Day 7 – Time is the thief, the trick is stealing it back
Pallets are great insulators, sleep came easy but disappointingly I didn’t get on the road until 5am. A brief battle with narrow twisty roads brought the main N70 of the Ring of Kerry Loop. It was quickly obvious this was the Ireland tourism in theme park mode, Sneem was comical. I sat there in the centre of a glossy town straight out of a film set, of course nothing was open, I ate most of the food I had left for breakfast wondering how far up the road Paula and John were, I could only guess. John was the main interest was his huge engine failing it would be nice to see him just once to rekindle a friendship started at the TCR. Chain lubed, shift cables tweaked trying to calm the messy gears and back on the quiet roads.
I can’t hide the fact I didn’t enjoy the Ring of Kerry, early morning blues, the 5 mile Cookamista climb into the mist along with the killer grind all the racers will remember the steep zig-zag over from Coomann to Portmagee it sure wore me down, 50 miles and bonking all ready. I walked into Skelly Mist coffee shop a broken man and walked out ready to take on the world. A full morning service; great breakfast and a good wash and with the bike loaded with plenty of great cakes, their whiskey cake was like rocket fuel. The place was full of people boarding boats to visit the nearby Skellig Islands, tourism in full swing. If anyone was on the road behind me they would have stopped here, I was now certain they were ahead somewhere.
Riding along the coast now looking over the bay back to Inch beach thoughts turned to heading back up to those killer hills of last night. The route crossed here, so I knew where I was going but how did it cross those hills ahead, with 100 miles in the legs I found out. First up a lovely scenic climb to Ballaghbeama gap and then a steadier drag to Molls gap. From here at the very busy café, you could see the track of last nights dark passage cut into the hillside opposite, the memory made me shudder.
At the Balla gap I sat on a rock, cleared my head and considered what lay ahead. It looked like I was on course to arrive at the finish around midnight tomorrow (Friday) earliest. No way that didn’t sound like fun how could I get that down; well take out the 4 hours sleep and that makes for a proper evening of celebration, a plan was formed. There and then I didn’t care where anyone else was, I know I can do 280 miles in 24Hrs so the target was set, ease back and ride non stop to the finish.
The long drop to Kenmare returned to civilization and the coast along with the symbolic crossing into Cork the final county. Another big supermarket feed and set off with intent into the evening along the Lambs head peninsula and trouble; My rear bar end shifter mounting screw came loose, stopping on a steep climb as the shifting failed I watched in horror as several bits fell into the grass below. Panic, a million thoughts flashed through my mind of struggling on with 3 gears, exploding knees, time to calm down.
Slowly finding all the bits, fixing a cross threaded thread with the tip of my knife, making a large screwdriver by scraping my multitool metal tyre lever on the tarmac until it was thin enough. This was proper McGuyver time, I was so happy this didn’t happen in the dark last night. It did answer the question about the poor shifting for the past day, but even though I didn’t find one part it was luckily back to sweet reliable changes.
This was a harsh isolated area, at 7pm in Alihies at last some life, noting a rare hostel on the way through, it was play safe time At the combined garage and market, I had at least 12 hrs Jack fuel to buy. It was comedy service, they offered to make fresh sandwiches then preceded to serve everyone’s petrol ahead of me. I’d drank a coffee, finished some cakes and checked the tracker before finally watching them raid the shelves for the bread and meat.
Wow, John was in that hostel (turns out he watched me ride past as he ate) he definitely was suffering how could I possibly have caught him. Paula a few hours back was also to stay here, John tells a great story of how his plan was blown apart that night, you could say it was slightly unsporting behaviour from a competitor, but he came out of it with great honour. I was honestly surprised that I was now in 2nd, or dismissing BP in the lead, but it gave me great resolve to keep plodding on.
And resolve was needed, not long after setting out the first of many mind funks appeared. Out and back rides down narrow rough tracks to the heads of several peninsula’s. Lambs Head was first up, the pic above shows a dodgy looking cable car over to Dursey island. There was a lovely BnB at this dead end. 9pm and the owner was mowing the lawn, it was so tempting to ask how much to rest in this idyllic location.
Onward these roads were tougher than ever, no flat, constant steep rising and falling rough surfaces. Past Bere island, back to the main land, then SW again down Sheeps head as full darkness fell earlier here.
Sheeps head was first a long tough climb up the North coast, boy that wind, and a fast hairy descent in the dark and wet to Kilcrohane. A very long exposed out and back, was mentally and physically draining. passing a lovely sheltered pub outside seating area twice I found it drawing me in. Resting from the elements, I was so close to getting my head down but fought the urge after a food stop.
Rounding to start the long finger of Mizen Head a race for 200 miles before midnight began. This was important to me I’m involved in a challenge to complete as many imperial tons in a year “the YCC” I wasn’t wasting being this close to a double ton. It was crazy I was racing to meet the midnight deadline, luckily it coincided with a rare flat section round Glengarriff and I made it with 2 minutes to spare. Time for a celebration food stop on the sea front, the first can of red bull came out.
Day 8 – Why are the roads lined with crowds
Mizen Head was next up, there were views of both Bere island and Sheeps head as dawn broke this was a killer, once again riding for so long just to see where you had been hours ago to the North. The final approach was another navigational challenge to a tired brain, don’t mess this up now.
The views around the coves here were a delight, and finally a slight South westerly wind helped progress, but tiredness was taking a grip. I could see people leaning over walls, hiding behind trees watching me, animals jumped out from ditches, oh boy my eyes were playing big tricks, my first ever encounter of hallucinating. I started counting my yawns per minute, fatigue was catching me up, this could only end in a crash.
The first open shop in Schull came to the rescue, I restocked on hot food and coffee with added Redbull, how much caffeine dare I ingest. Down the road I sat on a bench enjoying the beautiful view of the bay, I knew I would fall asleep despite all my attempts, I closed my eyes. All of five minutes later it started raining, back on the road with my emergency high caffeine SIS gel brought all the way from England I still had doubts it would last.
I can’t possibly explain what happened going forward, giving in to the urge to sleep, the act of closing my eyes, it was like a reset. The brain had been conned, I never felt tired or considered sleep from that moment on for the rest of the whole day.
The final day was solid, it was hot, we all got pretty burnt. The first sign for Kinsale said 21Km, bizarrely I started to attack I was loving it, some super fast descents hitting over 50mph, the euphoria of reaching Kinsale dampened by the realisation there was still a drag to cork. Those last miles through Cork were tough but finally I arrived at Blarny castle, my phone bleeped, someone was tracker watching, and there was George Cordall standing out front.
George captured my arrival, he’d just arrived himself on his cut short route, his knee finally giving up on him, I was so glad to see a friendly face, without him it would have been a very lonely empty finish to an epic week, I’m forever grateful buddy.
I’d been awake for just under 38 hours and had ridden 380 miles with 23,000 feet of climbing, the plan worked, arriving before 7pm. A big meal and six celebration pints of Guinness later I was still buzzing as we saw Paula surface after arrival, how is that possible!
Did I win, who the hell knows, I was far from the fastest, I wasn’t the first rider to finish, but I was the first rider to complete the Transatlantic Race 2016, and wasn’t that what we came here for.
It’s a shame and one big mess that only Adrian can unravel. Unofficial Tracklogs timings say; Bernd Paul 6:04:48 Jack Peterson 7:10:03 Paula Regner 7:12:41 John Suter 7:15:40
All the riders who experienced those fantastic views over an epic week will consider themselves winners. It was great to spend the next day resident in the Blarney Castle Hotel bar welcoming riders in and sharing the experiences. George, John, Paula, Daniel, Stephen, Michael, Cristian and Adrian it was a pleasure to share time and experiences with you.
It was pure comedy at the finish, after getting over the shock of not having a room at the hotel we had paid for, me and George could barely stand up let alone walk to our BnB. The day after my ankles had swollen dramatically and I could hardly put my shoes on. Luckily elevating them that second night seemed to drain the fluid retention, but it took many days to recover fully. My legs were fine pedalling to the train at Cork by Sunday, even if I had to force my fat feet in my shoes. This has never happened to me before and the cause remains a mystery!
If your interested in my set up, it was pretty much as I did the TCR in 2015, I don’t obsess over weight and like backup plans. The Salsa Colossal has proved itself superb in my quirky spec. My advice ride your own race and equipment, I’ve lost count of the number of riders who have lusted after my low gearing when the going gets tough, and my hands don’t get numb.
Seatpack: sleeping and waterproofs
Framebag: odds and sods, on the move space for food
Top tube bag: constant refilled trailmix sack, lipbalm and gum
Food Pouch: bars and the odd redbull/coke can
Under Tribar stuffsack: clothes space when removing layers
Apidura grab bag: All the stuff that is never left on the bike, quick release security.
For tons of information on unsupported ultra cycling check out Blue Dot Riders
Day 6: The Grimpeurs day
3am awake and on the road by 4:00, I could have been quicker but breakfast and hot tea was good and I at least wanted to get a glimpse of the fabled Cliffs in first light. The 7am first ferry was never an option, but 8am was the target, 3.5 miles of climbing to the cliff tops soon warmed up the legs. I was powering the pedals having a target was good spurring me on, the ankle felt better helped with a few Ibruprohen. I loved racing through the deserted streets easily making the Ferry in time for coffee and cake at the Harbour. The huge Moneypoint power station on one shore owned by the company I work for ESB, with ourTarbet station over the river Shannon briefly reminding me of life outside cycling. A huge contrast to the piles of Peat used as staple fuel by much of the coastal communities we’d passed through so far.
Primed and ready straight off the ramp of the ferry it was time to go hunting. this was a chance to compare progress knowing three riders had done the same exactly one hour ago. I liked this section of the ride, small deserted roads, more of a agricultural feel than previously with yet more glorious coastal views. I rode hard for three hours before deciding to have a big breakfast feed at the Spa at Ardfert. A leisurely 40 minutes I’d worked hard so far, the shoes were off to relax the sore feet, and there was some serious climbing to come.
It was quite a surprise as Daniel rode up to my bench for a chat just as I was preparing to move. Somehow I’d passed him, he was not in good spirits and talked of missing future sections out, suffering with a painful knee. He rode off, we were destined never to actually meet on the road, with those thoughts in his head I knew his race was over, one down then.
Inland and a long section round the Tralee bay, more jaw dropping views. The hills loomed along the coast along with yet more black clouds, but it was hot and it’s almost an unwritten rule that when any big climb looms the sun will burn you. The Connor pass was one Adrian had highlighted in the build up, it was fun trying to work out just where it was, soon the signs appeared 5km at 10% oh boy!
The gradient is consistently steady, but 410 metres from sea level is not what your legs want to hear with over 1000 Km in them, especially on a loaded bike. (Strava says 2nd cat) The views up the climb distracted from the pain, I took it very steady but without stopping. The final mile is narrow single track edged with steep dripping wet over-hanging cliffs, stunning. At the summit I half expected the film crew to be waiting, the fact they weren’t told me the others were well down the route already.
Next up was a loop of the Dingle Peninsula, looking back at the tracker replay I just missed John at the crossover by minutes, but surprisingly I rode up to Paula. As we rode together round the loop she told of replacement tyres, filming fun on Connor, and that Adrian was back in a bikeshop trying to revive a dead Di2 rear mech. This machine of a lady rarely stops, her tri-bars were acting as a table, full of cheese slices powering her for now. Stopping for a pee stop it was interesting to see how long it took to re-catch Paula without going too hard, a few minutes grabbed back in about 15, good no worries there I thought. Yes the race head was returning.
Rolling back to Dingle town together I was anxious to stick to my routine and left Paula to go on, a relaxing big feed to set up for a tough night was more important. Another relaxing sit down Fish n Chip feast with great views of the harbour, no rush, feed the engine well and it will repay you. Rolling on Inch Beach in the late evening sun (above) blew me away; an amazing long strand of sand creating Castlemaine harbour behind it surrounded by the hills for tonight’s entertainment.
9.30pm and the double century comes up, fuelled and refreshed approaching the Gap of Dunloe in the Kilarney National Park it was stop now or commit. All I knew was that the profile showed two 200 Metre climbs were coming, there was no pre-ride hype of this section it was quite a surprise, Adrians special twist.
The road narrows and appears to be paved with horse poo, signs recommend not to drive up this sounds serious, and I’m so pleased not to hit this in the heart of the day weaving through pedestrians and horse drawn carriages. The first section winds up slowly before opening out round a beautiful high lake. The narrow well surfaced road appears to disappear ahead, huge glacial boulders mean it weaves and steepens. I stop many times in awe of the peace and beauty of my twilight tour of this jewel.
The top section opens out to scenes reminiscent of a Lord of the Rings set, still no vehicles and the last few hairpins open out into a long crazy fun descent. Night is closing in, it’s possible my discs are glowing as I race down the alpine like tight hairpin strewn track, past a hostel, no thanks this is too much fun. That wasn’t to last!
The road dropped a long way, that meant this wasn’t a plateau, the shock that another full 200 metre climb lay ahead, it was dark and it was a bitch. The road surface deteriated, double track barely tarmac, can Adrian be serious. It dragged on and on, weaving due to low speed on rough double track was worrying me that punctures were possible, the rain started blasted by the wind, my gears started jumping these were anxious times.
Bang! the chain dropped into the spokes and jammed, it was solid. Calming down I had to find some way of pointing my dynamo light at the rear before the few minutes of standlight dimmed, then cover my gloves in oil desperately yanking hard to free it. Standing there in total darkness it took quite some effort to even get forward motion again it was that steep, luckily the huge exposed drop was fenced. Eventually the climb was over, but there was no relief as the descent was akin to a Paris-Roubaix section. A long rough drop on the brakes, standing on screaming thighs, no payback for the previous hell.
Tired now I missed a turn, resulting in me going the wrong way down hill for a few miles. Tired and very emotional starting the slow drag back up to the correct route I glimpsed a cow shed set well back. It was dirty but spacious and there was 2 clean wooden pallets to use as a floor, hello bed time. One of the rare times I have crawled into my bivy fully clothed, no cleaning, quick recovery snack and sleep, tightening up the zips to keep any cow-poo bugs out.
A very tough but memorable day. 221 hard miles from 20 hours in the saddle and a killer 11,000 ft of ascent. If I can recover from that we could be in the hunt here.
Race News: Adrian pulled an all-nighter into day 5 and made the 7am first Ferry to Tarbet along with Daniel, Paula and the media car. JP made the 8am, SH the 9am, the ferry acting as a good race checkpoint. After a long overnight stop in Tarbet John was off at 6am, a reset day or was he slowing up?JP battled with Daniel for 5th finally meeting on the road. DJ then pulled out skipping the Dingle loop another victim of painful knees, a day of many meetings on the Dingle Peninsula. Adrian side lined with a major mechanical dropped back allowing Stephen to pass. Mike relented the overall lead to John at 9pm at the start of the Ring of Kerry with another great day from Paula in joint 2nd as she stopped at exactly the same location as MH. JP closed to 3 miles behind in 3rd it was tight. Close of play it was JS-MH-PR-JP-SH-AO-CA-GC-MH.
Turned out Mike had more mechanicals with a failing bottom bracket and his race was over, not trusting it over more tough climbs he headed back to Cork the following morning.
300Km ahead Bernd Paul was on the South West Cork Coast the finish in sight. At this point appearing to romp away with it, missing at least a 4 hour section out, and potentially gaining a day with a favourable ferry rendezvous how were the organisers going to view this? difficult.
Day 3: Waking up is hard to do, where’s my breakfast
Awakening to constant rain it was another slow start at 5am on the bike, 2 miles down a valley and straight into the Glengesh (Ras Dhun na nGall) I was cold and wet, sweating in a waterproof and at 11% this was hurting my stiff cold muscles and bones. This mornings ride was the low point of the trip, constant rollers drained me as I dragged my body over 50 miles in 5 hrs moving time, this was slow. Mentally I craved a hot breakfast, the views were still great but the camera stayed locked away from the wet. Brief relief finally came in Killibegs with the first open store. A coffee machine some sandwiches and allowed to shelter indoors whilst chatting with the friendly staff soon restored my mental state.
Approaching Donegal brought the start of many a view to come, seeing the coast and mountains ahead across expanses of water. Great to see where you were about to explore, or the fantastic coast you had ridden hours before, but mentally tough, riding so far but not appearing to go anywhere.
The rain came with a vengeance just as I hit Ballyshannon and the main N15 road, frankly it was hell. Close passing traffic with face breaking wind driven heavy rain, today everything was getting wet. My waterproofs are good and it wasn’t cold, and the saviour was cosy feet in my country sympathetic rubber booties, I remained cheerful and kept moving forward.
Through Sligo going round Strandhill was a brief rest bite from the strongest headwinds yet, but it didn’t last long. I promised myself a big Fish n Chip supper to keep me focussed and a perfect rest and dry off stop appeared at the perfect time. The river Estuary at Ballina, a sit down chippy where I raided the paper towels drying myself and kit and relaxing ready for a big push into the night again. The heavy rain had subsided and even brought some great views of the estuary of horses grazing by the sea, even if the minute I stopped they moved and ruined the perfect pose they had.
Oh joy going back up the estuary was North Westerly, that killer wind was now an aid,helping me digest the big meal, I’m not sure what this peninsula of Co. Sligo is called but is started to rise to a plateau high above the Atlantic Ocean. Racers will remember it due to the Glass Pyramid of the Céide Fields Visitor Centre perched on the hillside, all I remember is thinking I’m going to get stuck out here in this isolated wild exposed location with the promise of more rain. My resolve broke, I desperately searched a few derelict buildings for at least a small portion of roof to offer shelter, a broken man.
After a comedy moment when I looked in the doorway of one old house, only to have about 20 sheep panic and jump over my thigh in a frantic escape, I found my bivy for the night. It had an old door, a well serviced kitchen and the first floor looked like it would not collapse at least for one night, I hoped. It was dry and dusty, and had a picture window view, and amazingly the big stone walls deaded all the howling wind noise and I had a lovely peaceful nights rest.
Despite the very slow body breaking start, the day finished strong and on the worst day for weather I can be happy with 181 miles, another 17hr day but at only 12.4 mph a wind affected moving average.
Race News: A race defining day, leader Bernd Paul approached the Achill Islands loops with a healthy lead, and completely missed them out! that’s a significant portion of the course. I hadn’t realized it was that blatant, navigation is a big part of these challenges, surely that is a DNF from the overall result from that moment on. Mike Henley had crashed ripping off his rear mech and was reported waiting for a shop to open in Ballina on Monday morning to affect repairs. Dismissing BP, Daniel now took the lead 2pm Sunday, with John and Adrian chasing him down. Daniel called it early at 6pm and John then regained the lead, but then Adrian rode later claiming it himself. Daniel got going again overnight and was finally our leader going into day 4.
Day 4 The wheels come off, time for a Guinness
Out from my cosy shack back into the rain at 5am, I really must pack up quicker, wasting a precious hour slowly getting going from awakening. this part of the day is certainly easier in sunnier climes. The initial ride along the Glenamoy Estuary was spectacular, amazing sunrise and rainbows highlighting that the sun was trying to fight through the squalls. Yesterday had been a long lonely day, I hadn’t seen another racer all day even though it transpires we were pretty close and passing each other stealthily on the same route.
Another slow start but eventually the waterproofs came off and running low on reserves a supermarket deli in Bangor came to the rescue. I didn’t rush, a full breakfast and once again sorting out the wet stuff, including drying out my cash. I’d foolishly arrived in Ireland having forgotten any back up plastic. I had plenty of Euros but was limited to a 30 Euro a day budget to survive the trip without searching out emergency money. Checking the tracker, I didn’t even register what was going on, just that mine hadn’t moved today. Changing the batteries it appeared ok but they were duff and later failed, foolishly I had set up the low battery alert it can give to email me. To save data costs I never checked emails, Note to self reset this to send me a warning text in future.
I stopped here so long maybe I secretly desired another racer to drop in for some company, I’m glad I didn’t realise how close the race up front had become. I was dirty smelly and drained by the battle against the elements, even a good wash in the washroom didn’t help, I had already decided today was a shower and soft warm bed day.
Three hours later riding over the bridge onto Achill Island the mood was rising, the sun was out and the views were stunning. I’d noted how complicated this section was with three separate loops and made sure there were waypoints on my mapping specifically telling me to take the right turns. Sea over the right shoulder, simples.
It looked tough with bit lumps rising from sea level all around, but my mind was in a happier place. I was going to enjoy this in a relaxed style, this is my holiday and the race along with my daily 200 mile target can take an even bigger step back. Achill Island was an unsung hero of this trip, there was no mention of it before, but I’m sure I will be back one day it was glorious. life was good again.
At one point though I did switch off, a short steep climb in a quiet valley was lined with big inviting roadside rocks. Stripping off eternally wet socks and getting some air while sunbathing was a simple pleasure missed with this chase for miles, should have done this earlier on the beach above. Just before the start of loop three I ran headfirst into organiser Adrian, confused he explained how it was doing the final loops backwards by mistake. He filled me in on apparent carnage through the field, riders were dropping like flies with mechanicals and strained bodies, he too was finding this tough. Hearing this from a guy who has churned out constant 250 miles days on races before certainly helped my mental state as we parted going separate directions.
Climbing a 10% hairpin strewn coastal climb, brilliant blue sea crashing off the shore below, just had to captured with a selfie. I was loving this again, pressure off, sun out and even cheering spectators. Maybe they were just baying for a one handed wobbly cyclist to fall off, in England maybe but here everyone was so friendly and supportive of your endeavours.
Three loops down, took me a touristy four hours and it was again time for a supermarket deli hit. Huge hot Sausage baguettes enjoyed talking to some French tourists who were filling me in on the delights of the extensive Green way cycle trail here which shows off the surrounding area in safe tranquillity. I was eating well, resigned to a short day, happy that my legs still felt great after hearing of the troubles of other riders. Thinking of how some must be grinding low cadences up the unforgiving climbs I set myself a target to scale every climb without stopping, even for photos.
Then George popped up. Looking cool he was just starting the Island and it was great to have time to chat, I was surprised I was behind him but he too was suffering after breaking a front mech and punishing his legs up the climbs in high gears his full story is blogged here. Riding off I waved at a rider as I peeled off a junction, little did I to know it but I would meet Stephen Haines properly later in the race.
Heading off to Newport I first passed one of the rest points for the Wild Atlantic Audax which was going the other way on most of this route. I didn’t pop my head in but it appears others did and were gladly received and assisted if required. They certainly had put a lot into the organization, far removed from our nomadic ride, but I’m insanely jealous of their steel lazer cut finishers trophies. Not long after I met their leader on the road, we chatted, he had started with a straight 40 hour session, their a tough lot Audaxers.
My day ended in Westport, a non serious race day of only 126 miles barely 12 hrs after it had begun. A pint of Guinness at McCarthy Bar; well it had to be it’s part of discovering Ireland. The room was huge with 3 beds, maybe I should have hung out a sign for fellow racers. Time for washing, breathing and airing, a total reset. During a food forage, Paula passed me on the street, we chatted her surprised to see me again, I told her to go for it expecting her to get a good four hour march on me. She told me my tracker was still faulty, In non race mode I never checked the tracker, if I had I would have seen Adrian had also stopped round the corner, we could have shared a pint. New batteries and I was back in view to all again for tomorrow.
Race News: MN scratched, Mike was repaired and back flying through the field again; by 1am he was back up to 4th Daniel left Achill Island with John hot on his heels but appeared to be suffering as JS took a commanding lead for the first time. Paula and Daniel ended up together at Tullycross with Stephen Haines moving up to 5th. George and Michael Hampl passed the snoozing JP and Adrian.
Day 5: Game on – Race for the Ferry
3 am engage tracker, off into the dawn no excuses today it had to be a 200 day. Little did I know JS was up and running early too, while MH was making up for lost time. The rain and wind soon started again as again I tracked an invisible NW coast. Several nods to late night Audaxers heading for their open all hours support crew, they have a time limit after which they are deemed a failure; in the Transatlantic Way Race if you follow the route you can’t fail to be successful. Turning South through the Dhulough Pass the views of Doo Lough (Black lake) nestling in between towering peaks was breath taking. There was no chance of a photo I could barely pedal downhill at this point, luckily the super strong winds seemed to only be channelled through the pass, and it became easier round Kilary Harbour on a seemingly endless loop of fine road.
This was a great start to the day but after five hours at Cleggan, with the sun out I was hoping for a break. There’s a ferry here to the settlement on Inisbofin Island, apparently travellers don’t have the luxury of a café, a quick cake from the shop had to do. I couldn’t help imagining places Paula might have stopped last night as she forged ahead not realising she was already more miles ahead having stopped here too.
This section of coastline was one of my favourites of the whole trip, The Sky Road climbs as it darts in and out of the coastline, huge bens inland and breathtaking views of the islands (Inishturk and Turbot) in a clear blue sea. A fantastic morning’s ride down to the bustling town of Clifden. At last a chance to sit outside in the sun watching local life enjoying chatting with Dutch cycle tourers over a great coffee with surprisingly good breakfast bagel.
It surprised me when just as I was getting ready to leave Stephen Haines rolled into town. Of course many riders could have passed after my long layup yesterday, but it was a reminder that I had effectively thrown four hours away. After introductions and updates on rider status that we knew of I left, but I now had a new shadow that was to last the day.
Setting off I decided to stick to a routine, 3 hrs solid on the bike then a food stop. Sandwiches and coffee at a supermarket with a nice view, and who should slot into my view as I left, SH. Resisting the chase I was pleased to eventually catch him, he looked laboured not pedalling comfortably, after a few words I expected that to be it. Spurred on though he caught up and we rode for some time chatting. Then as if by magic the media van appeared, the film crew flung open the rear doors and we gave interviews on the move with Matthias (his photos) firing off shots hanging out the front.
At this point I became conscious that the pace had increased on the rough roads trying to ride and talk, and my ankle strangely started to ache. Stopping to pee I left Stephen to carry on to Galway where we both expected to stop for food.
The main R336 to Galway and the subsequent trip across town was horrible, roads I would never travel by choice maybe reflecting the fact this is essentially designed as a driving route. By the look of the roads we’d luckily just missed a downpour, and after the equally busy N18 it was Fish n Chip time again at Ballinderreen. The service was slow but the sofa was comfortable and N.Ireland in the Euros provided some entertainment. Happy at 175 miles I set off into the dusk aiming to put as much of a dent into the trip moving into County Clare towards the Cliffs of Mohar.
The stop allowed my ankle to seize up and it was slow going for a while, the bay at Ballyvaughan looked a nice stop for any other day. The coastline then turned into a moonscape, stunning Limestone pavements and pure rock cliffs and beaches of amazing regular patterns, . Here it was calm and progress was good, but on rounding the headland is was another story, yet more draining headwinds, oh joy!
Passing the 200 mile target the wind made me reconsider a late push, with 60 miles left for the ferry tomorrow I started looking for bivy stops. Lights on at the Doolin Hostel at the foot of the Mohar cliffs was a perfect find. The hostel was in the process of being painted but was open for business, I was the only guest, well for about 10 minutes as Stephen then appeared at the door too. The owner left us with our own personal pad, hot drinks and breakfast cereals and a bargain 18 Euro quick stop with even a private lounge for the bike, we had struck lucky
We both alarmingly compared swollen ankles whilst making separate plans to get up at different times, the race was not between us. At last a day had gone to plan, 209 miles at nearly 19 hours on the road, tons of climbing too.
Race News: Riding all night Mike took the lead back from John before Galway bay at 9am and made the Ferry at 7pm before ploughing on. John managed the last 9pm sailing before resting up in Tarbet both with a big advantage now. Paula had an epic day getting into 3rd stopping at Spanish point within easy reach of the ferry. Daniel in 4th with JP and SH in their cosy hostel in 5th. Adrian had dropped back and was still in Galway with George, The media car lay in wait at the ferry for the mornings rush. BP was down in Killarney well round the Ring of Kerry.
Unsupported racing round Ireland, Oh that will be a lot easier than racing across Europe, flatter, common language, plentiful food……wrong wrong wrong! The TansAtlanticWay Race thanks to the brilliance of organiser Adrian O’sullivan appeared on the calendar for 2016.
Rather than a glowing report on the beauty of this route, this is more of a memory dump for me to look back on as mine fades. If your expecting flowery prose then this is not the place for you, if you’d like an insight into an unsupported race week, enjoy.
Day 1: The far from gentle start
Dublin why would you start a race in a busy city centre, it was great to visit, and easy to reach via train and ferry but it did make for a few extra challenges to the organisers. The accommodation at the Trinity College was superb though, and the 10pm (‘ish) start was nice and relaxed with plenty of time for racers to get together.
Adrian had commissioned a nice race jersey, which I was proud to wear. The start rolled out North with almost all riders choosing the direct A2 main road to CP1 in Derry. At the race meeting it was questioned that riders would find it hard not to ride at the same pace and from those comments drafting was allowed on day 1 only.
I considered this a very selfish suggestion from those that made it, with the subsequent all day headwind it transpired that groups of riders abused this privilege. Latching on to faster riders, pushing yourself too fast to soon, some almost scared not to stop in case they lost the tow, all well outside the self regulated code of unsupported riding. Once outside the confines of the busy Dublin streets I deliberately dropped back to ride solo at all times, and got quite agitated seeing riders chase down faster riders for a tow…..can’t help ride at the same speed hey!
Replay the TRACKER of the event and judge yourself, boy that Bernd Paul (BP) is a machine look at him go!
Anyway head down grovelling at times wondering why we didn’t just start in Derry, it was quite satisfying to slowly catch and pass riders as the day progressed, Paula Regener (PR) was going well, and old TCR adversary John Suter (JS)
BP was first to the Peace bridge in Derry, closely followed by Mike Henley (MH) who I’d spent the ferry crossing over with, sounding very fast. next up was Ciaran O’Hara and Adrian O’Sullivan, two riders who I knew had the speed and experience to push this to the limits. Ciaran’s relatives met us in Derry with very welcome Sandwiches and bottle top ups. Amazingly for me I was next up in 5th, this was not what my brain wanted to hear, I didn’t want to be in a race just yet, so time to chill and do some posing for the camera crew and waiting for John to arrive to say hello.
Now John is a powerful rider on the flat, not my strength, I didn’t expect to be with him and considering I had gone against all my steady pacing plans. It was 8pm, I had no hesitation in diving into a Mc’Donalds to stock up for the long evening as we headed for the quiet NW corner. Also there was birthday boy Adrian, resplendent in full TAW race kit, stuffing himself while face-timing the family who were cruelly teasing him with views of his nice birthday cake.
At this stage Adrian was committing to riding through the night due to the late start, stuffing his pockets with cold burgers. Watching him go I layered on all my kit and set off in search of Muff and some beautifull late evening coastal views of the bay; here I was caught by iconic event photographer Matthias Wjst (Doh! that shot never made the cut –his photos here) just as I caught Paula on the road again. We chatted and rode together, no drafting, for some time until……Kapow!
A left turn and the road grew narrow and steep, and it was taking no prisoners. This was no kick in the teeth route addition from Adrian, it was proper signposted WAW, hello to the Kinnego Bay climb 10% for 2 miles. Dropping to the small ring and spinning easily, I left Paula behind keeping my mind off the pain and shock of the severity of the climb, thinking of how some riders will be suffering painful legs/backs or even walking this already. Day 1 had been tough enough already despite it still being light and only riding for 13 hrs, at 176 miles I called it a day, finding a nice clean piece of concrete to bivy out under the stars for an early start. Already behind my plan, I tried not to feel dejected knowing that the wind had sapped a lot of strength from me, content I had stayed true to the solo riding ideal.
For anyone interested, I had my Neoair full mat and silk liner pre-rolled in my seat pack. After a good recovery feast, throw it down, wet wipe wash, and sleep on a pillow of rolled up clothes in a dry bag.
Race News: As I slept Daniel Johansson, Michal Novak, Paula and John all passed while the four top guys ploughed on past Letterkenny non stop as dawn broke.
Day 2: Malin Head, Donuts and Gravel downhills
Strava (recorded by a faultless Garmin 1000) tells me I got rolling at 4:23 so a lazy first night, needed though, as the route kicked in early with another tough climb. Pretty soon I spotted Paula packing up from her doorway bivy, and from the tracker missed John by seconds as he completed the out and back Malin Head loop.
Malin Head the most Northerly point of Ireland had a sting as you were required to climb up to the point end tower as a route diversion. This illustrates the honour of the code of unsupported races, it would be so easy to miss this stinging climb and go unnoticed, but who are you cheating. The views were outstanding as Ireland slept. I like the possible idea of photo checkpoints, make riders take in the sights, not just pass through. You could in fact have a beautiful bivy here in a deserted clean concrete building, one to target for future racers perhaps.
Sleepy NW Ireland, you won’t find the bustle of a nation waking to go to work out here, one of the realisations of this event is that early starts mean up to five hours of riding before finding hot food and coffee. luckily I had plenty of food in stock and could not resist stopping for an alfresco breakfast to soak in some stunning coastal views.
Wondering if any riders would be close I resisted the urge to fire up the tracker, no race thoughts please enjoy the moment, as I knew more pain was coming soon. The Mamore Gap over a mile at 15% was going to stress the legs soon enough. Seeing this looming in the distance woke me up, the Northern approach is tight and twisty, while the southern side is one fast long straight blast down. The more pressing morning issue of getting water was solved when a house side tap came to the rescue.
Sweating for the first time on this ride, this was tough, looking back Michal Novak started this as I finished but now all I could think about was a morning stop. Buncrana came to the rescue, a great café attatched to the supermarket was a great spot.
A superb breakfast including a good omelette loaded with extra chicken, and great coffee was long overdue. Comfy sofas, a wash room clean completed the requirements to set me up for a full hard day. Unfortunately just as I was leaving Paula appeared, it would have been nice to share a coffee and a longer chat, it appears even at this early stage I have found the race shadow person, the one you constantly cross paths with.
Getting round Letterkenny was a blur of traffic in the area for the Donegal rally, long wide sections of road all painted with rally boy donuts, they were everywhere. Occasional shouts from drivers replacing burnt out tyres adding to the smell of burnt rubber. Because of the weekends rally the route diverted away from the WAW route up and up into the Glenveagh National park. It was a long steady climb up to 600ft, it was the first sight of an open moorland environment, and as my mind wandered I questioned why I was doing this. I like distractions but here I had to much time to think and feel the pain of a long featureless drag into the wind.
Pretty soon my mind was focused, as I turned into the much discussed gravel section. The view of the Lough Veagh was glorious, but hang on that’s a long way down, 400ft it turns out and it was technical lumpy and MTB fun, oh yes we like this, crazy skinny tyre action. Luckily the section alongside the waters edge was smooth enough not to drag for the length, I stopped amongst the walkers took photo’s and drunk in the beauty of this location.
Back up to the coast for another loop overlooking Sheephaven bay, another killer climb, this route is nothing but brutal. A blur of gear changes, up the block, front ring change down the block and repeat. For my local friends its like riding a double Gorilla 100 miler in the Rutland hills, with at least four Rockingham hills per day thrown in, body killers. Coastal Ireland is a cycling assault course.
The rest of the day was a blur; pretty single white holiday cottages dotted along tens of miles of great coast line, the drizzle came. Ireland migrated to pubs to hope their team could stay in the Euro Champs, I plodded on battered by the elements hoping to hit my daily target. Somewhere around Ardara I stocked up for the night as a shop threw me out, it was 10pm and unknown to me at the time I had caught up with John.
Leaving the N56 behind the rain was heavy with howling winds, I spotted a great covered bin store at a school and ducked for night cover. Pure bliss, dry cover, even a bench for my recovery feast and it even had a tap, sure struck gold there. Despite another shorter than target day I was relived with this lucky find after 18 hrs on the road and 184 miles for the day.
Race News: BP still riding into the night narrowly leads a brief resting MH. Ciaran rested early and was soon to scratch with hand problems no doubt exaggerated by the endless gear shifting. Daniel gets going at 1am on Day 3 and passes Adrian. Paula finally gets a new tracker and pops up having passed me and John as we sleep.
Trans Atlantic what, how, are you getting into rowing? No its another unsupported mad cap race, this time around Ireland. Of course all these races have to start with “Trans” or it’s not cool; and it’s based around the Wild Atlantic Way, a tourist route around the West coast of Ireland, So The TransAtlanticWay
Starting from Dublin 17th June about 30 riders will ride their own route up to checkpoint 1 at the Peace Bridge in Derry. From there the route is fixed as riders all follow the Wild Atlantic Way around the West Coast of Ireland as far as CP2 the end of the WAW in Kinsale on the Southern Coast. Then finally it’s a short inland dash to the finish line outside Blarney Castle in Cork. The prize for winning; well there is a pint behind the bar for the first rider there, but the true prize will be the journey just look at that scenery. The clock never stops, sleeping is optional, its going to be a great adventure.
The coastal route is rugged, isolated and probably very wild. There will be tons of daylight on the longest days of the year, but the weather could do anything at all as it rolls in from the Atlantic. Hopefully there will be some great days to allow us to enjoy the spectacular costal views. The race will be tracked as is the norm, but the site is not live yet.
Funily enough there is a non competitive Audax running at the same time from the southern end of the WAW. they just do the WAW to Derry, friend Kev is one of the riders so it would be cool to pass him in daylight sometime, going the other way. WAW Audax site and files
A Year in the Saddle will give you all the details, 29,603 miles in a year to beat the current recognised women’s Year mileage record, easy hey!
So 2016 begins and I’m looking for a big ride to start the Ton of Tons campaign for YCC so as I saw Steve Abraham off on his record hunt last year I thought it would be a great idea to go and cheer off Kajsa (pronounced Ky-ser) in Nottingham.
As she started at 8am it was an early start and a fun ride through Leicester joining in with some New Year stragglers, with some tricky icy sections, but I arrived at Leisure Lakes in time to have a chat over a welcome free coffee.
Cheered off by an impressive gathering about 15 riders set off to ride with her on a 100 mile loop of the Trent valley. A very comfortable pace and with the no drafting rule (see below), it was very sociable affair talking to the other riders, and I soon clocked up the first century of 2016 at 10am. Riders dropped off at various points but 5 of us arrived at the mid point food stop, to once again a very healthy crowd.
Superb organisation with lots of varied hot food and lovely coffee in a village hall, quite a start. During a long conversation with Kajsa it was great to hear how she intends to progress through the year. It’s being taken as a journey, trying to enjoy rather than endure, encouraging riders to join her and encouraging a sweat pledge. Another of the rules involves getting witness proof, much as the original record breakers in the 30’s did. I was happy to be the first 50 mile signatory.
It was interesting to hear of the requirements of Guinness and why they were chosen over HAMR as officiators. I was concerned that she could fall foul of them, they don’t have a good track record for cycling records, and suggested that regular checks are done, better late than never. Several weeks in though it’s clear she has a very public presence with reams of proof and I’m sure that will be fine.
Like Steve Abraham before her, it’s very much a safe and steady approach. Some eyebrows might be raised at the level of luggage on board for a 100 mile loop. It’s not a race and Kajsa is spending long days without support, covering all angles on clothing and spares to ensure completion each day. Leisure lakes are giving valuable support and speaking to the mechanic mid ride they are keen to keep an accurate service record throughout the year as an exercise in how the various components perform. Hope have donated some wheels and were keen to hear of bearing wear for example.
People seem to love the data on offer from these rides as they appear openly on Strava and this spreadsheet shows progress and compares it to Billies rides. Kajsa is also in the Century Challenge Her intention is to put up a daily route to allow riders to join in, this has already seen the route drop down into Cambridgeshire and the Fens. Check the website or perhaps offer to host her and a ride in future. I will certainly be looking into getting her into Northants and promoting it locally as a Girl-illa Ladies ride out, good luck Kajsa.
Parting company after the stop I then faced a joyous steady headwind on an auto pilot route home South of Leicester. Despite a huge soaking for the last 3 hours it was a great way to start the year, a double ton in the bank just to fire up some YCC competition.
Guinness Year Cycling Record
Interestingly unlike the current resurgence in the men’s record this is being done under the governance of The Guinness World Records group. The rules (that we know about) are strikingly different.
- One bike only (triggers broom comes to mind)
- Rides must start from where they finished the day before ( presumably to stop all downhill/wind assisted rides)
- No drafting behind other riders (hard to police but fair enough, I like that one)
- Ride cards are to be signed by witnesses to bear proof that the activity took place
Those are apart from that now established proof that the rides are Satellite tracked and uploaded to Strava, but with the difference that there’s no stipulation that heart rate or power data prove it’s human powered.
Sadly I’ve just learned that Steve Abraham has retired from his second attempt to beat the (now new) record for the Year challenge. Video explanation here. Congratulations to Kurt Searvogal the HAMR holder with a staggering 76076 miles.
After the disastrous bone snapping start to 2015 followed by 3 months of muscle wastage, I feared the worst, but the year picked up nicely with some great adventures. The body recovered slowly as long as the speed was restrained, it the first year in the last twenty I haven’t “pinned a number on it” TCR not counting. The adventure to Greece really opened my eyes to wanting more.
Veloviewer are a great addition to playing with Strava data and they produced these cool end of year graphics
14,000 miles with 3 months on crutches is nuts really, and as the days ridden shows there’s been a bit of a John North (famous for running every day for 7 years) streak going on towards the end of the year. 90 days and counting into 2016.
One of the fun consequences of doing a shedload of summer miles was that it coincided with a competition run by Eurosport. I was very fortunate to be chosen to join Juan Antonio Flecha at the 2016 Paris Roubaix in April, Flights and Hotels included, what a result for having fun riding your bike.
So for 2016 new challenges await; having a helping hand in the reawakening of the Year Century Challenge (YCC) I have joined in with an ambitious target of one hundred ride days of at least one hundred miles. Yes a Ton of Tons, or only two a week as I like to calmly think of it.
Along the way another trip in the direction of Turkey is on the cards, along with one to Spain. The entry for the inaugural Transatlantic way race in Ireland is in, that’s going to be both beautifull and tough. That should keep the legs busy for starters and help in the century collection.
A shift from work to part time allows me more scope for adventures, but doubly the cutting of funds that comes with that, brings challenges. A lot more bivy hobo cycling trips and a definite attempt will have to be made to do more miles per coffee and cake stop. At least almost every country has an Aldi.