11:14pm, Monday night, September 9th, 2002
(Average: 12.4 mph / Time: 5.37.15 / Distance: 69.75 miles / Odometer: 484.5 miles)
I was able to get Anthony to reduce the bill to €15. Not bad, but he said that if I’d mentioned that I was doing the cycle for charity last night he’d have given me free board. I didn’t quite get his reasoning. I was too tired, wet and miserable to talk to anyone last night, and he was cooking in the restaurant. Anyway, I was happy with the reduction, every little helps. I really don’t want this trip to take anything away from whatever we raise from it. That’s as much to do with my own wee pleasure at seeing what I’m capable of putting up and coping with, as it has to do with maximising fundraising.
With the really bad time I made yesterday I was anxious about today. It looked to be really tough terrain and a meandering route as I went over the map last night. Also, with money becoming critical I need to get as much mileage done each day as I can. (I’m giggling here. I just had a ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ moment!)
I ate tons today. A bowl of muesli and a big fry-up for breakfast. Lots of fruit too: Pears, bananas, apples and oranges. Lots of water, as well. No coke for a few days now. That’s great when the sun is out and hot – there’s nothing better, but when the temperature dips it’s just about hydration not quenching my thirst and boosting my energy.
I barely paused in Tubercurry, the first town I hit, just had a smoke while I sent some texts and then hit the road again. It was very windy at times today, and that remains my biggest enemy. The roads themselves come a close second. I came off into the ditch twice but managed to keep myself upright somehow. I thank my magic reflexes for that. They just seem to be there when I need them. Hyper-analysing and reacting for me like a really tasty auto-pilot.
There’s another thing I’ve been meaning to talk about: Zen and the art of long distance cycling. There are extended moments when you attain a peak of performance. A time when it feels that you’re either cheating, bypassing or overcoming the forces of gravity, inertia and even momentum. It can seem like you’re getting along the road far faster and easier than you should for the effort you’re putting in. I try to get this effect on purpose and I fail every time. Not only do I fail, I end up expending more energy than I need to. I think therefore that this effect is definitely mental in origin, but the proof of my cycle computer tells me that there is also a verifiable physical effect.
As far as I can gather (because it’s difficult to backtrack my train of thought), it comes on when I’ve been woolgathering. When I’ve been thinking of something and have stopped concentrating on the road, and gotten lost in that thought, wherever it leads. It’s while in this state that my entire body moves as one. My legs, arms, back and head all move together with a fine tempo that seems very low and laid back, but the bike moves along steadily and fluidly. I’ll change gears perfectly to accommodate the roll of the road ahead. The pace may not be blistering, but a steady and decent 13-15mph, up and down.
I think also that it’s ‘concious’ recognition of a steep hill ahead, and the frantic messages this sends out to all corners of my body to prepare to climb!!, that makes this zen state evaporate and I’m back to relying on my body alone to do the work. It’s all a matter of co-ordination, and the subconscious just seems to be better at the job. I can’t even recall what goes through my mind at such times. It’s like taking a nap and waking to find yourself further down the road. It’d be great if you could just slip into this state between stops. You wouldn’t see much of the country, but there are times when you don’t want to see much of the country. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it all just seems to be green and uphill.
There was lots of that undulating uppy-downyness as far as Collooney in Sligo. Another blip on the map for me where a couple of roads meet and there’s a few mini-markets, some pubs and a church. Along with a credit union and a hardware shop. Probably a restaurant or two, a trouser shop and whatnot. I don’t know what I’m expecting, to be honest. But when you’re cycling and you are counting the miles down to the next town you sort of hope to find something more than the last town you encountered. I had gone farther into Mayo than my route had called for, hoping to find a sign that never appeared, and it was only at Collooney that I rejoined it. So for that reason I was happy. I ate some fruit and split. I was storming along and making good time, and then I promptly split from the route again and headed for Manorhamilton in Leitrim, which I reached in a few painless hours. The worst I met along the way were some hills that I was happy to get off and walk up. A change is as good as a rest, and sometimes walking is a pleasant respite, even up a nasty assed hill.
The weather was well behaved today, plenty of clouds about but with lots of sun coming through at times. I stalled in Manorhamilton for a while and had a steak & kidney pie with some sausage rolls, and some fruit for dessert. Then I sat on a bridge that leads out of town and had a lovely cup of tea and a spliff, just watching the world go by. While sitting there I had a call from my cousin looking to get some printing done! So I just passed him on to the office and got back to enjoying being away from all that and instead being here in my own little world. Because I was in Manorhamilton, surrounded by those people, but I wan’t even a part of their world. My world is the road, and as far as I’m concerned I’m the only one on it. Can’t tell you how free that makes you feel! Just short of the border with Cavan I went though Glenfarne, the site of the original Ballroom of Romance. I stopped for a look at the legendary place that had been the start of many a family and the end of others in this part of the country. It looked more like a cattle market than a dance hall.
So that was county Leitrim, and the last of it was a slowly descending road that took me into Cavan. I was only in Cavan for about 6 or 7 miles as I was heading towards Fermanagh, my entry into Northern Ireland. As I skirted around Lough McNean I found some cool roadside sculptures installed by the Cavan Sculpture Trust. There’s a great tradition of sculpture and stonework in Cavan. Two stood out for me, both obviously influenced by the proximity to the North. One was called Forum, by Seamus Dunbar. It was a round stone table with lots of little stones sitting in depressions around it that you could spin and twist. These stone delegates had been discussing something for so long that they had worn holes in the rock. Funky art beside a lake, great stuff altogether!
A little farther on was a sculpture from Louise Walsh called Imagine an Island. There were three broad thin standing stones about 6 feet high, one in front of another with a large hole in each. Looking through the holes you can see a small crannóg (an artificial island) about 50 metres offshore. The inscription on the sculpture reads – Imagine – an island where we could all live in peace – make it real. I sat on a small jetty nearby with a cuppa and a smoke. There was a single white swan standing at the end of this jetty like a sentry. I sat there for about 15 minutes, smoking and thinking. Looking out across the flat water at the wee island and the swan and the stones, listening to the rain-like swish of the reeds. It was an eerie, spooky, mystical, lonely and beautiful spot.
Riding along the Fermanagh side of the lake things were almost immediately different. The roads were better. The roadside tidier, less wild, to my imagination. It was a pleasant cycle but I was starting to flag. I made it as far as Garrison, which had been my dream destination at breakfast but I had doubted that I would make it. It’s a tiny wee town on the shores of Lough Melvin, and I called into the Lough Melvin Holiday Centre to pitch my tent in their camp-site only to find that it was over-run with children on a school holiday. Thankfully the receptionist recognised this and suggested that I could use their land down by the lake. And so I’ve ended up here as the only tent on a lovely patch of grass beside the lake. I was just setting up as the sun was dropping below the peaks that range around this beautiful little lake. The mountains aren’t very high but they are peaked and pointy and it reminds me of the sight of the Alps across Lake Geneva from Lausanne.
I had the tent up and a cuppa brewed just in time to watch the sunset. This is another great pitch, it’s just a pity that I had to pay for it. It’s pitch dark now and the activity in the lake side car park has finally died off. It’s obviously a popular place for walking the dog of an evening. Not that all is peaceful here now. No, the soft lap of the lake below me is all too often drowned out by the delightful nighttime sounds of an army chopper doing a grid search overhead. Yep, I’m in the North. With fuck all money. Nice.