Trans Atlantic Way Day 9 and 10 Report
Friday June 14, 2019: Given the late finish the previous night I’d given myself permission to “sleep in” to 6:30 am, which still only gave me around 4 and a half hours sleep. Quite obviously not enough but I’d be barking up the wrong tree if I all of a sudden started complaining about that. Tis’ the nature of the beast. I did feel particularly poorly recovered this morning though.
Nothing a couple of plates of fried breakfast goodness and shit coffee wouldn’t take care of though.
In between mouthfuls I pored over my race notes. My thoughts of finishing very much top of mind. 400 kilometers to go. A quick burst of excitement. I could be finished late tonight!
This was the Trans Atlantic Way. Any expectation of an easy finish would be sadly misguided. Geography, the weather (namely the wind) and Adrian’s mad science would ensure there would be no let up as the route rounded the south west corner of Ireland and then headed east along the south coast to the finish in Kinsale.
Exhibit A: 5,000+ meters of elevation to be traversed in that final 400 k’s.
Ok, back to reality. Bang out 250 kilometers today, quick kip at Mizen Head and then “cruise” the remaining 150 k’s to Kinsale. All to be completed by 1 pm tomorrow, hopefully leaving enough time to get to Dublin by 5 pm to pick up my bike box from the bike shop.
Bish bosh bash.
With the plan firmly implanted in my head and the ample breakfast implanting itself where needed I hobbled outside with my bike to kick off the penultimate day of the TAW. To mark the occasion I took a photo of said steed out the front of the hotel.
As I pedaled away from Kenmare along the southern shore of Kenmare Bay I almost immediately fell into a negative headspace. I felt a heavy fatigue in my body and despite a calorific breakfast felt low on energy. A light drizzle and a chill in the air didn’t bloody well help.
I was now yearning for the finish and focusing very much on the hard yards required to get there. Sadly the adventure part of the ride was over. The part where the finish is just so damn far away that the mind seems to automatically (perhaps in self preservation) block too many thoughts of finishing and resets to focus more on the now. On manageable bight sized chunks of riding. On taking in and appreciating the scenery. On feeling that tangible disconnect from the noise and responsibilities of ‘the real world’. The part of the ride where the real ‘healing’ happens.
I was also starting to worry about the laundry list of post race logistics.
Around 20 kilometers from Kenmare the route headed due south to bisect the Beara Peninsula from its northern to southern shore. Up into another mountain range, the Caha Mountains.
It was slow going but at least my attention was taken off the negative stuff, to be replaced by a singular focus on just grinding away on the pedals.
At the summit of Healy Pass I was rewarded thrice fold. By a group of tourists who gave me a big cheer, by a damn fine view, and in the knowledge that I was entering the last county of the TAW, County Cork. By my calculations the 14th county of the ride out of Ireland’s 32 counties.
The countdown was definitely on. Last big climb, Healy Pass. Check. Last County, County Cork. Check. Now its time to check off the last few peninsulas of the South West coast before heading east to Kinsale; Beara Peninsula, Sheeps Head Peninsula and Mizen Peninsula. Each of which would involve a “pleasant” out and back pilgrimage to a lighthouse or signal station.
First up Dursey Island Lighthouse at the southwestern tip of the Beara Peninsula.
Broken by Beara
The Beara out and back was not just an out and back rather an out and back with a loop. For the avoidance of any confusion I include a screen shot of this is part of the route below:
I rolled into the village of Adrigole (top right) at 10:30 am. I’d been on the road for 2 and a half hours but had only banked 35 kilometers. I was frustrated by the painfully slow progress but optimistic that I could make up some decent time on this next section.
It wasn’t to be. Far from it.
There was the standard coastal up and down and the variable wind. What really started to drive me nuts though was that the northern and eastern shore of Beara Peninsula was just so damn craggy and winding that I never seemed to get to the headland that would signify I was at the the end of the loop.
Ok, around the next bend…
Ok, maybe it’ll be this next one….
Allright, enough is enough. Around this next promontory….
My mood was darkening. It had gone from frustrated to angry. I was also pushing way too hard, desperate to just get this section done.
I caught up with Andrew Orr from Edinburgh on the 15 kilometer out and back bit to the headland and Dursey Island. His chipper attitude and enthusiasm extracting me somewhat from my opposite state of mind. We rode along together to the end of the headland which was quite the tourist spot. Of note was a cable car (Irelands only cable car apparently) that ferried day trippers and supplies for Dursey Islands 4 inhabitants across the narrow stretch of water. They was a mobile food van selling fish and chips. I was sorely tempted but wasn’t willing to wait the 30 minutes and so settled on a couple of Lucozades. A quick photo of Dursey Island and then we were off, back from whence we had come.
Unbeknownst to Andrew I was now racing him. Chasing/racing dots all of a sudden resurfacing as a valid motivator…….I needed something to stoke the fire damn it.
I had an early lead but the “race” lasted all of about 5 minutes. I, and then Andrew stopped to chat with Robert Byrne who was heading out to where we had just been. I had met Robert late the previous night on the summit of Ballaghbeama Gap and I was keen to find out how he had ended up. He’d had a pretty rough night apparently and was struggling a bit. He still planned on riding non stop to the finish though…….As I said last night…..Hard Bastard.
Back at it and Andrew effortlessly pedaled off in front……I dug in to keep up but I had nothing.
An hour or so later I limped into the town of Castletownbere where I had passed through 4 hours earlier. I was really starting to struggle now. Exhausted and in dire need of calories although I didn’t feel hungry at all. My “sensitive” stomach was also back with a vengeance and I spent a pleasant hour trying to jam food down my throat in between visits to the bathroom.
By 5 pm I was back where the whole sordid out and back Beara Peninsula business had begun, the village of Adrigole. The 87 kilometer section taking over 6 hours.
Beara 1. Me 0.
A New Plan Hatched on Sheeps Head Peninsula
I was still struggling and despite a couple more food stops at Glengariff and then Bantry only an hour later I was still very low on energy. I was playing catch up on calories, not a good place to be. It was obvious that I hadn’t taken on anywhere near enough food over the morning and early afternoons riding.
The only positive in my world as I pedaled out of Bantry to tackle Sheeps Head Peninsula was that the clouds were rolling back, unveiling the most brilliant sunshine. I battled on, cursing the time sucking Beara Peninsula which was very visible across the bay to my right. The sun was lovely, soothing to both body and soul but it was adding to my tiredness. My eyes were closing involuntarily.
Time for a quick lay down.
Ahhhhhh……..this is magnificent. The sun just enough to keep me comfortably warm as the early evening chill breeze kicked in. I closed my eyes for a quick snooze but my post race logistical worries slung shot to front of mind. I couldn’t relax.
Given the painfully slow progress so far today, only 170 kilometers in 11 and a half hours, I started to panic about finishing by 1 pm tomorrow. If I don’t finish by 1, then I wont be able to get to the bike shop in Dublin by 5 pm to pick up my bike box. No bike box means I won’t be taking my bike back home to Philly Sunday morning.
Its already 7:30 pm Friday. I need more time.
Maybe I could get my old school mate to pick up the bike box? It was a cheeky idea considering I hadn’t seen him in over 20 years. Surely the friendship should be rekindled over a beer or 2 before such requests.
I was desperate though so I sent the text.
“Happy to help mate” was the very quick response.
(I didn’t know at the time that he didn’t have a car and would have to do the deed in a taxi!)
This little tweak to the plan lifted a huge weight from my mind. I now had a few more hours up my sleeve to get to Kinsale.
Suitably relaxed now I re-attempted the quick snooze but it was starting to get cold. Best get back at it. I stiffly remounted and pedaled on, soon rolling through the small village of Kilcrohane for the 20 kilometer out and back section to the lighthouse at the end of Sheeps Head Peninsula.
I battled on against a headwind and a steadily rising gradient. Andrew Orr and then me ole’ mate John Cooke came flying down the hill towards me. Andrew bombed on by but John stopped for a chat. It was damn fine to see him. It’d been over 2 days since I’d talked shit with this bloke. He didn’t disappoint and soon had me in stitches. There’s nothing better than a good belly laugh at moments like these. But of course we both had somewhere to be so it was a quick exchange and back to the grindstone.
Half and hour later I finally made it to the end of Sheeps Head, rather the end of the road. A walking track lead further on the lighthouse. I took in the view for a moment, looking north to where I bad been, Beara Peninsula and south to where I was going and would hopefully get to by the end of the days riding, Mizen Head.
By the time I got back to Kilcrohane it was almost dark, approaching 10:30 pm. I was cooked and made a spur of the moment decision. I would stay here tonight. There were no visible accommodation options so I started to pedal on out of town to find somewhere to camp.
I spotted a local.
“Hey mate, any B&Bs in town?”
“Try Bridgeview House, just out of town fella”
I got a room. The kitchen was closed but the very friendly land lady made me a couple of sandwiches and chips while I waited by the fire. The stresses of the day evaporating as I kicked back in the warmth. I took the food back to my room, showered, feasted and set my alarm for early o’clock.
Seconds later I was snoring.
Saturday June 15, 2019: My alarm woke me at 3:30 am. The usual initial resistance to extract myself from the warm embrace of my bed soon overcome by the realisation that this was going to be the last day of my 2017 Trans Atlantic way experience. It had been another life affirming experience but I just wanted it to be over now. I was desperate to see my wife and boys. To get home for Fathers Day.
There was a lot to happen first but my focus narrowed on the first controllable. Ride my bike 210 kilometers to Kinsale.
I dressed as quickly as I could. Demolished the half a sandwich I had I saved from last nights dinner and wheeled my bike out into the darkness. The cold darkness. Way colder than expected, my Garmin indicating right on freezing, 0 degrees Celsius.
I was on the bike by 4:16 am, my earliest start of the TAW by over an hour. My mood was buoyant. It was a combination of the excitement I was feeling about finishing and just that optimism that more often than not permeates the mind when you’re up before dawn. The sense that anything is possible and the day is yours to squeeze out what you want.
Mental note: Get up freakin’ earlier during the next ultra big fella!
Given this was my 38th morning of an ultra race you’d be forgiven in thinking it had taken a while for ye ole’ penny to drop.
Mizen Head and the turn for home
The cold of the morning lingered as I pedaled away along the northern shore of Mizen Head, the most brilliant light from the rising sun barely putting a dent in the chill. I’d only packed gloves as an afterthought, not expecting this level of cold. I would have been in a spot of bother without them this morning.
After around 2 hours riding the last out and back section of the ride. This one out to Mizen Head, the southernmost point of Ireland. It was tingled with 2 emotions. Relief that this would be the last damn time I would have to ride back on myself, a necessary evil but oh so mind numbingly frustrating at times. And sentimentality, as I had ridden on these roads 6 years earlier. A freshly minted MAMIL on his first holiday avec bike. There is noway in Hades that I could have imagined then that 6 years in the future I’d be finishing my second Ultra.
Thinking these thoughts I smiled as I pedaled up the last hill to Mizen Head. A group of TAW riders rolling down towards me. I was up for a chat. but they were all business, a few curt nods and it was ships passing in the night. Maybe they had planes, trains and automobiles to catch as well.
I pulled up to a picnic table outside the old signal station, now museum and just sat for a while, soaking up the sun and sipping on a can of Coke I’d saved from last night’s dinner. I checked my progress, I’d been riding for 2.5 hours and had banked 50 kilometers. Not setting the world alight but I was definitely satisfied that I was a quarter of the way to the finish.
(Something rather embarrassing also happened over the next 10 minutes that I daren’t commit to print. Its the type of tale that needs to be told, in person, in the dark corner of a pub and extracted via at least 3 pints.)
Struggling by Schull
The early starts come with a sting in the tail. Better be prepared and have calories stored on the bike, lest you bonk before the shops open.
Enter stage left me……almost.
The next 30 kilometers took 2 hours and by the time I rolled into Schull I was flagging. My pride was also a tad dampened by a chap in his 70’s (no shit!) out on a Saturday morning ride who absolutely skinned me on a hill the other side of town. The pace disparity was ebike passing fatbike’esque.
Suffice to say a can of Coke and half a sandwich doesn’t contain enough calories to facilitate comfortably ride your bike for 4 and a half hours.
Anyway, a supermarket on the main street of Schull saved me. Lucozade, Sausage rolls, bananas, grapes and my new favorite on and off bike snack, chocolate covered raisins. I sat on the narrow footpath out the front to consume, trying valiantly not to obstruct the passing foot traffic too much.
I’d earlier sent a text message to an ex colleague of my wife who lived in the habour side village of Glandore which was further up route. I’d told him that I was in a bit of a hurry to finish and that I would probably not be able to pop in to say hi, as previously planned. He’d texted back saying that he wouldn’t be there anyway but that his young daughters would be with his mother in law. They had been following my dot religiously on Trackleaders and would be really disappointed if I didn’t stop by.
I couldn’t let them down. I replied that I would indeed pop in.
Ok, progress check. It was now approaching 9:30 am. The first 80 kilometers of the day has taken 4.5 hours and I am still 125 kilometers from Kinsale. I no longer have to be in Dublin by 5 pm but if I don’t pull my finger out, getting there at all today may well be at risk. I have no idea how to get to Cork or when the last train from Cork to Dublin is.
Not time to panic just yet but adrenaline has definitely entered the fray.
After the 2017 Trans America Bike race I spent some time writing up daily reports as I am doing now with the Trans Atlantic Way. After the last days report John Egbers made the following comment:
“Thanks for your recounting. What an incredible journey you shared. Those boys may not quite grasp what their father has done but they will by nurture and nature also do some epic things.”
He was referring to my 2 young sons who were pictured with me and my wife in an image that was part of the post (ref below). It particularly resonated with my at the time as I never actually set out to do the Trans Am to inspire my sons or others for that matter. I did it mostly for completely selfish reasons. However John got the bigger picture. By undertaking such a big task, as these ultra endurance cycling events are, we are inspiring our kids and others to lead a life less ordinary. To step outside their comfort zone. Not a small thing in a society that tends to reward the uncomplaining adherence to the high school to university to cubicle to marriage to debt to frantically saving for retirement, path.
Should my humble mid to back of pack efforts riding my bike around Ireland plant a seed in a child’s mind that there are other options out there that involve travel, physical challenges, self discovery and adventure, then I am absolutely up for that.
This is why I simply had to stop in Glandore, despite the time marching way on. The 50 kilometers from Schull had taken a sluggish 3 hours.
(Dear John, may you be Riding in Peace my friend.)
The final stretch to Kinsale
I was glad I stopped at Glandore, the girls seemed pretty interested in my journey and had plenty of questions. As I pedaled out of town though I felt very much under the pump. Progress had been painfully slow, a combination of plenty of climbing, a stiff breeze at times, and an early calorie deficit that should hopefully now be under control.
It is now 12:30 pm and I am still 80 kilometers from Kinsale.
From Glandore the route ran inland for a while before rejoining the coast at the town of Rosscarbery. I would later learn that the area has a rich history that dates back to the Neolithic Period. I was not surprised though, it was a pretty area, rolling green hills and inviting sandy beaches. I’d wanna hang out here.
Soon later I caught up with Robert Byrne. He was absolutely living up to his Hard Bastard moniker, as he had not slept since I had seen him at around this save time the previous day. He was starting to really struggle though and looked a bit worse for wear…..says me. We rode along together to Clonakilty, another town on the south coast of Ireland with a rich ancient history.
At Clonakilty we stopped at a service station to refresh and resupply for the final stretch to Kinsale, 45 kilometers away.
From Clonakilty it was up into hilly dairy country. There was going to be bugger all let up in this final stretch. It was also becoming painfully obvious that we were not going to be taking the most direct route to Kinsale. On numerous occasions at forks in the road, I would see a road sign to Kinsale but my Garmin would indicate the opposite direction. Given the route to date this did not surprise me but damn did it piss me off.
Finally, as I rolled downhill on the R604, a sign to Kinsale that I was “allowed” to take. I looked back for Rob but he was nowhere to be seen. I had lost him not far out of Clonakilty and had ridden the previous 40 kilometers solo. Hopefully he was not too far behind and we could finish together. I slowed for a while, hoping he would catch up but the desire to just finish soon trumped any sentimentality.
10 minutes later I was pedaling into the vibrant port town of Kinsale, a real energy in the air. I pedaled through the center of town eagerly looking around for any signs of the Trans Atlantic Way in the throng of tourist activity.
Off the main street I followed the route line on my Garmin down a back lane between a SuperValu Supermarket and a Garage that then lead up a really steep hill. I was not expecting it and had to turn around to get in the right gear.
This doesn’t seem right, or maybe it is just Adrian indulging in his final act of trickery.
Halfway up the hill my Garmin indicated I had finished but there was no visible signs of the finish.
Oh for fuck sake!
I rode around for a little while and then finally stumbled across a sign for The Kinsale Holiday Village. Ah ha, that rings a bell. I pedaled up the drive and spotted Adrian’s blue van and then a flag above a gate with FINISH written on it.
I proceeded to ride under the sign and was greeted by a generous cheer and applause by a group of around 10 people. A cold beer was placed in my hand. Adrian came out for a hug.
It is done!
Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire
I chatted with Adrian and a few others. Tim Leicester was there. It was great to hear of his strong finish, the first time he had conquered the course in 3 previous attempts. Chapeau Tim, you legend!
I was in a bit of a daze and would have dearly loved to have had a lay down in the grass avec beer or 3 but the anxiety was already building. I needed to get myself to Cork to get the train to Dublin toute suite. It was 5:45 pm.
Tim informed that there was a bus service from the center of town to Cork that ran on the half hour and that took an hour. I congratulated Rob Byrne who had just finished, gathered up my gear, bid a couple of people farewell and then slunk off back down the hill.
No time to savor the moment. I even forgot to get my Brevet Card stamped.
The bus station was packed. There’s no way I’ll get on the next bus with my bike I thought. Uber? Shitstix, no Uber in Ireland. I spotted a Taxi rank and wheeled my bike over.
“You free mate? Any chance you can get me to Cork?” I asked the driver of the first cab which just so happened to be the perfect vessel for my requirements, a 7 seater.
“Sorry fella, I’m booked. Go and check in the office.”
I did as directed but got more bad news. Every cab in Kinsale was either out on a job or booked. “Come back in an hour” the dispatcher said.
“I don’t have an hour mate. How about I pay for the return journey as well?”
“I’d love to take your money but I don’t have any cabs!”
With my tail between my legs, I walked back over to the bus stop. I was not a little bit panicky at this point. My head was fried. Just working out how to catch a bus to Cork, with my bike was a massive undertaking. Cue my savior, Michal Serafin. Michal had finished the TAW the day before and was waiting for the Cork bus. He obviously sensed my distress and came over to talk me through……catching a bus.
His twitter bio lists a characteristic of “true gentleman”. I would absolutely concur with that.
As he was explaining that taking a bike on the bus would not be a problem, the bus arrived.
5 minutes later I was sitting comfortably on the bus, heading to Cork. Sharp exhale of breath. I say comfortably, it was a mental comfort knowing that I was now actually on my way to Dublin, not a physical comfort as I was starting to cramp up quite badly in the confined space.
Now to the Dublin train situation. Sitting awkwardly on my left arse cheek with my right leg protruding straight out into the aisle to avoid further cramping I opened up the Ireland Rail website on my phone. Lucky I had borrowed Rob Byrne’s battery pack earlier to charge it up.
There was only one service to Dublin remaining that day, the 8:25 pm. If this bus was on time I would make it with 30 minutes to spare.
Holy shit, in the greater scheme of things, this was cutting it really damn fine. If I had finished the 2,356 kilometer ride 30 minutes later then I would have missed this train which would have meant I would have missed tomorrow mornings flight home.
I bought 2 tickets (bike included), one for me and 1 for my new best mate, Michal.
My next 12 hours went like this:
8:25 pm: Safely on board (including bike) the train to Dublin. Another sharp exhale of breath.
11 pm: arrive in Dublin. Bid farewell to Michal and rode to Smithfield to pick up my luggage that I’d left at the reception of my pre-race accommodation.
11:30 pm to 12:30 am: Walked around Smithfield trying to flag a 7 seater taxi to take me, my bike and luggage to my mates apartment in South Dublin. (Uber XL wherefore art thou?!)
12:30 am: Gave up trying to get a cab and decided to leave luggage back at the reception so rode my bike to my mates place.
1:30 am to 3:30 am: Drank red wine with my mate and his new girlfriend until I started snoring at the table. All I wanted to do was curl up in a dark room and sleep as soon as I arrived but a couple of drinks and a chat was absolutely the least I could do considering I hadn’t seen him for 20 years. The fact that I had completely disrupted his life over the last 2 days; changing my arrival time and getting him to pick up my bike box (in a taxi!) also relevant.
3:30 am to 5:30 am: Slept / in a coma.
5:30 am: Got up to pack my bike box. Far from a fit state to do so. Fully expecting a damaged bike on the far side but my care factor was through the floor at that moment.
7:00 am: 7 seater taxi to Dublin Airport via Smithfield to pick up my luggage.
8:25 am: Found out my flight to Philly was delayed 5 hours. I couldn’t care less. I had made my flight. An extra sharp and lengthy exhale of breath.
WHAT A DAY!