When you reach the summit of Tickincor at Harneys cross 3 choices await. Turn left, down Boola hill towards Rathgormack. Turn right and follow the route of The Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford down the 8km Mountain road towards Clonmel. Then there is option number 3. The other 2 choices see you travel downhill and away from the suffering. The road straight ahead brings your eyes towards the sky and your body towards a cauldron of searing pain.
As soon as you do cross the road you find yourself on a ramp that is short, only about two hundred meters long with the road disappearing after that, signalling a lessening of the gradient. Trees on either side of the road create a funnelling effect that sweeps you skyward. It looks short so you are tempted to drive it on. This would be a mistake.
Reaching the top of the first ramp brings into view a false flat of about four hundred meters. A false flat is a section of road that looks flat only because what is before and after it is so steep. It still rises and it still hurts.
Now you reach ‘Powers the Pot’, a campsite that has given this torture chamber it’s name.
I have an early memory of spending occasional sunny Sunday afternoons in it’s foregrounds. There was a playground that seemed exotic at the time with Swings and a Slide. There was a balcony with a ‘no children’ sign, for their own safety. I remember that there was a good view from up there. As a child that sign was a magnet for rebellion. There would always be a bottle of Cidona with a straw and a packet of King crisps. Occasionally there would be a Choc ice or an Orange split. I still remember a day when my father turned the blue Ford Capri left at the gate instead of right for home. He wanted to show us the steepest hill in Ireland. Perhaps that was a slight exaggeration. First gear in the Capri was needed. A time when there were no seat belts in the back of cars usually saw me positioned leaning out between the two front seats. The gradient was so steep that I was pushed back against the blue leather rear seats. It felt like a great big adventure.
Back on the bike, and the entrance to Powers the Pot signifies the start of the ‘real’ climb. It looks like a wall. It feels like trying to cycle up a wall. Cycling up this is a serious struggle and also a balancing act, especially if it’s wet, or snowing. Sitting in the saddle the front wheel has a tendency to lift off the road. Standing on the pedals the rear wheel has a tendency to loose grip and begin to spin.
The road now begins to veer off to the right. The surface is patchy and there is a twenty meter section of concrete that spilled from a Ready-mix lorry as it struggled against the gradient. The concrete is smoother than the patchy tarmac. However, this brings you out towards the middle of the road. Traffic coming the other way, not that there is much of it, may not see you. On the way down the road disappears from view at this point so you must be careful heading in both directions.
Once you get past the concrete the worst is over and ‘The Mast’ now comes into view just up ahead. As I sit and type this I look out the window and count two white dishes on its side 10km away. Up close it looks big but you are in so much pain that you take very little notice.
The Ras once ran a time trial up here from the bottom of Tickincor. Anthony O’Gorman beat Tour de France rider Patrick Jonker. It was at a time before Strava but the time set that day, 14.37, would struggle to be beaten if the Ras were to go back up there again today. That was an average speed of 20kph !!
The road now veers left and a straight with another false flat (remember that you are still climbing) offers the refuge of the ‘Cattle Grid’ 500 meters ahead. Some call this the summit. It is not. The road still slopes upwards beyond the cattle grid so the enticing option of the right turn past the Council gravel pit leaves unfinished business. There is still another 34 meters of vertical climbing to be done.
This section of road is very exposed. On a windy day you struggle to keep the bike moving forward. If it’s a crosswind you must lean into the wind to avoid ending up in the ditch.
Approaching the top a glance to the right reveals a glimpse of the Knockmeldown Mountains. The summit itself reveals the vast expanse of The Nire Valley down below and occasionally the sea off the coast of Dungarvan 40k away can be seen. To your left the peaks of the Seven sisters welcome you to the highest piece of public road in the Comeragh Mountains. Behind Slievenamon looks across, and in between Mount Leinster in County Carlow can be seen on a clear day. The town of Clonmel is also way down below in your wake.
Eddie the Eagle once painted a line at the summit to signify the finish of a league race. That white line is the real summit and must be crossed to feel the satisfaction of conquering the complete mountain of Tickincor and Powers the Pot.
Part three which will include 21 times up and down in a single day is soon to follow.