Posts Tagged ‘Adventure’

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11:01pm, Thursday night, September 5th, 2002

(Average: 13.3 mph / Time: 4.41.24 / Distance: 62.96 miles / Odometer: 273.2 miles)

Right, I need to recap. On Tuesday I hit some very hilly country. I had to walk up a few, as I’ve said, and the sun was baking down on me all day. Maybe that sapped my energy, but I kept running out of va-va-voom. And there never seemed to be enough downhills to balance the scales. With the notable exception of the one just before the Wexford border that had me going 36 miles an hour! That was such a great feeling. All the work of getting up the hill is washed from you. The wind defuses the sun. There’s a lot of mass on the bike for those speeds, you pick up momentum quickly. It wouldn’t be advised to try and stop too quickly. No, that wouldn’t do. You are always aware, but much more so at speed, that you are only connected to the earth at two narrow points. At a certain point down the hill you kind of step back and run a check-list to make sure you have everything under control. Once that’s out of the way you are free to simply take in as much as you can. Wringing every second of pleasure out of the sight of stone walls and fields and trees flying past you. Everything close to you feels like it’s moving at light speed. The further away you look the more subtle the sense of movement, but everywhere is moving. The whole country is whizzing by you and you’re just sitting still watching it. Gasping for breath.

It was the outreaches of the Blackstairs Mts. that did me in, and I was glad to get to New Ross reasonably early, about 1pm. It borders with Kilkenny down at the docks. So I got myself down there and stopped beside the Dunbrody famine ship, an incredible replica which is used as a floating museum, and stopped for some tea and biscuits. Some old drunk started to make a nuisance of himself but soon left me to enjoy my smoke and a cuppa. Relaxing in the sun, listening to the sounds of the dockside.

I got so relaxed that I went in for a pint of Guinness while I sent a few text messages out to update people. Bloody phone is always going off. Huffing your way up a hill while it goes off in the handlebar bag is the worst. You can’t spare a hand to dig it out and turn it off, so you resort to screaming at it, which doesn’t work but does knock the edge off the irritation.

What I should have done then, had I known, was carry on down the main road to Waterford and across to Tipperary. But I followed my planned route and crossed some more mountains to Mullinivat. They turned out to be rotten roads but had begun to turn downwards by the time I reached Mullinivat and got a puncture. And in the rear wheel too, which made it worse. That held me up for about an hour because I hadn’t brought a spare tube. While trying to fix the puncture I found that my new pump was letting more air out than in. When the puncture was fixed I had to pump it up at the garage, and hope it would last me, because there was nowhere there to buy a new one.

Thankfully it held and I made it as far as Carrick-on-Suir by 6pm. I was ready to call it a day there and then, but managed to carry on to Kilsheelan by 7pm. I had been trying to make it to Ballyporeen in Tipperary where some friends were expecting me, but I called again and cancelled because I was about two hours away from them still.

And that’s where I cheated. I committed the unspeakable (but luckily writeable) act of allowing Udo drive out and collect me. It’s the kind of thing that goes against my ethics of touring, but I also thought that I’d suffered enough for one day, and since I wasn’t being driven over any borders I decided that I’d take the feckin’ lift while it was going! The sad part is that from Clonmel on it was almost entirely downhill on excellent smooth roads. I looked out the car window and felt like I had missed a treat.

Anyway, it was nice to be somewhere familiar, and the feed Hilary gave me was huge! Big side of beef, tons of veg and potatoes, and lashings and lashings of gravy. I went through two pots of tea too. Not having enough of that on this road. I was up till the wee hours smoking with Udo. He’s a fine man to spend time with. I always hear really cool music I’ve never heard before when I’m with him, but he never knows the names of any of the tracks or artists. He’s only out to satisfy his ears. He really wants to do something a bit mad himself. I might rope him in for the birdman competition.

The something important that I realised at the roadside as I wrote my diary entry on Tuesday was that I hadn’t managed to get a photo of the Welcome to Waterford sign, and Ballyporeen is sell away from the border. Luckily for me Jim, Hillary’s dad, was there that night. Having worked his life on the buses he was able to tell me that on the other side of the Knockmealdown mts. was the town of Araglin, which stradles three borders: Waterford, Tipperary and Cork.

Udo leaves me to it

The next morning, Wednesday, Udo drove me to the top of the Knockmealdown mts. and left me to it. This gave me a great start to the day, rolling down to Araglin. Then I had to go  a mile up a steep-ass mountain into Waterford. I didn’t find a sign so I stuck the bike on the border (a bridge) and used that. There was a Tipperary one just inside that side of the border. I’d hate to think I was just missing them, but I did look. I can’k keep wasting time searching them out.

All of that had totally changed my route so I was kind of winging it for half a day. That gave those few hours a real sense of exploration. I stopped in Killworth at 11 for some noodles, ham and cheese, and a cup of tea with some shortcake biscuits. I could have been anywhere, but I couldn’t have felt freer. That must have given me a powerful edge because I made great time for the rest of the day. At a place called Glanworth you cross a single lane bridge while looking up at the side of a huge castle, with an enormous water wheel attached to it. I’ve seen them on mills and factories, but never a castle before. It is a very impressive sight, all the more so for it’s unexpectedness. One minute you are watching a farmer steer a battered tractor in his field and around the next corner you find yourself back in the middle ages. Strange that I’ve never heard of Glanworth before.

I made it to Mallow about 2pm and had to wait for the bicycle shop to open so that I could get a spare tube, let’s just hope the pump is up to it when the time comes. Got to Kanturk about 4pm. The quality of the roads had been on the rise from Mallow and there was some nice views but the best was yet to come. Incidentally, when I talk of the quality of a road I’m actually talking about the quality of the view. Rough, smooth, pot-holed or not doesn’t matter, you get used to changes in those things, but the view can sometimes make you gasp, and sometimes it couldn’t even raise a shrug. If beauty was universal it wouldn’t be so precious, the landscape seems to know that and save up it’s splendour for those big ta-da moments.

In Kanturk I stopped for about an hour just sitting in the park watching the ducks and drinking tea. It was after 5 when I set off, hoping to reach Rockchurch at the top of the mountain. Now here was what I was expecting to be hard cycling hills but  my progress was way better than I hoped. There were even two 180 degree turns, it got that steep, which gave me deja vu for Forclaz.

Rockchapel turned out to be on the downward side but there wasn’t much to it. It was nearly 8pm but I’d decided to push on and get a B&B, so I needen’t worry about available light to find and set up camp. In the end I had to go as far as Abbetfeale and in the process crossed from Cork to Kerry and into Limerick without passing a welcome sign for any of them. I spent the night in the Santa Maria ‘Select Accommodation’ where Theresa the owner, with no upper teeth (in for service, back Friday) and using a zimmer frame (bad knee, down for replacement next month) made me a big pot of tea and fairy cakes then left me to relax in her warm living room.

I woke up this morning, at 11.30 with Theresa trying to come into the room. I was close to oversleeping and she was gonna give me a wee shove to get me out of bed! Only in Ireland. She left me to my own devices and I packed up while watching the rain belting down outside. I rolled into Abbeyfeale town and on out the Kerry road in search of a sign. I’d still missed the Cork and Limerick ones, but I’m certain there weren’t any. I was travelling on some very small, less travelled roads. As I was already late, I decided to get myself an big fry up breakfast. As I was locking my bicycle up outside the café an old guy called Pat roped me into conversation about my trip, but he wasted no time in bring Jesus into the conversation. He seemed nice enough, so I let him put his hand on my shoulder and say a quick prayer. He gave me a little prayer card, which was nice. And €20, which was nicer! I’ve raised over 2k with this trip so any more cash I might get, like I did from Pat today, can go towards paying for the road. I’m tight on cash as it is, that’s why I’m trying to camp wild as much as I can.

There were some tough hills out of Abbeyfeale but at the other side the road became much easier and mostly downhill all the way to Adare. Just what I needed to make up lost time. Enought time to get me to Limerick by 5pm in fact, much sooner than I thought I would, and that caught me up to me previous expectations. I’m getting good at judging my performance. It becomes a way to focus as you’re pedalling along, watching the miles go by and timing them. I was able to push on as far as Killaloe, but again missed a sign for Clare, and/or Limerick. Some of the smaller roads just don’t seem to have them. Some of the roads I’m following just pop into and out of neighbouring counties. No signs mark this, however. I have a completion issue, and I wanted to get those 32 photos. I’ve lost out on four so far now.

By the by, I made it 5 miles beyond Killaloe to this campsite on Lough Derg. I had a few pints earlier in the Lough Derg Leisure Centre, and now I’m sitting in the door of my tent with a cuppa, a smoke and you, dear diary. If I point my head skyward the light from my head-torch climbs up the thick bare trunks of the trees around me. The wind off the lake only 20 feet away is rustling everything around me including this damn page. So I’m putting you away to leave room for tomorrow. And I’m going to lie on my back for a while with my torch lit, watching the treetops swaying and imagine that I’m on a forest moon in a galaxy far, far away.



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8:10pm, Tuesday evening, September 3rd, 2002

(Average: 10.9 mph / Time: 5.22.00 / Distance: 63.26 / Odometer: 131.5 miles)

That was a really tough day, and I’m ready to cheat. I’m prepared to cheat. Actually, I’m just about to cheat. More on that in a while.

This morning’s route looked ok on the map. There didn’t seem to be anything too daunting on it. I was even prepared psychologically for the third hill. The next three were killers, though, and the three after that I don’t want to talk about. (I’m gonna pause to take a picture of this scene before my water boils for tea)

I had to walk up quite a few hills, I have to say. (Hold that thought, I just realised something important. Get back to you later.)


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

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5:11am, Monday morning, September 2nd, 2002

Just to get the ball rolling, I’ll tell you that I’m sitting in my flat in Tallaght looking at a heap of camping gear and trying to figure out how to get it all onto my bike. After I do that I need to clean the flat, cut my hair, cook some food, have a bath etc, all before the sun comes up, because I’m starting a round Ireland cycle in a few hours time. All 32 counties in one long, snaking, continuous route. Can’t wait!