Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Hello Scenery! Hello Mini Destinations! Hello again...... Wall?! - Cycle home to Kilkenny, Attempt 2.

I was extremely positive about my 2nd attempt to cycle home, 1 year on. After all I was much healthier than I was the year before, and I pretty delighted about just getting out of college. I wasn't really in the state of mind to tell myself that I couldn't do something.

1st of all I reviewed my route. Still having to print out Google maps for my routes at this stage, I was looking for a route where there was minimal turns to look out for. I was also looking for more mini destinations (to break down the route a bit) along the way and more scenery. The N81 was ideal. A straight shot from my Lucan via the outer ring road, it goes from Tallaght, just by Saggart, and then around the Wicklow mountains and southward, hitting Blessington (and Blessington Lake!), Baltinglass, Rathvilly and Tullow before hitting the N80 which goes towards Bunclody, Enniscorthy and beyond. Long story short, for the first 90 or so km,I would not have to look at a map at all. The plan was to cycle as far as Bunclody, then take a right over the Leinster Mountains (Between Mt Leinster and the Blackstairs) towards Graiguenamanagh and then home.

Nutrition wise, I now had a polar watch and as I had spent the last year reaping the rewards of calorie counting, the plan was to track my calories burnt on my watch and for every 1000 calories burnt I would have some kind of meal. For water I had a camel back that I had not used before. It has a 3 litre capacity, so felt it was perfect for the job..... I think I should say at this point that I had pretty shambolic balance on a bike at this stage. I could indicate right, but not left, and the thought of wrestling a water bottle from its cage while cycling in a straight line was too much for me. So the camel back would go on my back in a backpack as well as me carrying my panniers on the bike.

Gear wise, thanks to the wonders of Lidl special deals, I finally had cycle shorts, jersey, gilet and gloves. I had noticed a real difference in cycling to college in cycle gear, and so was really looking forward to seeing the difference it made to a much longer distance. I hadn't moved up to clip-in pedals just yet, but I was much better set up than the year before.

So, I had a better route planned, had adapted what I thought was a better nutrition plan and had better gear - how could I go wrong?


One major thing I overlooked was that in the countdown months to thesis hand-up, and the subsequent months of celebration, I hadn't really cycled all that much!!!

Another little thing I didn't think too much about the time was what I was carrying - as this was a test run, my panniers were not just packed with what i thought i needed for this trip, but what I thought I would need for a trip around Ireland. So they were absolutely stuffed with changes of clothes for all weather, shoes, towel, sleeping bag as well as a tent (I was planning on using as little accommodation as possible), and a full backpack - this all meant I was carrying a lot more weight than I was used to. I never really thought about the effects of weight on a bike before, not least the effects it has on your legs when dragging all that weight up a hill. In layman's terms, I was an idiot....

Ignorance is Bliss.

My cycle started pretty well. As before, I had carefully planned my journey times, so it was early, it was a lovely day and it was all ahead of me. Cycling out the Grangecastle road was nice , flat and stress free. The bike was not going as fast as I wanted it to go - I presumed it was because I wasn't warmed up yet and burned my way through it (shouldn't have done that....).

I had to take the dual carriage way for about 1km to get to Saggart which was a bit ropey, but felt pretty good after turning off and in through the pretty picturesque town centre of Saggart - this was already a nicer route than last year !

The cycle up around the Wicklow hills was pretty punishing, mainly because I insisted on pushing through it as fast I could (really shouldn't have done that...) but the scenery was pretty rewarding. Once it flattened out, it had a predominantly downhill feel to it, and all the weight of the bike was now working for me, and I was something of a juggernaut, bombing along the roads. Unfortunately, because of the way I had commuted to college, I didn't not feel like I was going fast unless I was feeling some strain in the legs. For all my experience last year, I still didn't really know what I was doing!

Blessington was a massive disappointment, I was really expecting to get a sense of a town on a lake, but it was just one long, wide market street, no evidence of a lake at all. I cycled on through. About 5km outside the town, I finally found it, revealing itself through a series of vistas through the trees. At this stage I looked at my watch and saw I had burned 1000 calories. I stopped in a garage and picked up a breakfast roll, a bag of nuts, some lucozade and possibly some other rubbish and stopped at a car park for a bit of a picnic. It 9am, the sun was shining, and I had 30km behind me already. This was going great!

The Blessington to Baltinglass road was magnificent. 30km of predominantly downhill roads and wonderful scenery- I was really enjoying myself. I didn't know it at the time but this was working against me -with all the adrenaline rush of enjoying these roads, I was still cycling WAY too hard.

Baltinglass is a really scenic little town, in a picturesque valley, with a prominent abbey ruin in a park across the river visible on the approach. I stopped to take in the scenery and finish off the nuts. At this stage, I was so happy with the route I was genuinely starting to feel regret over the fact I took that rotten route a year before! 60km down. I thought about having lunch there, but it was a teeny bit too early and i didn't want to be having prolonged stops at every town - I headed on, full of the joys.

On the road out of Baltinglass I found myself climbing for the 1st time in about 40km. It wasn't a huge amount so I pushed on through it. This got me on some nice rolling roads, the momentum of each downhill taking me up the following uphill. I pedalled hard. It wasn't long before I was coming into Rathvilly.

The approach to Rathvilly involves cycling down into a mini valley, crossing the river and up a steep hill the other side to get into the town. I decided I wanted to get some momentum going on the downhill so I stood up to put some force into the pedals. All of a sudden I felt a massive jolt in my right leg, I giant twitch in my quads that was my muscles saying "I'm gonna cramp real soon !'. 66km in. Holy Shit!

Very soon after crossing the river, I quickly realised I had absolutely no energy to get up the hill into Rathvilly. For the 1st time on the trip I got off and walked it. This was not good. How quickly the mood had changed!! I didn't panic (yet) though - I figured this was a good time to stop for lunch. When I reached the shop at the top of the hill I sat out on the grass in the sunshine, and ate and drank a lot... I took my time too, I was in no rush to get back in the bike, I wanted to make sure I recovered, and as I had left early, time was on my side. At this point I had wished I had stopped for lunch in the scenic riverside park in Baltinglass...
Rathvilly - My heavy bike finally having its say.
 When I eventually got back on the bike, over an hour later, I felt OK. I felt I had recovered and disaster had been averted. I continued on, a bit more cautiously. The road to Tullow wasn't great - very twisty and up and down, and with recently laid grit on the roads, no place to get any momentum. It was also a bit of a placeless place - just trees and fields - no mountains or rivers to punctuate my journey, just lots of samey road. It seemed to take an age to get the 14km to Tullow, and I was not rewarded with a scenic town! It had a steep downhill main st, so I just went with the momentum and shot out of the place - no need to stop here! 80km down and I felt I was getting somewhere again

The roads out of Tullow were pretty draggy, not steep but seemingly endless uphills on wide slow bends. Not great, but eventually I got to the end of the N81. My legs were not feeling great at this point, but I knew I would soon be turning off at Bunclody towards Graig and more familiar territory....

Halfway to Bunclody I met a hill.

It didn't even look that high, maybe 50m climb, but it was steep looking - it had a bit of a downhill leading up to it so I figured I could get some momentum. Nope. Not really. I very quickly was on the lightest gear and struggling. I wasn't even half way yet. I had to get off the bike, I had nothing left. I sat on the embankment. I couldn't even face walking my bike up the hill. I just sat there drinking water. Lots of water. I was very close to the entrance of a driveway, and I found myself hoping that someone would pull out in their car and happen to be going in my direction and offer me a lift. 50km left and I had hit the wall. Jesus, this was not good!

Eventually I got up. I walked the bike to the crest of the hill. Delighted is a probably a strong word considering my state, but I was pretty flippin happy to see that the road rolled away downhill into the distance. I got on the bike and started rolling. The weight of the bike alone had me speeding along in no time. I knew Bunclody was only about 10km away,so I felt my despair was behind me. I must have been steadily bombing along downhill for about 5km, maybe 6 or 7, and was no longer feeling shit. This didn't last long! I reached a long stretch of slightly uphill road. I tried it for maybe half a kilometer, but had to get off again. Maybe it was deceptively steep, as it was a long road with no real reference for slope, but I think at this stage I didn't have the capacity to cycle on roads where gravity couldn't help. This was getting silly. It was taking me forever to cover distance. And I still had to go through the Leinster Mountains!!

I must have walked the bike about 2 or 3km. One thing I did right, was leave Lucan really early. I took comfort in the fact that I had so much time. However, I didn't have time to walk the next 40km home, so was happy to find another descent, and I rolled into Bunclody. I stopped here for another bit of food. The weather was still fantastic but I was in pretty low spirits to be honest. I took my time, and thankfully had a bit of energy to struggle through what was going to be a bit of a climb to the pass between the Blackstairs and Mt. Leinster.

This part of the trip was no fairytale. It was a slow climb and my legs where pretty fed up with me. I got lost too, at a crossroads with no signposts, and my print-outs on their first appearance of the trip were pretty useless, without any blinking 'you are here' icon... I was pointed in the right direction though and  an age later, I did feel a bit of sense of achievement and relief as I came over the pass, and felt pretty happy as I came thundering down the descents on the other side! I really began to value the distance travelled on these downhills, as I quickly found myself walking my bike up a long steep country road again. At this stage I think I was at peace with the fact that I would be walking my bike a lot before this day was over! I got into a conversation with a farmer as I walked passed his driveway. I couldn't believe I had been cycling from Dublin that day, and had to run in to tell his wife! That gave me a bit of a boost, and I kind of got a 2nd wind as I continued to eh, walk my bike up the hill. I was rewarded on the other side with kilometres of mostly descents that allowed my new friend Gravity to take me all the way into Graiguenamagh. All of a sudden I was a mere 10km from home. I was getting there!

The right side of the Blackstairs Mountains, taken on one of my 'long walks' (I came through the pass just left of centre)
A long break was had at the river. It was about 4pm now, I had taken a lot longer than expected but there was still no rush. It was really pleasant there and I had a bit of a feed and fed the ducks too. I wondered why I had so rarely visited this place that was so close  to me. I found out very quickly when I went to complete the final 10km - there was a big feckin hill in the way!!

Graiguenamanagh - So close, yet so far.
I walked my bike again up the steep streets out of Graig to the ring road and got on the bike again when I found the road to Inistioge. There was a steep descent almost immediately which was great, but I had to brake hard near the bottom when a Landrover pulled out in front of me. I cursed him for his bad driving, but cursed losing the momentum even more as I saw the massive climb ahead of me, easily 3 or 4 times the descent I had just come down! The road kindly humoured me for a minute or two while I made a valiant attempt to stay on the bike, but I quickly found myself walking again. I had been fine with it the last few times, but this kind of broke my spirit a bit. I was so close to home, and this was taking so long!! I just walked and walked. There was no celebration at the top - still 8km left. It seemed to feel difficult to even roll downhill at this stage.

I would be surprised if I made that last 10km in less than hour, but you know what? I made it! It may have been an absolute disaster, but I had finally made it all the way home by my own means and it felt great. I even could recognise in my destroyed state that the route was much much better than last time. At the time I actually didn't really know exactly why I had hit the wall so early, as glaringly obvious as it seems now. I thought I simply wasn't eating the right food or something - it would be a while before I truly copped onto the cycle touring philosophy of cycle light and steady, eat little and often - but I was happy I had a route I knew I would do again.

Sidenote: To further my 'Ireland tour Experiment', I slept that night in the garden in my little tent. It was about 30% smaller than I'd imagine my coffin would be, and I couldn't even sit up in it if it was closed. I woke up about 5am at first light, my back in bits, and knew if I wanted to embark on a long cycling tour, I would need the comforts of a bed and a roof over my head - these cycles were gonna be torture enough without having to sleep in that glorified sleeping bag! So I postponed my planned trip, indefinitely, due to financial reasons..... nothing at all to do with the fact that I was not remotely fit enough or have any idea what I was doing!!

Friday, 21 May 2010

What a difference a year makes.

August '09 - Bit bit on the round side
A lot happened in the year after my 1st Dublin - Kilkenny cycle. I was generally in a bit of a slump at the time leading up to that (and by 'the time' I mean a 5 year period from 2004 to 2009 that included my year out from studying architecture in college, 4th year and 3 unfinished attempts at 5th year, all of which I had deferred). To explain what caused this slump and the effects it had on me and my respect for myself at the time would involving writing a whole other kind of blog (that nobody would want to read) so I won't get into that - let's just say that in the lead up to that cycle I was in a bad place after deferring 5th year a 3rd time, and after 5 years of little self respect I had let myself go just a teeny little bit...
October '09 - Healthier, happier

That 1st cycle home gave me a new sense of pride and achievement, of completing something big (or eh, 99% completing it!) and was the starting point in me getting back on track again. 2 and a half months afterwards in early August something else clicked. I had some kind of personal epiphany and my outlook on things changed for the better, and I really started taking care of myself. I started tracking what I ate, regimentally, and by 6 weeks later just before the start of 5th year, I had lost 2 stone and was a new man! My friends noticed the change, like a friend they had lost 5 years ago was back again. I entered 5th year again with one simple goal, to just finish the year, and then walk away from it, pass or fail...

Right, let's try and get back to the cycling. Long story short, I finished college, with slightly better results than expected. To immense relief. The monkey was finally off my back and I was free. So what now? Luckily I had already started making plans...

October '10 Finally graduated!!
In my final week of my thesis hand-up, amid all of the chaos (in fact I think my computer had just died), I struck up a conversation with Brian Attley for the first time. He had noticed I had a cateye computer and we struck up a conversation about cycling. During the flow of conversation I had mentioned my cycle the previous summer and he expressed an interest in doing something like that, as he had been heavily involved in cycling before. This lead to me mentioning, out loud for the 1st time, a plan I had rolling in my head the last year - to cycle around Ireland! At some point in the summer!!

I was committed now - I had said it out loud! I was generally surfing a wave of optimism at the time, so it did not overwhelm me at all. After a couple of post thesis holidays and a lot of piss ups and generally enjoying doing nothing without the weight of the thesis on my shoulders for the 1st time in 4 years, I finally got my head down and started planning my route. Using a guide distance of about 100km a day, and plotting routes around as many landmark destinations as possible, I (rather quickly) plotted out 21 days of cycling and added another 7 days for rest days, hang around days or shit (weather) happens days. So, knowing a month would do it, I set up an event page on Facebook, inviting all possible interested parties, and included all the routes. I was an industrious little fecker that summer!

I hadn't set a date yet and this wasn't just because people weren't exactly rushing to join my epic event! I was prepared to do it on my own, with stragglers joining on various parts of the trip, so I didn't mind the slow show of hands. I had September in my mind,  but had to do one thing 1st - a test cycle with all the gear I would realistically have to bring with me. I decided I needed to cycle to Kilkenny again!