10:37pm, Monday night, September 2nd, 2002
(Average: 12.4 mph / Time: 5.29.22 / 68.17 miles / Odometer: 68.1)
I’m impressed with myself. And considering that I started out a bit fed up, that’s high praise. I wasn’t ready to go at sunrise, like I had hoped. I didn’t actually get on the road until 12:25pm! But despite that I’ve done really well to get to Bagnelstown.
The first hour was probably the hardest. I don’t know if it was because I was daunted by what lay ahead of me, or if the hills really were fierce steep. That initial flush of exhilaration you get at the moment you set off, knowing that the real adventure has just started soon wears off. It takes three hills.
The first is tackled with gusto. The second seems wearily familiar and you lapse into a complacent resignation. But the third one in a row makes you want to stop. It’s like the feeling you get when you’re going out on a night you’ve planned but which slowly starts to unravel before you leave the house. First someone cancels and you’re disappointed, but shrug your shoulders. Then the remaining people decide to go to a different venue. One you hate. Then your taxi is an hour late. At that point the night looses all interest for you and you decide to skip it and get a video instead.
That third hill felt something like that. I just wanted to stop there and then. That’s almost entirely down to the difference between riding a laden and an unladen bicycle. The bike weighs about the same as I do, maybe a little more. That really slows me down on even a slight hill, and when I slow down the weight on either side of the front wheel makes it a bit unstable. So I have to redirect some of my energy just to keep myself pointing straight ahead.
But I can’t stop. Apart from the charity side of it, I’ve been banging on about crossing the Alps to anyone who bothered to listen for the last few months. But the truth is the Alps nearly fecking killed me. I broke down crying near the top of the Col de Forclaz because I’d never been more exhausted. Myself and Garv had spent three full days in a waterlogged tent during a storm with feck all to eat, and I’d had the shits for the last two of them. What a fuckin’ day that was.
So I couldn’t let a wee hill in Wicklow beat me, now could I? Up I went, pushing the bike ahead of me, wondering how long until I did give up. Kerry? Donegal? I trudged on up, wallowing in the agony of it. So much so that I totally forgot about Newton’s apple. Before I knew it I was looking at a long straight road that seemed to go downhill forever. I rested for a few minutes, looking at it. I’d been excited setting off, and those three hills in a row had put a real damper on that. But here I was with the bike leaning into a small hedge, and me leaning back on the bike with one elbow on the saddle to support myself. My right hand was multi-tasking. It pressed play on my Walkman, then it got the coke bottle from the handlebar bag to my mouth and back again, and finally it lit my cigarette as the slow synth sounds of Depeche Mode’s New Life came on. And when Dave Gahan started singing I broke out into the widest grin ever, looking down at that road. I knew I was having a moment.
There’s nothing like the naked pleasure of coasting along on a bicycle on a beautiful sunny day. I coasted down for what felt like five minutes, but was probably less. By the time the ground started to rise again my mood had been lifted and it wasn’t so hard to face. There was a smashing sight just after Blessington, not far past the lake, where at the crest of a hill, off to your left is a stunning view of several peaks in the Wicklow mountains laid out in a neat row. The hill was my moment, and that one was definitelya Bulfin moment.
By the time I stopped in Baltinglass at 4pm I knew that I was finding the going easier than expected. Considering that the gears aren’t set up properly I’ve been lucky that the few that work are just the ones I need on this terrain. Leaving Baltinglass, a desolate spot if you ask me, I took my first pedal off the beaten track (Freud, c’mere!). I went onto a small regional road, and of course it was instantly more enjoyable, and not totally pot-holed. There were people along it. There was industry and agriculture. It’s harvest time, which is a fab sight at sunset. And there was plenty of wildlife too. Mostly rats. All along the hedgerows. Big feckers too.
That wee road eventually took me into Carlow. I called my friend Brian, thinking I might be able to call round and bunk down for the night, but he was up in Dublin today. Typical!
Carlow then, the not inoffensive distant Suburb of Dublin that it is, managed to thwart all attempts at escape. I’d been looking forward to it because it’s on the border with Laois, so all I needed to do was cycle a little way up a street and take a snap of the Welcome to County Laois sign and then retrace my steps. The sign, when I eventually found it (35 min) was ten foot off the ground, tiny and looked like a National Monument signpost. But I got my snap. I’m trying to get a photo of every welcome sign with the bike in the shot.
Getting onto the road to Bagnelstown took me another hour. Directions from locals were as confusing as the signs. By the time I go onto the right road it was after 7pm. As I began scouting for camping sites all I could see were field after field of wheat and corn, newly harvested and no good for camping. I don’t mind saying it, I was getting a bit concerned: I didn’t fancy bivvying out there with the rats. Luckily I got directions to a field sometimes used by the local scouts. Now I’m about half-a-mile down an overgrown canal towpath, over a footbridge and down into some farmer’s field. I don’t know if it’s the right one, but it’ll do for tonight.
I barely had time to get the tent pitched before the light was gone for good. It’s amazing what an appetite will do, all the same. I had the tent up and dinner cooked in about 25 minutes. All my gear is ready for the off tomorrow, too. Hope I wake up!!
Yes, a very hard start. But my sister will be happy to hear that her Tarot thingy last night was accurate, ‘The sun will shine on all you do.’ The weather really worked for me today. The bike also worked well, and I did too. I’m going to pack you away now, roll a joint and smoke it out here in the dark, listening to the sounds of the countryside: a dog barking, traffic, the odd train. All off in the distance. It’s so dark here. No moon tonight. It feels spooky. Ah, but such splendiferous spookiness…
12:21am, Tuesday morning