Monday 20th June
While having breakfast I heard that someone on the ride had slept in a ditch that night, sleepwalked and could not find their bike! They had phoned Eamon, who was able to locate it by its tracker, and thereby reunite bike and rider.
I had prepared myself in the night for a different way of riding today. For the first three days I had been able to ride from start to finish points, only stopping to eat or pee, but from hereon in I thought that I would have to begin to powernap during the day, taking 20 minutes off the bike to sleep and recharge the body. Despite the hard sleeping surface just endured, I felt remarkably good, and was looking forward to the day ahead, which would take me through my favourite part of Ireland.
As I set off, the rain eased, then stopped, and almost immediately I decided to try and make today the recovery day that I didn’t manage to have yesterday. As I continued along the road, bits of blue sky began to appear, and by the time I got to the campervan at the first control it was turning into a lovely day. I decided to put my new plan into operation, and had 15 minutes kip at the control, sitting against a wall in the warming sunshine, before continuing. Soon after I began to get my first glimpses of Connemara.
Today I was playing leapfrog with Catherine, the American, and Peter, who were proceeding steadily. I would pass them, then stop for a photo or some such, during which time they would pass me etc. We all stopped at a tearoom on the edge of Connemara National Park that was simply a room at one end of someone’s house, and had various refreshments. I said farewell for the umpteenth time that day, and set off again.
As the Maumturks and Binns of Connemara loomed ever larger I was taken back in my mind to the walking holidays that I have had here over the years, and the time that Denise and I came down this way on a camping holiday, staying in the luxury of Ballynahinch Castle as a treat in the middle of the trip. I took a slight detour off the route to get a great view of the castle beyond the lake. Part of me wanted to go and stay there for an hour, a day, a week!
I continued through Roundstone, and not long afterwards came to Clifden. The half way mark! I stopped for almost an hour here, getting a good few provisions in the supermarket at the top of the town, and pondering the fact that every kilometre I now travelled would be tipping the scales in favour of me actually finishing this monster ride. I splashed out on some smoked salmon in celebration of having made it this far. I was glad of all the food I had just eaten when I set off once more, for the wind was up, and not in a favourable direction as far as I was concerned.
After Claddaghduff the road turned eastwards, and pedalling was once again easy. I was able to soak up the beauty around me, and appreciate the changing form of the Binns as I saw them now from the northwest. The clouds had rolled back in somewhat, but they just made the scenery more dramatic. The setting of Killary harbour was no less dramatic, and the route allowed me to view it from both sides before cutting northwards up the Doo Lough valley.
I didn’t see any other cyclists until the control at Louisburgh, where a receipt was obtained for control purposes. Heading east to Westport I was once again the invincible cyclist, or maybe the healthy tailwind just made it seem that way. Then that rarest of things came up on me, a cycle lane with a good surface. I was bowling along at a healthy speed, while pedalling very easily. Until suddenly I wasn’t. A few miles shy of Westport I saw some detritus on the cycle lane, which I took to be debris from an overhanging tree. Something else must have been in there, however, as I very quickly realised that I had a flat tyre. Not a problem in itself, but it did cost me 15 minutes in changing the inner tube on the rear wheel. This time loss would have an impact later in the day.
15 km north of Westport and I was turning west for the rest of the day into an increasingly strong headwind. I didn’t mind. The road surface was good, and it was still light, despite my delay with the puncture. I was going well, and even attacking a few hills for good measure.
Then, just as I approached Mulranny, I suddenly felt empty, devoid of strength, and I barely crawled in to the town. The dreaded ‘bonk’ had happened! I downed jelly babies, chocolate, a muesli bar, anything that would give me strength and energy for those final few miles.
I would need them, too, for as dusk fell the rain started, and it suddenly became a bit grim. There were no streetlights, and I had no sense of getting anywhere as I fought my way along the coast in the driving rain. It felt as if I were in the middle of nowhere. Surely no civilisation could be at the end of this road? Had I bothered to do my research beforehand, I would have seen exactly what was happening topographically, but as it was, I just had to plough on in the hope that I would reach the sleep shelter at Corraun before the energy reserves ran out again.
Eventually I saw a car parked in the distance, its indicators flashing. Great, I thought, I’ve made it. I came to a halt, only to be told that this was where the showers were, and that the sleeping accommodation was a further five minutes down the road. What is this, I thought. They don’t even have showers where they are putting us up. What kind of an outfit is this? I was ungracious in my farewell to John, who had given up a week of his life to support riders like me.
I was in poor form when I finally arrived at the school that would house me for the night. Those lost 15 minutes changing a tyre earlier in the day had meant the difference between arriving dry and soaking wet. My less than bright demeanour was not hard to pick up, and the volunteers treated me with kid gloves. A mechanic agreed to look at my front derailleur, which had been throwing the chain at regular intervals. I was shown a bed in a separate room, since some would have to sleep in the main room with the lights on where others were eating. My mood began to thaw when I saw that once again we had blowup mattresses to sleep on, and it improved further with some food inside me. Within half an hour I was merrily chatting away with some of the others. I headed to bed a contented cyclist, oblivious to all that was about to unfold that would jeopardise my very chances of finishing.
Route: WAWA day 4 Oranmore to Corraun 302km
Next : Interlude