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.
Tracking link. http://trackleaders.com/transatlantic18f.php
TransAtlanticWay Race 2018 – Full Race Report
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!