Thanks for joining me! I have been riding for a few years now and slowly riding longer and longer distances. This is my first attempt at a blog so please bear with me as I learn the ropes! Please find my blogs below as they appear.
May the road rise up to meet you – May the wind be always at your back.
The second Edition of Taunus Bikepacking started in Hofheim, close to Frankfurt, on the 22nd June 2019.
A challenging fixed route of 800km on quiet farm and forest lanes and tracks with a few trails and single track. Paved road connected the route through beautiful German towns and villages nestled in the steep valleys of the Taunus landscape. The ride was full of tough short climbs and blessed with a spectacular ride alongside the Rhine and Lahn rivers.
Rules of the ride were the normal unsupported ride conditions. No drafting or outside help and all riders had to keep their trackers on for the duration.
Why was I here? I first met Jesko von Werthern riding the 2018 TransAtlanticWay (TAW) race in Ireland which he was riding for the third time. We shared a bivouac camp stop one of the nights and I learnt about his plan for edition #1 of Taunus that year. Jesko is proud of sharing the opportunities to ride the beautiful Taunus mountains, hills and the Rhine valley and has spent many days and ridden thousands of kilometers planning the Taunus route. In addition my daughter-in-law, Shirin, lived her childhood in the same region and I was keen to explore that area and ride in Germany and experience cycling in a new country.
I drove to Hofheim in company with Ryan Davies (@rnides) having enjoyed a road trip together back from the TransAtlantic Way (TAW) in Ireland via Mason bikes and Hunt wheels in Sussex and home to the Isle of Wight. The visit to Mason Bikes to pick up a new Mason ‘InSearchOf’ – ISO – and Hunt Wheels for Ryan to sort a damaged wheel he needed for the North Cape 4000 he was riding in July. Ryan together with Richard (@richardmarshallphotography) were photographers for TAW and were continuing to cover Taunus. Both great guys to spend time with and experts with the camera.
I am a road rider with limited off road experience and was unsure of what the ride would entail. I was lucky to get great support from Dom Mason and the team to get the ISO set up ready for the ride. The ISO is Dom’s latest design and having entered off road events in Morocco (Oct 2019) and New Zealand (March 2020) I wanted to test the bike in similar conditions, fully loaded for unsupported ultra distance rides. Comforting to know that Cycling Weekly gave the ISO 10/10 in review – “Go anywhere capability and Set up for off-grid load lugging”.
Pre ride registration at the Speedway track north of the town brought together the riders for an evening barbecue organised by Jesko and his team, and not least Julia, his mum, who was in constant support throughout the days of the event.
Frankfurt skyline from the start
Forty Nine riders gathered for a 0900 start and parade lap of the speedway stadium and then set off across the main road straight into the forest trails. I was determined to start slow and let the main pack of riders go. I had a target of at least 150km a day given the tough looking terrain and predicted hot conditions.
Rob with his Mason Bokeh
Ride start on the speedway track
The morning was a lovely mixture of tracks and trails in perfect conditions. I followed the trail on my Wahoo and it was difficult to orientate as the route twisted and turned through the Taunus hills, villages and towns. Nearly every opportunity was used to gather food and top up the bottles.
I rode into the evening, picking up a tasty doner kebab for supper, and feeling good carried on through a beautiful dusk and sunset and into the short night eventually finding a spot to bivouac at midnight. I was on the hillside above a large town, with twinkling lights and settled down for a few hours sleep.
It was a good day. I felt strong, the ISO was looking after me on the trails and I was delighted with the set up. I had started quite cautiously but gained confidence in its handling on rough ground as the day progressed. Day one was 212km with 3,985m of climbing.
The good thing about long days and short nights is the birds wake you and after a lazy doze I was up and away before 0500hrs. An added boost was the knowledge that I had four hours riding before the first complete 24 hours after the start. Small things but good for the motivation and keeping your head in the right frame of mind. Oh – and the dawn was as beautiful as the dusk!
I rode out of the forest and onto a route taking me parallel with the River Rhine.
After about half an hour I came across a small bakery in Kiedrich that appeared to be open.
They were awaiting a delivery and not open but kindly served me coffee and I added a couple of energy drinks. Whilst drinking the coffee the delivery arrived so all was well and I set off feeling good.
One of the special things about unsupported rides is you end up riding with people of a similar speed, often overtaking, being overtaken or bumping into each other at rest and food stops. One such was Lukas and we stayed within a few kilometres of each other throughout the 800kms.
What a delight it was to join the Rhine at Winkel and ride the river bank passing cruise ships and some massive commercial barges as well as taking in the beauty of this spectacular river, a lifeblood of Germany. A few kilometres further downstream I stopped for a second breakfast at Rudesheim am Rhein.
The rest of the morning was one that will stay long in the memory as I rode through the Rhine valley vineyards for many miles. The route tracked the river, mostly on the eastern bank high up in the hills. I lost count of the times I stopped for photos or to simply take in the beauty of this great river.
My plan was to reach the half way Control Point at the 400km mark before dusk. Food and a welcome were promised together with somewhere to sleep. A good incentive.
After climbing from the Rhine for the last time there was a twisty descent to Friedrichssegen and then a beautiful ride along the banks of the River Lahn, a tributary of the main river. The town of Bad Ems, a spa town, was packed with tourists on a busy afternoon. Just before Bad Ems I was riding with Lukas and we came across a friendly local cycling group selling cakes and drinks on the riverside. They were supporting a charity ride – GlucksTour. I very welcome stop and some great homemade cakes!
The route was now at the northern edge of the Taunus and then turned and looped towards the Control Point. Approaching Hohenstein a castle was high up on the hillside and predictably the road visited the castle via a horrible 20% plus climb. I gave it a go but had to walk the last half.
The sun was going down as I rode through fields of golden barley and descended to the Control Point. A warm welcome from Jesko, Ryan, Richard and fellow riders was followed by some tasty barbecued chicken. The CP was based at Jesko’s family barn and I got a good night’s sleep in a giant teepee on a comfortable mattress.
Day two was 189km with 3298m Elevation Gain.
Awake at 0400 just before dawn I was away at 0440hrs and relished the relative cool conditions that were a precursor to a very hot day with temperatures of 35 deg forecast. Another spectacular dawn was breaking that demanded more photography!
After about an hour I came across a bench set in the corner of a field alongside a water fountain which was perfect for a quick wash and some breakfast.
The next few hours saw the route take farm lanes and forest trails north west back towards the River Lahn.
As the temperature rose it was good to have some relatively flat riding alongside the Lahn with a few short diversions and I stopped on a bench under the spectacular seven towers of the Catholic Cathedral at Limburg to rest and refresh a while.
Late morning now and the mercury in the thermometer was rising fast. I came across Dino resting alongside a fountain in the small town of Villmar. He looked how I felt but said there was a supermarket half a km up the road. I diverted to it – with an 8% climb – and got provisions.
A short while later I stopped under a tree with a bench on the hillside to eat a nectarine only to look up to see I was under an amazing cherry tree laden with ripe fruit! Perfect.
More shady forest trails were a blessing in the heat but I was suffering a bit in the conditions and needed plenty of stops.
Some good climbs followed – the first of three hill tops with massive wooded lookout towers. I started to climb one but after a couple of flights said to myself “this is nuts” and went back down!
Another day was drawing to a close. Nearly always a lovely time for the soft evening light to create memorable vistas that demand you stop and enjoy.
The final delight of the day was arriving at the town of Bad Camberg. Once through the town gates I found a great ice cream parlour and settled down for a real treat!
I rode on into the cooler night and started to look for a bivouac spot. I checked out a school yard in Hainchen but having set off the security lights decided to carry on and found a shelter with a park bench off a small carpark just outside Wolfenhausen. I pitched the Bivi and settled down to sleep only for a couple of motorbikes to arrive at 0130hrs and start to roar around the carpark for ten minutes!
A total of 199km and 3340m of elevation for the day left me with about 200km to the finish so I was hopeful that this was my last bivouac. People near me probably hoped for the same. No change of kit since the start! I was not a pretty sight nor smell!
I woke early and was packed and on the road before dawn at 0400. I wanted to get some distance before the intense heat of the day arrived. Dawns early light was again beautiful and I make no apology for another photo!
I had shopped for breakfast the evening before and after a while stopped for a yoghurt with some crisp bread and cheese. Sitting in the deserted countryside watching the dawn approach with the birds singing whilst eating breakfast is a pretty good reason why we do what we do!
I rode through forests and farm land and passed some beautiful villages and towns along the route which rejoined the River Lahn near Weilburg, a town sitting on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the river. Alas it was too early to get some food so I had to make do with a coffee and water.
The rest of the morning and afternoon was tough going in the heat. Looming in the distance I guessed I could see the last major climb of the ride up to the Grober Felberg – the highest mountain in the Taunus at 880m. It seemed a long way off in the stifling heat. In between there were more climbs, towns and some really nice single track riding.
Braunfels – sitting 100m above the Lahn Valley
I climbed the Groberg Felberg at dusk to find hoards of people watching the sunset over the valleys to the west below.
Riding off the mountain along some good tracks the descent was fun and soon I was meeting more populated urban areas as the finish approached. Jesko had still managed to keep us off the roads and in the darkness I overshot a couple of turns but managed to follow the track and arrived at the finish line just after midnight.
Jesko was greeting all the finishers which is a tough ask – great to see him and Richard and I was followed home shortly afterwards by Lukas who I had been watching on the tracker for most of the day and anxious to keep ahead! A bit of fun because its not a race but one always wants to go well!
The lateness of the finish meant another night in the bivouac at the finish line. I was beyond caring and fell asleep in a few seconds.
The last day was 203km and 3720m elevation gain. This made a total of 800km for the ride with 13,000m of climbing in 3 days, 15hours and 16 minutes. I finished 12th from the 49 starters – but its not a race!
The next morning it was difficult to get out of the bivouac. The body was so stiff – the ride was concluded so psychologically the mind had probably told the body to chill out and shut down a little.
The day was spent sorting a local hotel for the night and greeting riders arriving at the finish. Jesko was ever present and had run an very special event for us all.
Gavin, Dom and Tom
The Mason InSearchOf lived up to is name! Having only ridden it for about 30 km before this ride I developed a high level of confidence in the way it handled on the rough terrain from single track with rocks and roots to big trail descents where the gravel was lumpy limestone shale. All that with a full compliment of Apidura bags which in truth were overloaded for this ride but I wanted to test it for longer rides I had planned. A very special bike – JennyBee. A big thanks to Dom and the Mason team for their help and support.
Thanks again must go to Jesko, his mum Julia and their team coupled with Ryan and Richard on the cameras. Thanks guys – a brilliant event.
I toured New Zealand with my Jenny twelve years ago. We saw my brother and his lovely family and sailed in the Bay of Islands and then took off in an old Camper-van for a month and experienced the beauty of North and South Island.
Since starting to ride long distances a few years ago I wanted to return and experience this beautiful country close up and on a bike. I have registered to ride Tour Aotearoa starting on the 3rd March 2020 – a 3000km ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff. So there was a good excuse to explore and recce some of the country, it’s roads and trails, before next year and visit family again after 12 years.
This Blog is an account of 14 days Bikepacking with my Mason Bokeh in March 2019. This first part describes six days around the Coromandel whilst visiting my brother and his family in their Bach in Whangamata and down in Mt Maunganui.
Part 2 ( to follow) will cover eight days riding further south in North Island. In between I rode for a day on Waiheke Island whilst saying hello to an old school pal – last together 51 years ago!
The map below shows my track (from my SpotGen3 tracker) which took in some spectacular roads and trails. I covered a little over 2000km with 22,400m of climbing. Whilst the ride was mainly on sealed roads I rode a few hundred kilometres on gravel and over one hundred on trails including the Hauraki Rail Trail, Coromandel Coastal Walkway and the Pureora Forest Timber Trail.
The rough stuff was intentional. Not least to get off the beaten track but also to test a prototype front fork with eyelets for cages on my Mason Bokeh for Dom Mason – the designer of the Mason family of award winning bikes made for riding fast over tough terrain – #fastfar bike company.
My main guide for the rides was the Kennett Brothers book – Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails. They also organise the Tour Aotearoa and are famous for developing long distance and trail riding in New Zealand. Great advocates for biking in New Zealand.
I was staying with my brother and his wife in East Auckland in Cockle Bay. They were headed for their Bach in Whangamata for the weekend and I planned to ride down to join them and take in The Hauraki Rail trail on the way. I delayed my start for a day due to heavy rain forecast – wimp I hear you say – but it backfired because the following day was probably worse and I got soaked good and proper.
I set out at dawn in light rain and took the scenic route via Maraetai to Clevedon and then via Kawakawa Bay to the Firth of Thames. The rain turned heavy early on and at 20km I got my first puncture – luckily right next to a garage so I had shelter and a coffee fixing it. I had tried to run my tyres tubeless but before leaving the UK had real problems getting them to hold air and after a few days with deflated tyres every morning gave up and stuck tubes in. I think it was a dodgy sealant that caused the problem.
Back on the road the rain persisted and a second puncture at 100km was sorted with rain pouring down my neck!
I picked up the Hauraki Rail Trail at Kopu and followed it through to Waihi. Flat through farmland with endless cows and not another person, the trail turns at Paeroa and heads through The Karangahake gorge past the old gold mining works. It then emerges in Waihi with its enormous Martha open-cast gold mine crater and historic Cornish pump-house standing proudly on the hillside above the town. Gold mining is still active to this day.
The rail trail runs out into Waihi and the road over the hills to Whangamata has a couple of good climbs before descending into this vibrant coastal resort with beautiful golden beaches.
Visiting family gave me the ride down the coast to Tauranga and Mt Maunganui. A fairly uneventful couple of days riding there and back mainly along State Highway 2 which was ok at the weekend but weekdays, with commercial trucks, was a bit sketchy at times where the shoulder ran out.
A lovely family get together and a walk up Mt Maunganui were special as was the diversion off the highway on the return leg via Golden Valley.
Whangamata sits on the Pacific Coast on the southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula and I wanted to ride to the northern point and ride the Coastal Walkway that runs between Stony and Fletcher Bays for 10km.
I started riding early up State Highway 25 to Whitianga via the Cooks Beach road and the ferry. Lunch at Whitianga and then continued along the Highway to Coromandel where I found a nice Motel for the night.
The next morning I was away at first light and not quite sure what the day held. I was riding the gravel road over the mountains to Kennedy Bay and then north via Little Bay, Port Charles (named by Captain Cook in 1769) to Stony Bay and the start of The Coromandel Coastal Walkway that was the only route to make a complete Coastal circuit of the peninsula. I had been told in Coromandel that bikes were allowed on the Walkway. I was not sure if I could complete the circuit back to Coromandel in a day but had my tent if needed.
Cloud was hanging over the mountains as I climbed on the gravel road. Made for a beautiful early morning and once over the top it cleared into a glorious day on the descent to Kennedy Bay.
The ride to the Coastal Walkway was spectacular and almost free of traffic – about a dozen vehicles all morning. I found a lovely secluded cafe and got a coffee and bite to eat.
The Walkway itself was very special. I had to push the bike a fair bit but most was ok riding. Described as ‘like walking through a 10km film set’. There were breathtaking views everywhere. The sort of place where one has a permanent smile on your face and a few expletives gasping at the beauty.
Once at Fletcher Bay I picked up the gravel road again and followed the coast south to Colville where the sealed road ran back to Coromandel Town and after 124km and 2400m of elevation I was happy to book back into the motel. A tough day with 85km of gravel and 10km Coastal Walkway but one of the very best on a bike! A couple of pints of IPA at the Star And Garter went down well.
Back to Auckland
Up at first light I followed the road south from Coromandel down the Firth of Thames and picked up my outward track at Kopu after a good lunch break at an excellent garden centre cafe.
It was a hot day and I needed plenty of water and ice cream stops for the long haul around the Firth of Thames and the sharp climbs towards my destination at Cockle Bay.
The six days saw 815km and 9166m elevation. It was nice to have no time limits for a change.
Seventy five riders gathered in Oman in late February for Edition 2 of the 1000km Bikingman Oman Race.
Well I say a race – indeed it is with Solo and Pair classification for male and female riders – but in truth there are only a handful of riders with eyes set on the podium and a top ten finish. I hope I am not belittling the majority of the rest who like me were happy to make it an adventure and experience the landscape and culture of Oman whilst still pushing hard for a good result.
That in essence is the beauty of the Bikingman concept with a series of challenging races across the world developed by Axel Carion and his team.
I arrived in Dubai a few days before the race and enjoyed the generosity and hospitality of Ed and his lovely family. We drove down to Oman in company with Derrick who was riding with Ed as a South African pair in the race but based in the UAE.
Ed and I had met at Bikingman Taiwan so had some notion of what ultra distance was going to be but this was Derricks first such ride – albeit he is an experienced road racer.
We drove to the race in Ed’s Ford pickup – a five hour journey with visa requirements at the Omani border. Rocky desert landscape prevailed along the route which was mostly a modern motorway carved through the desert.
Race village was the Barka Al Nahda Resort, some 45 minutes drive West of Muscat, where we shared a villa with one large double bed – Ed and Derrick sharing whilst I was happily on the floor!
Upon arrival it was good to meet the Bikingman team and renew old friendships made in Taiwan and Corsica. Registration was a disciplined affair with all riders having a thorough check of bike and essential kit plus confirmation of medical fitness and insurance.
We went for an easy spin to turn the legs and check the bikes followed by a few beers, some supper and an early night.
Pre-race day was a lazy affair. I went for a short ride with full kit and to check the Wahoo Element navigation was working. The race briefing took place at 2pm.
The main topic of conversation between riders was the Jebel Shams Climb which weighed heavily on peoples minds. Billed as one of the worlds toughest iconic climbs it starts about 300km into the first day and rises to 1990m over 25km but includes some brutal 20% ramps early on followed by 10km of gravel and a final surfaced 5 km to the top at Control Point 1 – Jebel Shams Resort. Jebel Shams – Mountain of Sun – is the highest in the Hajar range and the country.
There was an optional gravel route available to the base of the Jebel Shams climb. I had checked the details and although there was more climbing on steep rough gravel it saved a considerable distance. I had set my Mason Bokeh up with WTB Exposure 34 tyres so it made sense to go for the gravel option.
Briefing complete we prepared the bikes for the race and dropped our bags for delivery to the Muscat finish. Early to bed after a good supper.
Race Day 1
We were up at 0145 and grabbed a quick breakfast and arrived at the Red Bull starting arch at the resort entrance just after 0230. A nervous air prevailed and one unlucky rider got a puncture just before the start.
Countdown complete we set off at 0300 in a peleton under the control of the Omani Police escort and the roar of two Harley Dividson motorbike escorts. This ran at a steady pace for over 40km, longer than expected and at about 40km I eased off the back to ride my own pace – there was a long way to go.
I missed the first turn off the main road and was warned by the Wahoo bleeping and flashing red. A quick about turn and the smaller road meandered through a pretty village in the early morning light with the first stirring of local life. The road slowly climbed to nearly 1000m but progress was good and I reached the optional gravel turn at 190km by 1130hrs
About this time my front brake packed up. Hydraulic disc brake repair/bleeding are not my strength. I could not find any leak or loss of fluid but no matter what the lever hit the bar and nothing happened! So it became a single back brake ride for the remainder of the Race. Not too much of a problem other than big descents and if I needed a quick stop. I tried a couple of bike shops but none had experience of hydraulic brakes.
At almost the same time the dynamo stopped working! I took time to check the connections but all seemed good. Even found an auto electrical shop and the kind owner tightened the connections and re taped everything but to no avail. After 30 minutes he refused any payment – “welcome to Oman”. So I had lost my main lights – supernova front and rear and also my USB charging system for electronics. Luckily I had a head torch and small backup lights and a 10,000milliamp power pack.
The ride to the gravel section was on good sealed road and once on the gravel the Bokeh with 34mm tyres came into its own.
The gravel climb rose to about 1200m and was pretty rough in parts. There was then a sharp descent to join the main road climb up to Jebel Shams. Without a front brake I had to walk down the steeper sections after a couple of scary rear brake lockups that could have been a bit disastrous. I reckon I had to walk for about 20/30 minutes in total.
Joining the main road climb to Jebel Shams I was surprised to meet Xavier who like most riders had taken the main road route via Ibri. That gave me a big lift because he was one of the quicker riders going for a top placing.
And so the climb to 1990m and Check Point 1 at the Jebel Shams Resort began. It was an epic climb. One of the hardest I have experienced. The early ramps rose one after the other often high teens and some 20%. A kind Omani stopped his car and handed me a bottle of water and a little further up on the gravel section another car driver was parked up and handed me a couple of bottles and some chocolate.
Such kindness lifts the spirits and was to become an abiding experience and memory of the next couple of days. I have never ridden a bike where people are so friendly – a toot on the horn and a wave was frequent. On several occasions during the race I was stopped and asked where I was going and invited to coffee!
A couple of the gravel section ramps were very loose and I had to walk the bike.
Dusk was beginning to fall as I neared to top of the climb and I rode on the last 5 km of sealed road to Check Point 1 in company with Ed who kindly lit the road ahead – my head torch was not too great (later realised the batteries were nearly done!).
I was checked in at 1902hrs after 292km and 3688m climbing. Road time was 14hrs 06mins at an average of 20.7. I had burnt over 9000 calories according to the bike computer and was really glad to book a shared room with Ed and then get to the restaurant and some great food and liquid.
There was no real option of riding down the mountain in the dark with no main lights and only a back brake.
Ed and Derrick arrived while I was eating – they had stuck to the main route and I think had ridden at least 30 km further than I had done over the gravel.
I had set the alarm for a dawn start down the mountain. I grabbed some breakfast and set off with great care on the sharp descents especially on the gravel where I walked down on several of the steeper sections.
It was a marvellous dawn over the great canyon where David and the team were taking photos.
Further down the mountain I found Luke and Mike who were climbing after a night stop at Al Hamra. We stopped for a chat and exchanged photos!
The rest of the day should have be memorable for the distance and speed achieved with a beautiful following wind blowing us along the Ash Sharqiyah Desert roads for our rendezvous on the Arabian Sea at Check point 2.
Strangely it is a bit of a blur. I stopped for an early second breakfast and I was keeping in touch with Ed and Derrick and we caught up and at one point and found a good spot for a late lunch together. I often find the second day of a multi day ride the toughest physically and mentally.
Progress was good and during the afternoon for an hour I was flying along at over 40k. Evening approached and I found a good restaurant in a busy town before booking into a small hotel for the night in Al Kamil recommended by Ed.
Day two was a hot day in the desert riding to the Arabian Sea – you don’t get to say that very often in a biking life! It was tough but resulted in 318 km with 1103m climbing at 27.6 km/h average.
Up and away before dawn there was 50km to Check point 2 followed by a turn north and then north-west along the coast and through the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve.
Approaching the sea there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere – one could smell the water. At the same time the wind started to pick up and this was to be the start of a long tough day.
I arrived at CP2 and checked in with the ever friendly Jacques and wolfed down some good food. Cat was also resting a while and we exchanged our experiences and were both concerned by a day of riding into a headwind up the beautiful but barren coastline.
And so the hard work began. It was pretty relentless with a full on headwind often creating a sand storm with the sand stinging my face and legs – sometimes quite painful.
At times on a flat road I was turning the pedals at 200 watts power and only making 11km/h whereas normally it would be double of treble that. But it had to be done so it was important not to let the adverse conditions get into your head. “It is what it is” so accept today just like I had enjoyed the tailwind the day before. Once into that positive frame of mind the day became a lot better.
I stopped for water and food at every opportunity and swapped places with Cat throughout the day. It was her first experience of an ultra distance race and she was clearly loving the challenge. I loved the way her mum back in Canada was watching her Dot on the tracking page – even phoned her when she missed a turning. Her guiding angel – special.
Occasionally along the road there were shelters – bus stops I guess – and most had water tanks available. I was amused to arrive at one for a rest to find a fellow rider already there only for him to be dialled into a business conference call. I waved and carried on!
About mid afternoon I was starting to get some sharp knee pains – not previously experienced. I pulled into a cafe for a break and some food. After a few minutes sat outside drinking my coffee a Jeep pulled up and out jumped the race Doctor! I had just been thinking about something to help the pain. Well she sorted me out with anti-inflammatories and off I went. It’s was soon eased and never returned! Strange but true!
The town of Sur was my target for having a break and getting some food. I wondered about stopping there for the night but felt I should push on and make the last day and run to Muscat a bit easier.
To my delight I found a brand new MacDonalds and dived off the road and tucked into a chicken Mac meal with some enthusiasm – not my normal choice of fast food but this one was heaven!
Sitting down next to me was a long distance cyclist (not part of the race) and we got chatting as you do. From Europe he had cycled through Iran – such a friendly country – and was tootling around Oman waiting for his visa to enter India! Real nice man and some rider.
Tiwi was the next town that looked promising for a bed so I pushed on for 50km and kept on the main road. Riding at night felt safe enough with street lighting most of the way and a good shoulder. I pulled off the road at the Sama Wadi Shab Resort and checked into a room that would take Ed and Derrick as well who were a short distance behind.
One of my toughest days on a bike was done. 206km in 10 hours of riding into a desert wind with only 825m of climbing at an average of 20.7km/h. I had quite a few hours of “coffee time” to keep me going.
Last day – run to the finish
After a short sleep I was awake and felt the need to go so quietly sorted my kit and crept out of the room trying not to wake the guys. I got going at 0330hrs with the route following the main road without much prospect of breakfast.
It was a long haul into the dawn and beyond before the first opportunity for food came in a small cafe at 78km.
Refreshed, I set off for the run into Muscat. There were a few surprises and it turned out to be a great finale to the race. Some sharp climbs and the gravel ride through the gorge leading to Wadi Jiba were special and challenging in parts.
The final approach to Muscat was through some sharp foothills with some great views of the coast and city.
It is always a bit special when one approaches the end of a multi day ride. One gets some extra energy to drive towards the line. Into Muscat there were numerous twists and turns but the route was clear on the Wahoo and I enjoyed the run to the finish.
I was greeted by the Bikingman team and it was great to see Cat and Chris who had finished just before me. We had crossed paths throughout the race and I think we were all very happy with the result.
I finished at 12.25hrs after 159km with 1225m climbing and 22.1km/h average over 7hrs riding. My final position was 43rd from the 75 starters in a time of 81h25m.
After the Race
A few photos later and we were given a lift to the race finish hotel – The Grand Hyatt Muscat. I managed to get a room for Ed and Derrick and myself – they were a little behind me having stayed at the Sham Wadi Shab Resort a bit longer.
I was soon at the pool bar and the first pint was very special!
The following evening we had a dinner and prize giving in grand style and the next morning with Ed and Derrick headed back to Dubai after a brilliant few days on the bike.
Axel and his team were excellent as usual. Friendships with race staff and riders were renewed and new ones made. Thanks to David for some great photographs along the way. It was always great to meet the media teams around the course – a source of encouragement but often a dilemma – do you smile and wave or look serious and racing!
Big thanks to Derrick and Ed for their company and friendship and especially Ed for collecting me from Dubai airport and delivering me back and everything in between! Chapeau Ed.
The Race had great support from sponsors Oman Air and other generous sponsors.
My Mason Bokeh with WTB 34 Exposure tyres was perfect for the ride. I just love that bike. The front brake failure was air in the system and the dynamo a simple connection problem. Both easily fixed and a good lesson for the future.
But the final word has to go to the people and country of Oman. Such friendliness and generosity is very special and much appreciated. The landscape is stunning and set a magic backcloth to a memorable few days in the mountains, desert and Arabian Sea coast.
Through cycling long distances in new places I can feel all the emotions and elements in their entirety. The sun, the wind, the rain, the loss, the pain, the joy – the wonder of it all.
How many times in your cycling life do you start a ride you know well and then discover a couple of brand new Category 1 climbs that have been carved into the side of a mountain along the route? That happened a couple of days ago riding with my son Jonny from Aourir to Imozzer along Paradise Valley, just north of Agadir, Morocco.
The new road appears to have been built as an alternative route to the famous tourist attraction of Paradise Valley. The lower end of the valley, and only practical route from the coast, winds along a narrow gorge that has always been vulnerable to heavy rain storm damage.
The engineering of this new mountain road is staggering. Quite literally carved out of the mountainside rising from the coastal end at the start of the gorge up a 1000m and then descending over 600m to rejoin the original road above Paradise Valley – a total of 30km of surfaced two lane road with over 50 hairpin bends.
Strava stats suggest the southern climb from the coastal end is 980m over 16.4km and average 6% while the northern climb is 677m over 8.7km and average 8%. We rode the loup from the north on our way back from Imozzer – cheekily we named it Col d’Paradise – North as a Strava segment.
A Special Day
Jonny and I had set off from Aourir Camp to climb Paradise Valley and beyond with the plan of having lunch at the Hotel des Cascades at Imozzer (1300 meters) in the mountains. The original overcast cloud cover was quickly burnt off and we soon arrived at the start of the gorge. In 2018 we had seen some road building on the mountainside and as we got closer this time realised it was a new surfaced road. We asked a local if it went to Imozzer and he said no and suggested the only way was via the gorge.
So we set off through much heavy road building along the gorge and emerged to climb out of the valley and headed up towards Imozzer. Near the top of the first climb we found a new road junction on our left with an amazing set of hairpin bends brutally carved from the mountainside above. We assumed this was the other end of the new road and were excited with the prospect of exploring it on our return. There were no road signs indicating where it went.
We lunched at the Hotel des Cascades on its splendid balcony overlooking the valley below in company with a dozen Russian tourists who had arrived by Landrover.
And so we returned down the mountain to start the climb up the new road. It was fairly steady to start until we hit the set of hairpins that gave some recovery but in parts were over 15%.
We stopped on numerous occasions to take photos – the construction and view as we climbed was just staggering. We rode the whole 8km climb without a single person or vehicle passing us in either direction.
Some of the surface was heavy with gravel due to limited vehicle use. In fact over the full 30km we only saw three French motorbikes and two local vehicles. It was very remote with no dwellings except for a couple of traditional mountain buildings near the top of the climb.
The road levelled out at the top and we rode into a small shallow mountain valley before riding along a mountain top ridge as we started the descent. At one point the road dipped down and rose again in a series of sharp hairpins.
There followed numerous sets of hairpins in the final long run down to the the small village at the start of the Paradise Valley Gorge. The 16km climb back up would have to wait for another day – but felt a bit like unfinished business. It looks a classic and I guess at that length borders on an HC climb?
And so we finished the ride back to the camp and headed out in the Camper van for Jonny to catch his flight home the following day – and the roads at home were blocked by snow over Bodmin Moor – so delay in getting back to Cornwall. What a contrast! Jonny is a longboard surfer and described it like finding a secret surf spot – virtually unknown! If these climbs were in Europe they would be crawling with cyclists!
It was a pretty special day in Morocco! 108km with 2500 m of climbing.
Morocco – Road Biking
Morocco is well known for some brilliant mountain bike locations. Less well known are the road bike opportunities that have increased hugely over recent years. From Southern Desert to the High Atlas and Anti Atlas Mountains we have found newly surfaced roads this year. One drive from Zegora to Tata in the south saw less than 50 vehicles in the 250km drive on perfect roads and mind-blowing desert landscapes.
Mason Bikes took us over the climb in style. I was riding my blue Mason Definition2 and Jonny the Mason Bokeh in splendid orange. In Morocco one is likely to want to ride a variety of road conditions – there are still many kms of piste – and Dom Mason’s bikes are perfect for the job – the fastfar bike company!
The final Bikingman Race of 2018 starts in Taipei City at 0400 hrs on Monday morning (22nd October). Riders are arriving and busy preparing bikes, registering and undergoing the strict safety equipment checks.
The Bikingman Race team, led by the friendly, efficient, Axel have been busy looking after our pre race needs. The media crew of Anthony and David have been filming and interviewing the main contenders and setting the pre race scene at Race HQ, the Waypoint Bicycle Store at No10, Alley16, Lane12, Section 3, Bade Road, Songshan District – now thats an address! U-Tube clips are on the Bikingman website.
It is Sunday afternoon now as I finish writing this and the Race Briefing has just taken place at the Artree Hotel. A big emphasis on rider safety and the need to make sure the GPS Trackers are working.
The Race is termed a ‘sprint’ in ultra distance riding – total distance is 1128km with about 18,000m of climbing including the famous Taroko Gorge Climb in the National Park although we turn off 10k from the summit but are allowed to go the whole way if the mood takes us!
The route is mandatory, riding anticlockwise round the island with Checkpoints at Sunmoon Lake, Fangshan, The Tropic of Cancer marker and finishing back in Taipei City at Race HQ. The rules are strict for unsupported riding. We cannot receive any outside help, being self sufficient for feeding, resting and repairing. Drafting and riding in packs is forbidden.
Each rider has a GPS Tracker for safety and to show progress to friends and family and interested dot watchers. The Race is going to be intense at the head of the field where a small handful of riders are challenging for podium places, not only for the Tiawan event but the overall Bikingman 2108 series. They have raced in Oman, Corsica and Peru with Tiawan the decider for top spot.
As for me, I rode Bikingman Corsica in May (see earlier blog) and finished in just under 60 hours for the 700km and 13,000m of elevation. In Taiwan I think I will be challenging for the ‘Lantern Rouge’ and will be happy to finish on Friday in about 100 hours. Much will depend on the weather. Forecasts suggest it will be favourable but we have a northerly headwind forecast as we ride up the East coast after crossing the south of the island.
I am riding my lovely Mason Definition2 and have worked hard to lessen the weight given the big climbing days ahead. I have ditched the front bar bag with sleeping kit and plan to sleep briefly at a hotel near Checkpoint two after 500 plus km. We will see how that works out. The 48/32 chainring with 11/34 cassette should help on the climbs and the Exposure 30 tyres running at 60psi will give a little comfort combined with the SMP saddle. Hunt 4 Season SuperDura wheels with the SON deluxe 12 dynamo will run the front light and charge electronics with the Igaro D1 power converter. The Apidura bags have worked well all year. Painful feet have been a problem in the past on long rides but my Lake MX237 with extra wide fit have looked after me well over the last year. They are mountain bike shoes with SPD’s which makes walking during long distance rides much more comfortable.
There is a lot of talk about race strategy. Riding some of the remote jungle roads at night sound a bit scary with aggressive monkeys and other wild animals! Road conditions are variable but it is surfaced road all the way, however, if bad weather sets in for the mountain sections it could be quite a challenge. I hope to ride at least 250km per 24 hours. The sun came out this morning when I rode in the City to check the start and it was 30deg so night riding might be more comfortable.
Yesterday I took a ride out of Taipei for 30km reversing the final route of the race. Taipei City has been a cycling challenge and a steep learning curve. Exciting experience! It is a Scooter race track and you have to get into boxes painted on the road at traffic lights if you want to make a turn across the traffic. I managed to find the superb cycle track along the Keelung river before heading for a couple of climbs out into the country.
This is my first time in Asia and Google Translate has been on overdrive! The cultural experience has been incredibly rich and rewarding. A busy City but friendship all round and people so willing to help. The 7/11 stores are a cyclists dream. I thought I had picked up a bowl of porridge on the first morning only to find it was a meat soup! It was tasty! I did battle with my chopsticks at a beef and noodle place last night – not a pretty sight!
A noisy colourful festival came marching along this afternoon. Music, dancing and firecrackers. I am lucky to be here.
Tracking should be available on this link after we get going in the morning.
An early Monday morning rise was needed to book out of the hotel and ride through the deserted streets of Taipei for the start in front of Building 101 – the 1441ft high symbol of the city. As the 0400 hrs start time approached the Red Bull arch was populated by a mixed group of riders. Some were quietly sitting on their bikes, others running around doing last minute jobs or making adjustments but generally the air was filled with excited and anxious laughter and chatter.
The local Taipei Rapha Cycling club were kindly riding with us to guide us for a few neutralised kilometres to the edge of the city – the early start designed to beat the city rush hour. Axel, Mr Bikingman, gave us the countdown and away we went. I lost count of the traffic lights we encountered as we emerged from the city. The leaders soon raced away and I settled down to a steady pace, resisting the temptation to push on in the excitement of the morning. The media car with Anthony and David sitting in the back with the tailgate up and flashing hazards were busy recording the city exit.
Unsupported racing has strict rules about no drafting or outside assistance. Riding together meant side by side – not great on some of the busy roads – or at least 10 metres or more behind another rider. Throughout the ride one encountered other riders, often leapfrogging each other at food stops or overnight halts.
Daylight broke at about 0530hrs and we made good time heading south on an anticlockwise route around the island. First target for the day was Checkpoint One at Sun Moon Lake in front of the Long Feng Gong Temple. I spent some time chatting with Chris from UAE and was amazed to hear that he had only been riding for 18 months. At the end of the week he was to become the gutsy Lantern Rouge but more of that later.
The first few hours were fairly flat and although much was on fairly busy roads with small towns dotted along the way the alien nature of the environment created an interesting and exciting ride for me never having been to this part of the world before. Taiwan was rich with cycle lanes and felt pretty safe most of the time. By 0900 the temperature had risen to 25 deg with high humidity and by midday it was over 30 deg which necessitated regular drinking and refills at the ubiquitous 7/Eleven stores.
I think most riders developed a love/hate relationship the 7/Eleven and Family Mart stores during the ride. Superb for all your needs and easy to find in most towns they were a welcome sight when hungry and thirsty but microwave pre-packed food made to a consistent specification day after day begins to numb the pallet and mind! Having said that they were a regular meeting place with riders on a similar pace to me and often welcome company and opportunity for discussion about the previous and future parcours and options for night stops.
Just after the town of Zhuolan and eight hours in the saddle came the first good climb to 931m followed by a descent and climb back to Sun Moon Lake and Checkpoint 1 under the beautiful Long Feng Gong Temple which sits on the hillside overlooking the beautiful lakeland vista. As I climbed the ramp to the Temple and dismounted I looked down on a flat rear tyre – so perfect timing for a Red Bull break, some food and quick tyre repair.
By now it was late afternoon and a need to get some more distance under the belt before a quick sleep stop prior to tackling the next big climb to 1630m and the jungle section that lay ahead. I was keen to tackle the climb before first light due to the 30+ deg daytime temperatures with sauna like humidity. A few WhatsApp messages established there was a Motel in Zhushan thanks to Ed, 40km on from CP1 and thats where four of us arrived to share a motel room and a couple of double beds!
A strange experience with a drive in garage and all set up for discreet anonymous visits. So we parked our four bikes in the garage and jumped into bed for a few hours kip. I shared with Gavin and Ed has his own bed while Shannon had a couple of restless hours on the settee!
Day one complete with 275km and 4310m climbing, Av km/h 22.6, Av HR 117
Shannon and I had had enough by 0100 hrs and both got away on the road by 0130hrs. Ed and Gavin opted for a bit more kip. The cooler night made for much more comfortable riding and almost immediately we started the 45km climb to the Col at 1630m. The night jungle noise as we rode was very special. We had been warned of snakes hanging from the trees in the jungle sections ahead. The occasional bright coloured snake on the road, deafening Cicada’s and rumble in the jungle from a monkey or something worse and I was quite happy to have Shannon’s company, albeit further up the road – he was a much better climber than me.
As we neared the summit, dawn’s early light started to break to reveal spectacular jungle mountain landscape all around us. In the half light of the day I noticed the hillsides were populated with rows of uniform bushes and wondered what they were – felt a bit daft when I realised they were tea plantations thriving in this high altitude environment. As the grey light turned to colour the beauty was revealed – a first for me – never seen a tea plantation before!
The long climb had been remote and a refill of water and some breakfast was needed. Fenqihu was the first small town after the Col and I found a small local cafe just off the main road. Shannon and I, to our surprise, were able to order bacon and egg, fresh cooked with a bap and good cup of coffee. Perfect ‘start’ to a long day as we headed on towards the jungle section travelling South to CP2.
Axel must have worked hard to find the remote jungle roads he had set up for us. We headed along the Alishan Highway and skirted a large lake near Dapu township where another diversion was needed for food and water. By now the midday sun was beating down and humidity was high. At one of the turns onto the jungle track I missed it completely and ended up a kilometre down the mountainside before realising the error! Shannon was in the same boat and we both ground our way all the way back up and then a sketchy descent on rough overgrown track. Axel’s delight!
Mid afternoon and another stop for food and water in Daqiuyuan Township where Anne and Reinhard, riding as a pair from Germany, were also having a quick break. The road was then pretty much flat all the way to CP2 at Fangshan. We skirted along the foot of the mountains to the left and the flood plain of the river to the right all the way to the coast at Fangliao.
By now it was dark and the final bridge we needed to cross was closed which necessitated a diversion and few extra kms along the coastal road to the checkpoint at the Tiny Greece hotel. It felt a pity arriving in the dark as I would be leaving before daybreak so would never see the coastline.
Axel was there to greet us and I had pre booked a room at the Tiny Greece – the halfway mark at 540km from the start – and a few of us arrived about the same time to get our cards stamped and signed. For me it was 2053hrs and I tumbled into bed after sorting a shower, recharging the electronics where needed and rinsing out my bib shorts. Luckily there was a large fan in the room and directed onto the wet clothes they dried by the time I got going the next morning.
Day 2 – 270km and 5439m climbing, Av Km/h 19, Av HR 102.
Up at 0315 I was on the road in company with Ed by 0400hrs. We faced a climb of 20km up to 450m traversing the southern end of the Island before heading North long the coastal road towards CP3 at the Tropic of Cancer marker. Setting off early was good for the cooler conditions but also the route could be busy with heavy traffic, especially trucks. After a short time into the climb the rain started, softly at first and then pretty much a downpour. Some way up a welcome 7/Eleven emerged out of the mist and provided some hot food and coffee before completing the endeavour to the top. Then followed a bit of a crazy descent with water running across the road in heavy rain whilst being chased by trucks. They were fortunately slower on the corners and I was able to keep ahead for a clean run down the many switchbacks in the early morning gloom. Thank goodness for disc brakes. Ed was behind me with calliper brakes and didn’t enjoy it – besides they don’t get much rain to play with in Dubai where he lives!
Once on the coast the weather picked up immediately, demonstrating the micro climate you can find in mountainous regions. The initial section of coastal road north hugged the rugged mountainside often hanging over the beach below. There were numerous roadworks but the terrain was relatively flat with only a light northerly headwind that had been forecast.
It was a lovely ride along the coast with an ever changing seascape on my right and mountains to the left. Just after mid-day I hit one of those inevitable moments of deep tiredness and found a beautiful little seaside park with a picnic bench and got my head down for a 20 minute nap. It worked well and as I woke saw Anne and Reinhard ride past. Our paths were going to cross a few times in the next couple of days.
I arrived at the Tropic of Cancer marker – CP3 – after 12 hours of riding just after 1600hrs and took the required photograph to prove the time and date. Luckily Anne was also there and showed me how to upload the photo to the tracking system – MapProgress.
I wanted to get further north up the coast before stopping for a night break so I could hit the Queen Stage of the race – the 70km climb of the famous Taroko Gorge – early the following morning. I suspected it was going to be a full days work riding up the mountain and I wanted to ride it in the daylight. I guessed photo opportunities would arise around every corner and hoped for good weather. No point in climbing one of the most famous climbs in the world and not stopping to smell the roses?
As dusk fell the headwind died away a little and night riding was good. About 2030 hours I came across a small B and B on the beach and dropped down off the main road to check it out. Two delightful women were sitting on the decking and after calling out the daughter to translate they gave me an excellent room and were happy with the bike in the room and the proposed early start. I had a good soak in the bath!
Day 3 – 252km and 2748m climbing, Av 22km/h, Av HR 102.
Up just before 0400 I was on the road by 0415 and soon arrived at Haulien City and was glad to clear the suburbs to the north before the rush hour developed.
The road skirted the coast before heading inland and I stopped at a 7/Eleven for breakfast and bumped into Shannon and Ed as they were heading out towards the foot of the mountain.
Arriving at the start of the climb I passed the start area for the Taiwan KOM Challenge that was being raced the following morning – a serious 105km ride up the Taroko to over 3000m.
As I hit the base of the climb I could just make out some of the challenge ahead in the early dawn light – over 80km of climb for us to 2581m before turning north and the run back to Taipei. I was blessed with a perfect day for the ride – sunny, clear with hardly any wind.
The first section was the spectacular gorge which started as quite a wide river and then slowly constricted the options for a road getting narrower and steep sided requiring a few tunnels and overhead cover to protect from falling rocks. In short it was truly spectacular and I was forced to stop numerous times for photos.
Mason Definition2 meets Taroko Gorge
The early morning sun was shafting onto the surrounding mountains and it took quite a while for it to touch the bottom of the gorge. As I climbed and the temperature rose this was offset a little by the cooling due to altitude gained.
At 0845 I rounded a corner to find the road was closed for the next 45 minutes for repair work to stabilise the overhanging cliff. A small barrier was being managed by a friendly woman and we exchanged a conversation with the help of Google translate. I was joined by the the team from Oman who got frustrated with the wait and decided to take the chance past the falling rocks – amid much shouting from the road workers! Then I was joined by Reinhard and Anne who took the opportunity for a sleep on the road.
Villages were few and far between on the climb but there were some small stores, usually selling fruit and vegetables and then with perfect timing a small restaurant where I settled down for a chicken soup meal and coffee. Some of the tunnels on the road were quite scary, narrow with limited lighting. As I climbed the vegetation changed and nearing the top the clouds were beginning to build and swirl around. At one point the cloud updraft was amazing with a bank of misty cloud racing up the mountain over the road ahead.
There was a small descent before the final climb to the turn off in Dayuling where the route passed through a tunnel and then the long descent started. It was about 30km to the first township of Li Shan and we passed some small settlements and this side of the mountain was a big fruit growing area. Some of the hillsides were spectacular with every apple on the tree wrapped in what looked like a paper bag. Never seen it before but researching it later confirmed the bags are used for protecting high quality fruit of all types.
A 7/Eleven stop was needed in Li Shan and again I was joined by Anne and Reinhard. We were all feeling pretty tired and debated about staying in the town for the night as there were plenty of hotels listed. I decided to carry on and get over the last couple of climbs – to about 500m – before looking for somewhere to stop.
In hindsight this was a bad decision because the clouds rolled in and very soon it was 20/30m visibility with heavy drizzle and very dark. The last 20km of the day was not much fun and arriving at Nanshan township I dived into the 7/Eleven for a hot meal and warm up – such a contrast from earlier in the day.
The manager was very friendly and had his family in the shop and wanted his shy daughter to speak some English with me. I asked about a bed for the night and luckily the shop next door had a few rooms and promised a good breakfast but I would not be able to get my bike out of their garage until 0500. No worries because I had about 140km to the finish and Friday was my initial finish target so I should make the evening party in Taipei OK! A welcome shower and I was asleep in no time.
Day 4 189km with 6795m climbing, Av speed 16.6km/h, Av Heart Rate 100
I woke at 0400 and went downstairs to find fresh hot dumplings cooked and went for two – a sweet potato and a meat dumpling with coffee and banana. The best breakfast food of the week! The shop keeper family were lovely hosts and we chatted a lot so I only got away at 0530 in a cool clear morning and a beautiful descent down the mountain to the wide river valley below.
One of those starts to the day when one feels at one with the world and realise just how lucky you are to be in the here and now riding a bike in spectacular surroundings – and mostly downhill all the way to the finish!
I pushed on for about 30 km riding the edge of the wide river basin towards Yilan through some busy urban areas and a building rush hour traffic. Once the coast was reached the road climbed inland to 500m and then a further really sharp climb – a little sting in the tail. Half way up the climb I came across the Media team of Anthony and David with Didier who got busy doing some filming and in a small way helped me up this last little test. Once at the top I knew the way to the finish having ridden out to this point prior to the race.
The descent towards Taipei was fun and the traffic light at midday. I reached the excellent cycle path alongside the Keelung River and made my way for the last few kms to the finish at the Waypoint Armory Shop. Arriving at 1337hrs there was a warm welcome from the Bikingman team and other riders. Total time was 105 hours for the 1130 km and I was comfortably right at the back of the field.
Final day 143km and 1978m climbing, Av speed 21.9km/h, Av Heart Rate 94.
A drink or two later and some food and having booked back into the hotel I was ready for the Finishers party and dinner at the Artree Hotel. It was a great evening swapping stories and congratulating the winners of the Taiwan Race as well as the overall Bikingman 2018 series. Rodney from Peru was a machine and swept all before him.
The following evening several riders gathered with the Bikingman team at the finish to welcome Chris as he rode in after an amazing effort to ride the full distance, albeit out of time to be classified. He was only into his second year on a bike and had never ridden anything like the Taiwan event before. Really strong both in body and mind to keep going to the finish. Chapeau Chris.
On reflection I think I could have gone harder and had less sleep but I pushed too hard in the Corsica Race with short Bivi bag sleeps along the way and decided to take it a little easier in Taiwan and use accommodation. I also wanted to ride the Taroko Gorge climb in daylight.
My body, bike and equipment held up well. My Mason Definition2 was a joy to ride as always and didn’t miss a beat.
Bikingman Taiwan was a great event. Axel and his team had planned a great parcours and supported us well throughout the week. Can’t be easy when there is such a variation in speed between riders.
As I finish writing this the Bikingman WhatsApp group are talking about the difficulties of re adjusting back to normal life. For me targets on the horizon are key and I have just signed up for Bikingman Oman in February. That should do it! I am so fortunate to have such opportunities.
This was my fourth year riding this iconic event which is epic in scale and celebrates a moment in our history that stirs our pride as a seafaring nation.
The Trafalgar Way is the historic route taken by Lieutenant John Laponetiere RN (1770 – 1834) in November 1805 to report the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.
The official despatch from Admiral Collingwood was brought to England by Lieutenant Laponetiere aboard HMS Pickle. It contained the news of victory over the Spanish and French Fleets off Cape Trafalgar, Spain on October 21st 1805. Following an epic sea voyage where a severe storm required the ditching of four cannon to save the ship, HMS Pickle arrived in the English Channel where unfavourable winds dictated a landfall at Falmouth rather than Plymouth.
Lieutenant Laponetiere then started a journey overland by post chaise – a coach and four horses – to deliver the despatch to the Admiralty and King George III. The journey took 37 hours to reach the Admiralty Building in Whitehall, London. There were 21 changes of horses at Coaching Inns along the route and cost £46 – equivalent to £4500 today. The factual record of horse changes has allowed the route to be recreated today – as far as modern road infrastructure allows.
The victory at Trafalgar in defeating the French and Spanish fleets secured Great Britain’s safety from imminent invasion from Napoleon Bonaparte and established British naval supremacy for more than a century.
Ride the Trafalgar Way is a challenging sportive developed by Jim Bellinger. The full challenge, Colossus, is 500km (307miles) with 6,795m of elevation to climb, mostly in the first two legs to Exeter and Salisbury. The challenge is to complete the distance within 24 hours.
Four years ago I rode the Defiance route from Falmouth to Salisbury, followed the next year with Thunderer from Exeter to London. I then had a go at the full Colossus route in 2017 with my pal Neil. Riding as a team saves a lot of energy and we just made it to the Admiralty Building in Whitehall with ten minutes to spare on the 24 hour target. That year my computer read 498km so I rode down Whitehall to Parliament Square and back along the Embankment to Trafalgar Square to make the 500km!
So why ride it again? I love the history involved and have cycled in Spain visiting Cape Trafalgar. I live on the Isle of Wight with HMS Victory, Nelson’s Flagship, just across the water in Portsmouth. I have ridden numerous sportives over the last five years and Jim and his team have organised one of the very best events with fantastic support along the whole 500km route. This time I was riding it solo which promised to be a tough day in the saddle.
Cape Trafalgar, Spain – the sea battle was off this Cape and many ships were wrecked in the storm that followed
Race briefing was held the evening before at Penryn University Campus. The main message was the need to keep well hydrated in the hot conditions forecast for the weekend.
I stayed at a local hotel where the owner left me a good breakfast for my 0500 start. We gathered at Pendennis Castle at 0530 as the sun rose over Black Rock and Carrick Roads. This is a nostalgic headland for me having sailed my boat in the AZAB Race (Azores and Back), double handed, in 2007 with the start line between Black Rock and Pendennis Point.
We collected our tracking units and gathered for a start line photo before the off at 0610. I think we were all quite thoughtful about the twenty four hours ahead given the clear blue sky and early warmth of the morning sun already evident on our backs. The wind was forecast light and from the south west slightly following which was a big bonus.
Jim counted us down to the start and away we went with an steady ride down from the Castle and through Falmouth toward Penryn and the first main town of Truro. It took 25km before we cleared the upper reaches of the Fal Estuary just above Truro and there were a few short sharp climbs along the way to remind us what lay ahead. Truro was a bit of a ghost town as I climbed towards the first pit stop at Fraddon. My plan was to stop and refresh at each of the eleven pit stops placed roughly at 50km intervals along the route. A quick stop at Fraddon for water and some snacks was followed by meandering minor roads and climbing towards Bodmin.
Through Bodmin the route headed due East crossing the River Fal and on towards Liskeard before turning North East skirting the southern edge of Bodmin Moor and the first good climb to 300 metres. Upton Cross at 88km, at the top of the climb was a welcome stop for water, fig bars and a banana.
From the South East corner of Bodmin Moor the Trafalgar Way turns North towards Launceston and the Cornwall/Devon border at the River Tamar. I stopped at the Devon county sign for a quick photo before heading up the short sharp climb and on toward the Lewdown pitstop for more water and food. A real feature of this ride is the friendliness and support of Jim’s team at the stops and along the way. Ever present too was Jonathan Warren with his cameras and words of encouragement.
I rode for a while with Lorena who was the first woman to complete the Colossus ride in 2017. It was good to have some company to help wind away the miles. Sadly Lorena scratched later having had limited training time in the months before RTW.
Pictures – Jonathan Warren
I had the pit stops logged on a small laminated card with target times based on last years timing when Neil and I made it within the 24 hours. By now I was already behind schedule.
Riding into Devon towards Oakhampton, lying on the northern edge of Dartmoor was another solid climb, not steep, but about 20km in length. Once through Oakhampton the motivation was the pit stop at Whidden Down at 146km where hot food was being served. Jim had a sports nutritionalist planning the food and a great cook laid on sweet potato, tuna and baked beans, a much needed energy boost.
Riding a few ultra distance events has taught me the value of good normal food rather than a diet of gels and bars which are best left for the occasional boost when needed. My favourite gel is the SIS Double Caffine – usually reserved for the that time towards the end of a ride when one is in real need.
On from Widdon Down there followed a 30km run, mostly downhill, to Exeter. A City is always a challenge especially on a busy Saturday and it felt a bit hectic after the quiet Devon lanes we had been riding.
Leg one to Exeter was 173km with 2973m of climbing and took 7hrs 50mins.
After a quick stop I worked my way through the City traffic towards the new industrial area near the Airport to the East and on towards Honiton. There was a good climb out of Honiton up the Blackdown Hills towards Stockland and another welcome pit stop at 210km.
A nice descent to Axeminster and the River Axe followed with a brief excursion onto the busy A35 before detouring into the town and then a good climb north before descending back towards the Dorset coast and Bridport.
The next 15km ranged along the spectacular Jurassic Coast overlooking the 29km long Chesil Beach and The Fleet, a narrow tidal lagoon, with Portland Bill in the distance.
Abbotsbury, at 260km, was another pit stop before a brute of a climb up Portesham Hill towards the Monument to Vice Admiral Hardy. Sir Thomas Hardy was the Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson died in his arms saying the immortal words, “Kiss me Hardy”. The Monument stands proud over Martinstown and Dorchester in the distance and the road is a fabulous descent.
My sister Angela lives a few yards off the parcours in Dorchester and I called in for a quick hello and hug.
Onwards with 30km to the evening ‘hot food’ stop at Blanford Forum, I rode through the delightfully named Puddletown and Winterbourne Whitechurch as the sun started to dip down towards the horizon – still a warm evening.
A great spaghetti bolognese was served at Blanford by a lovely relative of Jim and her two delightful children. By now I was pretty close to the back of the field and heard of several riders scratching with fatigue and problems with the heat. My target time for Blanford was 1945hrs but I arrived about one hour down on that and although I planned some quick stops found I needed a little more given my own fatigue coping with the warm conditions.
The road from Branford Forum was a good climb North towards Shaftesbury before turning East at Compton Abbas Airfield and then due South and East to Sixpenny Handley and the road to Salisbury. By now the sky was turning blood red in the West as darkness fell.
After a welcome rest and food at Salisbury (355 km and 17hrs 30min) I got riding again about midnight as the TW team were breaking camp and heading for London. I was looking like being the last rider on the course – the Lantern Rouge!
The road from Salisbury followed the River Bourne valley north before heading East to Andover and then tracked the River Test valley to Overton and the penultimate pit stop for hot soup and coffee.
My lights were working well and I pressed on in the cooling night towards Basingstoke. The lower night temperature was a blessing after the scorching day.
All the big climbing was now behind me and I was soon pushing on through Hook and Camberley to the final pit stop at Bagshot where I was told all the riders behind me had scratched – so I inherited the Lantern Rouge!
The run into London from the West, into the rising sun, makes you appreciate the sheer size of the capital. Through Staines I rode south of Heathrow and under the early morning procession of approaching aircraft – how do people live under that flightpath?
On through Kensington and onto the Carriage Drive in Hyde Park and then Constitution Hill on the approach to Buckingham Palace. It was a bit special riding down the Mall and into a busy Trafalgar Square where they were preparing for the closed road London 10k Run. A quick right turn and in through the security gates of The Admiralty Building and the ride was done.
I finished just before 0730 with an elasped time of 25hrs 17mins for the 504km and 20hrs 55mins in the saddle. So a failure to make the 24 hour challenge but on reflection I was happy to be the Lantern Rouge and complete the Trafalgar Way route in what was one of my hardest days on a bike. There was a nice welcome from Jim, Jasmine and the team. They had all been on the go, up and down the course, for 24 hours and must have been as tired as the riders. Chapeau to the Trafalgar Way Team.
Kit, equipment and analysis
My bike was a Mason Definition 2 with Hunt 4 Season SuperDura Disc wheels. Bike and wheels had already carried me over 3,000km in June around Ireland and Scotland and performed perfectly. I ran a SON deluxe dynamo working with Exposure Revo front light and Igaro D1 power converter for charging electronic equipment coupled with an Anker 10,000m/amp power bank. Probably a bit overkill on the power side but it works well for me. The bike bags were Apidura.
Analysis of my performance data for the 20 hours in the saddle was interesting. Bearing in mind the first 10 hours contained the bulk of the climbing my average speed was 24kph for both the first and second half of the ride. Cadence was also similar but Normalised Power was down from 218watts (IF .76) for the first half to 180watts (IF .62) for the second. As is usual on ultra distance rides my Heart slows down as I go deep into the ride – Average HR for the first half was 123 while it fell to 105 for the last 10 hours. I can remember pushing hard towards the end into London and hardly managing to get my HR above 100. For the last two hours of riding my average HR was 98. I guess the body is simply telling me not to be so stupid!
Riders are gathering in Dublin. The historic Trinity College is our base. A beautiful set of fine old University buildings surrounding numerous grass squares is a calm setting in the heart of the city before the start.
Like many riders I am nervously packing and unpacking the bike bags. Can I ditch this? Do I really need that? What happens if I don’t have that and this happens? It will be endless until the start and I guess a greater challenge for the inexperienced like myself.
I’ve got three nights pre race in Dublin and spent last evening with Enrico from Italy. He has ridden Trans America – the unsupported race – and shared useful experience.
I have taken my car to Kinsale, the race finish line, which if nothing else creates a motivation to get there!
Right now I am on the train back to Dublin with registration and briefing tomorrow before the start on Thursday morning.
This was going to be my biggest bike challenge to date. An unsupported race of 2250 km (1400miles) with 22,500 meters of climbing in Ireland. There were 145 starters on June 7th in Dublin. Riders were required to plan and ride their own route North to a control point on the Peace Bridge in Derry and then join the 2000 km Wild Atlantic Way in a southerly direction all the way to the finish in Kinsale. There was a control point at the halfway mark in Connemara.
Race rules emphasised self sufficiency with an emphasis on safety following tragedies in recent years during ultra endurance races.
1. Riders must complete the full course from start to finish. 2. Riders must be fully self-supported and not receive any private outside assistance. 3. Drafting is prohibited. Exception – registered pairs. 4. All forward travel must be by bicycle. 5. Ferries allowed if stated 6. All riders are required to carry provided GPS tracker. 7. Riders must follow the designated Wild Atlantic Way route between control points. 8. No insurance, no helmet, no ride. 9. It is expected of all riders to know, respect and observe local laws. 10. Riders must act in the spirit of adventure, speed and above all fun. two new rules for 2018 11. All riders must take a mandatory continuous 3 hour stop in every 24 hour period. Excluding two 24hr periods not back to back. Meaning not one after the other. 12. All riders need to light up like Christmas trees during darkness hours. and display some form of hi-vi during the day and reflective gear at night (helmets, tape, bags, jerseys, bands, vests, flags, anything at all that improves your chances of being seen. Make an effort)
All riders carried GPS Trackers which gave the organisers a good view of progress, confirmed compliance with the designated route and important for rider safety. They also provided friends, family and keen ‘dotwatchers’ with live updates of rider location every few minutes.
Race registration, briefing and pre race accommodation was at Trinity College, Dublin. A spectacular historic location in the heart of the City. I arrived a few days early and shared a flat with Enrico from Italy, a great flat mate with bags of experience having ridden some big rides. Hours were spent organising the packing of the bike bags, unpacking and repacking. I was going to carry about 10 kilos of kit on the bike – far too much compared to the most – but I have always been ‘kitchen sink’ kind of person. Something for every problem that might arise! I need to be more clinical in ditching stuff. Enrico and I did an easy ride together to check the route to the start the day before race day.
The Race route
I was riding a Mason Definition 2 Ultegra Di2 with 48/32 Absolute Black Chainrings and 11/34 cassette. My bags were all Apidura. Aero bars were stacked high for comfort. I ran a SON Delux dynamo on a Hunt 4 season Super Dura Disc wheelset. This ran my Exposure Revo lights and charged electronics with an Igaro power converter.
The bike and equipment were perfect for the task and ran without fault throughout the ride. Such a balanced feel even with the heavy load I was carrying.
The Start – Thursday 7th June 1050hrs
We all made our way to the start at the National Sports Centre 12km north of the city centre. With the volume of riders there was a staggered start with groups of 25 leaving every 5 minutes from 1030hrs. A beautiful morning with a light northerly breeze saw an impressive range of bikes and riders anxiously keen to get going. Months of training and preparation were about to be put to the test and each departing wave was led out by the Race Organiser, Adrian, donned with a straw had and wild man beard – quite a sight! A drone was flying overhead to catch the moment and I managed to get a photo of Enrico as he got away on what was to be an impressive ride much faster than I could manage.
Ahead lay a self planned 240km ride to Control Point 1 in Northern Ireland on the Peace Bridge at Derry. In the event I think most riders opted for a suggested route given to us by Adrian.
The pace at the start was a bit quick but soon settled down. There was a long way to go and pacing was going to be critical if I was going to make the distance. Drafting other riders was against the rules so in some ways it was easier to work on ones own rhythm to conserve energy. My power meter was a constant companion keeping me in check. I passed through Omagh that town so well known for one of the worst bombing atrocities during the troubles all those years ago. It felt quite strange riding into Northern Ireland, back in the UK, when road signs and cars all became familiar.
I hoped to get to the Peace Bridge at Derry before dusk and then ride on into the first night. Maybe go long or stop for a sleep depending on how I felt. I arrived on the Peace Bridge at about 2000 hrs and checked in as the sun was low in the sky. I felt very hungry and found Dominoes Pizza nearby and parked the bike inside with another rider. It was a good rest with a great pizza and I felt refreshed ready for the night ride out towards the northerly point of the course at Malin Head.
Peace Bridge Control Point
Sundown on Peace Bridge
Day 2 – Friday 8th June
I kept riding till 0100 hrs and decided to find a spot to Bivi for a few hours sleep. I was riding along the coast on the Inishowen Peninsula close to Dunmore Head and could hear the waves in the bay on my right. It was a remote road and I found a good spot just off the road. Nice grass, albeit wet with dew, and I got the Bivi bag, matt and sleeping bag set in 10 minutes. Next thing a knew it was 0400 and a misty dawn was breaking. It was a little cold at times and I should have worn my lightweight fleece – a lesson learnt.
Before I set off the mist rolled away and the morning sunrise made a spectacular path across the sea. One of those magic moments when you get confirmation of just why you do these adventures.
First target was to make Malin Head the most northerly landmark of Ireland, and one of the Shipping Forecast Coastal Stations, which involved a loop off the main road and a short climb to the headland. I spent a few minutes taking some photos and chatting to a fellow rider.
It was then back to business and a ride through fairly remote landscape looking for some breakfast. To my delight the first service station was open – about 0900 hrs – and like most in this island had a hot deli section. I ordered a full Irish breakfast, including black pudding, which really set me up for the rest of the morning. Food is fuel in the tank and as time went by not only was essential for energy but had an increasing psychological impact on my feeling of wellbeing.
Climbing the Gap of Mamore was a beautiful remote landscape and then the Glenveagh National Park lay ahead with the famous gravel section down to Loch Beagh. At the top of the gravel section I got chatting to a couple of hikers who were waiting for a lift. One lived at Lymington, Hampshire, just a few miles from where I live – a small world. The descent was fun but rough at times and then there was a beautiful ride in the woods along the lakeshore towards Glenveagh Castle. By now it was mid afternoon and I dived into the Castle cafe and ordered a large slice of quiche with a great salad. I few of us left together and found the cycle track back to the road, heading north for a while towards the coast.
Gap of Manmore
Heading south meandering along the Wild Atlantic Way with a nice northerly breeze on my back for the rest of the afternoon made for good distance but by early evening I was feeling pretty tired and decided to look for some accommodation rather than a Bivi camp. I could do with a shower! I was in luck and saw a signpost off the route for the Lake View Country Hotel. I had completed 530km with 5775m of climbing and 23 hours in the saddle from the start.
The friendly owner could not have been more helpful. Last orders for dinner were being taken and I had a big turkey roast followed by a great cheesecake. I had my bike in the room and breakfast on a tray with ice bucket for milk and yoghurt. The other diners were a bit taken aback by my lycra but I did wear my waterproof shorts and smiled a lot – even with all the kit I carried there was no room for normal clothes.
Day 3 Saturday 9th June
Up at 0300 to catch the first light of the day. I let myself out of the hotel and headed for the first good climb over the Glengesh Pass and on towards Malin More. The route then turned east along the north coast of Donegal Bay. Killybegs, a fishing port with some big commercial boats, was the target for breakfast number two and quite a few of us arrived in the sleepy town at about the same time. I rode around town and picked up a bacon and sausage baguette and then joined Matt and Brad, riding as a pair from the USA, in a good coffee shop that opened at 0900. Next was Donegal Town which was a good landmark for me. When first I asked Race Organiser Adrian if we needed a medical certificate to ride – as you do in all events in France – he said no – ‘but if you get to Donegal you will be fit enough’!
I might have been fit enough but in the late morning I had one of those inevitable bad patches when turning the pedals got tough and I felt really tired. I started looking for a spot to get an hours sleep and in the rutted entrance to one field I managed to drop the bike with me going over too – I really did need to stop. I found a secluded spot and got into the Bivi bag for a good hours sleep.
Refreshed and on towards Sligo the Horseshoe Road under Truskmore and Benbulben mountains was a worthwhile diversion with dark towering rock faces and once climbed became a fun descent.
Once through Sligo the road headed due west along the coast of Sligo Bay. Late afternoon I was feeling hungry and came across a roadside wood burning pizza van. It was a half hour to get the pizza but worth the wait!
I had planned a Bivi stop for the night and riding through Easky saw a campsite and liked the idea of a washroom. Pulling in I found Ross and Jesko, a Scot and a German rider tucked up in their Bivi bags and they had already got the code for the washroom. The site owner collected his fees but found it difficult to understand why we were sleeping out in “sleeping bags”.
Day 4 Sunday 10th June
We crawled out of our Bivi bags in dawns early light and I was on the road at 0430 hrs. Ahead lay a day with limited elevation to climb and a northerly breeze so I hoped to beat my 250km a day target and get to Westport for the night. Soon after I started my Di2 (electronic gears) battery packed up so I faffed about connecting the charger to the SON dynamo charger and got going again.
The route circled Killara Bay via Ballina and on towards Bangor where I found the Sizzlers Cafe open and serving enormous Irish Breakfasts. I ate mine in company with well built local lads where from their size such breakfasts were probably a daily affair! Amazing how good food not only lifts the physical ability but also the spirits.
I headed south towards Achill Island where the race routed around a couple of loops on the island. Riding Achill was just about a afternoon’s work. The first few kilometres were also the return road from the island. This section proved to be sour and sweet – on the way out riders who had completed the loup waved and smiled being a couple of hours or so ahead but then it was my turn a while later to wave to those going out as I returned! In the grand scheme of things it meant nothing but small things can have a disproportionate effect on ones mood and well being when physical and mental reserves are being tested.
Achill Island was spectacular and demanded numerous stops for photographs. On leaving the Island near the bridge I stopped at a restaurant and wolfed down a late late Sunday roast and swapped notes with Victoria and George who were riding as a pair.
Then it was back along the road we came out on. At the point of joining the main route again I came across a rider sat and looking miserable. I stopped to chat – he said his bike had had some serious mechanicals and his backside was red raw and he was calling it a day – luckily his wife was on holiday somewhere close. He looked pretty devastated and knackered and it dulled my mood for some time as I left him at the roadside.
The short run down to Westport was quick and I arrived late evening. Friends Tim and Ciara and family hail from these parts and gave me some hotel recommendations. A busy beautiful town and I made my way to the Quay Road and booked into the Westport Coast Hotel – lucky to get a good last minute room rate. There is nothing quite like a good shower after two days in the saddle. I grabbed a dessert pudding in the restaurant and got to bed quickly. 282km for the day.
Day 5 Monday 11th June
Breakfast was delivered to the room at 0330 hrs and I was on my way at 0400. The ride was due west along the coast with Clew Bay on the right. Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain, towered over me on the left in the early morning gloom. The history of Croagh Patrick is something to behold – dating back 1000’s of years and where St Patrick fasted for 40 days in 441AD.
The route turned south with the midway control point at Connemara Youth Hostel not far away. But before that lay the Doolough Valley another joy to ride.
The control point was down a lane to the Youth hostel and I was greeted with a friendly welcome and break with tea/coffee and toast . Bunk beds were available so a number of riders were stirring when I arrived just after 0700 hrs. One had to be quick getting into the building to stop a midge mass attack in the still damp morning.
The road then followed the coast as we circled the Connemara National Park. I was starting to feel a bit rough at this point and progress was slow. I was back on the pace after a couple of hours, not least due to the magnificent coastal scenery. The Wild Atlantic Way followed small roads up two peninsulars with the famous Sky Road taking the breath away at times. I then headed south east towards Galway through the peat bog workings and more coastline. Leaving Galway behind, the afternoon was a ride along the coast south towards the Cliffs of Moher.
It was early evening when I found a small clifftop group of houses with an unlikely looking bar but food was advertised so I went in. Several families were eating and the staff and customers very friendly. I think they thought I was balmy! Fish and chips were recommended and the fish was an enormous tasty slab. Just the job. Refreshed I rode on to dusk and arrived in the small holiday village of Doolin. I was now about 80km from the Shannon Ferry which stopped operating between 2100 and 0700hrs. The was a hostel and camping and I checked in to be offered the bunkhouse or the campground. I decided on the latter as it was going to be another 0400 get away and pitched the bivy bag and got my head down for a few hours. Blissful sleep after 290km.
Day 6 Tuesday 12th June
Up at 0315 and a cup of tea and some breakfast in the hostel before heading out at 0410 with the target of making the 0800 Shannon Ferry. The climb out of Doolin up to the Cliffs of Moher made me wonder if I would make it but then the ground levelled out and it became a bit of a time trial to reach Killimer and the ferry to Tarbert. I got there with time to spare and was joined by three other riders. Alas their names escape me. We had time for a coffee and a snack waiting for the ferry.
A short crossing saw us heading west towards Tralee and the famous Dingle Peninsula. Just before Tralee we passed through the small coastal village of Fenit. I diverted off the course to visit the harbour and marina. A few years ago I was stormbound in Fenit Harbour having abandoned a double handed yacht race with my pal Tim around Ireland, clockwise from Wicklow, in very heavy weather. Jenny, my wife, then joined me there for a few days and we cruised back to Kinsale over the next couple of weeks. In my head Fenit was an important milestone because it felt like a circle had been squared. I was desperate not to have two failures trying to circle the island of Ireland! I had some lunch in the cafe and chatted with the local Garda Siochana officer and a member of the local bike club who were training about 30 youngsters on their bikes – all with bright yellow tabards and helmets!
Lunch with local policeman and cycle club
Carrying on toward Dingle after an hour I started feeling very tired, probably due to the hard ride to the ferry in the early morning, and just had to stop for a rest. I found an access road to some forestry land and set out the bivy bag in the warm sun and slept for an hour. Waking and getting going again is always a challenge but I was refreshed and back on it feeling good.
The Connor Pass was the high hurdle on the way to the Dingle – a good climb for 5km to 410m at 7% and then followed a great descent into Dingle town. A bustling town we would visit twice as the gateway to the peninsula ride.
The Dingle peninsula in the evening sunlight and light breeze was very special. Stunning vistas around every turn. Returning to Dingle late evening I joined Torbjorn from Sweden and a friendly Irish rider for fish and chips sitting on a carpark wall. They had both booked a B&B and I was really lucky because the first one I tried the owner turned up at the same time. He was a cyclist and really helpful and friendly. I had a good room and free run of their kitchen to make breakfast with eggs, toast, fruit etc in the early hours. 266km for the day made it a good day.
Day 7 Wednesday 13th June
I had a bit of a lie in and got on the road just after 0500. This was forecast to be a tough day on the bike. The tail end of Storm Hector was rapidly approaching and the days ride was clockwise round the Ring of Kerry. The first 60km were fairly flat and I made good progress. I had a tail wind and the rain held off for a few hours.
The first challenge was climbing the Gap of Dunloe a scenic route but pretty vicious as the rain came in with a SW gale building. Some gusts near the top of the climb were probably 50/60 miles an hour and almost stopped me in my tracks and things became a little sketchy for a while. Cresting the top one is met with a granite stone engraved “Welcome to the Black Valley” pretty much a sign of things to come.
Down into the Black Valley
A long descent over fairly rough roads to the Kenmare River through misty mountains and driving rain followed until the route joined the Ring of Kerry. I stopped at Sneem for a bowl of soup and met Torbjorn from Sweden who had sadly taken a fall and damaged his shoulder badly enough to scratch from the race. He was busy sorting a bus trip to Kinsale and it was difficult to leave him but not much I could do.
The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a battle. The wind and rain were unremitting and although the Ring of Kerry is no doubt beautiful my own view was that of mist and low cloud. Having said that such conditions sometimes have a beauty and reward in themselves especially if you are out in it living the dream! Arriving at Waterville I saw bikes parked outside a cafe and joined Ross and Simon for hot tea, cakes and some food while we attempted to warm up and debated how far we were going before calling it a day. Nobody was proposing a bivi option for the night. We left puddles on the cafe floor – fortunately a stone floor!
I carried on and missed a turn which meant riding back about a kilometre up a climb and then headed out onto another peninsula, adjacent to Valentia Island – a Shipping Forecast Coastal Station one hears often if sailing, with some big climbs in the mist on the approach to Portmagee.
I rolled into Cahersiveen and decided to call it a day. I found a great little hotel and got my bike up into the room and stripped off all the wet kit and heated up the bathroom with a hairdryer to dry stuff out. Again, very friendly staff who were happy to put me up a breakfast in the early hours. Showered and warm with a good dinner – the day with 192km seemed ok.
Day 8 Thursday 14th June
The night porter could not have been more friendly and helpful sorting out everything I wanted for breakfast at 0400 and I set off with a following wind riding NE. There was a little drizzle as I climbed a couple of hills and then a lovely sunrise over the clouds lifted the spirits. Next was a turn south and climb to the Ballaghbeama Gap with some more spectacular mountain landscapes. Hopefully this was going to be the penultimate day riding.
It was on the descent towards Moll’s Gap and Kenmare that I came very close to ending my TransAtlanticWay adventure. The narrow single track mountain road was in good condition but wet and rounding a bend I was confronted by a van in the middle of the road. I managed to squeeze between the van and fence but clipped the wing mirror and went down hard on my right side.
The van stopped and after a few seconds lying on the road I felt hopeful that my body was not too badly banged up. I was more worried about the bike and the Mason seemed ok but on closer inspection the gear mech was bent into the rear wheel. Luckily I had a spare mech hanger and after chatting with my mate and bike guru Adrian back home the only challenge in replacing the damaged part was coping with a cloud of midges! I had some knee and elbow road rash and a nasty bruise to my back with a rib aching a bit but thankfully not affecting me on the bike. Luckily I was wearing arm and leg warmers which reduced the road rash considerably and I had just taken off my expensive waterproof jacket which would no doubt have been ripped.
OK – the van was in the middle of the road and left me no room but I should have been more cautious and going slower with a wet road – lesson learnt.
I got back on the bike but felt a bit shaken up. The climb to Moll Gap found a newly built tourist shop and cafe at the top and with some relief I pulled in and ordered a breakfast of scrambled egg, avocado on some exceptional Irish soda bread.
A couple of coffees later I set off for Kenmare where I called into a service station for supplies and found Breifne and Rich and crew who were doing the media work for the race. I think they were probably more tired than the riders – driving many more kms than we were cycling. Good to see them and chat – they were laughing and joking giving great support.
The rest of the day was spent on the Beara Peninsula with the Kenmare River to the north and Bantry Bay to the south. At the sea end of the peninsula there is a road down to a cable car that connects to Dursey Island and this was our turnaround point and all of 65km from Kenmare into a stiff SW headwind. That said the kilometres went by easily due to the breathtaking scenery at every turn. I pulled in at Allihies and got a late lunch at O’Neills Bar and Restaurant.
Then it was on and down to the cable car station and turnaround for a delightful run east with the wind on my back all the way to Glengarriff where I decided to call it a day and find somewhere to stay. The first hotel I tried banned bikes, a bit too posh for a smelly lycra clad old man of 68 I guess, but it was probably a blessing because the next – the Perrin Inn – was perfect. Motel type accommodation at the back of the bar was good and the friendly barman/receptionist gave me a great deal with dinner and a bottle of beer thrown in! Pan fried Chicken with extra veg and salad went down well. I was craving normal food.
I now had about 280km to the finish in Kinsale – it really started to feel it was a possibility! The days run was 206km.
Day 9 Friday 15th June
I had a tray of breakfast and fuelled up as best I could for a big day ahead and got on the road just after 0400. First off was around the bay to Bantry and then out along the narrow peninsula to Sheeps Head against the SW breeze. Then a run back before turning SW again to beat down to Mizen Head, a notable landmark being the most SW point of Ireland. Both were spectacular – I’m running out of superlatives – and then I turned and headed east towards Kinsale.
Having completed Sheeps Head and Mizen I started to have a bit of a bad patch at this point. I needed to stop often for food and short rests – one minute looking for a Yorkie bar and the next a 99 ice cream! The Wild Atlantic Way took us out to the peninsulas leading to Toe Head and Galley Head.
Riding through Glandore was a poignant moment – Jenny and I had spent two days moored there in our sailing boat some years before and enjoyed walks and good food in the village. Fond memories keep you going!
Along this last stretch there were a few riders close by and we regularly passed each other at food stops. With about 50km to go I decided to get my head down and ride hard to the finish. I needed this psychological kick up the backside and it worked. I pushed hard to the Old Head of Kinsale and then the run into Kinsale town and along the quayside.
There was a little sting in the tail with a horrible steep climb up to the finish just outside town. Adrian’s last little joke! It was a real tester but I was pleased to make it up which meant I had managed all the climbs without putting a foot down – those little achievements take on a disproportionate importance!
I was greeted by Brad and Matt, the pair from America, and Enrico, my Dublin flat mate from Italy who had finished the day before. Adrian, Mr TransAtlanticWay, was there too and many of the volunteers who made it such a great event. I finished at 1900hrs and was placed about 63rd from 145 starters.
A few photos later, a shower and normal clothes for the first time in 9 days and I was a new man. After a few cans of Guinness and slices of pizza we all went into town and found a busy restaurant for some great food and great company basking in the satisfaction of riding 2250km in eight and a half days.
The next morning I ran Enrico to Cork for the train to Dublin and his flight back to Italy while I set off for Rosslare and the ferry to Fishguard. A second bike adventure was waiting a week away – I was joining some mates to ride the North Coast 500 around the top of Scotland over four days. Perhaps a bit crazy but face your fears and live your dreams and live in the moment!