs felt empty for two more days after all this activity and yet, I felt more tired than I have ever known.  I keep trying to remind myself just what I have achieved but it wasn't until 5pm on Friday night I started to feel anywhere near normal.

Just in time for me to go out running yesterday.

Not sure what was best - balancing on a knife edge of tapering and not over-dooing it and desperate to get out an enjoy myself I did a deal to run/walk up to a path I particuarly wanted to investigate.  I took TSK with me as a talisman and set about a relaxed intervals session including quite a lot of walking on the steeps, some running on steeps with recovery on flat and always running downhill except for the tricky stuff.  I'm still re-acquiring ankle and foot strength so didn't want to overdo it.

51 minutes later we were at 5km (incidentally, the speed of my first 5km run after TAW).  TSK decided to head back on the road, I persevered to my path which turned out to be quite far out on the Rivelin Valley and by the time I got to it I was in no way tempted to go further.  In retrospect I probably should have gone exploring rather than continuing on to the end of the Rivelin Reservoirs, down to the dam, up the other side of the valley to avoid the road run then finally dropping back onto the valley-bottom road at 12km with 4km still left to do.  Whilst I knew my legs were tired, I knew I was better off doing a steady run than walking the whole thing which would have taken bloody ages.

I pulled out for an ice cream at the park and then walked up the hill to home.

A really satisfying 10 miles.

SO what to do with a recovery Sunday?

Well, there's a parcel coming with my name on it - a saddle.  One final ditch attempt to find myself a little more comfort on the bike than the Selle Italia.  I'm not sure it's possible but in the rush to find something suitable for TAW I lost the old ISM saddle so I am trying it's fatter brother the ISM PR 3.0.  I'm almost hoping I can wait in for that.

There's bike fettling to be done for next weekend to make sure I have ALL my gears and replacement of an ever-tenuous front deraileur cable whose strands disappear ever further into the recesses of the captive bolt.

There's bags to be packed and a tentative campsite to be booked and a car to be loaded because Thursday is going to come all too soon and on Friday I drive to Galashiels and chill out before the big event.

For the 400 I need a bag that gives me space to store enough food and comfort clothes to get me through the night. Despite two motorway services in the thick of things, there's still over 100km of open road between two controls and whilst food may be available from pubs etc., I am planning to carry enough on-bike nutrition there to save myself the stopping time that comes with ordering pub food and waiting for it to arrive.

There's a time plan to be written to get me through this thing in one piece and, hopefully, keep my RrTY dream alive because if I fail at this one, there's no time to re-sit - short of cancelling a booked day off work and riding a 200k two days after my failed 400.  Hmmm.

In short, there's remembering all the things I need to do to ride an audax.  All the things I need to have (or not have) because I don't get the chance to sleep by the side of the road before waking up 8 hours later and finishing the thing.

Taking me 26 hours (at worst), for all my running friends, this, is the equivalent of your 100kms stuff.

Come on recovery gods - do your thing.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Transatlantic Way - The View from the Back

Preamble.

When I arrived at Trinity College Dublin I raised a slight stir.  A female with a fancy bike.  Lots to talk about.  A group gathered to check in and bike-sit in turn. One guy commented my rear bag was “quite large”.  I spent two days trying to decide what to remove.  I caved in and took the flipflops out but persevered with the pliers as I’d kick myself if I needed those.


Otherwise, I was impressed how serenely calm I could be before the Transatlantic Way.  Through the briefing, up until the end of the day before.  


We had a meal, went to bed, slept (granted it was a little late because of heat and noise outside) then at 6am I woke with the alarm in a blind panic.  I was starting something big today.

Being first in the breakfast line was a strong start. 


Day 1 – Dublin to an Undisclosed Bay

We cycled to the start down a fine little path along the river and herded 9 women to have our photos taken for the start of the ride.


TSK and I were in the first wave.  For a few miles he kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure I was still in the pack of 20 guys until I finally said, “stop worrying about me and just ride!”  At the next roundabout he went straight on and I turned left.  I didn’t expect that would be the last I’d see of him for the rest of the race but I didn’t expect us to go our separate ways so soon.

The first bit of the ride was beautiful, scenic and relaxed.  I eventually turned away from all of the other competitors – much to the surprise of the 3 blokes sat on my wheel. 

For a while the traffic was intensely busy on my route but I did manage to get off the nasty R road on to some back lanes and cut a few corners off before I fell in to a village for lunch – this first audax control suited my lunch stop and although TSK had already eaten, he rocked up from around the corner as he had been chasing me for the last 2 miles.

He set off whilst I finished lunch and then peeled off in a different direction.  I dodged a major dual carriage way by joining a local lane and then a long Sustrans Towpath which ran North for 50 miles.  Perfect, paved, traffic free, riverside roads.



Towards 150km I was stricken with a puncture.  I found a lovely rock to sit on and fixed it calmly and methodically.  I pumped up the tube but then when I unscrewed the nozzle on the pump, the valve body itself unscrewed, letting all the air out, just as a pair of dog-walkers were passing.  They hung around and chatted as I worked.  I deployed the pliers for the first time to fix the valve nozzle tight before trying again.  The older lady pointed out I had “a big hill ahead”.  The younger one said, “Christ mum, the lady can’t even fix the wheel, don’t rub it in”.  They offered to go and fetch a pump but I refused under race rules and also because, having deployed the pliers, I knew I had it fixed. They still said they were going to drive back up the drive in 15 minutes to make sure I’d gone. 

I skirted around the lake which demarks Antrim from the rest of Northern Ireland and skipped in towards Plumbridge just before the mountain range which is far more easily climbed in the West than the East.  Plumbridge was the end of my 200k Audax and I ventured that the shop was now closed at 11:30 so settled for a chippy which offered me too much food and no receipt. 

A Frenchman in his late 50s joined me for dinner.  He had limited English yet insisted on correcting my French.  I bought him a coke to save him having to carry £19.20 in change for the rest of the trip and to address the horror of the shop owner when the guy produced nothing but notes.

It was weird finally joining a steady and growing stream of riders as I was identified as “the lone dot that went off on its own”.  I had already exceeded my “normal” ride distance of 200k by 20km or so but getting to Derry felt like what it was – the first control. 

At about 1:30 am I rolled over towards the bridge.  Getting through the well-illuminated art installation that is the Peace Bridge area was like being stuck in some kind of cruel Krypton Factor game with glass and marble and stainless steel and steps but I made it in the end to a willing group of volunteers and about 5 other riders. 

There was a lot of talking and cooling down so I got away.  I stopped in a petrol station for a chocolate milk and stocked up on some night snacks. 

I didn’t plan to stop in Derry city.  I knew that on day 1 I’d have race excitement and wouldn’t be able to sleep, even if I stopped at a reasonable hour, so I’d already decided to keep going until I dropped on day 1.  I tried my best to advise a Dutch guy who was struggling with his Garmin by suggesting he restarts it but my Dutch and my tolerance for others’ tech problems were reserved for, “just follow the pink line mate, you’ll be fine”. 

I wobbled out of Derry and into the reassuring countryside, pausing in a field to hide from an approaching boy racer insistent on burning tyre rubber and revving his engine as loudly as possible.  I took a leak by some hay bails whilst I considered a camp then carried on going.  The skies were pouring with fog.  I suspected either one of the riders had set fire to their bib shorts or the boy racers were actually fleeing the scene of a crime as an icy wet stream of cloud slicked off the moor.



It felt bloody cold, remedied by my Rapha windproof which was warm enough to keep the chill off, even when the sleeves-wetted out with the combination of fog, sweat and sunscreen. 

I traced my way over two moors which took a long time as I wasn’t yet completely used to the weight of the bike and had to walk some of the hill climbs.  Just as I acknowledged that dark had come, I convinced myself that dawn was on the way.  If I could just make it to that I could get good progress on day 1 – maybe even ride through. 




Unfortunately, coming off the second moor I started to get dozy and awareness of fatigue setting in.  I started looking for bivi spots which combined remoteness and low elevation for warmth.  As I descended some switchbacks, the possibilities were good and then I found a beach with one rider sleeping and another just leaving.  I laid my tent down on the sand (didn’t even try to pitch) and crawled inside with my sleeping bag, closing the midge net behind me to keep the sand flies off.

From my vantage point, over the next two hours, I watched the sun rise out of the sea where I faced vaguely North East.  One of my biggest regrets of the trip is not getting my camera out to record it but… sand flies. 

Day 2 – Undisclosed Bay to Letterkenny

At 7am I got up and went skinny dipping, flashing my full-on bouncing boobs at a lady walking her dog as I leapt over the waves to avoid a full-frontal splash.  I quickly got in, had a rapid swim then ran out and got dry.  Once dry I was warm but I wrapped up and folded away the tent and sleeping bag to pump the blood to make sure.  I brewed up and ate porridge chatted to TSK who had camped elsewhere at midnight and set off early.  The ride out from the beach was hard but by the time I got to the café at the entrance to Malin Head I was in fine spirits.  With a start to the race like that, I didn’t care what happened to the rest of the week – I had nailed my holiday on day 1. 

Approaching Malin head I saw riders outside a shop.  I thought I would get some lead on them if I passed but even better than that, around the corner was a café.  TSK joined me as he was leaving the loop of the island.  I also had a chat to Laura Scott. 

When I left, a number of us were heading one way or the other on Malin Head.  We cycled to the top, took pictures, rested.  Realising I hadn’t cleaned my teeth yet, I used the wonderful washroom facilities.  I nearly had a nervous breakdown when someone flew a drone overhead and I thought it was a Hornet.  Malin Head – places I was looking forward to Number 1.




The coastal roads continued to be gloriously scenic for some distance though I was starting to struggle with snoozies.  On noticing a sign to a bird hide I remembered these are excellent places to sleep. I spent some time in one in Kent once, wishing I’d brought my sleeping bag and not booked into the fancy pub for my work trip. 

I pushed my bike down, locked it up outside and slept for 40 minutes in the happy hum of the wooden hut.  All insects were outside, it smelled of pine and it was womb-like – warm and dark.  I put my head on my shoes and kept my knees propped against the wall to aid recovery and not get in the way of anyone entering.  I needn’t have worried.  I lay undisturbed.

Eventually the lovely country lanes degenerated into a main road nightmare.  As I hauled along the hard shoulder, a chap passed me on a road bike, calling out, “Hey, Don’t you remember me from last night?”  It’s usually a worrying thing for a girl to hear.  Indeed the local cycling club rider, manning the control in Derry, had a short conversation with me the night before about not riding as a couple with our respective other-halves.  He rode away, leaving me with the advice not to stay in Letterkenny overnight.

The main road got worse and as I barrelled along trying desperately to zone-out the traffic with my head down I found my first cash-haul of the race.  A whole £1.  I started to doubt if I was on the right route but realised that Ireland is not just one long chain of beautiful rural villages but requires the occasional main road effort to link areas together.  In Letterkenny there was nothing that persuaded me to stay and a few things that persuaded me not to – traffic, old lady busses, my new friend’s advice.  As I rounded the last roundabout out of town, a middle aged drunken man rushed to his feet, ran across the pavement to ask me the time.  I’m sure he was just waiting for a bus but he was a bit too close to comfort and a bit too eager to be near me so I shouted 8:24 as I sprinted away. 

I was a bit annoyed at myself as I had few supplies on board.  I kept riding until I found the last place that probably still belongs to Letterkenny – a restaurant / pub called Larkins.  They were still open at 9pm and brought my food promptly.  I got chatting to the manager about what we were doing and about local sports people and as I found myself nodding off, I asked if they had anywhere I could sleep. 

I was presented with a grand open grassy area near the stream.  I camped up against the fence under the cover of trees and chatted to the owner who came out for a cigarette.  I turned a blind eye as they burned their rubbish in the “incinerator” (metal box), hoping no sparks would set fire to the tent and bedded down for the best nights’ sleep I’ve ever had between two roads.

Day 3 – Letterkenny to Crolly

At 7 am I was awake with the light.  I packed up my stuff then sat on the deck out the front of the pub to eat what fruit and cereal bars I had.  Next: Glen Veigh.  I’d been looking forwards to this – number 2.

As I approached Glen Veigh I caught up with James, taking pictures.  He was riding on a Brompton and explained to me he had a spare chain ring in case his knees started to give him trouble on the ride.  He didn’t want to put it on as it would deprive him of all power on downhills and even the flats (with a good tail wind).  At the end of his explanation my own bike started playing up and I lost my top 5 gears.  Not really knowing what the problem was, I said I’d address it at the next village. 


The descent was great fun.  Adrian (the organiser) had asked me to look for a spot which someone had lost off their bike.  Although I had the tracker location I didn’t know my own location as my phone chose that moment to stop offering me the internet.  I called Adrian but my tracker wasn’t updating my position, so clearly we were in a GPS blackspot.  James didn’t see the spot either as he walked his Brompton down the descent so we figured it had jumped off the side of the path.  I did my best to keep up with James on the flat with only 5 gears and we arrived at the café not far apart for lunch together… or breakfast – or whatever you want to call it. 


We climbed out of the café and onto the next long descent where, despite my tricky gears which I found I could now get up to 9th gear by bunnhopping, I left James well behind, freewheeling the Brompton.  I was just pleased I could now bunnyhop a 20kg bike that I could hardly lift last week.

As I stood on the pedals to power up the hill on the edges of Falcarragh, I switched down some gears and snap! My gear cable failed completely.  Like a bolt of lightning it instantly dawned on me that I had none of the little tube one needs to do an internal cable replacement on my bike.  It would have been grammes to carry but I did not even think of it. 

James offered to help but I sent him on his way as I shouted, “Good news: know what the problem is. Bad news: gotta fix it”

I brought some tape for this exact reason and set about cutting down the old cable and retrieving its innards from my lever.  It snapped right at the lever (caused by a bad handlebar tape job by me) and I needed my pliers to retrieve the snapped ends.  I taped together the old and new ends of cable and tried to pull it through – no luck. It was just too fat for the hole. 

A lady came out and offered help and, realising she couldn’t help, tea.  I was too polite and desperate to say no.  Whilst I drank my tea and stared at it, waiting for the answer to come she went to get Kevin from next door who “has a bike” and he brought his tools.  He also brought strimmer twine but sellotape really doesn’t stick anything well with stainless steel so I insisted on persevering with the cable.  Kevin made loads of silly suggestions including turning the bike upside down to let gravity work on the cable to pull it up the tube.  Stupid Kevin – rules of the Velomnati exclude turning bikes upside down but also I needed to get the cable down the tube not up it… but then his reasoning helped me think… I did need a better cable as a lead and suddenly realised I had brought two cables with me! 

By this point the third rider had stopped to offer me help and spare cable but finally we were all under control and (this time with confidence) I could tell them it was in the bag. 

I boldly pulled out the old cable, pushed the spare new cable up the hole and gripped it with my wonder-pliers through the massive cable ports (thank you Kinesis / Mike Hall geniuses) then tape-wrapped it to the new cable and pulled it all back.  Three of us held our breath as the cable gradually wobbled out of the hole to a great sigh of relief.  The lady made more tea.


I finished the cable routing, explaining to Kevin what I was doing.  To make him feel better about his tools, I used the 10mm spanner to tighten the nut on my multitool that was coming loose.  It didn’t need tightening really but it made Kevin feel useful.

The lady invited me to wash my hands in her sink and apologised for the mess.  I explained I had 3 bikes in my kitchen and a few dishes in the sink was nothing.  I left 2 hours after the cable snapped. 

2 hours later I was in Crolly.  On my Google reccee I’d been keen to stop at Crolly campsite but as the day had progressed I’d originally put it out of my mind with the intention of continuing.  However, it was 6pm, I’d not eaten dinner, was hungry and staring down the barrel of a long climb or two.  I decided to call it a night, camp and shower and head to the pub for dinner.  



I ate a steak and talked a lot of French to some Irish couples who come to the pub to practice their French every week.  I had a half pint of beer and slept well, despite the midges and one other resident snoring German. 

Day 4 – Crolly to Benabullin

I got a good start on Crolly.  On the road by 6:30.  There was a twinge of regret that I’d not pushed on but it felt good to have a half day in the bag that wasn’t chosen by me failing but was chosen by fate.  It also felt good that my shifter was running a lot smoother.


As I left Ardara I was passed by a van advertising popcorn and coffee and I thought, “Imagine if he’s set up at the top”.  When I saw him set up at the top; well, I thought I was imagining it.  

I sat patiently on the wall whilst he boiled his water and threw some corn in the machine then enjoyed a half bag of popcorn and excellent coffee before embarking on the second climb of the day then dropping back to the coast.  Suddenly all we could see to the West was Canada (imagining). 




The views across the peat bog were unchanging: miles of moorland stretching away.  No buildings given that they would sink into the peat bog, never to be seen again.  Eventually I pulled into Donegal itself.  Of all the beautiful restaurants on offer, I didn’t fancy company that day.  Instead I fancied crispy beef and boiled rice with some spring rolls.  The Chinese takeaway at the end of the harbour obliged and I sat on a bench watching tourists get off a seal-watching craft whilst I dunked my rice in the sticky spicy sauce and dribbled spring roll juice on my knees.

It’s a good job I stocked up on high energy produce because when I pushed my bike away I felt my headset wobble like a sack of potatoes.  I’d had a sneaking suspicion since the ferry terminal that there was a problem and now it was manifest, on my radar, noticeable.  I took the top cap off the headset, engaged the allen key and watched the expander bolt disappear down into the depths of the fork.  The bit that was supposed to hold the front wheel to the rest of my bike was not working well.  It was a miracle I made it down GlenVeigh in one piece.

Asshats. 

I took every bag off my bike and turned the bugger upside down.  Velomnati rules say: Fuck the rules when you’ve dropped the headset bolt down your head tube.  Thankfully, it dropped right back out again and, bike righted, I set about tensioning it approximately so that the whole damn thing would be held together again.  At least without any bags on the bike I could check the alignment and then once the bags were on the bike, I didn’t have to look at it for the rest of the trip. 

I rode away from Donegal like I was riding a new bike.

TSK had commented that the Sligo day was much less scenic (euphemism for hilly) than Donegal and so it transpired as I continued on towards Sligo along rolling coastlines.  As I turned onto a minor road, I saw a sign for hostel accommodation which sometimes implies a campsite too.  Enquiring with an elderly man scraping the moss off the wall around his house, I established the location of the accommodation but after inspecting the dorm (all that was left), I decided I had a few more hours in the legs and less desperation for a bed in the presence of others.  I said I’d do the horseshoe into the local hills then see if I felt like coming back later.  The climb ahead of me only seemed to be about 450m and 10km ish so about the same as the “Surprise View” climb near home.  The view from the top was indeed a surprise as the sun set over the islands and inlets and gave a great light show of silver.




Descending from there took me into a forest where I found a covering of sturdy trees, a limited breeze for risking branch-fall but just enough to keep the midges sensible.  I stumbled around in the dark a bit with the bike, climbing over fallen trunks but settled for the night secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be discovered.  


I did stand on a tent pole in the dark and snapped it 4 inches from the end which wasn’t a problem on the night due to the excellent furrows of the perfectly aligned tree patterns.  It was however a worry for me over the next few days – would the pole and the tent survive a breeze and rainfall and keep me dry?  In all likelihood I could make Connemara by early evening and could stay there to shelter if I wanted to but I’d like to carry on.  I checked the weather, it was getting wetter but wind speeds were just picking up to a modest 20 mph.

Day 5 – Benabullin to Ballycastle

Dignity and I climbed our way out of the trees in the morning and headed into Sligo for Breakfast.  I pulled into a car park to brew up but didn’t have enough water for a coffee so I packed my stove back up.  As I zipped it into my frame bag, a sharp pain shot through my back.  It had been niggling all morning and now it was properly gone.  I gingerly lowered myself to the hard ground and tried to massage it out using my legs then rolled on it.  More shooting pains.  I lay still for a while then levered myself back onto my feet.  I could at least, it seemed, stand up. 

It seemed my race was over.  I considered getting into Sligo to see a doctor or physio but decided that they would only tell me to keep it moving so I tried a walk. 

I did a lap of the carpark. 

I tried pushing my bike – that was possible.

I would at least walk into town and make a decision as to what to do.  If I had to walk all day, at least I’d make 15-20 miles progress. 

After 2 minutes walking down the road I decided to do a deal with my body and see if we could ride the bike.  Leaning forward to get my foot over the frame was the hard part.  Setting off was the hard part.  I could just about ride with my body hunched over like an old lady so I got on the drops and started my ride into Sligo.  So long as I didn’t need to stop too often I’d be OK – as we approached the city with traffic lights.

The lights were mercifully green. I went into the pharmacy then the café to get coffee and cake for breakfast.  I sat on a bench watching people meet for the first time and wondering what to do.  The Ibuprofen I’d taken in the morning started to kick in and I wolfed down the Co-codamol and applied deep heat to my lower back. 

I concluded there was nothing better to do than try so, as well as taking the drugs, I got my allen keys out again and moved the saddle forward and tilted it to take as much strain off my back as possible.  I then went on to complete a loop of Sligo.  I still have no idea what that loop was in there for as I didn’t notice any particularly stunning scenery, though all my effort was concentrated on one pedal stroke after the next and not hitting any potholes that might give me grief.  The loop brought me to a Super ValU store where I sat to eat with the teenage school children congregating where I’d left my bike.  No-one wanted to sit with the smelly old bike lady with twigs in her hair so I was soon on my own again.

I could climb hills in my lowest gear, still hunched over the handlebars like I was sprinting against Mark Cavendish on a very slow summit finish.  Where I was no longer able to sustain the ridiculous riding position, I got off and walked the hills thinking, “brilliant, I am 1/3 in to this adventure and I’m already walking the little hills.  This is going to be one long challenge”.



A little later I arrived at Esky – a place I’d sussed for a bivi spot and one which encouraged me to go look at the Tower located there.  I ate food in the lee of the Tower then used the public facilities (which were few and far between) to fill my water bottles and empty well… other stuff.

I decided the best thing I could do was give my back a night in a real bed so I started looking for B&Bs.  The scenery along the coast was amazing, looking over towards Achill Island – my 3rd place to look forwards to on the trip.  I noticed a big sign for a B&B which looked new but decided to just knock on doors.  My main aim was a village with a café called Mary’s.  It would probably be closed by the time I got there but that gave scope for other eateries surely.


When I reached Ballycastle the first thing I saw was a sign for free camping in the beer garden of the pub.  Very tempting but I had promised my back a night on a real mattress.  After several conversations with several different villagers, the owner of the B&B I’d been aiming for decided he didn’t want to work and instead I ended up in the company of an ex-Manchester cop, Mary and her little daughter, Mollie. 

In the midst of all this I learned that TSK’s uncle Mike had taken a fall and was in hospital, very near to death.  He was one of the few Rodgerses outside of close family that I had any opportunity to spend time with as they lived locally.  On my wedding day he put his arm around me and said, “You look like a strong woman.  Rodgers men need strong women”. 

Mary made me a new bed and ran her own bath for me to relax my back, chatted for a while then left me to my bed.  I ate my emergency food and slept like a log.



Renewed, I set off with the intention of making Conemara to the usual local voice of, “That’s an awfully long way” as well as some mutterings about wind.  At this point I hadn’t learned to stop listening to those voices and had to keep checking my race notes to make sure it was feasible.  There was Achill Island in the way – so it would depend how hilly that was.  It was a long way to Conemara but it was actually going to be my last ditch attempt to catch up the rest of the race – or at least the back-of-the-middle of it.

Day 6 – Ballycastle to Achill Island

I rode away from Mary’s watching the scenery go by in the fleeting sunshine.  Achill Island – the places I’m looking forward to seeing number 3.  There was a long way to go and as the coastline disappeared it was replaced with long expanses of low moorland road linking small clusters of houses that could hardly be called villages.  They went on and on without coffee or sustenance until lunchtime. 

I’d used up all of the food I bought from England on the way to one lonely garage at the end of a long straight road.  I bought cheese, tomatoes and pancakes and settled down to make my own coffee, having suffered a rather bad petrol station one the day before.  


A little reminder

As I was paying, the lady on the counter advised me that “gale force winds are coming”. I needed to check this out.  The wind speeds were rising to 20 but I hadn’t checked the gusts and she was right – up to 50 mph gusts were on the way.

Once I’d brewed up an, admittedly, luke-warm coffee and eaten lunch, I felt much better.  I had my first sighting of another rider in two days – Julie Bienvenue.  I was all perky and filled with lunch.  She was arriving (as I had) empty and shallow.  We exchanged a few pleasantries but I got on my way.  I was really pleased when she caught me up later and we rode some distance together on the approach to Achill Island, chatting animatedly about being women working in mens’ worlds.  I thought I had it tough in engineering, she works for French cycle clothing company, “Café du Cycliste”.  We compared high-end kit, me in full Rapha for the day, her in CdC.  We rode side by side under the rules except for thinning to single file for passing cars, where she surged ahead and I got ahead on the downhills like the crazy beast I am.

I told her about my interactions with a Dutch guy who couldn’t operate his Garmin on day 1 and she told me about an Irish guy navigating the whole thing on his phone.  Oh how we laughed at others’ adventures.  Welcome to the party guys.

We separated at the Achill Sound Bridge as the tide seethed underneath us and I went to top up water and buy food in the Spar and Julie stopped for food in a café.  I spent time talking to the Achill Island dot-watchers who had seen us arrive on their trip out for barbeque meat.  They told me to look out for their food stash outside their house on the second loop of the island.

I set off for my loops.  It’s difficult to describe Achill Island as the word “beautiful” doesn’t cut it.  Great cliffs rise out of the sea.  Beaches span acres of open sand with big field spaces in between.  Hidden coves house amazing swim spots with sandy shores.  Blue-green waters tickle at the toes of black rock.  In between, rangey hills tempt the hiker (or fell runner) to conquer rolling peaks.  Tiny colourful cottages dot the shores and pepper the roads and there are so few people there.


By the time I reached the most Westerly point, I desperately wanted to stop there, on one of those beaches and watch the sun set and wake up there in the morning and go for a swim but I couldn’t because a) I was racing and b) the storm was coming.  Any notion I had of a romantic skinny dip in the morning would literally be pissed on, and no doubt about it.

As I continued my loop I was further haunted by perfect bivi spots on remote sandy beaches with rocky coastlines like combs poking into the water.  Then there was the cross-over point where the first loop becomes the second loop – big open campsite fields which seem to go on for miles with views of the mountains.  


The second loop seemed a little crueller  I found the house of the dot-watchers with a “Welcome TAW riders” sign, bottle of water, chocolate and bananas. 

No sign of any BBQ so I carried on up to the top of the hill to sit on a bench overlooking their house and eat my banana.  I scooped down and up the other side of the next climb to a car waiting at the top, two big guys jumping up and down cheering, “Come on Andrea!”  We exchanged an empty banana skin for a full one and had a quick chat before they watched me climb the zig zag slopes out of the second loop.  I bloody had to ride it with them watching me across the valley.

By the time I was leaving the Island it was drawing close to a late dinner.  I fell into the Achill Sound Hotel at around 9pm and begged for food.  The choices were chicken goujons or scampi.  Scampi was perfect and I wolfed down the mushy peas, which I usually give a wide berth.  Thoughts of 50mph winds and lashing rain starting any time soon filled me with anxiety and dread as I nodded into my dinner for the fifth time.  I texted TSK to tell him where I was and he replied with, “stayed there 2 days ago, lovely bloke”. 

The secret was out.  What would I do?  I could use this advantage of being there at 9pm, fed and watered to get some gain on my two day delay.  The road ahead was all Greenway which TSK described as “lovely with plenty of bivi opportunities” but did I want to risk my tent with its broken pole in 50mph winds.  No.  Did I want to risk not finding any other accommodation? No. 

So far on Ireland, alternative bivi shelters – bus stops, abandoned buildings (without a new build right next door) were completely rare at best.

I checked on the price of the room.  40 Euros without breakfast.  SOLD.  My bike was locked in the lobby of the hotel on full view for the night (slightly unnerving but it gave me good incentive to be up at 6:30 to make sure it wasn’t left unlocked with the patrons).  As I wheeled it inside, the rain was already quite insistent.

I got clean but didn’t do any laundry because I wouldn’t be able to dry it off.  I got my tent pole out and taped it with tough-tape but it was still floppy like the most uninspiring penis ever so I packed it away temporarily and wondered what to do next with that.  I checked my race notes and made a plan for Connemara the next day – looking forwards to a free night of accommodation and a great hostel experience.  I would arrive early and sleep but then leave early and continue as I meant to.  I dropped into a fitful sleep with dreams of Achill Island.

Day 7 – Achill Island to Connemara

Porridge eaten, coffee made, all with the joy of an electric kettle.  I was sorry to leave the island – particularly because it was raining quite heavily.  My disappointment was soon replaced with the joy of the Greenway off the Island and through Mulranny to Newport.  17 miles of traffic free cycling.  TSK was right, there were numerous bivi spots but many quite far away from Achill Island.  The rain fell consistently.  The Greenway dodged on and off the road and I never really was sure if I should keep following it or get on the road so I went with the flow, getting on and off from time to time but in the end the Greenway was more enjoyable so I stuck with it.  I rode a rollercoaster of, “I could have done this last night” / “I’m glad I wasn’t doing this last night”.

At one point I dropped off it into a town offering a “proper café” at the convenience store but when I got there the café was shut and there was just machine coffee which looked bad so I pushed my bike back up the 30% grade hill, rejoined the Greenway and later came across a sign for Rosies with distance markers 1km, 500m then a map (!) telling me how to get to it and it was right on the route. 

I hung my wet coat and trousers to drip in the porch, grabbed a cushion for my tush and revelled in them spoiling me with coffee and pancakes with Nutella.

Through the bright lights and big city of Westport, I felt a little out of place and it was a relief to start heading back out along coastal roads, finally towards Connemara.  I had a few checks of Trackleaders along here, to see where Julie had got to and noticing that another rider, Patrick Marren was also nearby.  I was a little jealous of Julie who seemed to have spent the night on Achill Island though I was glad to have been back to the mainland by the time the rain hit.

I didn’t really notice the weather getting worse.  As I started to climb the mountain range of Connemara, I still had my waterproof jacket sleeves pulled up to my elbows as it was warm enough to enjoy the weather.  About half way up, I pulled those sleeves down over my forearms, introducing a big slug of water to the inside of my coat.  And up I climbed.

With the warmth of the climb, I was still comfortable until I reached the summit.  A number of cafes / restaurants presented themselves but the thought of getting cold and taking off wet layers, only to need to put them back on again, was too much to bear so I kept riding.

As I started on the downhill, the wind picked up.  Gusts were blowing me 5ft across the road so I cycled right down the middle of the roadway.  It was just wide enough for a car in each direction so I was effectively blocking the road.  If a driver had approached from behind they would have had to wait for me to sort myself out before they passed (good) and thankfully, none did.  Oncoming drivers I could see so I had enough time to move gingerly over to the edge of the road and put my feet down for security to avoid being blown 3ft off the edge of the road into the wet bracken or worse, buffeted onto the wrong side of the road into the path of an over-taking driver.

In addition, I started watching for the 50mph gusts moving across the heather and stopped to put my feet down so that they couldn’t do me any harm.  As they blew over, I waddled along astride my bike for they were short-lived enough that it wasn’t worth me getting off and back on again.  Only two coaches scared the living daylights out of me.

The scenery was still awesome in all its wetness.  I didn’t particularly want to stop to photograph the epic places I had previously considered beautiful bivi opportunities but I did shelter in front of one stopped van to picture Dough Lake, giving a thumbs-up to the occupants of the vehicle for sheltering me before setting off again, jabbing at my Garmin map to zoom out to cries of “Where is the fucking hostel!!!”.



I was colder during this trip than I was during the storm.  For instance, I didn’t put my gloves on at all through the storm.  However, by the time I reached the hostel, the water coming in the neck of my coat had met with the residual water off my forearms and the sweat rising up from my belly to completely saturate me through inside my coat.  I didn’t really want to add any more layers and get them wet. 

I splashed into the hostel grounds.  I knew the race organisation had left the day before but I still almost expected that someone at the hostel would be looking out for us.  Apart from another riders’ bike outside there was no-one there.  A note on reception said, “we return at 5pm, please make yourself at home.  Coffee, tea…” (you had me at “coffee, tea”).  I took my waterproofs off and my jersey and hung them up, made a coffee and sat down to check Trackleaders, catch up with friends and wait for my free night’s accommodation.

I’d just started on my coffee when Julie arrived.  She had watched my coat disappearing down the descent and decided that it must be possible so had set out to follow me down the hill.  We had a chat and then she left to talk to her husband on the phone.  The warden arrived and there was much talk of whether or not people had booked.  “I was just hanging onto the coat tails of the Transatlantic way” I said.  He laughed at me and coldly said, “They left on Saturday”.  So much for the hero’s welcome.

As Julie and I chatted, Patrick introduced himself.

I was charged 42 Euros for my room which I relented on, muttering something about him having a captive market.  Patrick (who emerged from the bar) booked into the last single room at 35 Euros and Julie was ripped off for a private family room at 60 Euros. 

I must have looked poor because my 42 Euro room had 4 beds in it too.  It also smelled of drain and so I had to have the windows open to let the smell out.  On the plus side, I got the radiator working so promptly baked and slung all my kit and shoes all over the place to dry. 

I set about making my dinner and kept looking outside at the rain and wind.  I wished I’d turned down my room and got another 30 miles down the road to the next hostel but then I was drying and my kit was drying and surely I’d be able to sleep right? 

I cooked my dried “curryrice” whilst all the other international beautiful young things cooked fresh fried mushrooms and ham pasta sauce and exquisite Chinese dishes.  I didn’t see either of the other riders.  A twitter comment lodged in my brain, @CrispyCX commented, “seems like it’s all going to plan… if there is a plan” and I acknowledged that, beyond surviving day 1, riding 100 miles a day average and my race notes which were a rough idea of potential bivi spots every 50 miles, I really had no more of a race plan.  So I decided to make myself a race plan – or two – to help me get to the finish line in time.  My 100 mile a day target was OK but I didn’t have any margin for error or disaster so I came up with a plan to over- achieve and one to get me to the end in once piece.  A just-in-time plan.

I reluctantly went back to my room to sleep.  My sleeping bag was airing.  I slept under the duvet.  I had the feeling that I was drying the mattress out, not the other way around.  Although the room was warm, the wind whisked through the windows that I had to have open to get rid of the smell and the storm raged outside.  I was used to this and the earplugs kept enough of that noise out and the eye mask kept enough of the uplighters light out but then the hefalumps started upstairs.  People moving.  Every time I woke up I looked at my watch. 10pm, 11pm, 12:30, 1am. 

I started to think I would need a decent night’s sleep at some point soon.  I tried dragging my duvet into the common room but there were no sofas just chairs. I fell asleep instantly but was aware that I wouldn’t be in a good physical state in the morning if I slept draped over a chair.  Then some beautiful young things walked through the common room at 1 am turning all the lights on. 

I found my phone and stood in reception to get wifi to book the Travelodge in Galway ahead.  I’d need another good night’s sleep to recover from this one and the storm and if I didn’t NEED it I’d cancel the room tomorrow.  The manager appeared from nowhere (2am by now) asking if there was a problem. 

The banging noises were a bunch of youngsters staying upstairs.  Not them but their “carers” who were getting up every hour to check on them - waking people who then traipsed to the loo every 5 minutes, activating the fan in the bathroom and arrrrghhh!.  He went to have a word.  When he returned, I was still booking my hotel so he assumed I was still dissatisfied and gave me the key to a dorm all to myself.  The only downside – the dash across the carpark in the thick of the storm.  It was worth it.  I slept through the night in a single bunk, peaceful as anything.  I had my next night’s accommodation booked and despite intentions to get back on the road at 4am, the storm forecast 50mph winds through the night until 8am.  I vowed to be up at 7.

When I returned to my room in the morning it still stank but my stuff was bone dry thanks to the radiator. 

I unpacked the milk and butter for the communal breakfasts and helped myself to cereal and toast before most others were up then hit the road as planned.  This photo is a remarkable reflection of the eye of the storm.  At no time do I remember it being this sunny.


Day 8 – Connemara to Galway.

The first thing I noticed this day was the plush-looking alternate hostel 30 miles later.  There were things like 5 stars and “luxury budget accommodation” and it was stone fronted with a view over a lake.  I just kept thinking of all the dry clothing I was carrying and my glee at finding no-one else’s bike had left before mine.


Riding to my new plan, all I had to do with this day was make it to Galway and I set that as a really decent target in my head.  If anything, I wanted to make it beyond but I had this decision to make about whether to cancel my room before 12 and get my money back.  The weather wasn’t great and the wind was still vicious but a sizeable portion of it was at my back as I headed inland for Galway.  I remember Patrick screaming past me, “Paaaayyyybaaack!”.  Then we stopped and got coffee.

By 11:45 I had consolidated my thoughts.  A stay at Galway would be a luxury but one that I wanted to take.  The best thing about Travelodges is they have no expectations of their customers.  I could rock in any time, put my bike in my room and leave whenever I wanted.  I kept the booking. 


Patrick and I rolled in and out of company.  The final time we met that day was at the end of the open road into Galway.  His friend had advised him it was a shitty road to ride on at rush hour and as it was 5pm, he had stopped for a couple of hours to charge his devices as without a dynamo he had no other power supply.  I ate my food then decided the traffic couldn’t be worse than Sheffield commuter traffic so set off at 6pm to make my way into town.  Patrick was going to ride after rush hour then find somewhere on the South side of Galway to stop.   

As he sipped his coffee and plugged in his devices to charge, I said, “Right, I’m going to ride on because if I sit here chatting all day, I’m never going to finish this thing.”

“Ah fek off then”, he said, “You leave me on my own”. 

I wasn’t sure if he was serious or joking but tried to smile my way through the discomfort.  I actually felt some guilt as I left him behind and spent the next part of my busy ride through traffic half hoping that he would suddenly appear from behind me.  When he did, he rocked past and disappeared into the distance.

As predicted, the clerk at Galway Travelodge turned a blind eye as I walked my bike up the stairs.  I went to a petrol station shop to replace my “curryrice” and porridge pot and to buy supplies for the morning then the desk clerk recommended me a shoreside restaurant which was impeccable.  Hake with asparagus risotto, soup, desert, tea. 

I wobbled back to my room then dug out the pole from my tent.  Riding that day, two days after I snapped the pole, I suddenly had a thought about splinted bones in first aid emergencies and realised that I had the perfect implements in my bag to fix the tent pole.  Within 40 minutes, the pole was taped and splinted using a camping knife and a channel-section tent peg bound with a spare guy rope.  It didn’t just look strong, it looked stronger than before.

The last thing I did when I went to bed was check trackleaders to see where TSK was and where Patrick had got to.  Patrick was just ahead of me on the road, bivvied (by the looks of it) in a bay outside Galway as he had planned.  I noticed that Julie had also stopped in town and I had caught up to Iona.  As I got into bed, I heard the familiar tick tick bang of someone else wheeling a bike into the room across the hallway.  My excitement was short-lived as TSK texted me to say that had both ridden straight to Galway in the morning and the next thing they both scratched.  Though happy I was “beating” them, I was sorry not to have a proper race on my hands any more – just Patrick left to go.

Clearly where I had been thinking, “Aha! Weather, this is what I trained for…”, others were coming to the conclusion that they could not go on if it was going to be like this.  Julie had confided in me that she enjoyed bike touring but was not enjoying the push to get out and race every day.  I was.  I enjoyed the need to keep travelling.  Sure, there were things I missed out on as I flew through the countryside but there is no WAY I would have done that much riding on my own without the drive of racing it.

I retired to my bed sleepy at 11pm and got up at 3am to leave. A (different) happy desk clerk muttered something, I turned, to say, “Pardon”, expecting some bullshit about bikes in rooms or, ”What the fuck are you doing up at this hour?” and he repeated, “Have a nice ride.”

Day 9 – Galway to Ballyduff

Finally, uncle Mike’s passing caught up with me.  I’m not going to pretend like he was my favourite uncle (I hardly had chance to find out) but he was an outdoorsy man and although much older than many people who “die young”, he died suddenly and it doesn’t seem fair.  Death is never nice right? 

A pleasant 4am start seemed a fitting day to dedicate to Uncle Mike and the general process of death and processing death.  His spirit jumped out of the grass at me as I took my jacket and waterproof trousers off in the 8am sun.  It stayed with me all that day and the next around to the Connemara loop up Connor pass and as I rode through the Cathedral of mother nature and prayed to the beauty of the place and then I think I left him behind on the descent down the other side.

I waved at Patrick as I passed whilst he was packing up his overnight kit.  He caught me up later in Cliften and we ate brunch in the sunshine outside a café whilst a fleet of French tourists jumped off a coach to quiz me on my titanium frame and Lauff forks.  The fascination with my bike by strangers gave them the affectionate title of, “my fan club”.  They continued to follow me around the route wherever I was – never the same people, just a constant train of interested persons.  Some who had the confidence to ask me about my ride, others who just gazed on it as I hid around a corner or at a table with coffee, trying not to get dragged into a conversation.


I left Patrick to his device charging (it was starting to dawn on me that this was the guy without gps) and I headed out across the coast again towards places I was looking forwards to seeing Number 4 – the Burren.



As I rode the Burren I thought to myself, “If ever Purgatory was based on a place, it is the Burren”.  Patrick continued with the stories: an army general once said of the Burren, “Not enough wood to hang a man, not enough water to drown a man and not enough earth to bury a man”.  Oh bless the British Army’s ambivalence for life.

It was indeed a place to consider death.  Thousands of people died on the Burren during the potato famine in a clusterfuck which involved “refugees” walking from one town to another in search of food vouchers only to be told, you’ve come to the wrong place, go back to where you came from.  After being fed they were dispatched to bury their own dead in mass graves on the Burren.  Like the Somme or Auchwitz It is a place where you can feel the spirits. 

There are also wonderful signs of life on the Burren.  Species which don’t grow anywhere else on the British Isles flourish in the tiny crevices between the limestone slabs.  It’s like the Yorkshire Dales on acid and maybe that’s why I found myself in awe of the place.  It was 5 times bigger than I’d expected.

At the top, a bike lock sat on the wall and I thought, “I bet that’s one of our lots’” but I wasn’t going to carry it around with me for a week so I kept going to the summit.

There was a shop at the summit – thankfully.  I had a list of things I should’ve bought in Galway in my head.  At the top of it was Savlon as my saddle sores – though not bad – were now extensive and neither bum butter nor Nivea cream were helping.  I also wanted to buy dried rice since last night’s replacement for “curryrice” was uncle bens boil in the bag and since partially hydrated, that’s awfully heavy.  I also needed more porridge pot. 

Things changed dramatically when a coach full of French tourists descended on a shop no bigger than an average English living room.  I grabbed biscuits and sweets, a packet of crisps and ran.  Thankfully the French were all too occupied with hankering after the closed café and looking for toilets to give me the fan club treatment.

From the Burren I dropped down to Doolin caves where, mercifully, the café seemed open.  I locked up and stood with intent next to the café, waiting patiently whilst the desk clerk sold tickets for the tour to more French tourists.  Eventually she asked, “Did you want coffee?”

“Erm, well, I was hoping for food too”.  It was 10:30am but I was ready for lunch.  I took great pleasure in sitting in the industrial-sized conservatory on a comfy sofa reading a coffee table book about ancient Ireland whilst I waited for Dawn the café lady to arrive for her shift.


She was jolly and gorgeous and happy.  I chatted with her colleague before she started her shift.  A girl who had moved out of her flat and was now enjoying living alone on a campsite in her tent on her own.  “My boyfriend used to do the tent and I used to leave him to it, I just got in the way”.  She had checked her own guys on her second hand army tent and had shored up her pitch with rocks in the middle of storm Hector and was feeling very proud of herself.  She was just about to buy an electric bike for her 13 mile commute to Doolin Caves every day.  I gave her advice to invest in decent cycling shorts instead of forking out for suspension on her new bike.  I felt that she would be just fine.  Otherwise skinny, blonde and a little meek, she reminded me of a girl I was 23 years ago.

Past Doolin were the cliffs of Moher.  Places I was looking forward to seeing number 5.  I had a bivi spot planned here if I needed it but instead I was rocking past at 11am with a semi-tail wind and tourists were everywhere.  The grossly over-commercial carpark was heaving and I bolted to avoid getting stopped at the pedestrian crossing half way down the roaring descent.  All I saw of the cliffs of Moher were the grassy slopes of the inland side.  Things I really need to come back and see number 1… but probably a bit more out of the tourist rush season.

I rushed past Spanish Point beach – another potential skinny dipping location.

By now, I was close to the ferry over the Shannon Estuary and the boundary between County Clare and Limerick.  Unfortunately, beyond Moher, the plains were relentless and the headwind / crosswind almost unbearable.  

Where Trep considers taking alternative
transport to the finish
My average speed was 13km/hr for 2 hours before I finally turned my back to it with 12 miles to go and I increased to 18km/hr.  I stopped at Kilee to eat and checked trackleaders.  Patrick had gotten past me somewhere and put substantial distance into me.  My heart sank a little and I kind of resigned to spending the rest of the trip alone.  I don’t mind it but do admit that with another rider to chat to, I took my mind off my legs and tried that little bit harder to stay in touch and wind away the hours rather than mincing about on my own.

This is a big learning for me.  As someone who is introverted in the positive sense (I don’t need the company of others to motivate me), I didn’t realise just how much faster I can go with someone else around.  I was more surprised that I can maintain that extra speed and effort at no detriment to my long-term performance.  I was getting fitter than I realised and it was my own sense of fatigue and fear of overstretching myself that was holding me back. 

Anyway, I ploughed on for the ferry alone.  Head down in the cross wind, head up with the tail wind, I grew closer to the population of Killimer.  There’s a big power station near Killimer.  Not much else but it is, nevertheless, a big employer and there’s a sudden increase in the number and value of the homes along the road. 

Big caravan parks face the Atlantic and the sun shone through the blades of wind turbines as grumpy clouds on the other side of the estuary gave a taste of things to come.  As I rode over one of the power station service roads on a bridge, a lone roe deer trotted down the middle of the road underneath me.  It seemed out of place but still a reminder of the remoteness of the area. 

I knew I would make the ferry in good time before sailings stopped at 8pm but it was still a relief to get there at 5pm without mechanical intervention.  Any missed sailing would put me substantially behind Patrick. 

Two guys were outside the terminal chatting about farming and passing on family businesses and it is something I talk about with a little authority.  They told me not to bother about getting on this ferry as they go every half hour.  I relaxed and enjoyed my tea and icecream and watched another touring cyclist get on board the waiting ferry.  After my icecream and half way through my tea, I checked trackleaders.  Patrick was right on the other side of the ferry!

He’d obviously stopped for dinner which is exactly what I was going to do.  If I got on the ferry it would see me within 45 minutes of him, even if he left the pub now.  I downed my tea, said hurried goodbyes to my farmer friends and sprinted on to the ferry.  I was the last customer to board.


Meanwhile, back in the office, my major contract was finally signed and when I got on the ferry I found I had a text message indicating as much.  After a brief fist pump I realised I was still more excited to be on the ferry and chasing down Patrick.  New plans started to form.  I was now going to ride through the night – or at least as late as possible to get ahead of him.  I won’t call him lazy but he did seem to be sticking to reasonable hours (semi reasonable) and yet he rode so much faster than me – hence why we kept exchanging positions.

First task – eating.  The pub was pleasant.  Having seen sheep all day, I was really keen on lamb and that’s exactly what was on the dinner menu.  The barmaid did all the leg work, taking my order at the table and bringing me more drinks.  Absolute hero.  An important match of kick-ball seemed to deflect any conversation/questions about where I was going / came from.  I checked my phone and TSK was asking if I was going to make Tralee.  I wasn’t planning on it but it was an interesting concept and one which I thought I’d try to take on.

I got back on the road after a massive cake and custard combo that would see me through till late at night.

At Ballybunion as the sun had just set, I went to look at the beach to scope it for camping but it was a busy town and not yet late enough for people to have gone to bed.  Clearly a bit of a party town on Friday night, I shared the beach with twenteens wearing short skirts and drinking alcopops.  I took a picture, went to the loo and decided against Ballybunion as a place to stay.

It started to rain soon after and my ride through the night approach started to wane when I realised that this was one part of Ireland that did not have empty roads late at night.  The proximity of all that industry meant that there were a fair number of drivers on wet 100kph roads, first going to the pub and then later – more worryingly – coming back from the pub.  The passes got closer and closer, the speeds more terrifying, the rain heavier.  I got more scared and cold.  It was past the hour where it is acceptable to turn up at a B&B soaking wet and demand someone open the garage for your bike but eventually I had to concede that if I saw a B&B with the light on I would do so for my own safety. 

At one point I got off the bike at a river and scoped the shore for a good pitch but it was exposed, rocky and there was a lot of noisy passing traffic.  I scoured the Garmin for signs of valleys where I could get out of the wind but I was to ride along the coast and it was all exposed.  I was gradually descending into the desperation that would see me camped in a graveyard (not yet managed to find the courage) or banging down someone’s door.

Finally, like a mirage, some lights appeared in the distance and, as I propped my bike up outside I was pleased to find that it wasn’t just a pub but an Inn.  Opening the door, 35 men welcomed me in, asked if I was “a bit wet” and waited patiently whilst I distracted the barmaid from pouring Guinness to check if they had a room.  A lot of checking ensued during which I got colder but in the end I was handed the keys to room 2 with the warning, “I don’t know how much it is”. 

Dignity was shown to the smoking room where the barmaid “promised to keep an eye on it”.  I locked Dignity to a leg of a substantial catering unit and left her to enjoy the company of strangers whilst I took three soggy bags into my room.  I chose the smaller of the two beds to sleep in to minimise fuss for the manager and had a glorious shower in a room tiled floor to ceiling.  I dried myself of bathsheet sized fluffy towels after I conditioned my hair.  Abject luxury. 

I nervously checked the published rate on line £123!!!! I accepted it as emergency accommodation – potentially life saving. 

In the morning, a fast-moving Irish lady was confused to be faced by two single women – both athletes – until I explained I’d arrived late and was not a part of the couple who had reserved their stay. 

Erin Green and I got talking.  She is entered for the Heaver Triathlon (half-distance as her first tri!) and had come to Ireland to do the half marathon taking place that day.  I exclaimed that she was brave to jump straight into a half Ironman distance instead of starting with a standard or sprint.  Her response was, “I’m better at endurance and I’m just too stubborn to quit”.  She sounds like someone I know.

By this point I could have jacked in the race to go and watch Erin.  Although my room was plush, there was no heating so I was staring in the face of another day in wet shorts on saddle sores (still no savlon) and trying to dry my kit in wavering weather.  I was saving the dry shorts for another, more predictable day.

As I left, Erin appeared saying, “here she is, brave girl on a bike”… “or stupid” I said. 

“No, stubborn”, she said, “that’s the word”. 


I stubbornly kicked off and started riding back into the headwind and intermittent drizzle. 

Day 10 – Ballyduff to Inch

At Ballyheigue I stopped at the petrol station, resolute to find savlon.  I had started asking for the toilets first, promising to be a customer to whoever could offer me customer toilets.  The lady behind the counter said, “yes but they’re only for cyclists!” and showed me through the door behind the counter. 

The room was stacked floor to ceiling with bolts, washers and nuts, rivets, screws, every type of hardware going and a big smiley faced sign saying, “please keep this area tidy”.  I looked confused – I wasn’t to pee in here surely?  “Up the stairs she urged”.

I went up the metal stairs and into the loft where I passed more hardware and various bits of farm machinery to the small toilet cubicle at the end.

On my return, I picked some food items then asked for Savlon.  She walked me over to the toiletries counter, leading me by the arm then whispered whilst giggling, “there was a man in here a few days ago doing a bike race, all the way from Dublin to Derry and along the Wild Atlantic way!”  Conspiratorially I told her that I was the back end of the same race.  She giggled again.  “He left this stuff, cream, well, butter really, said if anyone else wanted it they could have it!  Do you want that?” We both laughed out loud.  “problem is I said, it didn’t do me any good and now I’ve got to deal with the consequences”. 

She giggled again and she eventually produced Sudocreme.  I hold my hands up, this is the only thing my ex-husband ever taught me. Somehow he found out that Nicholas’s nappy rash cream was great for dealing with the kind of chaffing men get from mountaineering and so I bought the whole goddamn hefty pot of the stuff.

My small and measly custom came to a whole 6.80Euro.  “So how is it going? The race?” she said.  “Well, OK,” I answered.  “I mean, I’m right at the back but if I finish, I’ll be 9th woman”. 

“Well!!”, she shouted, In a high pitched voice, “You have to finish then! Oh MY! You HAVE to!” and with that we parted company, very happy.

Next stop Tralee.  By the time I reached Tralee the storm was well and truly gone.  The sun was shining and the menu in the café had Burritos on it.  People who live in Sheffield understand the draw of Burritos.  I set off back into fire engine and ambulance sirens and the hubbub of a town for a short time before touting around to the Dingle Peninsula and the impressive Connor Pass, inspiring thoughts of “If God is a DJ… except “If Mother Nature is my Goddess then this is one of her cathedrals” and I rededicated my day to Mike Rodgers and Mike Hall.


I stopped part way up the climb to shift my damp shorts into the mesh bag on the front of my bars as the weather trended more towards drying than wetting.  I then rode the whole goddamn climb.  Booya!
The descent off the other side into Dingle was intensely pleasurable as I got my arse off the saddle for a sizeable period of time and the motorist behind me recognised what was afoot and sat patiently behind me at a distance for 20 kms at speeds topping 48 km/hr.
After the pass, mile after mile of pristine coastline and awesome but frightening climbs ensued where drivers needed to pull over to allow me to pass.  I pretty-much bolted the whole thing out in one and then collapsed, pretty exhausted into the petrol station back in Dingle to do dinner.  


There were a whole host of beautiful restaurants I could have chosen but I didn’t feel like socialising so more cheese and tomatoes complimented a bread roll and yoghurt – after all, I’d had a three course lunch in Tralee.  I’d given up on Patrick-chasing for the day although in the back of my mind, I hoped my simple dinner would see me make some gains.  I enjoyed a sizeable tail wind towards my planned stop for the night – the beach campsite at Inch.

I asked in Sammy’s bar for details of Sammy’s campsite and was referred to the man sitting at the end of the bar, staring intently at his i-pad.  “It’s 5 Euro”, he said, “you can pay me now.” 

“Are you Sammy?” I asked. 
“Yep”. 
“Do you own all of Inch?”
He shrugged.  “Yeah, the good bits”.

We chatted for a while then I set off to pitch my tent.  The lovely tail wind I’d had was blowing straight onto the campsite from the Atlantic.  I pitched as close as was polite to a campervan to use it and the hedge as a windbreak then filled my water bottle and went to the loo.  Ivy grew under the tin roof and down the walls and spiders scurried for cover.  A hose pipe snaked across the room from a tap (clearly the only means of cleaning the bathrooms) and I didn’t dare consider a shower.  It looked icy. 

Inside my lovely tent I texted my mum and dad to wish my dad happy fathers day.  A man who taught me to look after myself in the outdoors and find a place to camp in the lee of a vehicle on a stormy night… and gave me the confidence to splint a broken pole.

I locked my bike to the barbed wire fence near to me but as I settled down for the night I had the uncomfortable feeling that anyone with a pair of wire cutters or tin snips could have it away in no time.  It was a fleeting thought that didn’t take root hard enough for me to not sleep although I awoke the next morning to a dream that a policeman was handing me a notice informing me of a spate of recent thefts in the area. 

I lifted up the canvas at the edge of my tent and to my relief my bike was still there – at least the bits I could see were still there.

The weather report said that the heavy rain was due to stop in 30 minutes so I waited it out.  There’s something else dad taught me – there’s no point getting wet if you don’t have to.  I ate all of the remaining rolos and jelly beans and checked all of the internet (that interests me). 

I texted a friend that I had run out of sweeties and it was still raining.  When he responded, “It’s Ireland, what do you expect?”  I replied, “An old lady in a woolly jumper will bring me more sweeties”.  He said I had a point but unfortunately he could not get the trackleaders satellites to send me more sweeties. 

I packed up and went to unlock my bike.  Suspiciously, after all of my dreams and nervous thoughts, my combination lock was set to 9999.  Whilst it is just as likely to come up as any other number and it was a really shit night for being a bike thief, I couldn’t help think that someone had made a paltry effort to steal my bike and I felt lucky that Inch did not have a hardware store.  I was on the road by 9:30am.

 Day 11 – Inch to Glenbeigh – Fathers’ day

I had breakfast at Castlemaine petrol station.  An elderly gentleman sat next to me scratching away at scratch cards.  I could hardly understand him but attempted to make enough conversation to stop him gambling – at least for today.  He gave up after 10-or-so goes and went home, either persuaded by my charm or bored of listening to me.  I ordered an Irish Breakfast.  I’m not a great fan of sausage and bacon but I asked for no bacon or egg and got extra sausage for my trouble.  4 down. 

My Garmin took me on a cruel diversion around some country lanes and I took on a diversion of my own to avoid, what looked like, 2km of gravel surface and actually turned out to be a pristine section of new road through some road works. 

As I grovelled towards a lunch stop, I noticed a pristine 5 Euro note lying in the road and I took it as a Karma thanks for stopping the old chap gambling – or maybe it was for helping a teenager with flat tyres.

By 1pm I was at Dunloe Gap’s Kate Kearney’s cottage choosing salmon fish cakes and salad and ice cream. 

Horses and traps take up the majority of the traffic on the Gap of Dunloe as well as cyclists and walkers.  Cars are not advised and are likely to lose paintwork as horse traps tear up and down the narrow lane that wobbles over the hill.  After a delightful meal and an icecream in the sun and coffee I was determined to ride the whole thing and did so too, much to the intrigue of many hikers and, I suspect, the annoyance of a few trap drivers who insisted on driving on the wrong side of the road, hollering across the valley at their fellow drivers whilst trying to give tourists some kind of “genuine hair raising experiences”.  

I was confused, a little pissed off and thankful to be alive when I passed over the top.  I’d pretty much run out of patience on the descent and picked my line, stuck to it and braked as little as possible.  Note for next time: this is better done at night.

On the downhill side I found a plethora of wonderful bivi spots by the river in the Black Valley then it was back to the coast around Kenmare and Sneem.  My objective for the day became to chase down Patrick and try, at some point, to overtake him.  Whilst I was unlikely to catch him, I hoped I might pass him if I rode through to late night.  It became feasible for me to reach a rather posh campsite from my list of potential spots to stop.  That in itself was a bit of a gamble, given the poshness and anticipated propensity for grumpy owners and big gates with locks on.

I ate my dinner at Caherdaniel in a pub.  I spotted one with excellent outdoors seating – somewhere to lock my bike and where I could sit with it under shelter.  Unfortunately, a local advised me that they only did toasties and recommended an alternative down the road.  The family just leaving said the food was excellent and hearty – it sounded perfect and I locked up. Before I remembered my bangers-based breakfast I’d already ordered sausages and mash for tea making a total of 7 sausages consumed that day.  I rode on. 

At Waterville I was reminded of a German couple Patrick said he had met at Malin Head.  They said, “we never go to the South, it is too polished”.  As I approached a 7-bedroom (approx.) golden yellow mansion in a plot of pristine grass, I thought, “This is what they mean” but even I had to do a double-take when I noticed the helicopter parked on the lawn.

I nearly rode through Waterville.  It didn’t look like my kind of place either but as I pedalled out of town past the swanky hotel, I noticed a little path down to a smoking area / outdoor table and a handrail that was perfect to lock a bike to.  I took the liberty and reminded myself that if this was an audax, at 9pm I would be treating myself to a hot chocolate before carrying on.

I sat at a quiet table alone and stinky whilst men in rugby shirts with blow-dried hair talked loudly and watched tv.  One fella caught my eye as I marvelled out of the picture windows beyond the bar at the ocean view outside and thought it would be a marvellous place to watch dolphins and drink gin if I were on a normal holiday.  The last of the sun glinted silver off the sea and cloud layer.  The man and I nodded to eachother but no actual words were spoken which was a relief as I realised I wouldn’t be able to recall where I had started the day in answer to the usual question of “where did you ride from?”

Outside, I briefly had the chills before the ups and down of the coastline started to bite.  I was glad for my hot chocolate milk for its energy and cramp-reducing rather than its warming glow.  As I hit the hills, still in shorts and a thin wind-proof top, I started to wonder when the temperatures would drop to evening levels and then I realised that I was as far south as Bristol City and felt rather proud of myself for the distance I had ridden my bike.  Still, the point was to get somewhere useful to sleep.  As I slowly caught up to a club cyclist out for an evening ride, I held back from passing him with all my bags on for a bit.  It was fathers’ day and he definitely looked like someone’s father.  I was clearly in an excellent mood.


The ups and downs kept coming AND it seemed and the road was pretty major.  I wasn’t missing anything as time went by.  The light stayed for what seemed like an eternity so I continued to gaze upon the craggy rock formations of the Skelligs out at sea and cliffs plunging down into ocean depths from the mainland.  Places I’d been looking forward to seeing in Ireland number 6. There was next to no traffic and what did come had all of the space in the world to pass.  I did eventually head over to a “truckstop” area to see if there was any open grass to camp on but it was little more than a hardstanding area so I had a pee in the bushes and continued on my way.

Eventually I started to ride through North-facing coastal towns.  I had been considering crossing the bridge at Portmagee on to Valentino Island for a bivi at the tower but as I arrived about 10pm, I had plenty of miles still in my legs.  A little further on Cathersiveen and Dooks each had a spattering of people heading home from the pub to greet me good evening as they drunkenly wobbled down the highstreets. 

I briefly considered a town centre snooze bivi but there were too many lights on the park benches and a trucker parked nearby that I decided would make for an inquisitive or noisy neighbour. 

Finally I was in GlenBeigh and I was welcomed by a few more drunk people in town before finally stumbling across the campsite.  It was dressed up as a mansion house with a sweeping stone wall gateway leading to a closed gate.  I swore a bit.  It was 2am.

I leant my bike up, got on my knees and tried to quietly lift the bolt on the gate.  I tried to turn the latch but it was locked firm.  Bollocks.  After a brief pause, I considered throwing my bags over the wall, pitching the tent right there and then lifting my bike over behind it.  I peered over the wall to see if the grass was flat.  It was! And so was the paving slab path that led around the gate.  Doh! 

I got my bike and pushed it quietly across the tarmac, found the campers field away from the caravans and pitched in the corner with some touring cyclists.  I then embarked on one of the quietest tent pitches I have ever attempted so as not to wake anyone.  It took such levels of concentration that I hardly remembered that I’d packed my tent away wet that morning.  I was quite impressed that something that had bothered me so much, meant so little in the face of abject fatigue.

The final test was the toilet trip (no key codes or swipe cards, allehuljiah!).  Still, I wasn’t going to bother with a shower.  The light went out and so did I, all except for checking track leaders and rejoicing just a little bit as it seemed I was well ahead of Patrick.  He seemed to be in Waterville – at least 5 hours behind me then.

Day 12 – GlenBeigh to Droum Cross

The extent of the palatial campsite hit when I read those two beautiful words “Campers’ kitchen” on the wall of the building opposite my pitch.

I boiled water with a kettle for porridge and coffee and packed up to go whilst my battery was charging (the battery was not working off the dynamo, to my disgust).  As Norwegian children played and complained in turn, I went out to pay the campsite lady who far from being disgusted at my late arrival just thought it was quite a shame I hadn’t seen the view.  I set out my case for night riding and she agreed it had been a clear, bright night and the traffic free option was the best.  In fact, she suggested I could have just thrown my sleeping bag down on the sofa in the camp kitchen – another to note for next year.

10 Euro lighter but still happier, I hit the road again – this time for the climb back over the Kerry Ring through Moll’s Gap… and the Ballaghbeama Gap which was soulless and cloudful.  


Miles and miles of empty roads ensued and I was glad I hadn’t continued out there since it was the kind of land where you’d not be sure if you were trespassing or not.  I’m sure in daylight there’s loads of good bivi spots but they might not have seemed that way at night.  The road rambled on and on and I was feeling bad.  The porridge pot didn’t quite cut it and I knew I should have picked something up when I left GlenBeigh.

Unfortunately I didn’t and I was massively suffering the consequences of Bonk without the early exercise.  At least I knew that food was coming at the climbers’ inn.  Another potential sleepover option for me but also I assumed would be a big centre with a café.  No such luck.  One old lady doing toasties.  It never occurred to me to order two and with a large clientele to serve, I didn’t want to get in the long line a second time.  I ate my one toastie.  

A friend texted me.  “It looks funny, the way you’re going around this loop”.  I knew it was the right way because I had purposefully split the route for me in the middle to prevent me from making any navigational mistakes.  My route guided me one half of the way around and then the return part of the loop the next day.  Still, it made me check trackleaders and to my astonishment, I realised that Patrick was travelling in the wrong direction.  Whilst not against any race rules, I thought of the climbs and descents I had done and man, I would not have wanted to be in his shoes.  I later found out that he had been aiming for Sneem for dinner and instead found himself in this food-deprived landscape in the evening, desperately hungry.


After the climber’s inn, I faced Moll’s gap and then some beautiful forested country lanes.  They continued on and on and my stomach got more and more empty.  Finally a sign presented for The Strawberry Fields pancakes & crafts.  Many thoughts went through my head of savoury crepes but also crafts made from pancakes or crafts made about pancakes.  It was a silly idea but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  I rode to Strawberry Fields in the rain.

All hopes of a cosy café were dashed as I was shown a seat in a corner away from all the proper guests.  The seat had plastic covered cushions. But the girls were lovely and served me soup, gourmet pancake and a hot chocolate for desert.  The fire was on and other people were talking.  I basked in it.  As a builder went to pay and was told, “Ah it’s a loverly day for working inside” I could feel my feet and my life choices melding into a puddle at my feet.

It was tough to leave but I did, back into the rain but it was easing and gradually I started to remove layers and settle down.  Sadly the legs didn’t.  They were TIRED and didn’t want to be any part of this adventure any more.  The backside was bruised and broken too.  I hardly registered the climb mentally, it seemed like one long succession of short things I didn’t want to ride up.  That was Moll’s Gap.  I’d thought it was yesterday but no, it was killing me today.  I thought about Patrick doing this in reverse without the Strawberry Fields café and really felt for him. 

After Kenmare, quite a lot of the road was monotonous, cocooned in tree and bush cover with nothing to look at but wet trees.  A chap hiking the other way carrying his life on his backpack nodded to me.  I was moving so slowly we had time for a conversation.  “How you doing?” he asked. 

“A bit tired and knackered” I said.  “Me too”, he responded.  “I think I’ll get a pint, I’m looking forward to that”.

It sounded like a great idea.  I started looking at the map for places to stop already.  I cycled through Lauragh which had been on my list as a potential stop but no, definitely too early.  The next one on the list was a campsite at Formanes.  Suddenly it had become dinner time.  I had slipped, during my time on the ring of Kerry, into that never-never-land where time passes on the saddle and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  You get on your bike and ride and suddenly 4 hours later your’re 90km further on and a little peckish.  Meals come when they come and you’re not really sure what to call them unless a person in a café tells you they’re breakfasts, lunch or dinner.

Ardgroom wasn’t on my list of places but it was 7pm and it did have 2 pubs.  I fell into the first one I came to.  It had a pretty lilac bench outside so I set my bike aside, said hello to the little Jack Russell dog outside, locked the bike and walked into the bar.  It was a friendly place.  Families were in.  Football was on.  I ordered my meal, chatted to the barman and told him it was time for my Guinness.  He was busy so no questions about where I had been / was going.

I sat down to wait for my food and checked trackleaders.  Patrick was in the same village.  I stuck my head out, almost expecting to see him ride by but when I couldn’t see his bike at  the other pub I sat back down and enjoyed my meal and my milky pint and got the blogger out to moan.

It was cathartic putting my moans down and I had a few texts back telling me to get on, that it would all be fine tomorrow.  I had to believe that. 

My food was delicious and the pint seemed to have magical properties.  The little dog came in with its owner.  It bounced like my old dog used to (before he got spoiled and fat) and I chatted to his owner who introduced himself as Gary and did ask where I had been and where I was going.  Clearly he took my friendliness in totally the wrong way and offered me both sex (not so tempting) and a bed (no charge except, I assume, the sex).  “I don’t think so, I’m married”, I said with disdain.  Poor fella.  He was quite pretty in an 80’s farm boy kind of way but clearly had 30 years on a farm boy and should have had his hair cut a long time ago.  As a shy 19 year old, I might have fallen for that line. 

As I reached into my jersey pocket to seek my wallet, odour of my body must have wafted in his direction (almost three days and 441 miles since my last shower).  He picked up his meal and went to sit in the window seat, the pub doorway and porch separating me from his table. 

I chatted with the barmaid for a while, letting Gary get engrossed in his meal and the football then thanked the staff and headed out into the evening, prepared to ride to Solas Mor camp in Formaines, hoping a pretty middle aged farm worker with floppy hair and a Jack Russell was not about to start cruising the lanes looking for a bedraggled cyclist to take home and put to bed.

Patrick was standing in the doorway.  Whilst I wasn’t really particularly concerned for my safety (I think my body odour brought Gary to his senses), I was still really happy to see Patrick.  We set off into the sunset together like bedraggled, gangly Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin (let’s not talk about which is which) and started to debate where we were going to sleep together for the night… a complete cosmopolitan counter-culture to Gary.

As the first real (non-gourmet and therefore more substantial) meal of the day soaked into my legs, I started to feel much better.  Brilliant.  My force was kicking in at 8pm.  Bloody marvellous. 

Whilst I was extremely happy to have someone to ride with, I was a little unsure.  The ride is supposed to be solo and unsupported and I always wanted to do it as an individual ride, not holding onto the coat tails of some guy… any guy, even my husband kind of a guy.  


Patrick and I were strict not to draft eachother.  We rode side by side - or the crosswind equivalent - and took it in turns to cycle in front when a car was passing.  I inevitably dropped off the back on the hill climbs cos I am shit at them and he dropped back on the descents where I throw my bike about like a loon.  We talked, we didn’t talk.  He left me behind from time to time then I caught him up whilst he was faffing with his GPS or taking pictures. 

I tried not to let him give me emotional support in the way that chatting to a random stranger does make you move faster – especially when you have been riding alone for 2-3 days.  I can’t say that didn’t happen.  Maybe it was the food, maybe it was the conversation. 

We whooped our way down the hill into Ahillies and past the hostel, now 10 miles since my original plan for an early stop.

As we rode out of Ahillies, Patrick told me about an adventurous trip he had taken out here with his wife to cross over to Dursey Island in the cablecar only to find that the cablecar operator had gone for lunch and never came back.  This was my places to look forward to number 7 and we were going to be there in the dark.

Riding together was more fun around cars.  We could look big enough and ugly enough to get drivers to full-on pull in and let us past.  We wobbled separately around the cablecar station.  Patrick staring at the water for a while and me doing the engineers’ tour of the cablecar station, including an wee in the long grass.  Clearly the Guinness was not welcome in my body as it realised we had other things to do.


We stood together by the sea, watching it crash onto the dark grey rocks below.  We considered staying there but it was windy and loud and exposed so we decided to continue on and see what we found.  It was around 10pm.

Three more hours of chatting ensued with intervals of hill climbs.  Was it the chatting that was helping or the roaring tailwind.  Definitely the latter. 

At 1am we rolled into Droum and spotted the local sports GAA pitch. Whilst Patrick had wanted to get off the peninsula, I have certain rules around not looking a gift horse in the mouth so we went to check out the grassy grounds. 

At the back of the buildings, underneath the trees and away from the floodlighting was perfectly flat grass, already mowed.   A door of the building that was open led to a toilet. It wasn’t wild camping heaven but it was a little potted version of it for tired cyclists (it doesn’t taste quite the same but it’s quick and will do, given the circumstances).

We pitched about 10m apart on our own carefully selected plots and whilst he left his bike against a wall, I locked mine to the tree and then laid it down in the grass so it would not draw attention to us. I slumbered heavily.  Not even the occasional boy racer was going to wake me up.

Day 13 – Droum Cross to Schull

I had a vague temptation to get up early and try a stealthy start to get ahead but it would’ve been futile.  My muscles were leaving me too clumsy and I enjoyed my sleep till about 7. 

We were both on the road by 7:45 and hunting for somewhere to eat.  Most cafs were still closed but a petrol station in Castletown-Bearhaven came to the rescue.  It was my first actual petrol station coffee since the shitty one on day 2 and this time I got the mark of the machine as I let most of the second batch of hot water on my large Americano drain away, giving me a double-shot Americano.  I smiled at Patrick conspiratorially as he shook his head at me… at least I might give his legs a run for their money today.

Unfortunately for me, he’d been into the bike shop next door to borrow their track pump.  When he’d stopped in Tralee a few days earlier they had let more air out of his front tyre than they’d  put in.  Then, when they offered the use of the compressor, found that the compressor only went up to 60 psi.  He was now rocking solid tyres again.  So there would be no stopping him. 

As he plugged in his phone battery I said, “Right, I’m off, I *will* see you later”.  I couldn’t deal with the guilt trip.  He said he’d see me in Glengarriff. 

I used the toilets upstairs from the petrol station.  Dedicated to the whole block of businesses, I peered through the doors of a dance studio with full picture window staring out onto the sea, its wall-length dance mirror reflecting the scenery.  One corner was full of motorcycle parts, the other, crayons, glitter, coloured papers and rolls of fabric, doubling up as the local playgroup.  Clearly a multi-use facility.

When I came down to get on my bike Patrick was laughing at me.  "WHat's that I see on the road ahead, is it Andrea?".  I laughed at him riding off into the distance... so easily.  Fekker!

Problem was, I didn’t really feel like stopping in Glengarriff either but I kept one eye open for his bike, thinking that if I saw it I would at least stop and figure out what my next overnight stop was going to be. 

I didn’t see the bike but I did spot a young guy serving coffee from a caravan.  I’m a sucker for a young guy in a caravan serving coffee so I stopped for a coffee and a cup cake and a chat with a Canadian lady who was “stoked” to find iced coffee so that she could escape her family for 30 minutes every morning of her holiday.  I popped in to a petrol station and collected some supplies, including “Goldenrice” to finally replace my “Curryrice” I’d eaten at Connemara Hostel. I left the boil in the bag Uncle Bens rice on the panier bag of a touring cyclist as a special gift for them on their journey.  Hopefully it didn’t fall off and under their wheel when they least expected it.

I made it a further 12 miles down the road before reaching an actual lunch stop at Bantry where foodie places seemed to naturally ooze from the roadside.   The pi shop seemed to literally sell pie so I parked outside the next and ordered organic salad, soup and a coffee.  I’d finished my lunch when Patrick arrived so I ordered a cake and caught up on the morning’s adventures.  I had finally found someone who suffered the cold more than me and he’d struggled to get going. 

We rode together over to Kilcrohane and when I say together, usual rules applied in that he led away over the hills ahead then paused to photograph and do man things whilst I whooped ahead down the other side.

After a particularly long hill climb upto the top of the peninsula, Patrick stopped to take photos and I went for a lonely wander over the other side of the hill with my bike to sit in the heather (my shorts were round my ankles and I was squatting, if that helps).  I looked out at the scenery, little houses dotting the coastline below, the sea, the peninsulas of the next two days ahead, the brooding grey sky.  My bike and I staggered back to the road and rejoined Patrick on his descent.

“Where did you go?”

“Not quite a poo with a view”, I said, “but similar”.

Patrick said something moderately intelligent about the number of houses for sale or the holiday homes market.  I said, “I’m glad you’re in that place because my brain has just come up with, ‘a wee by the sea’”.

Whilst Patrick suggested my coat wearing was slowing me down on the hills, I said it was very kind but I thought it was my legs. 

At Sheeps Head Peninsula we were over the moon to find a café which was open and serving.  We devoured food, Patrick did his duty and flirted with the old lady on the counter and we attempted to avoid insinuations about us being married to eachother or about us somehow developing a deep bond over this whole cycling together malarkey.  

All I knew is we were both looking forwards immensely to the tail wind home.  Sheeps head: Places I was looking forward to number 7. 

It did not disappoint and after a number of whoops, we found ourselves on the way back out to Mizen Head, our last peninsula of the trip.  The build-up was immeasurable.  The head winds, the cliff tops, the diversions to iconic beach bays, all of which tempted us in to a bivi but we had plans to get off the peninsula again before we stopped.





Patrick led off Mizen Head by some distance and I started to doubt my eyes so late at night as I couldn’t figure out the lie of the beach at Barley Cove.  A pontoon bridge lay across the sand with the tide out and I couldn’t figure it out at all.  I slowed down to get control of my faculties.

We kind of promised ourselves we’d have a meal in a nice pub offering humus but by the time we came back to Barleycove it was shut.  9pm apparently.  We ended up in the chippie chatting to an ex-olympic 200m runner from Portsmouth about the state of holiday homes in Ireland.  Ireland was way more chatty with the bloody chatty man in tow.  I made a resolution there and then to be more Irish in my life going forward.  If only I could remember through the fatigue.  At 9pm though, my fatigue was not an issue.  After chips and curry sauce I was ready to get going. 

I may have whooped substantially as we rolled around switchbacks.  Any other non-race and I’d ride that road again just for the hell of it.

Finally it straightened out into something more conducive to enjoying a tail wind and we slipped in and out of conversation through the late evening.  As we spotted a public park in a little village, my bivi radar went off.  When we discovered it had a shelter and a table I was sold.  I even persuaded the man who wanted to get off the peninsula that it was a good place to stop.  It didn’t take much effort, particularly when he decided that the little grassy hillocks reminded him of tellytubby land.   To be fair I couldn’t argue.

Whilst he wandered off to talk to his wife I got undressed under the shelter then settled down to sleep in just my sleeping bag.  It was such a wonderful evening.  Unfortunately, the temperature did drop just enough for the breeze to gently pick up a sea mist so I decided to pitch my tent after all instead of following any romantic notion of starsleeping that turned into a mass of soggy down sleeping bag.    I pitched between two tellytubby hillocks and left him to the wooden shelter with his self-standing tent.


As I’d paid for a last night’s accommodation when I registered, I had a text from Adrian indicating that a room was booked in Kinsale.

The last thing I did was check trackleaders, out of interest to see what accuracy was on the gps.  Did it show us 100m appart – though our bikes were 3m appart so this was irrelevant?  As I clicked on PM’s dot, I realised he was actually 20 minutes ahead of me in the race anyway.  The bastard was winning!  Well, at least that answered any questions over sprint finishes for the line.  There wasn’t going to be one.  If we finished together, he would be ahead of me by 20 minutes on account of him starting the ride in a different group, 20 minutes behind me on day 1.  I slept a little more soundly, my day 14 plan set in stone. 

Eat, ride, wobble over the line together.

Day 14 – Schull to the finish

The sun was bright and woke me up.   I tried to be quiet again in the shelter but Patrick was already stirring.  “Hey sleepy-head, it’s beautiful out here”, I said as I brewed up hot coffee and poured the porridge out of the bowels of my saddlebag into a pot.

He sprung out of his tent wearing shorts and a tee and screamed, “Fek! It’s freezing!”, looked at me in leggings and a Patagonia jacket and swore again.  “I only said it was beautiful! I didn’t say it was warm”. 

As this beautiful new friend finished getting dressed in the shelter next to me, I exclaimed, “Fucking hell those socks are white! Have you been saving them?”  It wasn’t just the track pump he used in the bike shop but his credit card too, the old socks consigned to the bin.

We hit the road at 8:12 and Ballydehob brought us breakfast in the form of a petrol station and a windowsill.  A passing campervan converter with a passion for travel stopped to chat to us for a while and entertained the extrovert Patrick with stories of motorbiking through India whilst I pottered about my business and allowed the guy to bounce my suspension forks up and down a little.

Real food happened at Skibbereen where the chatty man asked a “local” if she was local and she responded in a beautiful French accent, proceeded to recommend the best coffee shop in town before following us in there and explaining that she had lived in the area for 40 years. 

The coffee, the pancakes and the service were indeed excellent.  Patrick and I stared at eachother in disbelief that we were nearly there.  I explained our 20 minute situation with full intention that we’d be riding into the finish together.  There were still riders behind us on the course so neither of us were going to be last.  We talked of many things.  Some of them started to slip into irrelevance.  I was mindful, as ever that I was supposed to be racing. 

Patrick was, as ever, relaxed about the whole thing.  In retrospect I find it incredible to believe that he is the one who had to get back to work the next day and I was the one who still had two days travel in the bag.  Whilst I didn’t want it to end, I was, by now, very conscious that the organiser had booked me the room for that night and I needed to get back to secure it.  I also had no idea how I was going to get back to Dublin (though I assumed a train would do it) and I thought I might need time to do that. 

When I’d had so little expectation of finishing in any time, never mind a faster time than I needed, I fully expected myself to be absolutely fooked by the time I got here.  Instead, both Patrick and I agreed that we had really ridden into the kind of shape we would have liked to be in at the start of the race.  I guess that is the problem with real life, real jobs, real people.

As he stood up to ask the waitress to charge his battery I took my leave, “right, if I don’t go I’ll never finish this thing, I’ll see you on the road”.  He was getting used to it now.  He came and moved his bike into view and I rode away, ready to spend the next few hours expecting him to materialise.  I always had one half of my mind on him and one half of my mind on the race and the organiser, watching from afar, seeing us travelling together. 

I hoped there was enough on-and-off there to keep us race legal.  I reassured myself with the knowledge that I kept riding alone and Patrick chose to ride with me.  Not that it mattered, not that anyone really was counting (I was totally counting). 

I absolutely appreciated his company and yet I could honestly say with my hand on my heart I would have been fine on my own.  I will also admit that I probably would have taken 16 days on my own, not had such a nice time and probably stressed myself stupid getting back to Dublin.

I started to distance myself mentally from the race, from my lovely new friend and from the fact that it was drawing to a close.  I didn’t want it to end.  The sun was glorious.  The route was distractingly easier.  I looked at the clock.  It was 11am when I left Skibbereen.  I couldn’t stop for lunch too surely?

Patrick would.

Patrick would stop for a long lunch.  I kept hoping he’d show up but I also kept hoping he wouldn’t because then I’d probably stop and I’d just be thinking about finishing the whole time.

If he stopped, and I didn’t, then I could beat him.  Did I want to beat him?  Hell yeah. 

Did he want to beat me?  Not really.  He already admitted he wasn’t at all competitive and yet he’d been vaguely amused that he was beating me by 20 minutes when I told him. 

I looked at my bags – on the front of my bike was a bag full of nuts, goji berries and carob seeds.  They’d been there for 4 days and I genuinely thought I’d lost them until I rediscovered them hiding at the bottom of the bag this morning.  At this point though, it was going to be just the nutrition I needed to get me to the finish.

At 12:30, in a beautiful village called Glendore as I ran out of legs on the hill climb I stopped at a wall overlooking the harbour, sat on the warm stone and ate my “lunch”.  I faced the descent into the village so I had a full view of Patrick approaching so that I could go with him if he passed.  I enjoyed the sun and the passers-by and the lapping of waves on the harbour wall and the coming and going of village business and Patrick never passed. 

I popped into the public facilities when he could have slipped by but he didn’t.  Trackleaders still showed him behind me. 

As I left the village, beautiful people sat at street-side tables and chairs eating lunch and enjoying the sunshine.  I found it hard to believe this place is wild and wet.  I also mildly regretted not stopping for better lunch but the quiet mindfulness I found from eating on my wall was satisfying too.  I made a decision to race Patrick to the finish.

With 40 miles to go, I started to race again.  I hit the tt bars on every flat, I stood for every climb and where it got so steep that I had to walk, I jogged – or at least walked with purpose.  The sun blazed and I trawled my way through ALL of my water.  Thankfully the South coast is a beach paradise and so every beach has a public toilet.  By this point it didn’t matter whether it was drinkable water in the sinks.  I took it in my bottle and gulped it down to offset the sweating from all the effort.  I took the chance for one quick photo of all the beautiful swimming beaches passing me by.  Damn it felt cruel to be racing today but if I'd stopped for a swim I'd definitely have been last.

Dear god there’s a lot of climbs in the last 40 miles.  No more than 100m each but by that point every climb is a mountain and every grade is steep.  I didn’t know if it was worth it or not.  Patrick could come past me at any moment and at that point I would have blown up with the futility of it all but so long as he didn’t I was going to keep riding.  No time to check trackleaders now.

To keep me going I imagined my friends back home watching me ride.  I knew Dan and Becky had been avidly dot watching, as had Jo Jebb and Ruth Marsden.  I imagined my speed had gone up by 2 miles per hour and Becky would know what I was doing.  I imagined Ian Fitz watching, wondering at why I carry all the gear that I do but proud that I was racing it to the end. 

To keep me going on the climbs, I counted them down.  They didn’t seem to pass very quickly, in fact, they seemed to multiply so I stopped.  And then it was there, a village, a town, it was Kinsale.  The sickening sinking feeling in my stomach that it was all over but now the question was, how far ahead of Patrick was I?

The traffic in Kinsale drove me mad.  It was all I could do to avoid screaming, “GET OUT OF MY WAY!” as tourists dithered about the turns and coaches stopped to let people off.  The kaleidoscope of colours was lost on me as I raced through the streets and then was faced with a wall from the harbour to the top of the cliffs above Kinsale.  I was off my bike and walking for one last time.

I rounded the corner of the Kinsale holiday village.  None of the cheers and fanfare I had hoped for when I entered this ride but then I didn’t mind.  It was sunny.  A dad and his son sat on the grass.  I pushed my bike through the carpark and up to some benches to lean it up.  I sat on the grass with my phone and started my stop watch then checked track leaders.  Patrick was still some way behind me.

My phone contained words of encouragement from Becky and Dan and Ian.  “So, must feel good to have all the western peninsulas behind you and finally turned for the home stretch.  Keep powering the pedals”.  “Woo hoo done it! Just brilliant”. “Go On Trep, not far to go now. Hang in there”

Next a text from the Organiser. “Picture at the finish please.  We’re watching and cheering you on.”



I sent the photo then my phone buzzed to life, it was Adrian, the race organiser.  “Well done! Congratulations” he said.  “And, you can give Patrick the good news.  He has the lantern rouge!” (literally, “the red light”, this is the cyclist’s  award for last place on the ride).  The only other rider, Helmut Wagner had to cut off the ride around the ring of Kerry (or mislaid it), giving him a “ride to the finish” status for not completing the whole route.

20 minutes passed.  29 to be fair.  I went to sit on the wall by the drive to capture Patrick’s final moments.  I expected him any second so got the phone out to check trackleaders.  His dot sat right on top of mine… but where was he?

I put the phone down and walked down the driveway, hearing the faint Irish accent nearby chattering away.  Ever the non-competitive, he was standing at the bottom of the driveway, talking to his brother on the phone.  Ever rude, I interrupted with, “Oi! Your dot isn’t bouncing yet!  Get yer arse up here!”


Slightly more politely, he made his excuses with his brother, remounted his bike and posed for a finisher pic crossing the “line”.  Once he’d stopped I held out my hand and he took it.  “I have great news”, I said.  “You have the lantern rouge”. 

Well, I’ve never seen a man so happy to be last.  A true, value for money friend.

We lay in the sun and shared the coconut macaroons I’d been carrying for the last 24 hours whilst Patrick phoned the rest of his relatives and I rang Andrew.

90 minutes passed.  90 fucking minutes.  What the hell did we do for 90 minutes?  We swapped stories.  I gave him a run down on my Patrick-beating afternoon and heard the stories of the wonderful lunch he’d eaten.

We discussed where to stay – he decided to get a room in my B&B and I indicated that there was enough porridge to go around for his early start in the morning.  “No, Andrea”, he said, “we shall dine properly!”

I was looking forward to Breakfast.  I was looking forwards to Dinner.  Damn it was 6:30pm.  Damn I was looking forwards to the rest of my life!

When we eventually found the B&B, I checked in, Patrick checked in.  When we asked for a place to keep bikes, the Polish builder landlord shrugged, said, “In your room?” and as Patrick’s room was upstairs, he put his bike in my room rather than in the hallway where it ”would be safe” – save for the wide open front door.

We went out for a meal where we ate three main meals and drank artisan beer before a customary pint of Murphys (for Cork) where we sat and talked and talked.  We established that the lock I’d found on the Burren was his and whilst it would have been great for me to reunite it with its owner, I wasn’t keen on carrying it *all* the way back to Kinsale, except if I’d only known it was his and could have carried it for half a day. 

We swapped numbers so we could swap some of the photos we’d taken together during the trip.  We ended the evening wobbling back up the hill, slightly drunk and with no core muscles left, under a starry sky to talk of more shite and literally I have no idea what we had left to talk about. 

We did talk about which way I was going to cycle home.  I did look at it on the Garmin but then I did decide that I couldn’t work the Garmin at that point and gave up.

I fell soundly asleep on my mediocre mattress only to be woken at 7:30am, having slept through the alarm, by Patrick knocking on the door.  He had to get back to work and needed his bike.  I threw on a teeshirt, gave this practical stranger and yet new best friend a bra-less hug as I sent him on his way and sat on my bed to cry tears of joy and sadness for the end into my brand new favourite tee.

Closure


Some self-ass-kicking was required.  I needed food and coffee and I needed it fast.  Damn I needed a bra on.  I loaded everything up and headed straight out to find a café.  



Thankfully stuff was open.  The coffee shop was perfect.  After more pancakes, a full breakfast and two cups of coffee I set off on my way to Cork to get the train… I never got the train. 

I stopped in a petrol station to get some more food.  It was starting to become customary.  I couldn’t ride anywhere without a friendly conversation and whilst the only words I took away from one conversation with a very happy and convivial gardener were a million “feks”, this didn’t have to stop.  I had two more days holiday.  Shit, if I got home early, what was I going to do?  Go to work on Friday?  Sit in the garden in Sheffield on Saturday and wish I was back in Ireland?  Fuck that shit, I was riding home. 

I texted the boss, lifted my new rucsac on my back, stuck Dublin in the satnav and started riding.


The rolling hills just kept on giving.  I was tired and yet there were no real steeps here, just miles and miles of one hill after the next.  I’m not going to recount the whole route here as it wasn’t part of the race.  It was like watching the credits roll by at the end of a movie.  Villages came and went. 

I rode through till lunch then dinner and still I rode on.  Looking for somewhere to stop but not really tired.  As the sun set a half moon rose yellow on the horizon, whitening as it climbed and around midnight I finally felt the need to put all my lights on.  I cycled until I felt hungry – which disturbingly came before me needing to sleep.  I stopped in a farmers’ field as far away as I could from houses and set about carefully unpackaging my stove.  The nearest house was about half a mile away and yet still a dog barked whenever I made more than the slightest move and I sat stock still until it was convinced it was hearing things before I continued to light the stove then cook my Goldenrice by the blue-orange tinge of the meths flame.

Despite the warm evening, I huddled round the flame like a moth and enjoyed its warmth. When the rice was cooked using all my water, I heated a cup of rehydration drink with the remaining meths and drank that luke warm then pulled out my sleeping bag and lay out in the dirt with my head on my shoes and slept hard.


About an hour later I woke up cold and rubbed my legs for a while to rekindle the bloodflow before rolling onto one side and going back to sleep.  It was 4:30 am when I woke up again and packed up to go.  Three hours later, the dozies set in and I stopped in another farmers’ gate way for a snooze.  I’d had no more food yet so I lay on my back, cheese on my chest and flitted between eating slices of cheese and sleeping in the ever-warming sun.  At 8am the farmer arrived and I moved on, trying not to take his flock of sheep with me as I neither wanted to shut the gate on him, nor get in his way.  I ended up forming one corner of a triangle of shepherds, directing the stupid sheep who followed me, back into their field.

Finally at 9am I arrived in Athy, an industrial town with a full scale factory, busy with kids going to school, men already at work and cafes open at 9am.  Another full breakfast and a coffee saw me fit for a bit of effort to get myself into Dublin that day. 

My new best friend sent me a text to find out where I was and I heard the sound of his jaw hitting the floor of his office from where I was sat.  No-one, including myself, expected me to have fired off 200km ride the day after finishing the race, never mind 250km by breakfast time.  Another stop in Kilcullen got me into a bijou gift shop café for quinoa and salmon.  I was definitely out of the boonies now.  By 5pm and 326km I was back in the Dublin burbs, on a road that reminded me that Dublin is bigger than trinity college and the city centre and there are places to remind one of Milton Keynes in Dublin – Milton Keynes with better scenery and more lovely accents. 

And so it was here I really did end my journey, at a Spar shop on the edge of town, buying cheap disposable razors to remove the fur from my armpits and legs before I faced the rest of the world.  The story does go on but in my head, the ride ended here.  As I returned to my locked bike, a grandad was parked in a wheelchair at the bottom of the steps whilst his daughter sat on the stairs facing him at eye level so that they could enjoy an icecream together, not apart.  It’s the most positive image I will take away from Dublin because if I didn’t I’d still be riding around the second lap.



I took away with me an overwhelming urge to return to Ireland and a great mystery to solve for next year: Transatlantic Way II or Highland Trail I?

Because that, my friends, is the great big fat question.