Trans Atlantic Way Day 5 Report
Monday June 10, 2019: My alarm woke me from a damn fine sleep at 4:30 am. I was feeling good, well rested although my quads were really sore. Bizarre, never really suffered from quad soreness from cycling before. Maybe my saddle height has shifted? Who knows.
I boiled the kettle, dumped a few instant coffee packs in a mug with plenty of sugar and stuffed some left over pasta and burger in my mouth whilst hobbling about packing my bike bags. Multi-tasking at it’s best.
Just after 5 and I was just about ready to rumble. My phone rang. It was Scotty Lazar with bad news. He had hit the road about an hour earlier but had had to turn back. His knee which was pretty banged up from crashes on days 1 and 2 was becoming too painful to ride. I headed over to his hotel room just down the corridor to commiserate and to say goodbye. I was going to miss him. Ultra endurance bike racing fast tracks the mate making process. The shared experience facilitates quite a deep connection. Tis’ a beautiful thing.
Speaking of beautiful things, as I rolled my bike out of the Sligo City Hotel I noticed that it was a gloriously sunny morning. The first thus far of the TAW. It was going to be a good day!
I didn’t find the first few hours riding particularly easy. It was cold, there was a pesky wind about and my quad soreness wasn’t going anywhere but I was starting to feel really good. I had emotionally bottomed out the day before and had got very close to quitting but slowly but surely I could feel an energy, an excitement that I hadn’t felt thus far in the race, starting to build.
As I coasted on a downhill section between the towns of Enniscrone and Ballina I took out my GoPro and filmed myself. Not an arms outstretched shot designed to take in mostly background, rather an angle designed to capture me, my emotional state……….very normal behavior.
I took a similar shot on the morning of Day 19 of the Trans Am 2 years before. I had just crossed the state line from Kansas into Missouri. Upon my return home I showed my wife Melissa that particular image. She said simply “you are happy there”. Even though my eyes are covered with sunglasses you can tell. Same with the image below I took in Ireland. I am happy there.
We all chase happiness in one form or another. The form that self supported ultra distance cycling brings is of a particularly addictive form. I find it quite hard to articulate and I won’t attempt to here, instead I’ll burp out some words/phrases at you; adventure, freedom, physical strength, fitness, fresh air, the smells of nature, vitamin d, camaraderie, friendship, suffering and coming through the other end, grabbing life my the ……, pushing limits.
All of this somehow congeals into a beautiful contentment. A happiness.
Pit-stop in Ballina
I had actually targeted Ballina as a place to restock for the afternoon of Day 3 in my race notes, but quite obviously it wasn’t to be. 9:30 am on Day 5 was where it was at.
As I gently rolled down Emmet Street on the far side of the River Hoy I spied a TAW rider out the front of a Pharmacy. It was Tim Leicester who I hadn’t seen for a couple of days. Late afternoon on Day 3 in Lettermacaward, Donegal to be exact. It was really good to see him.
We caught up on each others adventures and I picked his brain on the next section of the course. He’d ridden the TAW a few times and had plenty of good tips on resupply options and even wind conditions. He anticipated a cross wind as we headed north and then maybe even a tail wind as we rounded the headland heading east for a while. It could get pretty blustery on this exposed section of the Atlantic Coast apparently so fingers crossed we got a bit of that action at our backs.
“Cheers mate, I’ll see you down the road.”
I took Tim’s leave and hobbled into the Pharmacy for some painkillers for my quads. I’ve never indulged in pain relief for cycling related leg soreness but hey, I was out the front of a pharmacy….why not. Its worth a shot.
I bought anti-inflammatories and high strength paracetamol, then headed next door to a service station for some food and supplies.
Soon enough I was back at it, heading north out of town on the R314.
Another Pitstop in Ballycastle
The next 40 odd kilometers to the little village of Ballycastle took 2 hours. Pretty sluggish going with a stiff cross wind but there was a short section heading east where it was at my back. T’was glorious but short lived. Please let there be more!
Tim had mentioned that it was pretty remote past Ballycastle, 70+ kilometers to the next services in Bangor so topping up my water bottles was a priority. It was getting warm, borderline hot out of the wind and I was drinking quicker than usual.
Speaking of Tim, I had passed him on the road out of Ballina but he was already in town out the front of a little convenience store on the main street. He was kicking back eating and drinking so must have here a while.
Shit eh, maybe I had taken a wrong turn.
“I’m on the short route now mate” he said, anticipating my question.
Tim had decided to switch from the long to the short route to ensure he finished in time to make the finishers party on Saturday night and subsequent travel plans home. It was not an uncommon move. Dots on Trackleaders were changing from blue (riders on the long route) to yellow (riders on the short route) left right and center. Donegal had obviously not just kicked my arse.
I bought water, Lucozade, stuff for on the bike and a couple of Magnums from a lovely lady in the little convenience store. I demolished the Magnums out the front while watching Tim pack up his bike. Off he went and then me about 5 minutes later.
Neolithic fields, Irish Kermit and an Oh So Saaaaweeeet Tailwind!
I caught up with Tim and we rode together for a while up the long hill that led out of Ballycastle to the coast. Around a bend and we came across yet another Wild Atlantic Way tourist stop. Céide Fields, the most extensive Neolithic site in Ireland and home to the oldest known field systems in the world, dating back to circa 3,500 BC. I admit I was completely ignorant to this fact at the time, assuming the gathered crowds were there to take in the dramatic views of vertical cliffs looking out to a perfectly azure blue Atlantic.
Tim stopped to use the facilities. I took a quick photo and then quickly remounted, keen to take advantage of the wind that was now blowing stiffly in the direction we were travelling.
I flew along the coast, the tail wind perfectly at my back. Cycling all of a sudden extraordinarily easy and fun. I didn’t relax however preferring to increase my effort, hitting the drops to squeeze out as much speed as I could.
The road then bent around to the south east, the wind now blowing over my left shoulder. Not a perfect tailwind but still providing ample assistance. I stayed in the drops chewing through the easy kilometers, grinning from ear to ear. If these friendly conditions keep up this could turn into a huge day.
Hurtling on down the R314, I spotted a cyclist off to the left behind a large road sign, like a trooper patrolling the state line. I slowed briefly to take in the scene. Should I stop or outrun the law?
A broad smile on the cyclist charmed me into slamming on the brakes to allow him to get back on his bike and catch up. I was glad that I did. It was local Irish lad Alan Hyland from Westport along with his companion Kermit the Frog who was kicking back atop Alan’s saddle bag, webbed hands on head staring directly up at Alan’s backside.
We had a great ole’ chat, both of us on a high. He explained how much he was enjoying his first ultra, albeit tougher than he had expected. I raved about how beautiful his country was and how great it was to be riding around it, the suffering of Donegal all of a sudden a distant memory. “Wait till you see Westport!” he said, explaining the scenery around his home town. It was his aim to get there that night to get a good nights rest in his own bed. This all sounded rather ambitious given that it was already around 1 pm and Westport was a good 200+kilometers up route. The way he described it though coupled with his enthusiasm made it all sound rather achievable though. Alrighty then, lock in Westport for the days destination.
We continued on for a while chatting side by side and then Alan stopped for a comfort break. I pedaled on, assuming a position low on the bike so I could rip the guts out of the next section. I was feeling great. The fire in the belly had been stoked!
I passed through the town of Bangor at around 3:30 pm still plenty of water and food on board so I didn’t need supplies but stopped briefly to chat with Englishmen James Backshall and Josh Patch who were tucking into a late lunch, kicking back on a picnic table in the bright mid afternoon sunshine.
I made short work of the next 18 kilometers to Ballycroy banging it out in under 30 minutes along the N59. This little section was simply exhilarating and will live long in my memory. It had equal measures of tailwind, gentle undulations and a perfectly cambered road. I caught up with Tim Leicester again who had leap-frogged me on the short route. I must have scared the shit out of him as I screamed out like a madman as I passed him; “How good is this!!”
I was a little more circumspect as I approached and passed fellow Aussie Kate Fowler further down the road, instead wordlessly extending my hand as I passed her a little further on. I could tell she was deep in concentration and didn’t fancy interrupting, besides I was starting to feel the effects of the last few hours of having the hammer well and truly down. Not tired, just a little more conscious now of the long game, Westport still nigh on 150 kilometers down route.
The Man on the Bridge
As I pedaled up a hill towards an old stone bridge that traversed the N59, my Garmin which had been behaving itself admirably up until that point strangely indicated an abrupt right turn onto a road that seemingly didn’t exist.
I stopped to have a closer look.
“Up here lad!”
I was not expecting that and with a start looked up to the bridge. There was a random bloke up there, smoking a cigarette and yelling out to me that I needed to get my arse (and bike) up the embankment to where he was.
Sure enough there was a path……of sorts that I unceremoniously clambered up, effing and jeffing all the way. Quite the task with road cleats and fully laden bike.
Adrian, you ……..! 🙂
The random bloke came over to introduce himself, with a massive grin on his face. No doubt he had rather enjoyed witnessing my efforts. Fellow TAW rider John Cooke from Liverpool. No shit I thought taking in the full frontal assault of his Scouse accent….;-).
We chatted awhile. (Damn how I have missed the wit of the North). Turns out John completed the Trans Am the same year as me and had also had a couple of cracks at the Trans Continental. (Indy Pac too John??). Plenty of ultra experience under the belt.
Kate Fowler then approached up the N59 towards us.
She looked up with a look of incredulity that must have matched mine of 10 minutes earlier. She however completed the required task with way better form and in a significantly more timely manner.
A quick debrief and then the 3 of us headed off on the Great Western Greenway (a bike and walking path) towards Achill Island.
Achingly Beautiful Achill Island…..but will it ever end?
I was greeted into the town of Achill at around 5:30 pm by dot watchers Marion and her partner Kevin from England who were camper-vanning around Ireland. Kevin completed the 2011 Tour Divide which got Marion into dot watching and she hasn’t looked back, a dotwatching veteran of subsequent Trans Continentals and now the Trans Atlantic Way. We had a lovely chat, they took a few photos and then I rolled over to the SuperValu Supermarket for a meal and to stock up on supplies for the nights riding.
My time on Achill was magic, such a beautiful place, particularly with the sun out. I could go on and on and on about my 5 hours riding on the Island but now is not the time. This blog post is already dragging on and I will never get it finished. The following images will need to tell the tale:
Into the Night
It was just after 10:30 pm when I finally pedaled back over the bridge from whence I had come 5 hours earlier. I’d banked 310 kilometers and Westport was still over 50 kilometers away. Shit eh, this is gonna be a late one!
I was still feeling pretty good although a little concerned by the lack of calories left on the bike. All I had was a gel that Scott Lazar had given me earlier in the day and a half bottle of Lucozade. Water too would have to be rationed.
This concern soon disappeared though as I turned off the R319 out of Achill and then right again onto a quiet country lane. The blustery, multi directional breeze that had been a constant companion on the island now resuming its welcome place at my back.
At this rate I could be in Westport by midnight.
WTF is going on with my body?!
Of course the Irish coast is not a linear beast (you’d reckon I’d know that by now) and when the road bent from a southerly to an easterly, to a north-easterly direction the aforementioned breeze no longer assisted my progress. Far from it. By the time I got to Mulranny I was starting to struggle a bit. I had energy in the tank but bizarrely I was hit by a couple of pretty intense dizzy spells, almost coming off the bike a couple of times.
I stopped to gather myself and stared longingly at the Mulranny Park Hotel, noticing on Trackleaders that a couple of TAW riders had holed up there. I had booked a hotel in Westport earlier and was thus committed to cracking on.
I wheeled my bike through a series of gates and was finally on another section of the Great Western Greenway thus commencing a rather sketchy 15 kilometer section along the trail. Sketchy due to the hundreds of rabbits that bolted out of the pitch blackness like tracer bullets at my front wheel, attracted by my light. Somehow they always manged to swerve at the last moment. I should really have slowed down but just wanted the days riding to be over now and so put the hammer down again.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the route peeled off the unlit trail to the decently lit N59, my companion of earlier in the day. I no longer had to concentrate on kamikaze rabbits and potholes on the path.
I rolled into the town of Newport at around 12:30 am, still 13 kilometers from Westport. I was flagging but pedaled on, praying that the 13k’s would be relatively flat.
I then noticed something very strange and not a little embarrassing……wait for it…….I had pissed myself. Not a little bit, which would not be worthy of this self induced public shaming. I had had a proper go and my bib shorts were soaked through. However, and this is the strange bit, I had not felt the need to go or indeed was not even conscious of the fact that it was happening at the time.
WTF is going on with my body?!
A Big Day
I finally rolled into Westport at around 1 am. I checked into my hotel which took a bit of finding, showered, washed my bib shorts (I wonder why) and laid on my bed, munching on a vending machine dinner of crisps and chocolate bars.
I was still pretty wired from the days play and it took me a while to fall asleep.
T’was my biggest ever day on a bike.
Day 5 Territory and Stats
3D Overview from Relive:
2D Overview from Strava:
- Distance = 363 kilometers (225 miles)
- Cycling (ie moving time) = 15 hours 58 minutes
- Stopped Time = 3 hours 39 minutes
- Elevation = 3,442 meters (11,293 feet)
- Money Spent (USD) = $164 ($60 on food/drink, $104 on accommodation)
KEEP READING……Day 6 Report