Trans Atlantic Way Day 8 Report
Thursday June 13, 2019: I’m up at 5 am with a clarity of purpose. Two and a half days to bang out 700 kilometers, a big chunk of which will need to be completed today. The reality of being 2 days behind my pre-race plan is looming large now, a tangled web of post race logistics to be completed in an increasingly narrower window of time.
- Finish the TAW long route. (jumping onto the short route could save me a day but it ain’t an option. Too much sweat and tears invested on the long route to waste.)
- Get from the finishing town of Kinsale to the City of Cork. (30 kilometers)
- Catch a train from Cork to Dublin. (a 2.5 hour journey)
- Get to CycleWays Bike shop in Dublin by 5 pm Saturday to pick up my bike box which I’d left there pre-race (A long story. I should have taken advantage of the bag drop service).
- Pick up my luggage from my pre-race Air BnB.
- Get bike, bike box and luggage to the apartment of an old school mate who lives somewhere in South Dublin.
- Get to the airport in time to catch American Airlines flight 723 from Dublin to Philadelphia, departing 11:20 am Sunday.
Even though I had no idea how to get from Kinsale to Cork or how often the trains ran from Cork to Dublin or indeed if I could take my bike on the train, I estimated that I would need to be in Kinsale by 1 pm Saturday at the latest.
Yep, logistics are certainly not a strong point. I’m a get there and sort it out kind of a bloke, although in my defense on this occasion I anticipated having a lot more time to sort it out.
It is now 5:30 am Thursday and I have until 5 pm Saturday to ride 710 kilometers (including 8,400 meters of elevation) to the finish in Kinsale and then get to a bike shop in Dublin.
Better pull my finger out!
But first a quick raid of the hotel breakfast room. Breakfast didn’t start until 7:30 am but the very friendly desk clerk who checked me in the previous night said he’d leave out some pastries, yogurt and fruit for me. It was a lovely gesture. I ate some of what was on offer and stuffed what I could into my bike bags.
I then wheeled my bike out into the cold, wet morning just before 6 am. Hardly inspiring conditions but I felt good. Ready to attack the day.
MIKE HALL KOM 3: CONOR PASS
A hour and a half into the mornings riding and it was time to really put my legs to the test. Conor Pass, one of the highest Irish mountain passes served by an asphalted road. The climb also contributing towards the Trans Atlantic Way’s King of the Mountain classification, although being fast on the 10 kilometer climb was the last thing on my mind. It was a matter of finding a relatively easy gear and pedaling away steadily up into the clouds.
I’d only come across 3 other TAW riders in the last 2 and a half days riding but over the 50 minutes it took me to climb Connor Pass I met 3 more. Irishman Mike Moriarty went flying pass me on the lower slopes looking very much at home on his local climb. I then caught up with Dale Barrington from England and Volker Haug from Germany at the summit.
Dingle Peninsular aka Ahch-To
The descent down Conor Pass was very fast and a lot of fun. Yet again I was probably more frugal on the brakes than I should have been, given the wet road, gravelly corners and strong wind gusts but the need for (effort free) speed trumped any safety concerns. The journey from the clouds to the coastal town of Dingle taking a rather expedient 7 minutes.
From Dingle it was to be a 4o kilometer loop out around the Dingle Peninsular, the westernmost point of Ireland, but first a quick pitstop at the SuperValu Supermarket on the main street. No real need for supplies but a pesky rumble in my stomach indicated that a bathroom break was very much on the cards.
Suitably refreshed, I bought a couple of sausage rolls, grapes and caffeinated drinks and then sat briefly with the TAW riders I had met on Conor Pass; Mike, Volker and Dale, to consume.
I could have very easily stayed longer to soak up the conversation and the warmth, maybe grab a coffee or 2 but the road called. It was now almost 9 am and I’d only banked 50 kilometers. Gotta keep at it.
I felt better for the pit stop but my spirits started to take a bit of a turn for the worse on the climb out of Dingle. Hard to put my finger on the reason(s) why, maybe a combination of the incessant light rain, cold and frustration of yet another out and back section.
Enter stage left Dale Barrington.
Dale caught up with me a few kilometers out of Dingle and the conversation that ensured off and on for the next hour and a half, in combination with some incredible scenery around the western and southern shores of the Dingle Peninsular, snapped me pleasantly out of the negative head space.
The “Perfect Wave”
Back into Dingle for the second time but before I could start making some actual forward progress I needed another pit stop. Supplies and yet another bathroom break, my guts still rather sensitive. Jeez I hope I haven’t caught a bug.
From Dingle the route headed east along the N86 running parallel to but out of sight of the coast, but then a right turn before the village of Annascaul brought the grey Atlantic back into view.
Holy shit, check out those waves.
There is something magical about perfect sets of clean waves rolling into shore. Pleasant on the eye but such scenery also tugs at some pretty intense childhood memories. Growing up in Sydney Australia, if we weren’t actually on a beach holiday there was barely a weekend over the summer when my family wasn’t at the beach. On each approach I’d be wondering about the waves. Would they be big? Would they be clean or choppy? Would there by an on or off shore breeze? Would it be a boogie boarding or body surfing kind of a day? There would be a real sense of expectation and I tell you if I saw waves like I just saw now I’d be ecstatic. It’d be a fun day at the beach. Never mind the cold and drizzle.
I stopped and pushed my bike over to the other side of the road to take in the view for a while. If I had one complaint, the wave, although perfectly formed was a bit on the small side, around 1 foot. Perfect to learn how to surf on though.
I rolled further down the road to a lookout to get a better view. Right on cue, “Surf School” signs everywhere. Go figure. I never expected to see this on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Anyway, enough wave fancying for one day. Time to get back at it.
Plenty of Chit Chat at Castlemaine
An hour later after a relatively flat section I pedaled into the little village of Castlemaine. The road into town faced a convenience store and there were a couple of fully laden bikes leaning up outside it. Telltale signs that there were TAW riders inside.
Should I pop in or crack on?
I checked my race notes and noticed that apart from another village 5 kilometers up the road the route got quite remote for the next 75 kilometers including a couple of big climbs. Better stop. With the climbing that 75k’s could well take 4 to 5 hours, well outlasting any water and food that I still had stored on my bike.
Whilst I was reading my notes Jo Burt came out to introduce himself and to have a quick chat before heading off. I then met the other TAW rider inside, another Englishman David Gregory who was kicking back enjoying a hot beverage. Wow! 5 new faces in 6 hours of riding. It was turning into quite the busy day!
I quickly made the rounds of the shop, stocking up on the standard sugary crap. As I was paying up a smiling Dale Barrington came walking in. It was good to see him again but there was no time to chat. I could feel the call of the road or maybe I was just feeling overawed by all this human interaction after the relatively solitary last few days.
As I was making ready to leave, more human interaction. This time it was Gavin Hudson, dotwatcher and chief cheerleader of TAW rider Marika Nuthall. He scared the shit out of me as he rolled up to me on his fully loaded Brompton Folding Bike. We had a nice little chat and then he headed into the shop to tick off another couple of dots and I hit the road to tick off another couple of sizable climbs.
MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: Round 1
From Castlemaine the route headed due south and well away from the coast towards a foreboding looking mountain range. I later learnt said mountain range was called MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Na Cruacha Dubha in Irish, meaning “the black stacks”. Ireland’s highest mountain range.
Black stacks alright. These mountains looked the real deal.
Mike Hall KOM 4: Gap of Dunloe
The first climb is announced via a very steep little ramp that then flattens somewhat to unveil a very scenic and gradual climb up through a u-shaped valley that follows the River Loe past a series of loughs. It is known as the Gap of Dunloe, another contributor to the Mike Hall King of the Mountains.
It is quite the tourist spot and the single laned road, particularly the middle section, is packed with walkers, horse drawn carriages and the occasional car. Towards the top of the Gap the road becomes steeper, narrower and windier leaving not much room for the aforementioned road users and cyclists to pass each other. It wouldn’t take much for someone to loose control and end up base over apex in a ravine or lough. I wasn’t surprised to read later of 2 American tourists who were killed the previous year in just such an accident when the horse drawn cart they were riding on left the road and plunged 15 feet onto rocks.
Apart from the very noticeable sounds of the occasional horse shoes slipping…..(yep, very sketchy) there were no dramas on the climb, just plenty of photo opportunities….
The Black Valley Climb
Things started to feel quite remote on the upper part of the Gap of Dunloe. All of a sudden the hustle and bustle of the earlier parts of the climb was over and I was very much alone again.
It felt good and increasingly so as things got more remote after a decent and then a gradual climb up through the Black Valley, one of the last places in mainland Ireland to be connected to the electricity and telephone networks, apparently, in 1976. Very few signs of life apart from a few hidden away houses inhabited by people who were very much living off grid.
The remoteness added to my self talk, not all of which was occurring in my own head. A mixture of stream of consciousness babble, foul language and tennis player-esque “C’Mon”s. Not the sort of stuff you want heard in polite company or any company for that matter…
I was mid profanity laced gobbledygook when I passed Jo Burt off road to my right. I would usually have stopped for a quick chat but I was so embarrassed by whatever invective I was spilling forth that I frantically pedaled away like the madman I was. I didn’t stop until I got to the top of the climb, somewhat comforted by a lovely view down into another valley and yet another lough, Lough Brin.
The Ring of Kerry
After a 45 minute up and down section it was out of the remote mountains and back to the relative “civilisation” offered by the coast road. I was now on the Ring of Kerry a popular circular tourist route that I would be on for the next 50 odd kilometers.
It was around 5:30 pm when I rolled into the touristy little town of Sneem. 202 kilometers in the bank. I spotted a quaint little bakery on the main street and made a beeline for it. I was all of a sudden ravenous and in a sausage roll, meat pie and/or pasty kind of a mood. They were getting ready to close and only had pasties available. I ordered 3, a couple of flapjacks and a coffee and took up pole position on a table out the front. I immediately relaxed, enjoying the ample people watching opportunities and not thinking about riding my bike for a while.
I gave myself 25 minutes and then it was back to business.
MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: Round 2
An hour and a half later after a lengthy climb and decent I rolled into the village of Waterville. I looked around for a convenience store to top up on supplies for the night’s riding but the only thing open was a rather fancy looking seafood restaurant that adjoined a pub. I really couldn’t be bothered drawing attention to myself so I rode on. A squashed pasty and flapjack would have to do.
In a lucky break a service station was open a couple of kilometers out of town. I say open, well just open. The clerk was closing up but let me in. I quickly grabbed some gummies, redbull and water.
It was 8:30 pm. Off into the grey evening. A couple of hundred yards past the service station the route turned off the main N70 and onto an unnamed back road. My time on the Ring of Kerry was over. Time to hit the mountains again.
MacGillycuddy’s Reeks: Round 2.
An inauspicious beginning to the nights riding.
On a 15 kilometer false flat through farmland the pasties, gummies and Redbull started rumbling in the belly. Now my guts had been “sensitive” all day, particularly in the morning but the new additions had taken the situation south very quickly.
I pedaled uncomfortably along sitting more firmly than usual on the saddle, scanning anxiously for suitable places to stop and take care of business. There weren’t many but I finally spotted a brick wall in a paddock that provided some shelter from the road although scaling a 7 foot fence was the price of said shelter.
It took what seemed like an age to get over the fence, stumble through the thick mud that I hadn’t noticed from the road, disrobe (pretty much fully disrobe mind, given the unfortunate design of male bib shorts), balance precariously on my haunches and…..well…..unleash.
I dressed quickly and scaled the fence noticing a farm house a hundred yards or so from where I had had my movement, and within direct line of sight. In my rather frazzled state of mind I hadn’t noticed it before.
Anyway, I was now feeling great and with my freshly acquired agility tapped relatively easily up the next climb, Ballaghisheen Pass.
MH KOM 5: Ballaghbeama Gap
The descent down Ballaghasheen Pass was fast. It also felt like I was riding into a very remote area again, made even moreso by the coming night. Its a feeling you get in the pit of your stomach. “Ok it really is just me, my wits and my bike now”.
From that descent its pretty much straight back up again. Another Mike Hall KOM climb, Ballaghbeama Gap. A “proper” climb complete with switch backs and intense views although nearing the summit the scenery was replaced by the dense black of night.
I was listening to an audiobook ‘Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland’ a spooky accompaniment to the moonless night and it was with a sense of relief almost when I spotted a red flashing bike light a couple of switch backs ahead. I was not alone.
30 minutes later at the summit I caught up with that bike light. It was fellow TAW rider Robert Byrne from Bristol, England. Quite the novel place to meet someone for the first time, on the summit of a mountain in the south west of Ireland at 11 pm on a Thursday night, riding bikes.
We chatted a while and then he was off. Like an Olympic Ski Jumper next in line I waited a few minutes and then I too was off hurtling down the mountain. I was a little more circumspect as compared to previous descents though as it was just so damn dark and there were plenty of tight corners.
Yet again a descent was closely followed by yet another ascent. There really is not much to say about the Molls Gap climb apart from the fact that it just never seemed to end. It went on and on and on……and on.
The descent was fun near the top, fast sweeping bends with reflectors so I could really push it and then sketchy towards the bottom, no reflectors as the road was under repair and very rough. By the time I rolled into the town of Kenmare, back on the coast again I was cooked. It was approaching 1 am and I was more than ready for a comfortable bed and some oh so sweet slumber.
I waved goodbye to Rob who I had just caught up with. He was aiming to pull an allnighter…..hard bastard. Being far, far less hard I started looking for the hotel that I had booked earlier in the day.
Soon later I was asleep, very satisfied with the days play. I had done what I had set out to do, knock off a big chunk of the remaining 71o kilometers. Now only 400 odd to go.
DAY 8 TERRITORY AND STATS
3D Overview from Relive:
2D Overview from Strava:
- Distance = 304 kilometers (189 miles)
- Cycling (ie moving time) = 14 hours 51 minutes
- Stopped Time = 3 hours 22 minutes
- Elevation = 3,552 meters (11,654 feet)
- Money Spent (USD) = $192 ($62 on food/drink, $130 on accommodation