Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Cycology & the Upsides of Downsides - A Touring Adventure with JJ Digby Part III

I was hesitant about this cycle from the start. Despite our pretty enjoyable cycle the day before, my legs were still feeling the effects of my low pressure tire cycling 4 days previously. My legs weren't destroyed - I just felt they could do with a few days rest, and the idea of another 135km cycle with panniers did not appeal to me at all, not to mention the fact the way back was predominantly uphill!

When I had left JJ the day before we agreed we would get in touch later that evening about cycling back. When he did, I was really hoping we would agree to leave it another day, but in the end we figured it was 'tomorrow or not at all' with plans we had on later in the week taken into consideration. Reluctantly, I agreed to this, but I didn't have to be happy about it!

It didn't make sense to do an exact return of our journey down, so instead of me cycling the wrong way to meet JJ at his, or him adding distance to get to mine, we agreed to meet in Graiguenamanagh at 8am the next morning. To try and get my motivation up, I went online the evening before and tried to figure out some alternate routes to make the start of our journey more interesting at the start - Myshall and Borris are great destinations on the way home, but only really because they signal you are getting close to the end!

So from Graig, the plan was to take a road to Borris the other side of the river from the road we had came down a few days previously. This appeared to be a bit flatter overall (though every road out of Graig is uphill!), and was just alternative!. From Borris we would go on to Bagenalstown, Leighlinbridge and Carlow before turning off at Castledermot to link up with our familiar route at Baltinglass. This made me feel a bit better about things, as Bagenalstown & Leighlinbridge were nice scenic new additions to our cycling & I really did not fancy coming at Myshall, Rathvilly or Tullow from the other direction!

So I got up bright and early and left at 7.15am. I had given myself a 3 quarters of an hour to do that 10km to Graig as, as I had learnt on my 2nd ever cycle down, this road was very hilly! In fact it was difficult enough just getting out the driveway and immediately having to get the momentum to cycle steeply uphill with the panniers on - normally I had time to warm up for this! With my short term hilly route and long term predominantly uphill route in mind, I cycled in a really light gear in perhaps what was an overcompensating act of self preservation. This was to be the theme of the day!

The uphill flattened out and I had opportunity to take the Nore valley view on my right in at my leisure. This would have been a familiar stretch to me as a kid as I used to cycle up to a friends house up here regularly - it's funny how you never really appreciate the scenery on your doorstep till you're older, or don't live there anymore! From there, the road descended into a mini valley the other side of which was a road less cycled and a big climb. I cycled light and steady again, but this uphill was LONG. It seemed to take ages, with some false descents led to bigger climbs. I knew eventually I would have a nice descent as I would be arriving at the hill I had to walk up on my 2nd cycle down, but due to lack of familiarity I didn't know exactly when I would be hitting this.

As I steadily climbed, I heard the sound of a tractor behind me. It sounded closer than it was, but it was gradually gaining on me. I really did not want this tractor getting in front of me before this descent!! I cycled on, conflicted on burning my legs for a bit vs. self preservation to beat this tractor to the top - it seemed to take ages but eventually the road levelled out.

Something really nice happened at the top that made me forget about the tractor. It had been slightly overcast so far this morning, but just as Graig came into view in the valley below me, a bit of sunshine broke through the clouds and shone directly on it, as if highlighting my destination. Now, I am not a religious man by any means, but for lack of a better word, this view was heavenly! It just one of those things that will stick with me and a reminder of why I love cycling so much. And then the road started to descend and with it I started to accelerate...

And kept accelerating! The road wasn't great quality or wide, but it was long and straight so I engaged the hardest gears and pedalled with it. Even still, there was a point where gravity took over and I was not having a say in how whether I was going to be going fast or not. I was now a juggernaut, thundering down the hill. At first it was invigorating, I enjoyed the speed, took in the amazing view and kept an eye out for concealed entrances (of which there was many). Then things got a little ropey! The road got REALLY bumpy and I was bouncing all over the place, on top of this I was going really fast (about 65km/h, a new personal record!) and it genuinely felt unsafe to even brake. There wasn't so much panic - I think adrenaline helps in these instances - but there was definitely worry! Eventually the road levelled out and I had a relatively small but steep climb which my momentum mostly helped me with, and I was on my final descent into Graig. I was completely buzzing now, and I hadn't even started my cycle with JJ yet!

I waited a bit for JJ. I had given myself too much time to get there, and JJ had underestimated the time it would take him (if you observed me and JJ for a period of time, you might start to see a pattern here!) so I was probably waiting about 20 minutes, though I probably needed it to calm down a bit. That said, at 8 in the morning at was a bit chillier than I expected, so I was glad when he arrived and after unleashing my buzz on him we promptly got going.

Like I said before, every hill out of Graig was uphill and immediately we were climbing. Cycling light and steady, these hills never seemed so bad when cycling with company. It was uphill of a kilometre, maybe two and we just chatted the whole way up! Once the road flattened out, at the top it was pretty handy terrain, albeit very non-descript (this is the trade-off you generally make with cycling - you have to work for the scenery!). However it did gradually descend and we found ourselves on another long winding climb before we got to Borris.

Once we got to Borris, we didn't feel compelled to hang around and continued on the road to Bagenalstown, the initial stretch was a long straight where we could see the road roll up and down away into the distance. I'm not a huge fan of these kinds of roads, would much rather discover a hill round a bend than see them all laid out in front of me! However in good company, it was a breeze, and eventually the road became more enjoyable, some nice descents taking firing us towards Bagenalstown.

Bagenalstown is a lovely spot - I couldn't tell you much about the town to be honest, we just breezed through it to get to the riverside park on the other side - it's really scenic with plenty of weirs in the river (a weired river? a weird river?! This is where your thoughts go when you write these things at night!), surrounded by some well kept mill buildings. It's somewhere I had stopped on my very 1st cycle to Kilkenny to take in the scenery, and I can safely say I had arrived there in much better condition this time around. In the spirit of our brief breaks, we only stopped for a banana there, as we had plans on having lunch in Carlow, which would be pretty much the halfway point. Short afterwards we were on our way again, and rolling through Leighlinbridge within about 20 minutes. It was equally scenic, but so soon after our last stop we just rolled on through taking it in as we went.

I wasn't particularly looking forward to the next section of road to Carlow - before the new motorway was built this was the main road to Dublin from Waterford, which meant it was wide, long, exposed, tedious and had fast cars and lorries on it to compound your feelings of getting nowhere. But I was in for a pleasant surprise!

With the motorway now running parallel (within a mile), the traffic though ever-present was evidently lighter but there was one other crucial difference for me. Within the space that was the hard shoulder they had clearly marked it now as a cycleway. I thought this was just brilliant! So on this busy road myself and JJ were quite happy to cycle abreast and chat away while traffic thundered by us. I'm sure the weather on the day helped too, plus we had the wind behind us, but despite having no more space than the hard shoulder had provided previously it was psychologically quite powerful to know we had our own assigned space on the road. And it wasn't just some little token gesture either - we had this space for a good 90-95% of the 25km or so to Carlow! Despite there being very little in the way of scenery here, we felt quite comfortable & safe to cycle and chat away which really encapsulated the spirit of touring for me. For this reason it was one of the highlights of this trip for me.

Carlow is on of these towns that make you realise you shouldn't plan your lunch break around the halfway point on a map. We had our lunch on a concrete seat by a contrived weir at the back of a car park with a spectacular view of a Lidl across the stream. We quickly moved on.

A half an hour flattish cycle of little note (NB: amount of climbing you do on a route would seem to be directionally proportional to the amount of scenery you get rewarded with - don't always plot a route to be easy on the legs!) got us to Castledermot and we were now on the link road to Baltinglass and familiar cycle route territory, albeit in reverse. This road was quite pleasant with a nice variety of bends and rolling roads to keep things interesting. Also knowing we were quite close to Baltinglass helped!

One thing I have somehow failed to mention about Baltinglass in the all the previous posts is just how bad the road surface is there. I mean, the whole route we cycle between Dublin and Kilkenny is pretty good, and the alternate journey we were taking today pretty much the same, but there seems to be a 2km radius from the centre of Baltinglass within which the road surface turns to shite - it's like the pothole centre of Ireland (and I can still safely say it holds that title after all the subsequent cycles I have done during the year). Which is a pity, because Baltinglass is otherwise a pretty scenic place, and a destination I always look forward to reaching on these long cycles. Anyways, JJ nearly nutted himself as a result of a large pothole near the kerb on the way, and generally we had to cycle almost in the middle of the road for safe passage.

Despite only being an hour out of Carlow, we stopped here for a quick snack break, possibly because we felt we were due a scenic break after Carlow town, but mainly because we knew we had a potentially arduous 35km to the next town of Blessington. This was a section of road we had always enjoyed so far on the cycles from Dublin, mainly because it had a slight downhill for the majority of it coming away from the Wicklow Mts, which was now obviously going to be 35km of slight uphill now!

But my legs felt better than I thought they would  at this stage and (I'm going to go out on a limb and speak for JJ here...) we were in good company so on we went. Again like the early stages of the cycle, I cycled (almost overly) light and steady to preserve myself and the focus just wasn't on speed at all. For this whole stretch we were just chatting  away and in fairness it was pretty scenic too as we followed a meandering river upstream for a good stretch of it. I was surprised to come across some nice little pacey descents too - I had never registered these as anything more than draggy hiccups in my downhill momentum coming the other way, so they were yet another pleasant surprise on the trip this time around. This road is pretty well sign posted and the distance to Blessington seemed to be diminishing a lot quicker than expected. This wasn't tedious at all! It was becoming less about the destination and more about the journey too. With the wind behind you, and travelling at our light uphill pace (i.e. no speed wind turbulence!) the road is quite tranquil and all you can hear is the sound of your wheel on the tarmac and your chain in the cog - it is one of my favourite sounds/sensations and one of the reasons I happily jump on the bike and do these 6 hour cycles again and again...

As we closed in on Blessington we stopped to have a look at the Poulaphuca Dam and the viaduct which we had cycled over so many times on this route. They are such big impressive structures, and I had never been aware of their presence until I had come this direction. I had been too busy making the most of the downhill momentum and tearing through this section of road coming the other way all those times, yet going uphill it was a better pace to spot things and an easier decision to stop and investigate. Another 5km up the route and we properly spotted Russburough House for the 1st time. We had seen it before on our right while travelling at speed, but only a glimpse, and only after we had passed the entrance for it, this time around we had enough time to discuss on agree on going to have a look. And it was a worthwhile break too - I mean why go on these trips if you're not going to stop and take these sites in at your leisure?

In the spirit of our other long cycles, myself and JJ were longing again for another hearty meal and decided Blessington was the place to stop for it, so we quickly  got a move on. I was starting to feel the effects of the weekend of cycling now - not fatigue, but my right knee was becoming quite stiff and sore. I was actually looking forward to a more prolonged stop, and Blessington was only 20 minutes away.

In Blessington, we found a pub with a front terrace and conveniently a bike locking facility. While we sat there having our now customary hearty meal and pint of Guinness, we both vocally seemed to have something of a revelation at the same time. We were in a recession, I was on a two day week with work & broke, JJ's business hadn't been doing so good of late, and here we were on a Tuesday afternoon having pints in the sun after cycling all day. This wasn't so bad, was it? I mean, sure, we both acknowledged the fact that people in the country were much worse off than us, saddled with massive debts, unemployed with families to support - but that was exactly it, put into context we were pretty well off, we were free and we were making the most of it. Money seemed so trivial at that moment.... Until the bill came of course!

So philosophical ponderings aside, we now had to get home. My knee had not benefitted from the rest and was getting worse -so much so that I was almost trying to pedal completely with my other foot. This is an instance where having your foot attached to the pedal would come in handy. Again I got a bit of JJ pedal envy and decided I was going to get some spd pedals before my next long cycle!

I think this knee pain and the urgency to get home made the 10km to Brittas feel a lot longer than expected. But I burned through it, knowing there was going to be a big descent down to Saggart and onto the final stretch home.

When we reached the 'summit' of our journey before our final big descent we took a break, we would be parting company near the bottom of the hill, so in a way we were saying our good byes now, as we knew we wouldn't be in the mood for the formalities when speeding down the hill later on! When we got going, we were bombing it in no time, it was really nice to be speeding down this hill I had struggled up so many times before. I didn't pedal because of my knee, but it was some invigorating coasting!

Sure enough JJ and I parted company with a little wave as he continued towards Tallaght and I took a left to Saggart. This last stretch of the cycle was definitely the low point of the day, and the bad luck started literally immediately after I turned left - within 20metres of parting company with JJ, the chain fell off my bike! This is no big deal, but I couldn't fix the problem with the bike upright, so I had the turn the bike over, which was a pain the face  taking off the two panniers and the handlebar mounted phone - I just wanted to get home! Then I got lost in Citywest, and ended up crossing the dual carriageway too early and having to do that ropey stretch of dual carriageway before getting on the Grangecastle road, and finally home! It was only relatively speaking the low point though - the weather was good, I was mostly in good spirits and for the most part really enjoyed the final roll home.

This was a big day for me - I think I really made a breakthrough and grasped what touring actually was on this trip. It wasn't about the destination or about the time we did it in, it was about the journey itself and enjoying the process. It wasn't about wrecking yourself to get there as quickly as possible, but about preserving yourself to make the whole experience as enjoyable & comfortable as possible. It wasn't about racing your friend home, it was about enjoying your company and not noticing the hours and kilometres go by. I had went into today with little hope and low expectations, it had made me change my approach to the trip, which had surprised me in how I experienced the journey. A lot of what you get out of these trips, is how you prepare for them and approach them. It was all cycological!

Then, later that evening I got the biggest surprise of the day. I checked the computer on my bike - we had done the trip in 5 hours 45minutes of cycling, at least 20 minutes faster than any of our previous attempts going the other way, predominantly downhill! Slow and steady really did win the race!!

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Great Descent - A Touring Adventure with JJ Digby Party II

So, the plan was to go for a pannier-less cycle on the Monday with JJ. I had fixed my tube and bike was ready for some more cycling - I'm not exactly sure I was! My legs were pretty worn out from the big cycle . I didn't really think about it when I was just trying to get through the distance, but I had cycled 60km on a tire that was at max 50% pressure. Crazy!!

JJ met me at mine in the morning - for a change we had no idea of route, just started with the plan that it would be nice to cycle to Jerpoint Abbey, an impressive monastic ruin just outside 10km away. It was something I'd only ever passed by in car, and as was always curious to drop in and have a look!

The bike felt great without the weight of pannier bags, and with restored pressure in the back tire. The backroads were pretty pleasant to Thomastown, and while it was nice to have a walk around Jerpoint Abbey, I think we both just wanted to get back on the bikes again. After stopping for some lunch by the river in Thomastown, we decided, instead of returning on ourselves we would go on to Graiguenamanagh, and then proceed home from there, along the same route we had finished our journey 2 days previously.

The road out of Thomastown was fine - a bit draggy and slowly winding uphill. Probably wouldn't have been entirely enjoyable lugging our panniers along on this stretch, but it was fine for just rolling along and chatting. This continued for about 5 - 10km, just cycling for the sake of cycling, until we reached our final approach to Graig.

As we came over the crest of the hill, a spectacular view to Graig in the Barrow valley opened up in front of us, with the Leinster Mountains a prominent backdrop. We were rolling into it now and starting to pick up speed. This road was fantastic - it was narrow enough to get an impression of speed, but wide enough to feel safe. The descent was not too severe so we were always in control, but were comfortably bombing it down at about 60km/h without much effort, and all the while taking in the dramatic views on the way. There were some bends in the road too, but the visibility was such that we know we could really go for it, with no real surprises along the way. What was really great was that normally, these kind of descents are just brief experiences followed by a hill. The road just kept going for about 8- 10km, which made for about 10 minutes of pure exhilaration. It's probably one of my favourite descents that I'd cycled to date - I've only cycled it once, but looking forward to doing it again soon!

After stopping briefly at a garage for some refreshments and recounting our experience of that great stretch, we went about returning home along the familiar route we had only be along 2 days previously/

Although it was still obvious that this road went on and on uphill for quite some time, the experience today was SO different. With pressure in the tires and no weight on the bike (apart from my fat arse), it was actually quite enjoyable, and in the right gear it was very manageable altogether. After stopping briefly to take in the view of St. Mullins, we headed over the little hill to JJ's, racing down the other side. We parted company and I took the nice descent back to Inistioge - invigorated, even the intense climb back up to my house was no problem really. I checked the computer on the bike. 50km done, not a bother on us.

We would decide later in the evening whether we would cycle back to Dublin the following day. For all my enjoyment of today, I was still concerned about this. I didn't think my legs were fully recovered from the cycle down, and I knew the cycle back was going be predominantly uphill, plus we would have our panniers again. Either way we were going to be in for a few surprises.... 

Friday, 19 April 2013

There & Back Again - A Touring Adventure With JJ Digby Part I

By the end of the month, JJ had his new bike, a beautiful Dawes Clubman tourer. He also had his own panniers (well his Orbea panniers were on order, but he was given a pair similar to mine in for the meantime), and thanks to the wonders of Aldi, had some proprietary cycling gear (including helmet). We had done another cycle to Phoenix Park a week previously, this time via the strawberry beds, the weather was good, and we were ready for the big cycle to Kilkenny again, but with an added twist - all going well we were going to try cycle back again within the same week!

JJ was actually ahead of me now on the gear front, he had got some cycle shoes and spd clipless pedals (though i really don't know why they're called clipless, they clearly still clipped in!) which seemed more manageable than mine. There was no way I was wearing my tri-shoes - whatever about my balance issues, I liked the idea of being able to get off my bike and walk comfortably around. JJ's shoes however had a football boot like sole with studs, which concealed the cleats so still could comfortably walk around. Noted!

One personal little advance I had made, was I now had a bottle cage, and was going to try and make an effort to drink water on the go, and improve my balance!

Anyways our route was going to be pretty much the same (just make sure we get the correct turn to Borris!) - as I was not too keen on cycle over the hill of death between Graig and Inistioge, we agreed to take the route to the Rower (which on the map ran parallel to the river so must have been relatively flat), then over a small hill towards JJ's house, then I would get back to Inistioge via the New Ross road, which has a nice long descent for the last 5km or so.

It really was a lovely day and as usual the cycle started well(thinking about it now, if they ever didn't start well, we probably would've just turned back!). We made slight modifications, realising (finally) that we could skip the dual carriageway by taking a parallel road through Citywest. That was the great thing about the repetition of these trips, just tweaking them all the time, making them more efficient.

Getting to Blessington was a breeze, our cycling was becoming a bit more synchronised now, our pacing more natural. Occasionally I would pull away, but similarly JJ would get ahead and make some distance too. We were both enjoying a noticeable advance in fitness on the bike, remarkable only 1 month after our baptism of fire. I did feel that JJ was also getting some extra efficiency from his new shoe/pedal arrangements and I must admit I was getting a bit of pedal envy! We skipped past Blessington, and only stopped at the lake to stretch the legs a bit - otherwise we were eager to keep moving.

Baltinglass was a similar story - even though we had some rolls in the riverside park again (a completely different experience under the sun), we didn't hang around. We were eating less, our breaks were quicker and snappier. It's funny the difference a small bit of repetition makes.

On through Rathvilly and on to Tullow, it was no longer a physical challenge, and the monotonous winding roads to Tullow were just filled with some happy banter. The good weather made a big difference. This time around we weren't desperate to more food and heat in Tullow, but we stopped anyhow to stock up on some snacky foods and some water, and on we went again.

JJ Digging into some snacks in Tullow (not Digging posing for photo into sunshine!)

Coming out of Tullow on the long draggy roads, the inevitable problems arose. I started to notice something was up. I was really starting to struggle to keep up with JJ. At first it was subtle enough, I just thought "wow, JJ's new bike is making a difference!" and don't get me wrong - I'm sure it did, but my legs felt fine and I was no longer getting the same bang for my buck as I was earlier in the day. I took a while before I realised my rear tire was halfway flat. I tried to catch up with JJ but he was enjoying himself too much, I figured he'd stop and wait at the next t-junction so I tried following till then. Unfortunately this was further away than I remembered so it turned out to be a very draggy pursuit!

JJ did wait at the t-junction in the end. However, when I caught up within 10 metres of him,he mistook my 'hang back, I have a problem' gesture as 'go on, continue!' and he took off again! Aargh!! I just thought feck it, I need to fix this. I had a pump and a spare tube - unfortunately the pump was pretty limp for getting full pressure, and I didn't see the point in putting in a fresh tube at less optimum pressure and risking another puncture. I think I had some patches , but at the time, I figured if it's a slow puncture, a quick pump will give me enough pressure to get to the next town!

Pumping a tire with a slow puncture with a weak pump under the gaze of the sun can be a pretty frustrating experience, I was not a happy bunny by the time I got back on my bike to chase after JJ! I honestly thought he would have figured something was up and turned back but was nowhere to be seen. I struggled over the hill of death and found him and the crossroads, who revealed he just thought he was going really fast and wanted to beat me over that hill! Ah well...

He's a bit stronger than me so I let him get a bit more pressure into the tire, and on we went to Myshall. The cycle was still a bit draggy, but JJ was knowingly keeping pace, which was better. These roads are very quite, so we were cycling abreast for most of it, just chatting away- probably the way cycling touring should be!

Myshall depressingly didn't have an adequate pump, but we simply thought the last pump got us 10km,and we had about 40km to go, so we were not too dispirited! The sunny weather was making a difference though, I was craving sugar and something cool, I think I had at least two cans of coke and a callipo while we were there! We added another bit of pressure and on we went, in decent spirits.

The Myshall road was fine, we went at a very sustainable pace up the climbs, just chatting away and enjoying the scenery, and attempted to break landspeed records on the descents - it was a miracle that JJ didn't end up in a ditch on a sharp bend at the end of one of them!

Finding our previously missed turn was a bit of a kick-yourself moment. It was clearly a main road we had cycled across before, and it was signposted for Borris!! How the hell had we missed that before?! However, we had a bit of a laugh about it - we were on the right track this time - after-all we were 15km up on the last time just by doing something right!

We had to pump the tire twice more on the way. It was getting a bit frustrating now, and the extra effort of the draggy tire was starting to take its toll on my legs. We were very shortly in Borris though, and it felt like an opportune time to stop for a meal.

We found a hotel bar at the top of the hill, which had a nice back garden/ lawn, but it seemed reserved for a wedding, so despite the good weather we reluctantly went inside to the bar, and had a hearty 2 course meal with some Guinness, as was becoming customary on our cycles. I must have downed 2 pints of water also, I was really dehydrated!

I must say, the meal sat pretty heavy with me, and I was reluctant to go so soon, but it seemed wedding guests were arriving and we needed to get our bikes out of the courtyard. We were politely getting rushed out a bit, but it didn't stop us putting a bit of pressure in the tire before we left. I was feeling the pressure on me though, so I quickly jumped on the bike and darted out the gate, honestly nearly knocking down the bride & groom as they were turning the corner to enter the place! Feckin cyclists!

Coming through the little valley out of Borris, there was that frustration of wanting to stop and admire the viaduct, but it seemed silly to stop so soon after setting off, and we wanted to use our momentum to get up the steep climb! The tire was holding up alright, but my stomach wasn't great at this point, and let's just say I was suffering a bit of 'saddle burn', so didn't fancy sitting down too much either! Not great!!

The normally lovely descents into Graiguenamanagh didn't feel so great this time - the decreasing pressure in the tire, made me feel like I didn't have too much control on the fast bends, so I had to forfeit precious momentum. We added more pressure in Graig and were still in good spirits - it was the final furlong now, and we knew we were going to finish it. And JJ knew the way from here (albeit only experiencing by car/bus), so no risk of getting lost!

We had to climb some steep streets to get to the ring road to access the Rower road but were soon on our way. The road was quite scenic, a hillside road under shade of tree canopies and overlooking the river valley on the left. One thing that became apparent though, was that it was gradually turning into a bit of climb. It wasn't steep, but it just went on and on. And on.

And on.

I was struggling, and the fact that I couldn't sit on my saddle made things worse. JJ tried to reassure me and said he was happy to go slow but the problem was I was struggling to go as fast as slow! The road must have climbed for at least 5km. One little reward was pulling into a lay by and getting a dramatic view of St, Mullins monastery across the valley. After a little water break, we were on our way again, and soon found ourselves at the turn for the 'little hill' we had to get over to get to JJ's house.

This hill was immediately very steep and I was simply in the wrong gear, and the bike refused to change. My legs were a bit worn out too, so I had no shame in jumping off and walking it for a bit as JJ passed by.  It did flatten out quickly enough and I caught up with JJ at the top, were we had a nice descent to look forward to. These were really zippy twisty country lanes, and they would have been a joy to cycle down, if it was not for the lack of rear tire pressure making my bike pretty unstable on the bends. I suppose it didn't stop me reaching some pretty high speeds on the way down!

I met JJ at the bottom were we were to part company. My tire problems aside, he had made it all the way this time, and quite comfortably at that! Also we had gotten down without any major route related or physical mishaps, so that was encouraging!

His parting gift was an extra  bit of tire pressure, we agreed that we'd meet up for a shorter pannier-free leisure cycle in two days time. I was on my way, with about 8km left. I did initially have a longish (about 1km) climb from Clodagh chapel, but this was fine, I knew a really nice stretch was coming up. The road flattened out, and I gained some momentum as the view of the Nore valley opened out in front of me. The road was well above river level at this point, and over the next 7km it would be slowly descending down to meet it at Inistioge. I really enjoyed this section, even though me bike was a bit draggy and I was now cycling into a light headwind. Some of my earlier frustrations were forgotten about.

My house, cruelly enough, is located about 2km up a hill just before the village of Inistioge, and is probably the steepest climb of the whole cycle. I was in stubborn form though and powered up, possibly detrimentally so for my legs in the long term, but was hugely satisfied to arrive down the driveway, 4th cycle from Dublin done, the 2nd one I had fully completed, no hitting of any wall, no route confusions, nutrition almost there. I felt I was starting to get the hang of this touring lark!

It was a good weekend to come home as well, as all of my family were back for my Dad's 60th, which of course, I had remembered. :D

Blessington 1 month on - Better bikes, better gear, better conditions!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Miss Motivator

On one of our mini cycles, me and JJ went on a cycle to a friends new house , where JJ was going to give some gardening advice. We didn't realise it as we cycled into town we were going with gusty 80km/h winds - no wonder we were going so fast. 

Anyways we thundered along to this house near Glasnevin, and experienced a few ropey crossheadwinds along the way, but otherwise took the wind for granted as we got full benefit fromit. As we passed the Phoenix Park there were hints that there was some event going on within, with a few people wandering around in running gear with goodie bags etc.

Anyways after a spell at my friend's house, we left,and me and JJ parted company, and I left for to go back to Lucan. Once I came out the other side of town I really felt the full force of the winds. Seriously, it was like hitting a wall.... a wall that really wanted me off my bike! I was really struggling along, barely going over 10km/h on a flat stretch of the Conyngham Road - Then something bizarre happened.

A black car with tinted windows pulled up beside me and the passenger window rolled down. This is the point when I usually brace myself to recieve and return abuse for whatever problem this motorist has with cyclists (especially on this stretch, where the cycle lane is thoughtfully shared with car parking spaces).Not this time though. A woman pokes her head out WITH A MEGAPHONE, points it at me and shouts enthusiastically "GO, GO, GO!!!".


Well that was a refreshing motorist-cyclist exchange, and was genuinely spurred on for at least the following 300metres of my  eh, remaining 12km...

Thank you, Miss Mystery Motivator!!

Friday, 5 April 2013

A Question of Balance - Phoenix Park Cycling & Transition Practise

After a week or two of recovering and thinking about what we had done, myself and JJ were ready for a cycle again - nothing major, just into Phoenix Park and back. JJ had a new bike on order and was not that keen on cycling his old acquired bike (ever) again, so we agreed he would take my hybrid and I would take my Sensa Road bike.

I had only gotten the Sensa the summer before, had only done a couple of test cycles on it before my first triathlon in Skerries, and was barely getting used to the balance of it when I got tri-bars fitted before my 3rd (my first Olympic Distance) triathlon in Cobh (which I never really used in that event, as I just didn't trust myself yet). Because of a virus in September that took 2 months to shake and a really long winter, I hadn't been on that bike (except for stationary turbo trainer) since that event, 7 months earlier. On top of this I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out my newly acquired Look Pedals and clip in Triathlon shoes for the 1st time, on the road. I had tried them on the turbo a few times, and I didn't see it as being a big jump to take it out.

I was a bit weary though, so I threw my runners and old pedals in a pannier bag, just in case.

Straight from the outset, I was incredibly uncomfortable in the shoes. I was not used to walking with the large cleats pushing my feet up and just carrying my bike down the steps outside my apartment felt incredibly dodgy. Then there's a steep little driveway out of my apartment, which I went up at the in the wrong gear, had to quickly clip out of, and then barely had the purchase to hop up the rest of the driveway! I looked like a right eejit. Once we got cycling I found it quite difficult clipping my standing foot back in, and after a little run was depressed to see I would have to unclip again to stop at the round about, which was even dodgier pushing out into when my shoes kept slipping of the pedals!

I was a nervous wreck cycling into Phoenix park - it didn't help that I has barely familiar with the balance of this bike anymore, and was also paranoid about having to stop and push off in heavy traffic. JJ however was having a better time, he was really enjoying the responsiveness of my hybrid in comparison to his old bike, and was realising in hindsight how much he was having to battle with the other bike to get it going at a decent speed. The tables had turned now, with him zooming off ahead and me struggling to catch up!

Phoenix park was better. It was a pretty nice day, and on the quieter roads/ cycle paths I felt a bit more comfortable and started practising clipping and unclipping while on the go. We did a lap of the park, doing the reverse of the duathlon course I had done a year before, which is a wonderful series of winding roads and long descents which feed into quick little climbs. This was about 10km of cycling or so, before we went to the Papal cross for a break.

My intention was to practise some triathlon transitions (leave shoes clipped into pedals, mount bike in barefeet and try fit shoes to feet while cycling/ loosen and remove shoes while cycling and dismount in barefeet)  in the soft grassy plains around the cross - I really wasn't prepared for how difficult it was going to be!!

I had real problems with coordination trying to reach straps while cycling and had a real problem with keeping pedalling for momentum while trying to reach the straps!! I was a bit of a disaster zone while doing this, and trying to take off the shoes while cycling was just as dodgy. I knew know that I would have to address my balance issues. I only ever indicated when going right (ie across traffic) and never really indicated left, and apart from clear tricky triathlon transition issues, it was the reason I didn't take bike-mounted bottles on long (or any) cycles (or triathlons). In fact the main reason I got tri bars the year before was because I liked the idea of the tri-bar mounted water bottle which I figured I would need on my 1st Olympic triathlon (I had not taken on any water on the bike during my previous sprint triathlons in Skerries & Athlone)! So yes, my €150 tri-bars when purchased were pretty much and incredilby expensive bottle mount for me at the time!

So anyways, I eventually got fed up trying and failing to do this, and changed my pedals back to my old owns and changed into runners for the cycle home. I just didn't feel confident on the other pedals on the busy roads I told myself I would try them again soon, but it be another year before I did!

The cycle back was pretty pleasant, along the scenic Strawberry Beds of Liffey Valley back to Lucan. I was relieved to be back in comfortable shoes, but still pretty sketchy with my balance on the bike. I did make a conscious effort to indicate more, or just generally take my arms off the handlebars one at a time. I was pretty embarassed by my lack of balance in the park, and I was determined to do something about it!

JJ however had had a much more pleasant experience. Seeing what a difference it was to cycle on a decent bike, I think he felt justified in his investment in a new bought for purpose bike, which he would be getting soon.

All in all, it actually was a good day, and I think we were both motivated and ready to do another long cycle again soon.
The Papal Cross, site of many ill-fated transitions attempts