Day 5

Tuesday 21st June

I was up before my alarm call at 4.45am this morning, and tucked into a plate of sausages and beans instead of my usual cereal before heading out to do a figure of eight loop round Achill Island. Because the route passed by Carraun again, I left some of my stuff behind, so as to have less weight to carry. As I chatted to folk before setting off, I felt almost euphoric.

Hills of Achill Island ahead

Hills of Achill Island ahead

Once again I felt really strong on the bike, and flew past several others on my way up the initial ascents. Sure, a steep climb had me in the granny gear for a while, but I still felt good. I did need the loo, however, and stopped by a deserted building to see to matters, using up my toilet tissue. I had more back at the shelter control, so I wasn’t worried. I began to get a bit more concerned when I ‘felt the need’ again half an hour later. It was too early for any shops to be open. I answered the info control at Keel, but my mind was on other things. Halfway over Doogort East Bog I could wait no longer, and seeking what little cover there was, dropped my shorts again. With no loo paper left, my options were limited, so my much-loved Mr.Sneeze handkerchief ‘took one for the team’. Afterwards I realised that lining my shorts might be a good idea, and had to tear off a clean corner of the handkerchief with my teeth.

Switchback descent William warned me about on Achill Island

Switchback descent William warned me about on Achill Island

It was not long before I needed to go again, and I realised that something was badly wrong. Thankfully a garage had just opened, and I was able to use their loo. I remember thinking how great it was to have loo and loo paper again. I had to stop once more before getting back to Corraun. When I got there I saw John who I had been sharp with the previous evening. I stopped and apologised to him for my attitude and he graciously accepted my apology.

I parked my bike, stated to the assembled crowd that I had diarrhoea, then walked into the hall, sat down on the floor and cried in frustration. I knew what this meant, namely that my WAWA was more than likely over. It was a far cry from the high spirits I had been in when I had woken up a few hours earlier. A volunteer who was a nurse went away and came back with some Motillium and salt powders to counter the diarrhoea while someone found my sleeping bag which had been packed away, ready for transport to the next sleep control. I lay down at 10.15 for an hour to see if I would feel any better. On getting up again, I took a paracetamol for a temperature I was running, and was soon running for the loo, throwing up all I had eaten in the last number of hours.

As often happens with me, I actually started to feel better after throwing up, so decided to carry on, taking it really easily and seeing how things went. Eamon told me that the trophy of someone who had pulled out was being given to the volunteers as thanks for their help at that shelter control. Yours will probably be next, he said. Don’t you give away my f***ing trophy, I told him.

I am a kitten, not a number!

I am a kitten, not a number!

I cannot say that I enjoyed or even noticed the scenery as I headed north, as for the first time in the trip I was simply staring at the yellow dashed lines on the road as they passed on my left. I did meet up with Nuno and Nick at a shop at one point. Nick had found a kitten abandoned on the road, and had brought it along in his jersey. The shopkeeper couldn’t have been less interested in looking after it, so Nick decided to take it further up the road until he found a group of houses where he could leave it. We tried to put it in one of his handlebar bags, but the kitten had the spirit of Houdini in it and got out almost immediately. It went back into Nick’s jersey, and they headed up the road ahead of me.

By the time I had covered about 40km I was feeling hot, with a temperature, possibly from dehydration but more likely from the bug that I had. I saw a sign for a B&B in Bangor, and made the decision to hole up there for a couple of hours to see if I could sleep it off.

The owner wasn’t in, but by phone he told me how to get in and which room to take. I drank lots of water and lay down at about 2.30pm. Two hours later I was still feeling really hot, and phoned Seamus to say that I thought that was it. My WAWA was over. He suggested waiting a few more hours, to see if things improved. I walked down to the pharmacy in the village and after chatting with the pharmacist bought antibiotics, more salts, and Solpadeine to help bring my temperature down. It wouldn’t surprise me if he closed early that day after my spending spree!

I chatted with the B&B owner who was by now back from his shopping trip to Ballina and he was aghast at what I had already done on the bike while feeling ill. He counselled staying overnight and seeing what I felt like in the morning. I phoned my wife Denise, who questioned if pulling out was really what I wanted to do, given all I had invested to get here. My fear was that the area that the route was now to take me into was remote even by Irish standards, and I would be moving further away from both civilisation and help should things deteriorate further.

Proof of passage photograph at Doohooma Head

Proof of passage photograph at Doohooma Head

I slept on and off until about 7.30pm when I phoned Seamus to say that I had made a decision to stop, and that I would try and get myself to Ballina, 50 km away, that evening. I began to gather my things together when my phone rang. Seamus was back on with a proposal. Eamon was heading out this way to ride with Birgit Zimmermann, who didn’t much like night riding, and he said that he would gather me up too and we would cycle round together, and if my health deteriorated, then someone would be with me. I had nothing to lose, he said. (At this point, anyone who knows Eamon well will be sniggering, if not rolling on the floor with laughter)

I decided to give this a try, since my temperature had come down a bit. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the B&B owner what I was planning to do, for fear he would have me committed, so told him that I was being picked up, but that I had to go and meet them. He didn’t seem best pleased, but bade me farewell.

I called briefly into the local shop in Bangor and bought a packet of rich tea biscuits and a bottle of Coke, known to be easy on the stomach, the latter when ‘flat’. I set off about 8.30pm, heading for the next control at Doohooma head. By the time I got there, the rain was on and I was getting properly wet. I had put my overtrousers in my sleeping bag to be taken to the next control to give me a bit more room in my bag for food, and I was now missing them.

At 10.30pm I called in at a pub at Gweesalia to dry off. I bought a coke and some crisps. I had been sipping the flat coke since Bangor, and had been fine. However, two sips of the fresh Coke and a few crisps later I was sprinting for the loo, seeing the precious body fuel that I had managed to keep down over the past hours now exiting my mouth with some force.

Stuart chats with Phil Whitehurst at Belmullet

Stuart chats with Phil Whitehurst at Belmullet

Brian Greene had also come in to the pub. He was suffering big time in the cold, and was so tired that he was falling asleep mid-sentence. He ordered us both a cup of tea. I took mine sweet and black, finished the crisps, and headed back into the night with him. Along the way we caught up with Stuart Blofeld, the only remaining Elliptigo rider, Andrew having had to pull out with back problems after about 1000km. We rode together for a while, chatting to keep each other awake. I left them in Belmullet contemplating shelter. As it was wet and I didn’t have a bivvy bag, I thought it best to keep moving, rather than risk cooling down too much by stopping.

At some point on the way down to Blacksod lighthouse I met Birgit and Eamon coming the other way. Eamon said something about other riders being around before disappearing into the night after Birgit. That was the last I saw of him before the sleep control. So much for riding with me. Lying b**tard!!!

Answer to control question at Blacksod lighthouse

Answer to control question at Blacksod lighthouse

I reached Blacksod lighthouse about 1.15am, took a photo, then retraced my steps to Belmullet, seeing neither Stuart nor Brian, who had presumably each found a bolt hole. All I could do now was continue following the route as it stretched round coast and over bogland. The night was getting cold, and with next to no fuel going into my body I was feeling it, even wearing five layers and with some cardboard stuffed down my front (a tip from George). I came across a shrine to Mary, and warmed my hands a little against the sodium light that illuminated her statue while dozing for a few minutes.

I lost count of the number of times I fell asleep on the bike that night. Not having much experience of night riding before I didn’t realise what I should have done, namely get off and have a kip, nor was I properly equipped that night for doing so anyway. I had 15 minutes sleep at some stage in a petrol station forecourt between two hoppers, and found an archway to rest in the dry for five minutes with about ten miles to go, when I had reached the stage of dozing off several times a minute on the bike.

Sunrise at Ceide Fields

Sunrise at Ceide Fields

I did get to witness a lovely sunrise near the Ceide fields, which lifted my spirits.

I finally arrived at the Ballina sleep control at 8.00am, and all I could say was “sleep”. It took a while to find my particular sleeping bag, which I needed, since it had my overtrousers in it. Once found, I didn’t even bother getting undressed, and was out for the count in minutes, if not sooner.

Route: WAWA day 5 Corraun to Ballina 296km

Next: Day 6