It didn’t take long to fall back into the contented and comfortable routine of cycle touring once again. In fact as I boarded Rita to trundle the usual 10 minutes to work on Friday morning I felt the first stirrings of excitement in my belly. The usual lumps and bumps of the Bedminster streets transformed from an inconvenience to a playground as I rolled my bike beneath me, familiarising myself with the determined pull of the panniers and the added pressure on the pedals. Overwhelmed by the sudden rush of feelings synonomous with cycle touring, that of anticipation, adventure and most of all the delicious freedom of life on the road.
My start point for this trip is Ireland’s highest peak, Carrantoohill. After researching the journey I can now understand why the three peaks is so popular but the four peaks is yet to take off. I cannot imagine a more inconvenient location for a mountain, in the furthest corner of Ireland, pretty much as far from Dublin as you can get. And because I will do anything possible to avoid putting my bike in a box I spent the best part of a weekend on four trains, a ferry and a couple of car rides with a few miles of cycling thrown in for good measure.
Fortunately I managed to squeeze in a visit to my friends Brigid and Cease who were in Ireland for the weekend. They gave me a great tour of the area and we spent the evening at a festival which included the three essential ingredients for a great night; 1) delicious food, 2) free cocktails, 3) a Fleetwood Mac vs ABBA sing along battle. Thanks Brig and Ceas for a wonderful stay.
By Monday I was itching to start the adventure proper with a climb of Carrantoohill. At 1038m it is not a mountain to be underestimated, as we were about to find out. Things looked sedate enough at the bottom, we could see the peaks looming into the cloud above as we approached. For some reason there was only one car in the car park and we were certainly the only people arriving on bikes.
The mountain looked fierce and dark in the gloomy light, laced with lashing streams and lurking bogs ready to punish any wayward footsteps. There was no warmup to be had. The path was incredibly steep from the off and we quickly found ourselves approaching the formidable blanket of cloud. Once you entered it tied you up, bound to the faint path by the limited 20-30m vision which it allowed and at the mercy of the gradually building wind and rain which rendered stopping too uncomfortable to contemplate.
Tricked by the sneaky onset of the rain we missed the point of no return with our waterproof trousers and soon found ourselves soaked to the skin. I was questioning what made me undertake such a ridiculous expedition and vowed that next time I wanted to go away I would book a package holiday to the Costa del Sol like most normal human beings.
Fortunately after a couple of hours the cross marking the summit appeared through the gloom and we celebrated reaching the top of the first mountain with a hasty photo. I grabbed a sandwich out of my bag and quickly set off again. Lost in the bliss of this long anticipated snack and fully focused on eating it as quickly as possible before it got unpalatably soggy I starting careering down the wrong path which would have led us to the opposite side of the mountain to our bikes. Fortunately Maria, less enamoured by her lunch, realised my error and got us back on the right track. Despite my navigational slip I don’t regret this sandwich. As we descended the conditions deteriorated further, Maria’s lips began to turn blue and our fingers swelled up to the size of sausages. We lost all dexterity and any hope of opening the bags for more food was gone.
We couldn’t get down quickly enough. But once we popped out of the cloud it was like entering another world, the rain cleared off, our vision returned and we even got some pretty great views over the frankly stunning Irish countryside.
That evening we recovered with a traditional Irish dinner of potatoes. When purchasing supplies for the first two days I had decided that potatoes were all we would need. There must have been something in the Irish air.
We set ourselves some pretty ambitious mileage for the first few days of cycling. After all we had a ferry to catch. The interior of Ireland it relatively flat which made the over 350km to Dublin more manageable. It also lives up to its name as the Emerald Isle as a patchwork quilt of green spreads out as far as the eye can see in all directions. And true to the stereotype the Irish are incredibly friendly, waving as we passed by and offering excellent hospitality.
We arrived at an air bnb after a long hot day of cycling to a very warm reception from our hosts. After talking to them for about 20 minutes I popped to the bathroom and was horrified when I looked in the mirror and saw I resembled a sticky piece of fly paper. Face littered with insect corpses and unidentified smears of dirt. It’s a wonder they let me in the front door! I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty about the shear number of unsuspecting creatures who came to a sticky end that day after an unfortunate collision with my sweaty mug.
Once we rolled into Maria’s uncles house in Dublin after crossing the whole country my legs were screaming for a break. Finbar treated us to an excellent meal that evening and a good few glasses of wine too. And as I boarded the ferry the next morning with a sore head it seemed a fitting end to the Irish leg!
This trip is certainly turning out to be more challenging than I originally anticipated. I am doing it all in aid of local charity Young Bristol who support youth work all across the city via a number of excellent projects which I have been involved in in the past. Thanks to all your donations I have now raised over £600. Any further donations would be gratefully received at http://www.justgiving.com/megabikes
For those who have entered the competition I cycled 248 miles on the Irish leg and you can get daily updates on Strava!