Trans Atlantic Way Day 4 Report
Sunday June 9, 2019: I was awakened by a cold breeze gusting through the open window of the B&B I had holed up in the previous night. Curtains billowing over my bed.
Ah ha, that’s right. I remembered that I had woken up with a start the previous night in a pool of sweat. The air stuffy and offensively warm in that tiny room. I thought maybe that I had a fever but soon realised that it was just been the heating turned up way too high. My only recourse in my half asleep state had been to open the window.
So its cold outside….check. I then audited the remaining pertinent criteria as I lay in bed. Body = sore, particularly my quads. Attitude = shit. I really don’t feel like riding my bike today.
I dressed as quickly as I could and hobbled downstairs for breakfast. No hot breakfast available this early on a Sunday morning but the B&B owner John had prepared a damn fine cold breakfast of cold cuts, cheese, bread and various cereals. I ate plenty and washed it down with coffee and juice.
John joined me and we chatted for a while. This B&B had been his mothers house who had passed away a few years ago. He had not wanted to sell it so turned it into a B&B. There were plenty of signs of her in that breakfast room. A collection of old teapots and other family heirloom type stuff. He spoke of another business that he ran in a nearby village, a convenience store. It was loosing him money but he was determined to keep it going. “The locals rely on it” he had said. Without it they would have to travel further into the larger towns for their basic groceries.
A glimpse into this quietly spoken and humble man’s life really highlighted how trivial and self indulgent what I was doing. Just riding my bike. Not feeling like riding today just didn’t cut it. It was time to HTFU and get out there.
But first a quick photo of John out the front of his B&B…
I was back at it just after 8am. A very late start by ultra racing standards but my motivation to chase down dots that morning was at a very low ebb. It was going to be all about just turning the pedals and hoping that the fire in the belly would kick in at some point. Hopefully sooner rather than later otherwise it was going to be another long, tough day.
From Glencolumbkille it was back on the coast for a bit and a 10 kilometer round trip on the R263 out and back to the small village of Malin Beg. This little diversion obviously designed to take in the unique horseshoe shaped beach known as the Silver Strand. A massive carpark and lookout indicated it was quite the tourist attraction but on this chilly and wet Sunday morning I was the solitary “tourist”.
A quick photo and onward.
Mountain Sheep vs Lowlands MAMIL
The relentless up and down of the Donegal coast continued. There were mountains literally coming out of the Atlantic, the coast road diverting inland for a while to avoid such beasts as the 596 m (1,955 ft) Slieve League with its cliffs of a height 3 times that of the world famous Cliffs of Moher! Lesser known most probably due to its inaccessibility.
Accessibility of no concern for the sheep however that were everywhere. There are apparently almost as many sheep as people in Ireland, of which a large proportion roam the rugged west coast. The most common breed is the blackface mountain sheep which according to askaboutireland.ie, are “very hardy and can put up with cold, wind and rain. They are (also) very nimble and roam about looking for grass.”
As I battled on, this redfaced lowland MAMIL could have done with considerably more hardiness and nimbleness.
Past the village of Kilcar known for its tweed fabric production the R263 headed south and back to the coast. The sun was now out and it was getting quite warm. Leg warmers, arm warmers and jacket now superfluous to requirements and tucked away in my handlebar pack. Yet again, plenty of up and down as the coast road wound its way past some pretty spectacular views to the large (largest in Ireland apparently) fishing port of Killybegs.
I rolled into the pretty town at around 10:30am and followed the mouth watering aroma of cooking bacon to a Centra Supermarket on Shore Road. The supermarkets do quality hot food in this part of the world. I’d only banked 42 kilometers but I decided to treat myself to a proper sit down second breakfast. Chasing dots still a low priority.
I got a takeaway plastic plate full to overflowing with hot breakfast essentials; eggs, bacon, black pudding, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomato and potato bread. It took 2 trips from the counter to get it all plus a few other bits and pieces out the front to a table in the sun. I sat back to indulge, taking in the comings and goings of Sunday morning Killybegs.
The breakfast really hit the spot but instead of fueling a desire to get cracking on the bike it did the opposite. My low motivation had all of a sudden morphed into a need to find somewhere to lie down. It was more than just the post meal low, it was a real sense of fatigue.
More time off the bike was absolutely out of the question so I reluctantly got back on my bike and pedaled on.
Over the next 25 kilometer section along the N56 highway I tried every mind game in the book to try and crack the fatigue. I’m still pretty inexperienced in this long distance cycling caper but plenty of long training days in the saddle and indeed the 2017 Trans Am has taught me that periods of low motivation and lethargy are always followed by the opposite at some point, often the most incredible emotional highs. Keep battling on and you will be rewarded. However thus far in the TAW I just couldn’t seem to get there. Three and a half days and I’m still battling. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.
By the time I reached the outskirts of Donegal town I was in a dark place and had pretty much convinced myself that I was going to quit the Trans Atlantic Way. I spotted a hotel, the Gateway Lodge and rolled over to a stone wall that ran around the perimeter of the hotel car park to sit and think before any rash moves were made.
Get a room or keep going?
I’ve already lost a day and am now loosing more time. I will never finish in time to catch my flight from Dublin next Saturday.
Dublin is only 200 kilometers away from Donegal. I could be there tomorrow, move my flight and get the hell out of Dodge. Cut my losses.
Its just too bloody hard. Way harder than expected. I have cycled up mountains in Europe and the US but these vertiginous coastal roads in Ireland are soul destroying.
All pretty negative stuff and not much of a counter argument was being put up. No thoughts of the other people in my life that had made sacrifices for me being there. My wife who had put up with my months of training. My in-laws who had traveled all the way from Sydney, Australia to Philadelphia to help look after our boys.
I was deep in thought and hadn’t noticed a bloke who had been packing up his car and was now walking over for a chat. He was a cyclist from Dublin and was keen to hear what I was up to. All I could blurt out initially was a rather despondent “Donegal has broken me!” A bit out of context until I explained a bit more about the TAW. He was suitably impressed if a little skeptical as the “layperson” tend to be when you describe in detail self supported ultra endurance bike racing. “You, riding 2,500 kilometers around Ireland?!”
We had a really nice chat though and it definitely restored a little of my flagging optimism or maybe it was just that it had taken my mind off my perceived woes. He also had a few handy tips for cycling in the Ring of Kerry, an unwitting Jedi mind trick on his part – focusing my attention on the future of the ride.
I would ride on, plans of quitting subdued for the time being.
But not for long…….
7 kilometers the other side of Donegal I stopped again at a large service station complex on the N15. No matter how hard I tried to grit my teeth and carry on I just couldn’t seem to break through this over powering fatigue. I couldn’t explain it and so fell back on the only thing that I knew – force feed myself calories and caffeine and then just hope for the best.
I bought sugary and highly caffeinated crap, ate a bit, drank a bit, then decided on a quick lie down on a picnic table out the back of the service station. Within seconds I felt my eyes roll back in my head. I didn’t fight it and was soon deep asleep. My own snoring stirred me a couple of times but I refused to let that interrupt this beautiful slumber.
I woke with a start and immediately checked my Garmin. 2pm. Shit, I’d slept for an hour. I quickly polished off a Redbull and got back on my bike.
Just past the Service Station the route turned off the N15 and onto a quiet back country lane. The change in atmosphere from the din of the multi lane highway that I’d been on for the last couple of hours to the single country lane was tangible. My mind was still stuffed with negative thoughts but at least I could hear myself think.
Bzzzzzzzz…….Ouuuuuuuch. You must be fucking joking!
A bloody bee, a kamikaze one at that had just flown directly into my helmet and stung me right on my bald head.
I repeat: you must be fucking joking!
In all my long hours on the bike this has never happened…….unbelievable!
My phone then rang. My wife.
“I just got stung by a bee. I’m really tired. I’m gonna quit.”
“Really?!” A lot of information to digest, particularly as we hadn’t spoken for 2 days.
“Yeah. I’m really struggling. I just can’t seem to get into it. I can be in Dublin tomorrow and be home by Tuesday morning.”
It was the tone of that second “Really?!” that hit me like the ice bucket challenge. I knew in that instant that quitting was not an option. Not at all. Never! It wasn’t an admonishing tone rather one that prophesied how disappointed I would be in myself should I quit and indeed how much of a pain in the arse I would be to live with until said disappointment had worn off.
Out of Donegal and into The Dartry Mountains
The simplicity of the task at hand was slowly but surely bringing me back to life. Now that thoughts of quitting the race had been eviscerated from my mind all I had to do was focus on turning the pedals again.
My body still felt worn out but my mind was freshening to the task at hand.
I pedaled steadily through rolling countryside, in and out of Ballyshannon, the oldest incorporated town in Ireland and then over the River Drowes, famous for its world class Atlantic Salmon fishing. I was now finally out of County Donegal, the R28o now pointing at a mountain range partially enveloped by dark rain clouds.
I was heading towards the Darty Mountains.
The Gleniff Horseshoe
Initially the route ran parallel to the mountains and then at a fork in the road abruptly turned left and headed directly up and into them. A glance at my Garmin indicated that this was yet another out and back section. I wonder what Adrian has in store for us this time I thought as I gritted my teeth for the sharp ascent into the rain clouds. Hopefully something a little more exciting than a horseshoe shaped beach.
This diversion was definitely worth it. The road headed up into a valley surrounded on all sides by spectacular views of imposing mountains and sheer cliffs of moss covered rock. There was quite a mystical feel to the area, ably assisted by the drizzle, low clouds and stillness.
I would later learn that this 10 kilometer loop was known as the Gleniff Horeshoe, a popular tourist drive, although on this particular afternoon there were no other vehicles to be seen.
“Under Ben Bulben”
“Under Ben Bulben” is one of William Butler Yeats’ last poems, written only months before his death in 1939. In it he writes about his spiritual homeland, the Darty Mountains, in particular a mountain known as Benbulbin. He acknowledges and accepts his pending death and expresses his desire to be buried simply in a Churchyard in the the town of Sligo where he grew up.
I didn’t know all this at the time but reading this poem now provides new and special context to riding my bike through this part of Ireland. Part 6 of the poem particularly resonates:
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
I rode past Benbulbin, pictured below and past the churchyard where Yeats is buried in the outskirts of Sligo. Not a horesman on this occasion, rather a cyclist, passing by!
My Goodness My Guinness
As I rolled over a bridge into the centre of Sligo just before 6:30pm I spied a couple of hotels off to my left and a pub in the foreground. I had only banked 150 kilometres but it had been quite a day. I’d had enough. Time to cut my losses, have a beer or 2, eat a decent meal and get a decent nights sleep.
I waited at the intersection for Scott Lazar who I had just passed while he was fixing a flat on the other side of town. I hadn’t chatted properly with him since early the previous morning. There was plenty to catch up on.
Day 4 Territory and Stats
3D Overview from Relive:
2D Overview from Strava:
- Distance = 149 kilometers.
- Cycling (ie moving time) = 7 hours and 24 minutes.
- Stopped Time = 2 hours and 36 minutes.
- Elevation = 2,007 meters.
- Money Spent (USD) = $127 ($55 on food/drink, $72 on accommodation).
KEEP READING…….Day 5 Report