Trans Atlantic Way Day 2 Report
Friday June 7, 2019: I awoke well slept in a big comfy hotel bed and immediately thought, I bloody well don’t want to be well slept in a big comfy hotel bed. I want to be tired and stiff and on my bloody bike. In the weeks leading up to the ride I had spent hours scouring online maps meticulously planning out each days riding with the aim of finishing in the top 20 or so. I really wanted to improve on my mid-pack finish in the Trans Am. Lazing in a hotel room with the sun well up and streaming through the window was definitely not part of that plan.
The bike shop didn’t open until 10:00am so I had plenty of time to burn. After packing up my bike there was nothing more to do than to head downstairs to hit the breakfast buffet. I had 2 obstacles to negotiate first though before I could make my first of 4 raids on the amply stocked bain-maries. Firstly, the glares of the many American tourists who were very obviously not fans of my bibs, dirty t-shirt and socks look. An aesthetic not in keeping with the USD they had splurged on this nice hotel by the river. I met their glares eyeball to eyeball before moving on to the next obstacle, a jobsworth breakfast attendant who I had to convince I presented less of a health and safety issue with my cycling shoes off than on.
Once I was finally ushered to the most inconspicuous table in the room I ate and drank well, very well, basking in the limelight of my position as worst dressed. This ultra distance self supported bike racing business really does place you quite abruptly on the fringes of mainstream society. A place I can’t get enough of. I wasn’t here to sample whiskies, visit castles and pull at long lost threads of my family tree. I was here to ride my bike 3/4 of the way around the Irish coast in just aver a week damn it!
But first I had to get my bike fixed.
The bike shop was a 10 minute ride from the hotel and I rolled up to Total Cycles just before 10am. The mechanic who may have also been the owner (for the life of me I can’t remember his name) spotted me and opened the front door. As he did so another TAW rider pulled up, Scott Lazar from the south of England. He had had a tumble the day before on the gritty country lanes before Monaghan and had bent his rear derailleur. He was very obviously taking the set back a lot better than me. I was pretty uptight and keen to get out of there as quickly as possible while Scott was in top form, jovially relaying stories of his TAW so far and other cycling adventures.
My bike fix was a 15 minute job, 10 minutes to extract and replace the rear shifter cable, and 5 minutes to replace what had been a brand new chain yesterday but which had been mashed under the pressure of only having 2 gears. Shit eh, only 15 minutes! Yet another pang of regret for having not stopped yesterday in Omagh. If I had nipped the problem in the bud right then and there I would have only lost 30 minutes riding vs the 8 hours and counting now. It was a crap way of thinking really, ruminating on the regret but I couldn’t help it. The disappointment of being so far behind plan was well and truly stuck in my craw. Hopefully Scott’s positivity would rub off. There was plenty to go around.
The service Scott and I received at Total Cycling was 5 star, cheerful, quick and efficient and after a quick photo out the front of the shop we were back on the road just after 11am.
Awright Lets Get This Show on the Road!
It was with a real sense of relief and renewed optimism that I pedaled in a northerly direction away from Derry on the R238. The River Foyle becoming a large bay to my right. My bike was fixed, it was a beautiful morning. Time to make tracks.
I had lost contact with Scott at a Spar Supermarket just outside Derry and I caught up with him about an hour later as the route turned left off the busy R238 onto a quiet country lane. He had stopped to adjust his bags before tackling the climb that loomed ominously in front of us. I gave him a tap on the shoulder as I pedaled on by keen to get into a rythmn up the 9% 2.8 kilometer Kinnego Bay Climb, the first big test of the TAW. I remembered reading about this climb in Jack Petersons blog write up of the 2016 TAW. “Kapow” is right.
Kapow in a good way. I’ve heard cycling referred to as a moving mediation which is quite the apt description but for me the meditative bit particularly kicks in on long climbs. Everything slows and quietens down and the mind is forced to focus on maintaining a steady balance of breathing and effort. No room to focus on the frustration of being 8 hours behind schedule.
Climbing up a hill of course also eventually affords a view and in the case of heading up and over the Kinnego Bay climb, the views were quite spectacular. The Irish Coast was on full display. The adventure around the Wild Atlantic Way was on.
Friendly Faces at Malin Head
I rolled up to Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland at around 3pm. A small pang of “I bloody well should have been here last night” was replaced by a smile and a wave as I noticed Madeline filming me with her phone as I struggled up the last little bit to the lookout car park. I almost fell off as I awkwardly rolled over to high five Adrian who was kicking back in a big blue van, aka Media Car 2.
Even though I had seen Madeline and Adrian only the previous evening it felt great to see their friendly smiling faces again. Knowing that they cared about us riders at the back of the pack meant a lot. Madeline very kindly bought me a coffee and I chatted away with Adrian for a while. He pointed out the successive headlands lined out to the west along the north coast indicating that there were over 100 TAW riders “out there”. I couldn’t help but think that he really did care deeply about each and every one of those dots.
Sure enough if you look at Trackleaders for around that time, ie 3:17pm on that Friday afternoon you can see exactly what he means. (I’m the blue MC dot at the top of the map. Blue dots = long route, yellow = short).
I could have really gone another coffee and kept chatting away with Adrian but reality called. There were a shedload of dots to hunt down. And besides it was pushing 3:30pm and I had only banked 73 kilometers.
Mike Hall KOM 1: Mamore Gap
I put my head down for the next 2 hours riding resisting the plentiful photo opportunities. There is just something so very visually appealing of rolling green countryside and varying shades of blue ocean all in the one frame. Yep plenty of nice stuff to look at but it was becoming obvious that progress was going to be tough going around the coast with plenty of up and down as well as variable wind directions.
Speaking of up…..Mamore Gap.
Adrian had anointed 5 climbs of the 2019 route as contributing towards the Mike Hall King of the Mountain Challenge. A race within a ride within a race. The 1st climb being the north side of Mamore Gap, a 1.7km 15% average gradient beast.
This climb was not a moving meditation, rather a serious of frenetic disturbances from switch back to switch back. Each switch back had a bit of a run off area thank goodness that I took full advantage of, stopping at each to catch my breath and fire up for the next 200 meter segment. There must have been some ramps in the 25% range and with a fully laden bike under a 100 kilo MAMIL, the cruelness of gravity was on full display.
Suffice to say my Mike Hall KOM run was off to a shaky start.
15k’s to Derry…..WTF!
From the full tuck white knuckled decent down Mamore Gap a right turn and then a left turn 5 kilometers later had the route running parallel along another bay. This time heading in a southerly direction. I stopped at the largish town of Bancrana at a convenience store to top up my water bottles and buy a few snacks to store on the bike. I also bought a couple of bottles of Lucozade, a drink that I hadn’t had for years. My mum used to give it to me as a kid when I was sick to restore energy – it came in a glass bottle wrapped in yellow cellophane. It was obviously now marketed more as a sports energy drink, the Gatorade of this part of the world. The taste had definitely improved. I inhaled one on the spot and jammed the other into the cargo pocket of my bib shorts. I could see many of this sweet elixir in my near future.
The R238 became the R239 and then the N13, the road traffic becoming more and more busy per name change. It soon became obvious why. I started to see road signs for Letterkenny and Derry, both large towns. But why the bollocks am I seeing signs to Derry? I’ve been pedalling away from Derry for the last 8.5 hours and 150 kilometers damn it. Why is it now only 15 kilometers away?
Although I knew the basic shape of the TAW route in my head, ie plenty of out and backs around peninsula’s and headlands, I hadn’t really thought about how this would actually feel once rubber hit the road. One of the many things I loved about the Trans Am was that it was a journey from west to east. Far from a straight line but a route that generally trended in the one direction. This creates a kind of subconscious energy or freshness from the sense of adventure. New roads, new scenery, new horizons. One step forward brought you one step closer to the final destination. This would not be the case however with the TAW route with its series of loops around the coast.
It would be something that I would have to get my head around.
Letterkenny into the Night
I passed a couple of TAW riders on the 25 kilometer section along the N2 into Letterkenny. They seemed like they had had quite enough for the day and were battling along. I didn’t catch their names but from their accents it sounded like they were from the north of England, which might also explain the visible sunburn.
It was around 9pm when I rolled into a service station in the Cathedral Town of Letterkenny. The largest town in County Donegal. I was hungry and bought up big knowing that I would not only need to satiate my current needs but would also need enough supplies to cover me until mid morning the following day. The TAW route was now heading into remote parts of County Donegal and services would be closing early and opening late.
I ate well and yet again a full belly lifted my spirits as did a “go on there lad!” from a local gent as I pedaled up the hill that lead out of town. I passed Jorunn again who I had met on Mamore Gap. I gave her a quick wave but there was no chat. Both of us obviously keen to make progress into the night.
I was feeling good and in the mood for a chat though. As I rolled into the scenic little town of Ramelton I called an old mate from London. He was Irish, having grown up in County Cork near the TAW finishing town of Kinsale. I really felt the need to let him know how things were going thus far and how damn beautiful, if tough riding the north of his country was. “You should be with me out here riding these roads Fella!” I had said. He had considered joining me in the TAW but family and work commitments had got in the way.
From Ramelton on the R247 the route was back on the bay, this time heading north. As I pedaled away I gazed across the water to the west where I had ridden hours before and in which direction the sun was finally beginning to set. The opaque light of dusk eventually being replaced by the dense black of night.
Calling it in Portsalon
It was around 11pm when I stopped to take a photo from a headland lookout. It was quite the view, even at this time of the night. Perfectly formed 1 foot waves rolling in from the bay across ridiculously tranquil waters, breaking left to right on a sandy beach. The flickering lights of Portsalon off to the north.
I checked my notes and came up with 2 options. 1. I could either stop for the night somewhere in Portsalon or 2. I could just keep plodding on through the night to at least try and claw back some of the lost time from the broken shifter cable. If I was a hard as nails ultra distance racer I would have chosen the latter. But I’m not. Far from it. Maybe one day…..when I grow up.
25 minutes later I was prowling the quiet streets of Portsalon looking for a spot to bivvy. The golf course was a bit wet under foot so I decided on the dry and sheltered concrete of the local convenience store.
Day 2 Territory Covered and Stats
3D Overview from Relive:
2D Overview from Strava:
- Distance = 217 kilometers
- Cycling (ie moving) time = 9 hours and 40 minutes
- Stopped Time = 2 hours and 36 minutes
- Elevation: 2,769 meters
- Money Spent (USD) = $48 ($48 on food/drink, $0 on accommodation)
KEEP READING……Day 3 Report