Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ireland Days 7 and 8

Day 7 – Derry to Carrickmacross

Up early again for breakfast but today was going to be wholly different for a number of reasons.  At the breakfast table there was a discussion going on between Chris, Mark and myself.  We were debating whether to just catch the bus down to Dublin with the rest of the lads and forgo the last two days of the trip.  It was very close to call but I think there was a nagging voice in the others heads saying what the voice in my head was.  If we don’t finish these last two days we are falling short of what we promised people when we were collecting donations and raising money for the trip.  On top of that we would be dropping the mileage significantly.  The final contributing factor to why we had even started the discussion was the weather.  We had awoken to find the weather setting in with winds and the threat of rain from some ominous looking clouds.  There was no going back now though and we all knew it in our heart of hearts we were going to troop on and finish the whole eight days.  The conversation had occurred in a near empty dining room as most of the Irish boys where still sleeping off their party from the night before.  The main people I wanted to see however had made it down to breakfast even though they did look worse for ware.  Keith, Jody and eventually James had come to make sure we left their country and to have a good chuckle at the unfortunate state of the weather outside.  We said goodbye to the guys from Team Aldi who had lightened up our entire week with some very funny comments and their positivity whilst out on the roads.  Today was the first day I donned my full wet gear.  Turns out I would have needed scuba gear for some of the trip.  After a bunch of farewells and promises to meet up and ride again in the future twelve of us set out from the hotel.  We had made a promise that we would all stick together and pull each other through today however long it took.  Around 20 miles in to the trip it became apparent that this wasn’t going to happen.  The group splintered and six of us went on our way.  This may sound harsh but by the twenty mile marker two of the lads where already in the van with knee injuries and the rain had started in earnest.  The wind again had made an appearance and though it had started out in our favour had decided to turn against for most of the rest of the day.  The one morale boosting moment came as the coach full of the Irish lads went passed beeping its horns with all the lads banging on the windows and waving.  I would have given my right leg to have been on that bus.   By the rest stop at the 30 mile marker the weather had turned really ugly.  The support vehicles had dwindled to two and it felt like we had been cast off even though we still had water, glucose drinks and some mars bars left the supply of sandwiches which had been plentiful during the rest of the ride had dwindled to nothing.  After this we got going again but the roads turned into dual carriageways and major trunk roads and it was the most tedious leg visually of the ride so far.  This coupled with the fact that by about 45 miles we were all soaked to the bone, cold and riding into a vicious head wind meant that I was going through a major mental battle in my head.  A large proportion of the argument was that I was cold, wet and no where near the end of the 93 mile day.  The other half was a mixture of the kid’s faces from the autism centre and school, the people who had donated and my responsibility to them and my two girls who I don’t think I could have faced if I had got off the bike and took the van.  The other thing inside was that I wouldn’t get a chance again to complete the ride if I sat today out.  By 60 miles the mental fight was raging we stopped for our second rest stop and I had to give myself a stern talking to away from the group.  I was very close to stopping and getting in the van but my stubborn side wouldn’t let me thankfully.  We cracked on from 60 miles and every single sign post seemed to be so slow in coming.  Every kilometre dragged on and on.  The terrain had gone back to long drags but today there would be no respite on the down hills the wind saw to that.  I was not doing much for the group which I felt bad about but it was all I could do to keep myself on the bike with my legs turning.  We did it though we made it through one hell of a day.  Just as we were arriving at the hotel the sun decided to make an appearance.  It was not well welcomed by six cold and wet cyclists.  I think we shocked the ducks with some of our choice words directed at the sun.  We made it through the toughest day I have spent on a cycle and the toughest time I have had doing any sport.  Of the twelve that had set out eight of us finished the day.  The six of us and two very brave lads back down the road that rolled in an hour and a bit after us. 

All smiles but inside was a tired and mentally weary soul!

The hotel was spectacular though as was the evening meal and breakfast.  We had to walk through the reception looking like bedraggled tramps whilst someone’s wedding party where waiting for their function room to open.  The smell of us and the sight must have been horrific for them.  I was proud of finishing today and I was proud of the others who finished to.  It was a really gritty day.

Day 8 -  Carrickmacross – Dublin

We arose to a nice morning with the sun breaking through the clouds and a fantastic breakfast probably the best of the whole trip.  That is saying something as by now even I was sick to death of cooked breakfasts.  The food was excellent though and we where in high spirits for the last day.  As soon as we got outside though the sun disappeared and a fine drizzle set in.  We had all got out wet gear on anyway, which had remarkably dried over night.  Eleven of us started the day and we set off from the hotel to complete the 60 or so miles into Dublin and the airport.  We met some solid rain after about 10 miles, which persisted to the first rest stop at around 30 miles.  Ian our organiser had stopped at a Bistro and we all piled in for some coffee and sandwiches.  The food was excellent and boosted our morale considerably for the rest of the trip.  We cycled on and where in excellent spirits for the remainder of the day as we knew it were the last day and our crowning achievement.  We arrived at the hotel later on that day and a lot of back slapping ensued.  After the initial celebration between the twelve of us the reality started to set in that the adventure was finished.  The actual achievement of doing the ride wasn’t sinking it but with two of the remaining Irish lads leaving us there and then to go home it was a muted feeling.  The hotel again was very nice and the food was great… they had pasta on the menu I was sooooo excited not to be having carvery!  We also had a chicken wings starter instead of Vegetable soup.  Someone was smiling down on us!  After dinner most of the lads wanted to go into Dublin but I just fancied chilling with a few well deserved beers/ciders and winding down so I stayed in the lobby in close proximity to the bar.  The night passed quickly as first the football was on then some of the other residents who where staying at the hotel the bodybuilders appeared.  It was fun looking at the guys and trying to distinguish which ones where the women, even when they were wearing dresses.  I went to bed about 00:15 which was the latest time I had gone to bed by far for a bout eight days.  Adventure complete!

The eleven finishers of the 593 miles.


The whole experience was exceptional from start to finish.  Someone asked me on the eighth day at the hotel if I would do it again and without thinking it was a yes, tomorrow if you like.  Firstly the setting was amazing.  Ireland as a country was beautiful and there wasn’t a day went by where some scene or other didn’t make you say wow.  Often there where multiple bits of the most beautiful scenery.  It was also great that the weather held for as long as it did for us so we could get the best pictures and views of all the different places.  The next thing was the people.  The group, the organisers and generally public and hotel staff where so friendly and helpful.  The group had an amazing spirit about it with people talking to each other like old friends after a couple of days.  No one in the group had a bad word to say all week about anyone else and it was such a nice event to participate in.  The organisers did a great job on the logistics and the hotels.  The only criticism I could level at the whole thing was that the marshalling was non existent.  Saying we only got lost twice was probably a vindication of this though.  As the marshals were volunteers also it would be overly harsh to criticise too much.  I would love to do something like this again and am already trawling the internet and bike magazines looking for 2013’s challenge. 

Ride Facts:

592.73 miles cycled
44 hours 43 minutes in the saddle
23,660 feet in elevation climbed
23,382 calories burned
14 mph average speed

I would just like to say a massive thank you and well done to all involved in the Big Red Bike Ride of 2012 it was amazing and I will remember it and you all for the rest of my days.  I would also like to thank all of the people again who helped raise funds for such an amazing cause.  I would like to thank all the people who donated also.  Altogether we raised approximately £144000 (or Euros), which will really help the children by getting them a new Centre.

These kids are some of the children you helped.  Thank You.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Ireland Days 5 and 6

Day 5 – Sligo to Letterkenny

We set off from Sligo to cycle the 69 miles to Letterkenny a little later today.  The thought of a shorter day was appreciated by everyone and I think lulled me into a false sense that the day was going to be an easy one.  Clayton Blackmore joined us for the first 2 hours of the ride up to the 1st rest stop where he was being whisked away to fly back to Manchester.  This proved to be a tad destructive as after an hour the pace was clipping along at around 18-20mph so he could reach the stop and be able to get to his flight.  This pretty much imploded our usual group of between 15 and 25 riders and there were also a series of punctures along the route.  I didn’t feel too bad when we reached the first stop as my training for the week had been at a higher intensity then the 15mph average we had been maintaining.  We rolled into the rest stop and thanked Clayton for coming with us for part of the ride.  The normal sandwiches and mars bars where consumed and we rolled off feeling good and with a group of around ten of us.  The wind that had been stalking us picked up a bit and again we were taking turns on the front so as not to tire everyone out.  I was still feeling good and was rotating regularly onto the front to take my turn in the wind.  We made good time until going through a mountain pass with a long drag of around 5% consistently the paced slowed due to the gradient and the wind.  I had just taken my turn on the front when my body crashed.  I felt as though someone had pulled the plug on my legs and taken all of my energy.  I quickly went from behind the front to going straight out of the back of the group.  Scottish James was also struggling having sustained injuries in a crash the previous day.  This had happened just after the decent from the Cliffs of Mohen when a wood trailer being towed clipped James and threw him from his bike.  James was lucky to only sustain superficial cuts and a badly bruised knee and back.  He also suffered some whiplash.  James finished the full six days and with his injuries can count it as a massive achievement.  So I found myself out the back of the group with James.  Keith came back to us and helped us back into the group and after some water and food whilst riding around 30 minutes later I began to feel better.  The feeling was unbelieveable like suddenly having all energy removed from my legs.  Something I hope not to repeat again.  We battled on through some tough hills which seemed never ending probably because I was lacking in energy.  Unlike previous days I was dropping off on the climbs and having to catch up on the descents.  Descending being something I do well due to my weight.  We finally reached a couple of miles outside Letterkenny when a rare treat presented itself.  A descent into Letterkenny around a mile and a half long.  I hit 37mph coming down it and I have to say I was tapping the brakes all the way down it was an epic decent.  We went round the corner and into the hotel.  I had been feeling tight during the day and felt it would be a good point to go and see the physios who where looking after the group so well.  There was a list already in place when I arrived totalling probably one hours worth of wait.  The hotel had ‘kindly’ dragged down to vibrating plate machines for us to use in the meantime.  I had never used one before and took some brief instructions from Scottish James and Jody.  You can see from the video below how it went! 
After the physio and getting showered and changed we made our way down to the bar.  David May was our guest for the evening and I had a good chat with him about matters Manchester United related.  He was an interesting guy very straight talking.  He joined us at our table for tea... yet another carvery.  The food was not great tonight and Mark, Bernie and I decided to go into town and find something to subsidise the meal with.  After a long walk we found a McDonalds and ate some more food.  Another early night for me at the hotel.  I awoke around 00:30 expecting to see Mark in his bed but nno sign of him.  A few thoughts of kidnapping or him falling asleep in the lounge then back to sleep.  Turns out that Mark had been kidnapped in a way by David May and a fair amount of Guiness and lager had been consumed until 02:30 in the morning.  We where awake at 06:15 for Day 6.  Poor Mark!

Day 6 – Letterkenny to Derry

Day six was probably the high point emotionally so far.  We set off from Letterkenny with Garda (police) escort for the 83mile trip.  Not sure if this was to make sure we left or make us feel special.  David May had joined us and the group was in high spirits as it was for most of the group their last day in the saddles.  The Irish contingent had only signed up to Milan Head/Derry and that was to be there last ride of the trip.  The group we had was a lovely group and we had so much fun during the week.  I made some new lifelong friends and hopefully I will meet them again at some point next year to undertake another charity ride or sportive.  Some promises have been made so we will see what happens.  The day was extra special as we were going to one of the Autistic centres on our way to Miran head (the Northern most tip of Ireland).  The weather had looked ominous as we set out so we all had our jackets on and wet gear but in the end it held off and we had another sunny day.  We reached the Autism centre after about an hour and a half and where greeted by all of the children cheering and clapping.  This really did swell the ego’s and re vitalise the tired legs as we rode in to be high fived by every single child.  Some of the lads wheeled the kids around on their bikes and we had lots of pictures done for the charity, which was great.  It was also the first day we had hot drinks at a stop, which were well appreciated as it was coming in cold.

These are the people it was all about.

A group of the nicest cyclists and people you would want to meet

Brendon our guide for the week.  Favourite saying "its flat today lads"

We then waited for everyone and where again escorted by the Garda from the centre and through the town.  On the way out of the town one of the schools had obviously heard of our visit and efforts and around two hundred children lined the streets clapping and cheering.  Again it was an emotional moment we all felt as if we were professional cyclists for thirty seconds and during the tough times later that day and over the coming days their faces and positivity towards us was something I used to keep going.  We left the town generally buzzing and soon began to get back into the Irish rhythm of up and down, with more up then down I have to say.  We then climbed into the moors and our group of twenty riders imploded once again.  After we had climbed and split up a little bit the wind picked up across the moorland and left us nowhere to hide.  We managed to cobble together a group of four then later a group of eight to get to the village of Miran just after the moorland.  The wind was horrid and we were doing thirty seconds on the front in single file so we had some protection.  At Miran we refuelled and got ready for some tough climbing out towards Miran Head which was approximately 17 kilometres away.  On the trip out Richie got his 6th puncture of the week he was very unlucky to be honest.  We stopped and regrouped for the climbs.  They where steep and reared up over a short distance but we all made it up as a group then motored on for Miran Head.  The signposting to Miran Head was very comical.  Miran Head 9 km cycle on Miran Head 10 km cycle on Miran Head 9 km.  I was starting to think we were in a cycling groundhog day.  Believing the hard work to be done we shifted towards Miran Head at a brisk pace only to see the objective rear out of the ground up to a big rock in the sky.  The climb itself was only 500 metres or so but it reared up in such a fashion that to stop would have been suicidal.  Everyone selected their lowest gears and went for it getting a hero’s welcome at the top.

Triumphant at Malin Head

Mark the Conquerer

Speck in the centre bottom right is me approaching the Malin head climb
View from the top of Malin Head

Tour De France...No Malin Head

After many pictures we set off again for the village of Miren a short stop and then on to Derry.  The wind on the way back was utterly horrendous and I spent some time on the front again shielding the others.  We had gotten about 10 km done when I noticed that Scottish James had slipped off the back of the group with Keith for company.  I dropped back to help out as the wind was bad and I didn’t want to leave one of the group stuck.  James was in a large amount of pain still from his crash and was battling on bravely.  Keith and I managed to get James back to the village or Miran and a well deserved break from the gusting wind.  James spoke about getting the meat wagon back to Derry but decided to carry on.  We set off again in our group and headed for Derry.  The pace was alternating from slow to fast and we were rattling up the climbs at a fair pace this was cracking James as his knee was in poor shape.  We decided to split into two groups to allow people to crack on and the second part of the group to maintain a slower pace to allow us to get James home and complete the ride.  We endured yet more wind and some more long drags up into the moorland before a steep decent led us down to the Derry Estuary and along into Derry.  I led out along the estuary and took us through the town of Muff (giggle) and to the hotel.  There was a party organised for the evening and Norman Whiteside attended giving a speech.  We had undertaken the three course carvery, which by now was making me feel queasy every time I sat down to eat.  I decided on the back of the fact the next day was going to be a 93 mile trawl to Carrickmacross with 12 of us setting out to get an early night.  I could hear the Elvis impersonator from the hotel room and he wasn’t very good at all.  Mark echoed my sentiments.  I did however manage to sneak out and get a pizza which I have to say was pretty damned good after all of the beef and turkey I had endured the previous 6 nights.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ireland Days 3 and 4

Day 3 – Ballybunnion to Oranmore

The day started with another full spread of breakfast.  It was the first day I had a full English breakfast.  I wasn’t sure how it would affect my ride but I was very hungry from the previous days riding.  I had taken my ForGoodnessShake the previous night and a vitamin tablet as soon as we had arrived at the hotel to try and keep on top of the fatigue in the muscles.  This was followed by a freezing shower to try and make sure I was ready for the third day.  I also drank a lot of orange juice in the morning to try and make sure I was topped up on vitamin c to keep the immune system functioning through the week.  We then mounted up and rode out 27 miles to the ferry crossing to make our way across the Shannon estuary.  This wasn’t ideal as we got warm then it was around 45 minutes before we got going again.  Keith Duffy had joined us for two days and had been game to have pictures taken with us and chat with us.  We got to ride with him and he proved himself to be a good cyclist.  He had only been on the bike three times so far this year so credit was given as he did very well.  A group of school children met us, or maybe they where there for Keith... and we had our morning brief from Tony our commander in chief then set off.  We arrived some 102 miles later after being directed the wrong way by one of the marshals who kindly added a 10 mile extension to our route!  We climbed one of the toughest hills as we went towards Galway over the Cliffs of Moher.  The descent was kind to us and we reached Galway after 7hrs 30mins.  The highlight of today was a stint off of the climb going down the decent on to the flat where I speeded past Keith Duffy doing 30mph on the flat and left him for dead.  The last hour or so was a big effort trying to catch up to Chris and Keith who where further down the road after climbing faster than me.  I finally caught up with them with about 3 miles to go and we reached yet another splendid hotel after a true Galway welcome of torrential rain for the last few miles.  Another three course meal was duly dispatched as was my first beer of the adventure a pint of Coors Light.  The Wi-Fi was also good in the hotel lobby which allowed me to catch up with the Garmin updates and the social media worlds of Facebook and Twitter.

I am currently uploading a video to YouTube of the disembarkation.  It’s not great as it’s my first attempt so please bear with me!

Machines at the ferry
Daily Conference - Laughter supplied by Team Aldi
Some of the Squad
OMG Keith Duffy!!

 Day 4 – Oranmore to Sligo

The day started out again with a Full English and some other breakfast items.  I had felt pretty good with this inside me the day before and it had stood me in good stead for the day.  With us mostly eating sandwiches, mars bars, snickers and fruit during the day the bigger meals at breakfast and in the evening where helping to maintain the calories we needed.   The weather had taken a turn for the worse today.  We had intermittent showers for most of the morning and as I had optimistically forgotten my rain jacket had to procure one of the orange marshal’s jackets much to the amusement of my fellow riders.  Day 4 was the first day that I had a feeling of having ridden into the ride and I was feeling strong.  I took some big turns on the front and when we finally turned for home up the dual carriage way I spent myself acting as a windbreak for a good few miles.  I was properly spent for the first time during the trip down to the wind but had an amazing sense of satisfaction that I had been part of the team and helped others out so much.  We weren’t breaking any land speed records but the sense of getting through each day and helping people home, whilst also having some excellent fun was making the trip an excellent experience.  That along with the beautiful Irish scenery.  Again the hotel was excellent and tonight saw Clayton Blackmore join us.  I didn’t get to speak to him much.  As with the other players it wasn’t something that interested me.  I had rode the previous day with Keith Duffy but that was due to him sitting in our group being at the same fitness levels not for a want on my part to fan bash him.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ireland Days 1 and 2

I am sitting here three days after completing the Ireland ride and wondering where I should start.  There are so many memories and stories not even including the physical data from the rides for those who are interested in where and how we went.  The pictures I have nserted are courtesy of the riders on the trip so thank you very much for sharing!

Day 1 - Manchester to Mizen Head to Bantry

The adventure began on Saturday the 9th June with an early flight from Manchester to Cork then a taxi ride to our first hotel in Bantry.  Mark and I met early and got to the airport where we were charged an extortionate amount for a bacon sandwich each.  The Ireland fans where already drinking at 07:00 ready for their trip to Poland.  We went to the gate and where picked out of the pell-mell of people by Chris and Kevin, mostly due to the fact I was carrying my helmet and shoes in a carrier bag as I had forgotten to pack them!  Julie arrived later looking a little tired as she has been at a festival all weekend and had only got back at 01:30 in the morning.  We boarded our plane, which had propellers and reminded me of the plane from the Ducktails cartoon (showing my age again) and set off.  Arriving at Cork in double quick time we got into our minibus and where on the way.  From the off we could all see how undulating the Emerald Isle was going to be and this was setting the alarm bells off in my head... I hate climbing lol.

We arrived at The West Lodge hotel in Bantry and where first there.  We got checked into our room, which was excellent and then went to sit down in the reception.  Everyone arrived on the coach and there where around 60 odd people clamouring for room keys and luggage.  All of this with a small 27mile cycle later on in the afternoon.  Mark and I donned the lycra for the first time in the holiday and went down to reception to go and find our bikes.  The bikes where being taken to Mizen Head, the most southerly point in Ireland, where we would meet them and ride back to the hotel.  The coach drive to Mizen Head was horrendous 55minutes of small back country roads which undulated more than the Loch Ness Monsters back.  I felt sick as a dog when we finally arrived but was happy to see the bike again and finally start the cycle ride.  You can see the route and particulars on the Garmin data here I was going along nicely and getting acclimatised to the hills and narrow roads when I punctured with about 5 miles to go.  Unfortunately I had given Mark my tube as I had presumed we would be riding together but had got separated at the start of the route.  A gent called Richie stopped and repaired the puncture for me and this set the tone for the rest of the ride with everyone helping others and looking after their groups in great fashion.  I rode in with Richie and finished after about an hour and a half.  Not as fast as I would of liked but completed none the less.  The scenery was spectacular on the way round as was the weather.  I was regretting Manchester Airport securities decision to confiscate my sun cream, in case I made a bomb from it or perhaps squirted it in the pilots face so he couldn’t fly the plane who knows.  I was a little burnt and it was only the first day.  The ride really blew the cobwebs out and was a great start to the event.  The evening meal was an indication of the way things would go for the whole trip, a three course meal which was very nice indeed and satisfied a lot of hungry riders.  An early night followed again an indication of things to come for me.  I do not do well on less than eight hours sleep and wanted the best start to the next day’s ride.

Big Red Bike Ride Jerseys.          

Outside the hotel in Bantry

Day 2 - Bantry to Ballybunnion

Morning arrived and after the chicken alarm had been successfully dealt with by Mark and some lycra donned we left our room for breakfast.  An early start at 06:00 for breakfast at 07:00.  The breakfast consisted of cereals and toast with a range of juices etc or so I thought.  Later after I had left I found out there had been a serving of a full English breakfast.  To eager to get sorted and sort my bike out.  I am kind of glad I missed it though as the full English became a habit in the mornings and by Saturday I was just eating them for the sake of it and not the enjoyment.  We congregated outside and where introduced to our race marshal Brendon.  Brendon went through the route and then said we would be best to split into groups.  There were four groups altogether and opted to go into group two.  I don’t think I could or would have wanted to maintain a high pace all week and wanted to be able to take in some of the ride.  Group 2 where designated to average 15-16mph and would be under the watchful eye of a lovely Irish guy named Tony who was in his early fifties.  Tony picked a couple of the more experienced riders to lead the group out each day, Keith and Chris and we were told if the lead pair exceeded 16mph we would receive some abuse from his cycle pump...I think he was joking but then again no one dared to exceed the 16mph limit to test his patience.  Brandon’s favourite saying across the week was “lads its fairly flat today”  I firmly believe that the Irish definition of flat is some way apart from what I would call flat.  I certainly wouldn’t call a total of nearly 5000feet climbed on Day 2 flat.  In fact I am sure the mountain we climbed wouldn’t call itself flat either.  Again the views where amazing over Killarney National Park as was the weather again.  You can have a look at the technical data here The descent on the other side of the mountain was great also and we went down single file to keep it safe.  Later on we found out that one of the lads had fallen and used his face to halt his fall.  The victim was Bernard who became good friends with Mark and me over the week and we had some good laughs with old Two-Face.  He was lucky no broken bones even though he crashed at 37mph.  Cuts to the face arms and legs but nothing serious.  We rolled on through with a group of around 20 riders.  There were some crazy Irish drivers overtaking on blind bends and hills but again that seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout the trip.  After the 2nd rest stop the group splintered up and I spent some time riding on my own.  This was the first time I met Scottish James.  Although we silently rode along for a good 5 – 10 miles it was the basis for a hello back at the hotel later on that night and the start of a good friendship.  The last 10km where hard as so much energy had been put into the climbs earlier in the day and the undulating terrain had sapped the reserves significantly.  We managed to team up with Chris and Keith and rode into Ballybunnion.  The town itself reminded me of an English seaside resort lots of chintzy shops and amusements with a shed load of bars.  The hotel was really nice as was the food again.  We were ‘treated’ on arrival to the hotel with a live act on the steps of the hotel...I would like to say Celine Dion esq but it was not that close.

Top of one of the first climbs.  Tunnel led through to the other side at the top.  Why they couldnt make the tunnel further down the mountain I don't know!!

Watch this space for the next two days!  Hope you enjoy this!