Friday 17th June
It was, indeed an early start, with the alarm rousing me from sleep at 4.30am. Breakfast and my bike were waiting for me in the dining room, and I ate silently, thinking about getting as many calories into me as possible. I was away from the B&B by 5.20am, and down at the Temperance Hall shortly thereafter. This time the bike went into the ground floor, and I said hello to the few folk that I recognised from previous audaxes. The morning was dry but cool, and although I had three layers on, it was chilly just standing around. Many riders were in a nearby café, which had opened especially early to fuel the Randonneurs.
I wandered about, waiting for 6.00am and the start. I turned on my Garmin cycle computers (which I will be referring to from hereon in as the 500 and 810), and loaded the first half of today’s ride into the 810. This, the larger of the two devices, has a map built in, so I could see on the screen where the route was about to go. A safety briefing was given, half of which I missed by being in the loo at the time, and then we made our way down the road to the official start line. At 6.02am we were given the off and we were underway.
As we rolled off, I looked around at the variety of bikes and riders that were undertaking this venture. A few steel frames, a smattering of titanium ones like my own, and a surprising number of carbon frames. Luggage capacities varied widely, from two full panniers to a small rucksack on the back. Likewise, the size and shape of rider varied considerably, by no means all having an obviously athletic physique.
The first kilometres went in easily, since riding in a group is much more efficient that riding on one’s own; those behind are riding in something of a slipstream, and even at the fairly low speeds that we were doing the saving on energy was about 30%. The terrain was undulating, with each height gain giving a temporary view over the surrounding land and sea, before the road took us down again.
I stopped just past Timoleague to take a photo of that pretty town, and was then riding on my own for the first time. I was not bothered by this, since much of my training this year had been done without company – No one else was mad enough to come out with me! I caught up with a bunch of riders near the top of a steep little rise, and the thought crossed my mind that I must be in reasonably good shape, since my climbing speed seemed to be a bit quicker than those around me.
We stopped after about three hours at a petrol station for coffee and food. These petrol stations were to become oases along the route, since they were open early and late, had a reasonable shop attached, and most importantly had a loo!
A few miles down the road I caught up with Nick, an Australian who had flown halfway around the world for this and a previous event in France. Unfortunately at the end of the event in France he had his bike stolen, and he was doing this ride on a borrowed machine. We were deep in conversation as we rolled along, and missed one turn, adding a kilometre to what would already be the longest day’s ride.
The wind was from the west, so for the most part we had a headwind as we meandered our way to Baltimore, where the first of the many controls on this trip was located. I mentioned the brevet card earlier. This is a card that needs to be validated in a number of places along the way, to prove that you were there within particular times. This validation could be done by an official from the event, as in Baltimore, where a campervan was waiting with hot drinks, water, cake and biscuits. A receipt from a shop, answering a question about a place, or even taking a photograph were all other methods of verification. It was drilled into us to sort the brevet card validation out as soon as we arrived at a control, since tiredness could easily cause us to forget about it, and a forgotten control validation could put the whole success of the challenge in jeopardy.
From Baltimore there was a brief respite from the headwind as I headed towards Skibbereen, but then it was in my face all the way to Mizen Head, where I arrived
at about 2.45pm. I had been to Mizen Head once before in 2012, at the start of my first Mizen to Malin cycle ride. On that occasion I could see nothing, and in fact I saw nothing at all of County Cork on that trip for rain and fog. This day was much better, and once I had got a receipt, I sat out in the sun eating an ice cream, enjoying the view out to sea.
I couldn’t hang around for too long however, as I was only half way through today’s ride, and I had another 150 km to go before I would get to my bed for the night. I stopped briefly in Goleen to buy some stamps. Unfortunately word association meant that the Dolly Parton song “Joleen” was then rattling round my head for the next few days. The afternoon was warm, and I refilled my water bottles in a pub along the way, whose garden had an idyllic view over the water.
At an info control at Kilcrohane I hooked up with Cian and another rider after visiting a ‘time-warp’ shop, with wooden counter and myriad little nooks and crannies. We cycled together as far as Bantry, where I stopped to get food before tackling the Beara peninsula. A stall selling Thai food was just closing, and I got Thai chicken and rice. Mentioning to him what I was doing, the owner gave me a couple of bottles of water for free to keep me going.
Dusk was approaching as I climbed the Healy Pass, the road that would see me leave County Cork and enter County Kerry. Near the top there was a van parked, and as I approached, Eamon Nealon and Seamus O’Dowd, two of the organisers who had ridden the WAWA in April, jumped out and waved at me to stop. This was a ‘secret’ control, put in to make sure no one took a short cut!
As I paused to take a photo of the view into County Kerry at the top of the pass, a cyclist whizzed past me. I initially thought that he was on the WAWA, but then saw that he didn’t have any bags on his bike. Assuming him to be a local who knew the roads well, I followed him down the twisting descent, reasoning that he would know how fast the corners could safely be taken. I stayed within touching distance of him until he turned left at Lauragh. I turned right and then had the last climb of the day to get over before following the coast all the way to Kenmare, where at 10.15pm I arrived at the GAA hall that would be my shelter for the night.
Soup, stew and plenty of cake and sweet tea followed a shower. The main hall was laid out with camping beds in rows, and I was shown to mine by one of the volunteers. A sleeping bag was provided (also with my name and number on it), and I gratefully slid into it. After inserting earplugs, I got my head down at about 11.30pm, grateful to have behind me what on paper was the toughest day.
Route: WAWA Day 1 Kinsale to Kenmare 324km
Next: Day 2