Trans Atlantic Way Day 3 Report
Saturday June 8, 2019: My alarm woke me at 4:30am but I wasn’t ready to be awake. It was cold outside the warm embrace of my sleeping bag and I burrowed in further keeping the world at bay for a little while longer.
45 minutes later I finally wriggled free of my cocoon, motivated primarily by not wanting to be mistaken for a vagrant by the owners of the shop I was camped outside. That was more important to me at that moment than any need to get back on the bike, although my raison d’être soon kicked in. Ah ha……that’s right…..I’m in a bike race……time to make tracks. I had ground to make up and for the first time since the start in Dublin 2 days before I had a full day to do so.
Today would be “moving day”…….or would it?
Scotty Lazar, me old mucker that I had met the day before at the bike shop in Derry had just rolled up. It was great to see him! He had spent the night in a deserted house (or was it a public toilet?) on the other side of Portsalon. The poor bugger had taken another tumble getting back on his bike but despite this remained his chipper self. He kindly waited for me as I stiffly donned all available clothing and munched on some leftover potato bread.
At 5:37am we hit the road into the chilly and overcast morning.
Scott and I rode together north to Fanad Head Lighthouse where we stopped briefly to take a photo and to absorb the bleak views out over a brooding Atlantic. The early going was slow and quite tough. A lot of short and sharp inclines that required frequent hard efforts. Good to warm up the body but not so good to find any kind of rhythm. If this kept up it would be a tough ole’ day.
I rolled into the village of Carrickart at around 7:10am. I had pushed a little too hard and despite only being on the road for 1.5 hours I needed a break. I also needed the bathroom……..rather badly. The Centra Supermarket on the main street was quite obviously closed but I knocked on the sliding door and managed to get the attention of the clerk who was setting up inside. After checking with her boss she opened up the shop for me.
Bless ’em both……t’was a close call.
Scott had arrived and we both stalked the aisles for sustenance. I’ve done this many times now but still haven’t really nailed a script of go to foods that avoid wondering supermarket and convenience store aisles in a daze wondering what to buy. I ended up with a lot of food, not much of which was easily stored on the bike so I ended up extending this pit stop out the front of the supermarket inhaling as quickly as I could.
Scott hit the road first and then me about 5 minutes later, leaving behind a trail of grapes as I went.
From Carrickart the route headed south and away from the coast into the hilly hinterland of Donegal. The views changing abruptly from coastal vistas to peat bogs and mountains.
I really don’t have much to say about the next 40 kilometer section that took around 3 hours! Suffice to say I found it bloody tough. Multiple short and punchy climbs followed by a seemingly never ending 5k effort uphill into a block headwind.
Plenty of grimacing in the following photos tell the tale.
Glenveagh National Park to Falcarragh
At first I thought my Garmin was playing up. The purple route line I was faithfully following uphill and upwind took an abrupt right turn off the R254 seemingly off into the peat. There was no visible road to turn onto, although on closer inspection there was a hiking path.
Marina Sonzogni from Germany another TAW rider who had just rolled up seemed to be thinking the same thing. She had visibly skinnier tyres than me though so “surely not” was no doubt more top of mind for her.
Oh well. I knew there was a bit of off road in this years ride. This must be it. And besides it was downhill and out of the wind. I’ll take it.
With a “lets get amongst it!” and a wave to Scott who was making his way up towards us, I careened off down the rocky path thanking my lucky stars that I had taken my local bikes shops advice and up sized my tyres to 32mm only a couple of weeks before.
I didn’t know it at the time but I was riding into Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest national park. It was beautiful and had a real wilderness feel about it. I was descending into a valley closely flanked by mountains and the occasional waterfall. A meandering stream coiling its way towards a pristine lake off in the distance. It was quite the view which was rudely interrupted by the need to keep a vigilant eye on my front wheel in order to avoid some rather large rocks on the path that I was approaching at a less than cautious velocity.
After about 15 minutes of white knuckled descending the terrain flattened somewhat to join the eastern shore of the lake. The path now surrounded by a dense forest of gnarly old oak and birch trees. Another 15 minutes of that and then completely unexpectedly civilization appeared in the form of the medieval Glenveagh castle and its associated tourism.
The change of scenery and decent down into the valley of Glenveagh National Park had been a welcome change to the hard slog that preceded it. However on the other side of the castle the route soon headed north out of the valley and up into the mountains again.
Hard slog hereby resumes.
Another tough 5k climb was followed by a glorious 10k decent into the village of Falcarragh. It was 11:45am and I’d been on the road for just over 6 hours. Only 95 kilometers in the bank. Well short of what I felt was ideal but there really was nothing I could do about it. I was pushing as hard as I could. I’d heard that Donegal was tough but it was proving way tougher than expected.
I was really hungry and stopped at the Centra Supermarket for some hot food. There was a real hustle and bustle in that supermarket, seemingly the place to be at midday on a chilly Saturday. Interestingly most of the locals were speaking Irish.
Despite one of the friendly clerks offering me the staff lunch table out the back to eat my food I gratefully declined indicating that it looked way too warm and comfortable. “Huh?” he’d asked not really getting that I’d rather eat my lunch outside in the chill of the wind. My response of “Gotta make tracks mate” had a similar reaction.
We really are a strange bunch.
I ate my potato wedges and sausage roll quickly on a bench opposite the supermarket while pouring over my ride notes. I was hoping that despite being a day behind schedule they would unveil some kind of clue for making up the lost time. But of course the only way for doing that was to get back on my bloody bike.
Back on The Coast
From Falcarragh the route headed back to the coast and around a rather barren and windswept headland. There were plenty of houses, a rural sprawl of sorts, although no visible forms of how all these people would eek out a living. I couldn’t help but think that it must be a tough old existence up here.
I stopped at Derrybeg which was only 25 kilometers from Falcarrah but I needed more calories. The gummies and grapes which were stored on my bike just weren’t doing it for me. I needed something more substantial although all I could rustle up in the sleepy old town was a plate of hot chips and a coke at the local diner.
Playing catch up on calories was not a good sign as was the accumulating stoppage time. Another 30 minutes off the bike.
The weather on the coast was in direct contrast to that inland. The sun was now out and there was plenty of blue sky on display. With the never ending undulations I was getting a good sweat on.
From Derrybeg it was more of the same. Not much to look at. It was a case of head down arse in the air grinding away on the R257 coast road through the small windswept villages of Bunbeg and then Crolly.
Finally a change of scenery. Pleasant green rolling hills punctuated by a couple of lakes and then into the large town of Dungloe. It is a pretty town and I was not surprised to hear later that it is a popular tourist destination particularly in late July when tens of thousands of people flock to the area for the Mary From Dungloe International Festival, an annual Irish music festival.
Just out of Dungloe I caught up with TAW rider Tim Leicester, a bike builder from Derby in the Midlands of England. He was up for a chat as was I and we rode along together for a while. This was Tim’s 3rd (or was it 4th ?) attempt at finishing the TAW having to scratch at all previous attempts, an indicator right there as to how tough this race is. He was armed this year though with an intimate knowledge of the route and a quiet yet obvious determination to get the job done this year.
Starting to Struggle
Not long out of Dungloe in the small coastal town of Maghery I stopped again! My 3rd stop in only 50 kil0meters but I was starting to really struggle. Just bugger all energy despite the recent food stops. A park bench in the sun with a damn fine view of a sandy beach offered some respite and I graciously accepted.
I closed my eyes and just lay on that bench for a few minutes hoping that the Vitamin D would kick in soon…….and hard.
Despite a blustery offshore breeze I could have slept the afternoon away right there and then but I couldn’t let it happen. It was just after 3:30pm, I’d been on the road for 10 hours but had only put in 150 kilometers, still well out the back of the TAW field.
Oh, and I just realized that I had left my race notes back at Falcarragh.
Faaaaaarck! Take 2.
The 15 minute break hit the spot though…..although it was short lived. Back into it and the steep and frequent ramps around the next headland had me back on the ropes.
This route is freaking relentless!
Unbelievably I was soon running out of water. Bloody ridiculous given the frequent recent stops. I was starting to make mistakes and not think ahead.
Despite the bright sunshine and incredible views my mood was darkening.
Enter stage left…….the Donegal girls.
Two sisters (excuse my poor memory – can’t remember their names) who lived on route had set up a make shift pit stop for us TAW riders complete with drinks, snacks, friendly chat and beautiful smiles. Trail angels in every sense of the term. Keep an eye out for one of them who may will be riding TAW next year.
I ate, drank and chatted with them for a while before getting back at it, my water bottles now full, tyres pumped and mood improved.
Back on Struggle Street
10k’s later I was back on struggle street though. Bugger all in the tank.
I’d caught up with Tim who must have passed me when I’d had my little lie down on the park bench. We stopped and chatted awhile and were soon joined by Fergus Coyle who I’d met at the Donegal Girl’s oasis. Interestingly Fergus’s father had worked as the head groundskeeper of the Glenveagh Castle we’d all passed earlier in the day.
The three of us pedaled along in close proximity for a while before stopping at a Service Station in the outskirts of the town of Lettermacaward. I walked up and down the ailses, yet again in a daze not knowing what to get. I wasn’t hungry but I knew I still needed calories and settled on a couple of Magnum ice creams, a Lucozade and a dodgy looking banana.
Tim, Fergus and another TAW rider who had just rocked up were having a lively old chat but I quickly excused myself and got back on my bike. I would attempt to break my lethargy by tapping into my competitiveness. I was going to race those blokes damn it. That would restore the fire in the belly!
The race was on………in my own head of course. Tom Boonen breaking away from Fabian Cancellara et al, 50ks from Roubaix.
Mike Hall KOM 2: Glengesh Pass
20 kilometers later it was becoming crystal clear that channeling Tom Boonen was not going to work. It was proving to be one of those days when there would be no light at the end of the pain cave.
In my haste to “race” I had completely neglected the need to buy supplies for the evening session of riding. It was approaching 7pm and an Applegreen Service Station in the town of Ardara would no doubt represent the last chance to buy supplies before this part of Ireland closed for the night. I bought 2 huge wraps and jammmed them into the 2 pockets of my handlebar pack, whilst keeping a vigilant eye out for the “competition”.
The climb up Glengesh Pass started just the other side of Ardara. A few kilometers of gentle and actually quite soothing climbing soon became the opposite. The short video below tells the story.
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The Faaaaaarck That Broke the Camels Back
The decent down the back side of Glengesh was fun, a combination of adrenaline and relief at the easy progress. Maybe now, finally, this would be the start of some friendlier terrain where I could put down the hammer?
It was not to be. Yet another climb but this time directly into some poor weather that was blowing in from the west. Cold rain and a full on headwind. I pulled over in an attempt to extract and cover up my half eaten turkey and salad wrap that was protruding upwards from my handlebar pack. I would need it at some point that night and preferred to consume it in close to its original form rather than a congealed mess. But I had jammed it in too well and the dam thing disintegrated sending its mayonnaise infused contents all over myself and my bike.
It was at that moment, on that mountain that all the weariness and frustration of the ride thus far came to a head. Tears didn’t come, instead worse…..thoughts of quitting.
I made it to the next town of Glencolumbkille just before 9pm. I walked into the local newsagent on the main street which was surprisingly open, dripping all over the linoleum floor. “Any B&B’s in town?” I inquired forlornly, and soon enough I was whisked away by John to his toasty warm B&B which was only 2 doors down.
I showered, washed my clothes, dined on a squashed Mars Bar and instantly fell asleep.
Day 3 Territory and Stats
3D Overview from Relive:
2D Overview from Strava:
- Distance = 215 kilometers (134 miles)
- Cycling (ie moving time) = 11 hours 40 minutes
- Stopped Time = 3 hours 27 minutes
- Elevation = 3,316 meters (10,879 feet)
- Money Spent (USD) = $71 ($26 on food/drink, $45 on accommodation)