Posts Tagged ‘Touring’

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10:51pm, Tuesday night, September 10th, 2002

(Average: 11.7 mph / Time: 6.27.22 / Distance: 75.68 miles / Odometer: 560.2 miles)

Today was a very good bad day. Good because I managed to keep going for over six hours in the saddle, and bad because my personal Torquemada, my own private nemesis – The Wind, showed up with vengeance today. Not with ‘a’ vengeance, with vengeance!

I had, as usual, plans of leaving my pitch around 7am at the latest, but I didn’t get out of the sack until after 9. Breakfast was a can of beans followed by a pear, a banana and an orange. Oh, and some ham too. All the food groups really, meat and fruit. The view across the lake was stunning this morning. I’m really taken with that Lough Melvin, it’s definitely one of the most picturesque places I’ve encountered so far. There’s one peak at the right-hand end of a butress across from Garrison that looks like a mirror image of Yosemite’s El Capitan. In extreme miniature, of course. The cliff must have about 200ft of vertical face. I must check it out when I get home. There must be some climbing routes on it.

It was a tough old hilly start to the day, going up to Beleek. But the sun was out and warm, the scenery enjoyable and I was still impressed with yesterday’s performance. I was also holding onto the notion that I had become touring fit over the course of my ramblings. I was aiming for Beleek because Donegal just pokes it’s nose into the town on the bridge that takes you into it. Again, there was no sign to be seen but I wasn’t going to commit to a pointless detour to find one.  I know I’ll probably end up regretting these lost photo opportunities but on the day the the decision to just carry on is the only viable one.

Beleek turned out not to be the prosperous, pretty little border town I had imagined or presumed it might be. To me (sorry Beleekians) it was little more than a large building beside a bridge next to a steep hill with a church on top of it. The large building was the Beleek pottery factory and is actually very pretty in a stark, bold kind of way. It sits at a kind of jaunty angle to the road as you cross over the bridge to meet it. It seemed like an obscure location for a world renowned pottery factory, but also nice to think that such an unassuming town had managed to place itself on the map.

The money situation is a bit ridiculous now. It’s about a week and a half until the next pay check. Until then there’s only about 60 quid in the bank! Well, there was 60 quid. I’ve €33 in my pocket right now, but that’s no use to me here in the North, so I had to take out 30 quid sterling in Beleek. I don’t know what the exchange rate is at the moment, or if there’s any charges for withdrawing Sterling from my account. I’ll leave that headache until I get home, which is now going to be as bloody fast as I can, which is why I stuck at it longer today than I have so far, wind or no wind.

Money worries out of the way I set off for Omagh, 20 odd miles away. Straight away the wind set in. It was only annoying at that stage as I made my way over Boa Island, a narrow strip of an land  on Lough Erne. In planning the route I had fancied this road to be like the causeways of south Florida, connecting the keys with water visible on either side of you all the way. Well it wasn’t quite like that, but occasionally it came close. Coming down from it’s highest point I passed a lone female cycle tourist. I should have stopped for a chat and to compare notes but I was sort of rolling and didn’t want to loose the momentum because it’s hard work to get it back. A quick lift of the head and a smile had to do. Ah, the loneliness of the long distance cyclist!

I stopped for a little while in Kesh for an energy snack and a smoke. Cuppa too, of course, that should be a given at this stage. I didn’t dawdle long: I was a man on a mission. The wind was blowing hard and it certainly slowed me down, that’s why the low average. The roads weren’t the best either. Kept seeing those same steel cat’s eyes side reflectors that were the bane of my life down south. Pushing the bike up any kind of hill requires the highest granny gears I’ve got, and hitting one of those is like running into a kerb. Any wrinkles in the road can do the same. It’s what makes for the hardest cycling. If the roadside is of a decent quality and free from lumps or dips then the riding is easy. That’s rarely the case though, and that zen thing seldom works on rough ground. Load of rubbish really, don’t know what I was thinking.

I had just crossed the Tyrone border and was huffing and puffing my way up a hill when an old guy driving by pulled over and stopped in front of me. “I’m a cyclist myself”, he said, “Can I give you a lift up the road? It’s a right windy day.” Well, my moral metronome hadn’t even swung back to neutral before I accepted. He was pulling a trailer the perfect size for the bike. Noel sped me the next 10 miles to the outskirts of Omagh, giving me a brief tour of the town first. He pointed out where the bomb had gone off, just across the road from us as we sat at a set of lights. “There where that blue van is, is where the car with the bomb in it was placed.” As I looked at where he was pointing I saw two old ladies walk past the spot without pause. “All those buildings there are built new, and all the windows for thirty yards up those streets are new too.” It looked like any of the non-descript towns I had ridden through so far, and the scene today was so terribly ordinary. To imagine what had happened there that day in ’98 was maddening. And for it to have been done in my name, as an Irishman, made me intensely angry.

He was a very interesting and charming man, Noel. He had cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats two years ago. He’d ridden an average of 70 miles a day, staying in B&B’s, and it had taken him 14 days to complete. Definitely a trip I’d like to consider one day. He told me a lovely story about some friends he and his wife had met while cycling in the UK. They were from Dromahair, Co Leitrim, which I had passed through yesterday. I had stopped to take a piss and catch my breath at the crustiest, most run down filling station I’ve ever seen. It also looked from that vantage point to be the sum total of Dromahair. Nothing more than a speck on the map. “We went down to visit them one weekend”, said Noel, “and Steve took us into the village and said ‘This is the main street. And the further you go the mainer it gets!’ ”

I’m glad that I decided to capitalise on the lift and not stop in Omagh. Noel dropped me on the far side, on the Cookstown road before heading back himself. He had only been on his way home when he picked me up not far from his house. So off I set, a little rested, and faced into two excruciating hours. It felt like punishment for taking the lift. I was all fired up to blaze a trail and get lots of miles behind me but the bastard wind had other ideas. The road had a few long hills on it, but was otherwise decent. The wind roared incessantly in my ears like some form of aural torture. It seemed to be hitting me from two directions at once. From the side it kept wanting to push me into the ditch. From the front it felt like an invisible hand pressing into my chest so that I could only move forward at the last extent of my energy. It was so strong that it even robbed me of my downhills, which should have been great but ended up needing a little help from me. The frustration of this built up in me like a thunderous rage. Every now and then I’d break down and scream at the wind to just fuck off and leave me alone, even for five minutes!

The road into Cookstown crosses broad open peat plains where the wind just slew me. As I faced a long hill up towards the outskirts of Cookstown I had to stop and walk. No sooner had a done so than a car pulled in ahead of me. There was a bicycle slung on the back of it. A man dressed in cycling garb got out and waited for me to reach him. He had a big shock of white hair and a large bushy moustache, also white. His pendulous gut was big enough for me to think that before me stood Santa Claus on his holidays. He had thought that I had perhaps suffered a puncture, but I just had to say ‘wind’ and he nodded in sympathy. I couldn’t accept a second lift. Not for moral or ethical, but purely practical reasons. My bike was too heavy for his rack and his car too small for me and my gear. Besides, I was only a mile away from Cookstown. I never did get his name, but he had a northern English accent. He did manage to give me some good info about a route to my prime destination, just has Garrison had been yesterday.

Cookstown’s main street is framed by arches at either end with orange emblems and the slogan ‘Welcome here, brethren’. After a half hour break to gather my reserves I set out for Stewartstown and a short-cut to Maghery in county Armagh that Santy had given me. I was low on reserves and it was getting very chilly. It was a very long ten miles but there was some sheltered parts that took the edge off the wind for the first time all day. The last two miles, however, were like running a gauntlet. It was on a rough as hell road through a peat bog. There were tens of thousands of those bastard little flies that hang above the road in little swarms. All along the road individual flies go into your mouth as you gasp for air, up your nose or into your eyes. When you hit a cluster of them you can almost hear the smatter of impacts as you become coated in the little fuckers. So the picture is of me bumping along the road, fighting to keep the bike upright in the wind while spitting and rubbing dead flies from my face and head.

When I reached Maghery I found a footbridge leading to a campground and, as Santa had said, I could pitch my tent anywhere. I’m set up in a caravan bay that feel a little too exposed for my liking. I look to be the only occupant and there’s no office so at least there’s no charge. The toilets are locked, ditto the showers. Season over. I finished dinner quick as a flash and ducked into the tent. There’s a pub close by me here called the Ferryman’s Inn which Santa had suggested I visit, but I’m in no mood for a drink, I just want to be left in peace tonight. A couple of drunks from the pub wandered over earlier on and wanted to talk to the fella in the tent. I’ll be honest, I’m a little uneasy about being in the north. I lived in Belfast for a while and I know that no matter how cool it might be for a southerner here, it only takes the wrong time & place for things to turn nasty. As I don’t know this area, and don’t know the ‘script’ as they say here, I’m going to rely on discretion to be the better part of valour. At least at night time. “We can s-eee youoo” the drunks said. “Whay wont you talk to us?” Figure it out, buddy.

It’s all quiet now and I’m knackered. Once again I’m fantasising about tomorrow. A quick detour past Lurgan will get me into both Antrim and Down, and as I’m in Armagh right now that’ll be all the northern counties under my wheels and I can head south. I should get that done in the first two hours tomorrow. If I get them done nice and early I could make a brave dash for Dublin. It’s a little over 80 miles I’d say. At my pace over the last two days a few extra hours would do it. It’d mean a fair distance on quite major roads, but I don’t care so long as I get home. I’m down to 7 counties now. Antrim, Down, Monaghan, Louth, Meath and Dublin. Ah, me darlin’ Dublin, here I come..

1:01am

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9:07am, Monday morning, September 9th, 2002

Yesterday was the worst day so far from a weather point of view, and in terms of my own performance. The roads were very hilly all day long and the rain was heavy and endless. A rotten day, all day.

I woke up in Strokestown where I’d stopped the night before. I had cycled a little beyond town in search of a wild pitch but could find nothing, and it was already growing dark. So I made my way back to Strokestown and found a row of houses in various stages of construction, beside a disused factory on the border of town. I reckoned (correctly), that they wouldn’t see any activity for the rest of the weekend, so I pulled my bike down a passageway along the last house in the row and into the back garden. There was a chance that ‘kids with cans’ might have the same idea as me, but it was a chance I had to take. As it turned out it was literally as safe as houses!

I woke up to rain and hills, and I don’t think I had any energy because I had a very hard time making any time. During one very heavy downpour near Ballinagare I pulled in to shelter under some trees beside a house on a lonely, windswept  stretch of road. There wasn’t much shelter and I was about to carry on when the lady of the house came out and invited me in out of the rain. I spent the next three hours in the Brady house, where Ethel made me tea and mountains of toasted ham & cheese sandwiches while my rain gear dried on the range.

We had a grand rambling chat over many a cuppa. Her husband is a truck driver and was one of the few people she knew apart from myself who could boast of visiting every county in Ireland. ‘I’m not finished yet’ I said, ‘And with weather like this I might have to swap the bike for a canoe!’. I repaid her kindness by fixing the family’s computer, that had become little more than an ornament in recent months. This was great news to her kids who arrived home one by one to meet the stranger on the bike. Ah, I don’t mind telling ya, but it was with a heavy heart that I left that hearth, but the pedals don’t turn themselves.

Even with the rest and the full stomach I had a hard time getting further down the road. Three hours of idleness had sapped my enthusiasm for the it, and even with a break in the rain I couldn’t lift my spirits. Not far beyond Ballaghadereen the rain started up again with a vengeance and I had to stop and pull out my freshly dried rain gear. All Ethel’s efforts thus wasted, I pushed on. I hadn’t gone more than 50 yards when I got a puncture. I let out a roar that would have scared a banshee out of it’s wits, and pushed the bike down the road to the shelter of some trees to make the repair. I tried in vain to roll a cigarette but it was futile in that torrential downpour. So I sheltered there for a while in the hopes that it might lighten off a bit.

When it hadn’t eased off one drop in 15 minutes I resigned myself to carry on and made it here, to Charlestown / Bellaghy, on the Sligo / Mayo border. It was after 8pm and there was no possibility of pitching a tent, so I booked into the Riverside restaurant. The owner, Anthony Kelly, is a chef, so I think they’ve downplayed the accommodation side of the business. I passed it twice trying to find a B&B with a vacancy before I realised they had rooms upstairs! It’s a fine looking old building, nearly 150 years old according to their blurb. I’m running low on cash now and this place is going to cost me €34. I’m a gobshite for not taking any of the sponsorship money with me. I bought the one man tent, the Trianga stove and some other bits and bobs only about two weeks ago. And lots of other little things too, as well as paying my rent. So that lot nearly cleaned me out. I’ll have to call home and arrange for some money to be wired to me or something, because I’m about to check put of here shortly and I’ll be down to about 50 quid. Ah well, I’ll leave that for now and go get my breakfast, catch up with you later.

10:00am

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4:14pm, Saturday afternoon, September 7th, 2002

Well, the rain was beating down on the tent this morning so I had another lie on. Not too late, I was on the road by about 11. My new phone’s alarm just isn’t waking me up, either. I might have solved that problem today. I bought a packet of Denny’s sliced ham and there was a free travel alarm clock with it. What a bizarre combination, but perfect for me. Jaysus, am I part of a demographic?

Anne-marie let me use the shop’s facilities to freshen up, fill up my water bottle etc. What a little gem she was. Warm, kind, helpful and welcoming. Now that’s what I’ve been hoping to find that we haven’t lost in this consumer, property, dot-com world. The people I’ve met so far couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly.

It had cleared up by the time I set off, but I didn’t have to wait long for a fresh shower. And there’s been plenty of them along the way today. They’ve all been pretty heavy and driving, but short-lived. At one point I saw ahead of me a heavy downpour drive out of a field to my left and go across the road. I just had time to think ‘wow that’s amazing’ before I had to ride through it and all beauty fled the scene. That’s been the style though, short bursts moving west to east, and the forecast is for more persistent rains. All centred exactly where I’m heading.

I stopped in Athlone for an hour and did indeed manage to get the local Garda station to charge up my phone for me. Fair play to them. While it was charging I strolled around the old port of Athlone. The castle is very impressive up close. A solid, squat mound of granite. right beside the Shannon river.

I went into what looked like an interesting little bookshop by the banks of the Shannon, behind the castle. I was looking to see if I could find a copy of Rambles in Eireann, but no dice. It would have been nice to have a copy I bought on the trip.  It turned out to be a right little find of a shop. There were some 1st editions of Dominick Behan books I’d not heard of before. I prefer him to Brendan in a some ways. The shop’s owner, John, took my email and will contact me if any copies come in. Turns out that he grew up not far from me and we went to the same school. We had a good auld chat there while my phone was charging and he gave me some pointers for the road ahead. Mostly, it has to be said, which pubs I should drop into. Grogan’s in Glassan is one, and something like Morrisey’s in Maghera. That second one sounds like somewhere I’d like to see. An authentic shebeen with a corrugated metal roof and no till, just a shoebox under the counter. A dying breed of country pub. A local ballroom of romance, by all accounts. I’m sure shed of romance would be a better description. The old dear who runs it is into her 80’s. She surprised everyone by giving up the drink after last New Year’s Eve, because she couldn’t remember going to bed, and worse: woke up naked!

‘There’s an incline to Ballymahon’, John had said. Now there’s an understatement. There’s a glacial esker than runs from Dublin to Galway and Ballymahon is on the wrong side of it. Well, it was, but not any more, because I’m in Ballymahon right now. I’m sitting in Jill’s restaurant with a feed of burger and chips in me. Hopefully from here it’ll be a good roll into Roscommon. (Ha!). I crossed the Longford border about an hour ago. That’s my 16th county and the half-way point, I’m sort of hoping that the northern road network will speed me on my way for the second half of this cycle. For the next two days or so in the republic will be tough. I’m back into mountains in the north-west.

My map is disintegrating in the rain, I hope it makes the journey. I’ll go now, have a smoke and make tracks. Hopefully the next entry will be in Roscommon, in the sunshine!

4:56pm

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11:29pm, Friday night, September 6th, 2002

(Average: 12.9 mph / Time: 4.06.40 / Distance: 53.49 miles / Odometer: 326.7 miles)

I set off from the campsite at about 11:30. I could have left earlier, but I kept waking up and hearing rain, so I had a lie-on. It’s strangely disorientating waking up in a tent. You have to establish what time it is, what the weather is like, if you’re in sight of anything. Your camp never looks the same in the daytime as it did when you set it up the night before.

When I finally left, I had not gone far at all before I had to stop, in Ogonneloe, and brew up a cup of soup. Half an hour and I was already bunched. The sky was very heavily clouded and I’d had one bad shower already. It did look brighter further on, so I was hopeful.

I had been especially looking forward to today, ever since I first mapped out the route. The road follows the side of Lough Derg and I’d reckoned it to be one of the more scenic days riding. But I couldn’t even see the lake for all the trees along it. They should trim a few hedges. I didn’t sem to have the energy to deal with the hills either. Even though I’ve been over much worse already. I think I’ve lost my taste for hills on a bicycle, you always feel cheated on the downside if it isn’t long enough.

So at 1pm I stopped in Mountshannon and spent an hour in a pub, being served by a very beautiful looking young woman, eating fish & chips washed down with a pint of porter. She put the best shamrock I’ve ever seen onto that pint. It was perfect, and I told her so. I also took the time to read a few pages of Stephen King’s new book ‘On Writing’, which seems pretty good, but I doubt I’ll get many chances to read it. Any free time I get is normally about doing as little as possible!

With that mighty feed under my belt I set off again and crossed into Galway soon after. My 13th county. It’s a beautiful area, but it could do with some attention. Even if we manage to get tourists here post 9/11, we’d want to have something to offer them. There are so few facilities here, why aren’t we investing in that?

I had a puncture in Portumna. That’s a good line. But I did, and thanks to the spare tube I bought on Wednesday, I had it fixed in about 10 minutes. I’ll fix the other one tonight, and then I’ll have a spare. There was lots of activity on the main street. School had finished and there were kids everywhere. And with kids come parents. It looked like a place that liked to be quiet but had to put up with occasional bursts of activity. I repacked the bike in the midst of this mayhem, then strolled the length of the main street. I had to do a lot of shrugging as people were forced to move around myself and my bike. After so long alone on the bike, I took great pleasure in being in the middle of the stampede home. And a perverse little guilty pleasure at being a nuisance, truth be told.

There was one shop that carried the banner above it’s name: Music CD’s, Videos, Confectionery, Wreaths‘. There were lots of familiar shops, including a Frawley’s discount shop. I suppose it’s the march of progress, and rural areas are finally getting the benefits of urban developments like convenience shopping. Some of the old world quaintness may be gone, but it definitely makes it easier to get by than it would have been not so long ago. Most towns have at least one mini-market that stays open late. Take my pitch for tonight. I’m in a town called Cloghan, in Offaly (14). I crossed that border not long after Portumna. I stopped for the night here eight years ago when I walked to Galway with Garvan. Back then it was nowhere. It was a crossroad literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of a bog. It had one shop, one pub and fuck all houses. Now it’s got a roundabout. And there are two pubs and at least two shops. One of which is staffed by my new mate Anne-Marie from a small town outside Portumna. She keeps the shop open until ten. There are many many houses here now. And streetlights! I remember how dark it was here last time.

I met Anne-Marie while trying to find the owner of this field that I’m in now. It’s on one of the main roads, right beside Anne-Marie’s shop. It’s a quite spot, Cloghan, for all it’s fancy modernity. I don’t mind camping somewhere sort of exposed like this. I just didn’t want to be woken up by a herd of cows at dawn, or something like that. So I tried to find the owner. The shop was my first stop. She didn’t know who owned it but was able to point me in the right direction and I soon found out that the owner was the (currently absent) local priest Fr. Scanlon. A priest’s field. No cows here then! Thanks be to God. Sort of.

Anne-Marie made me a cuppa in the shop while I set up camp. There isn’t all that much traffic through the shop and she took advantage of the company. She entertained me with stories of badly behaved hurley players and the ‘vicious meanness’ of her headmaster. I’m not far off half-way around by now. Not too long before I hit that point. When I was talking to Anne-Marie about the trip, when I got to Portumna earlier today she gasped: “Oh my God, I loove Portumna! I’d love to live there, it’s amazing!” Cloghan is still in the middle of nowhere, and it’s bigger than her own village, but can that explain such a reaction to Portumna? Well, I hope she makes it.

And so now I’ve caught up to myself lying here in this holy field listening to the rain misbehave outside. It seems to be coming and going in flurries. I think tomorrow I’ll get beyond Athlone by afternoon and at a good push, with good roads and fine weather, I’ll make Roscommon. Yeah, right! I need to recharge my phone somewhere, somehow tomorrow. I might drop into a police station. Have to trust whoever I leave it with. Tell you all about it in a line or two.

12:36am

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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.

12:33am

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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.)

8:26pm

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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!

5:15am