Many cyclists have a ‘bucket list’, a back of the mind list of challenges that they would like to undertake and complete before they ‘kick the bucket’. To cycle from one extremity of Ireland to the other extremity is well up there on plenty of those lists. Whilst the record for the cycle from Malin to Mizen is just 19 hours and 3 minutes, most cyclists tend to undertake the challenge in 4 or 5 days. Last weekend a group of 10 of us set out from Malin head shortly after five am with the aim of reaching Mizen head the following evening.
With a prevailing south-westerly wind the normal route tends to be from South to North which lends itself to a high probability of a tailwind for the journey. Our trip went from North to South, against the normal trend but with the benefit of a much shorter drive home when the cycling part of the journey was complete.
Our group of ten was a great mix of a cross-section of cyclists. Kevin, Noel, Mick and Sheamus from the famous Ronde van Cork club were joined by Bernard, Paddy, Ken and Liam from the newly formed and ever expanding South Tipp Cycling club. Legend of Irish cycling Robert Power took time out from a busy photography business in Dungarvan to join the challenge and I rounded out the ‘Tenacious ten’.
(Liam, Noel, Mick, Sheamus, Ken, Kevin, Paddy, me, Bernard and Robert)
With ages from late twenties to early sixties and experience levels ranging from one member of the team who only took up cycling last July to another who is a former Olympian and multiple National champion it was amazing over the two days to see how remarkably similar all cyclists are when push comes to shove.
(A photo of our photographer Catriona in Malin Head at 5 am )
We set off from Malin at a very windy and icy cold 5.20 am. Within the first 100 meters we had one foot clipped out to avoid falling on the short icy descent from the tiny car park. The sun was rising in the blood red sky as the wind whipped up waves along the bay as we headed back towards the village of Malin itself. On through Carndonagh as the cold wind buffeted our momentum we had our first puncture. Noel quickly changed the tube and with a shot of Co2 he was back up and running by the time the rest of us answered a call of nature. Amazingly this was to be our only puncture for the entire journey.
Through Muff with the obligatory photo stop at the sign welcoming visitors to the village and we were on to Lifford for the first refuelling stop of the day after 80k. On a journey like this it is so important to stay well hydrated and well fed.
After passing through Castlederg with the signpost for Pettigo I was reminded that Lough Derg was nearby. A place of pilgrimage where people go without food and sleep to clear their heads. Chances were that our heads would be pretty clear by the time we reached our destination too.
We hit the 200k mark near Longford and realised that with such a strong headwind it was going to be a real slog for the next 110k to Birr, but to a man we all ploughed on together. Through the midlands past Athlone the road dragged on and on. Bodies were tired and heads were weary. The straight bog roads that seemed to go on for ever on the road to Birr were soul destroying. Eventually we came to a signpost for a bend in the road and soon after came a junction onto the main road into the town. The Garmins were now over the 300k mark and with over 12 hours of saddle time, not including stops bodies were tired and weary. The County Arms hotel was an oasis in the desert and we were all relieved to finally arrive. How we were going to be able to do this all over again in less than twelve hours was beyond comprehension at that point.
As we ‘walked’ from the lift towards our room Robert remarked that the day had been his hardest ever on a bike. This, coming from a guy who has raced at the very highest level against many of the best in the World put into perspective the achievement of the entire group.
The hotel looked after us very well and Bernard’s niece Aoife and her colleague Carmel drove the long journey up to give us all a very welcome massage. The recovery process was under way.
The 5.30 wake up time the next morning was almost like a lie in. Breakfast was consumed but underneath the surface the question remained, how could we possibly manage another 300 odd kilometers into a block headwind ?
It was almost 7.30 when we rolled out of Birr. On the road to Nenagh we met two groups coming against us. The first led by Gerry Murray were doing a 32 County Challenge whilst a second group were doing Mizen to Malin in the opposite direction to us and were joined by a large contingent from North tipp Wheelers to get them on their way towards Athlone. We were envious of the tailwind both groups seemed to be enjoying as we slogged our way along.
We went over some of the climbs used in the Visit Nenagh classic as we rode on to Newport where we had a welcome food stop. Then on towards more familiar roads as we passed through Kilmallock and on to Charleville for the next stop. The sun came out for 20 minutes and spirits were lifted as we set off again towards Kanturk where the Corkman 3 day was in full swing. The 10k approaching the town was unbelievably rough. Robert remarked that if Dan Curtain comes up with a rider that goes Pro Tour he will be straight into the bookies to back him for Paris Roubaix.
Turning Left in Rathmore heading towards Glenflesk gave a stark realisation of just how spectacular the Kerry scenery truly is. After trudging through the midlands on flat straight roads with very little to observe, the rugged beauty of the Kerry countryside was like a tonic. The 500k mark saw us on the Healy Rae motorway to Kilgarvan where we headed left up and over the Boren Valley. The biggest climb of our journey was a steady slog but the reward of a nice descent made it worthwhile.
Bantry and Durrus saw an air of anticipation as the finish loomed ahead in what was now turning to darkness. The final few hilly kilometers provided our only heavy rainfall which was compounded by the darkness.
Finally at 9.45 pm we reached our destination with a feeling of relief. The long steady 200k training spins were now worth the effort and time. We had cycled the full length of the country in 2 days against the wind. A feat that not many have done before and we all started and finished together.
We could not and would not have been able to get there without the encouragement and help of our support crew. Mick’s wife Ger, Noel’s wife Nora and son Shane, Paddy’s fiancé Maura and South Tipp club secretary Catriona all put in a huge effort to help us through. Kevin and Paddy did a fantastic job on the logistics.
Cycling and suffering build character and respect. To set a goal that seems slightly out of reach and to get there in the company of a great bunch of people lends itself to a sense of satisfaction that will be long remembered.
Now, what next ?