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.

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