Day 5 – 287km
After spending a night doing sit-ups in an attempt to stay warm, unsurprisingly, I had a tough morning. Besides being tired, I had an upset stomach, which forced me to stop a lot. It got really annoying and I promised myself that on my next big trip I’ll take Imodium tablets with me. I was glad however to be wearing cycling shorts and not bibs!!! I also realised I couldn’t feel some of my fingers and toes anymore because the pressure of the handle bars and shoes had damaged the nerves. Numb fingers is a common problem for long distance cyclists, but numb toes? I never heard of anyone getting numb toes before. Neither my numb fingers or toes concerned me much. I knew it would go away at some point after the ride. My saddle sores also felt worse than on previous days. But I guess I just going through a slump that morning.
Late morning the sun came out and I started to feel all warm and cosy, which made me really really sleepy. I started talking to myself to keep myself up. I even tried singing, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I pulled over and had a nap on the side of the road. It felt like the best wee nap I’ve ever had until a concerned driver woke me up to see if I was ok. It’s weird how it is normal for drivers to park up on the side of the road and take power naps in their car, but it looks odd when a cyclist power naps next to their bike. I assured him I was fine and got back on my bike. The power nap kept me going for another couple of hours. I managed to get through the day on a few more short naps and a lot of coffee and Redbull (to save money and time I’ll take a packet of ProPlus with me next time).
Just before Galway, I met Steven, who told me that Jack was not far behind. Around 5pm, Steven and I hit Galway, and Stephen stopped at a restaurant, while I stocked up at a supermarket. The city was much bigger and livelier than I expected, and was a stark contrast to the wee villages I had passed through before. I left the city and headed towards the famous cliffs of Moher. The scenery was breath-taking and I got some great shots with the camera on my phone. It was still windy as the evening went on, and I knew that I would have to find a better shelter than last night. At 11pm, I started looking out for barns and other potential bivi spots. I saw a large cowshed and headed towards it. To my surprise, I met the farmer, who asked if I was okay. I explained that I was doing a cycle race and asked if I could stay in his cowshed, but he said it was full of cow poo (big shock!!!!). He had another, half-built shed, however, and said I could stay there. As I was getting into my bivi, the farmer returned with tea, biscuits and grapes!!!! 🙂 🙂 What a top bloke!!! I wish I could remember his name – I owe him a thank you postcard!
Day 6 – 325km
I was a short cycle away from the ferry at Killimer, and was aiming to get the first ferry at 7am. I estimated that the ferry port was approx. 40kms away, but it turned out to be closer to 50km. Because I’d underestimated the distance, I’d only given myself <2 hrs to get to the port. When I realised my mistake, I really had to push to make the 7am sailing, and ended up time-trialling to the ferry. I hadn’t had any breakfast, either, because slugs had eaten my sandwiches during the night, and I dropped the rest of my food in the rush to make the ferry. 😦 When I got to the ferry I met Daniel. The media car was also waiting. To all our surprise, Adrian arrived just before the crossing, having cycled through the night (what a legend!!).
Once we are arrived in Tarbert, we posed for the camera crew, then carried on riding. The rest of the morning was fairly uneventful until we hit Conor Pass. It is the highest paved road in Ireland and is one of the most beautiful climbs my Scott has ever seen!! 🙂 At the top, Adrian and I had ice cream and, once again, I was confused about whether I was in a long-distance race or on an amazing cycling holiday. I had found another cut in the sidewall of my back tyre. I left Adrian chatting to the media crew and descended into Dingle to get the tyre replaced at one of the local bike shops. Once back on the road, I bumped into Jack, who, as always, had great chat (we moaned about our aches and pains). At around 5pm, Jack stopped to have fish and chips, but I carried on cycling. I was feeling good and wanted to keep going. I stopped at a petrol station for fuel- a massive lemon cake!!!
I was aiming to stay at a hostel near the start of the Ring of Kerry that night. Little did I know that the last 40kms to get there were taking me through the Black Valley, up three steep ascents and gravelly descents. Oh, and it was dark, and raining. 😦 When I finally arrived at the hostel at around 12:30am, no one answered the bloody door. Shit!!! I decided to see whether I could sleep in the shed next door. As I investigated the shed, I found a suspicious looking bag on the floor. Much to my surprise, the bag started moving, and an un-washed, sun-weathered head appeared! This head belonged to Mike Henley, another rider in the race. I didn’t recognise him and apologised for disturbing him. He began to tell me about a crazy cycle race he was involved in, and it all sounded a little too familiar. 😉 Once we realised we were both in the TAW16, we stayed up chatting for another hour about our experiences so far. Mike couldn’t get his head around how little mileage he and other riders were doing each day. He wasn’t used to the conditions and, like all of us, found it challenging. For me the challenge continued throughout the night as it turned out that Mike snores at noise pollution levels. I hope his wife Vicki has plenty of good ear plugs!
Day 7 -240 km
Mike’s alarm went off at 5am, 6am and 7am the next morning. He had decided to finish the course early and head off to Blarney that day. I had my sights on conquering the Ring of Kerry! It was foggy and rained heavily until noon. As a result, the views didn’t impress me.
On one of the busier roads on the Ring of Kerry, my phone dropped out of my bag and was immediately run over by a car. The screen was shattered and it no longer turned on. I carried on cycling, trying to make up my mind about whether to contact anyone. I became worried about people becoming worried if they wouldn’t hear from me. This really stressed me out. I couldn’t stop crying – I wanted to focus on my cycling and the race and didn’t want the faff of the phone or who to contact. It was getting late and nothing seemed to be open anymore. I stopped at a phone box, but it only took €2 coins, which I didn’t have. I went to the pub in the nearest town to see if I could put my SIM card in a phone and make a call. Turns out, with smart phones, it’s not as easy as that anymore! I only had Adrian’s phone number, via my Brevit card, so I called him from the pub. Shout out to Christina and everyone at The Village Inn in Beara for helping me! 🙂 When I got through to Adrian, he told me that it was good that I was crying. It meant I was in the ‘race zone’, and cared about my performance in the race. Adrian was ace and said he would alert race HQ and this would allow me to get back on the bike, and back in the race! Next time I will have a few important phone numbers on a piece of paper with me. It was quite stupid that I didn’t.
I got back on my bike worrying about where I would stay and how I would get up without a phone (which was acting as my alarm). As I was cycling through the next town, I spotted a bike, which I suspected to be John’s, next to a hostel. I shouted up to see if it was him, and it was! I decided to call it a day although it was not even dark yet but I needed to charge my powerbank to ensure I could charge my lights and Garmin for the final day. John let me stay in his room – thank you! We got up at 2am to head off to the finish line.
Day 8 – 375 km
The 2am start felt surprisingly good. 🙂 It was raining heavily at times, but the roads were very quiet. The out-and-back nature of the course at that stage meant that although I was a few kilometres ahead of John, we would pass each other every now and then. The early start and the lack of towns in this part of the course meant I ran out of food and water. It was also surprisingly hot that day, too. After the Mizenhead climb, I was stopped by a German couple, who asked me if I was “Paula, from the race?” They were friends of Jesko, another racer, who had been following our trackers. They had worked out that I would be in their neighbourhood and had come out to look for me. 🙂 They gave me encouragement and wished me well for the rest of the race. Wow! Although I was still starving (it was noon already) I felt energised again!!! Only a few kilometres along the road, I was stopped by another car. Kate, who had also been following the race, had stopped to tell me how happy she was to see me and how thrilled she was that a woman was still in the race and performing so well! 🙂
At this point, I was incredibly thirsty and hungry, and asked her if she knew anywhere nearby where I could get food. She recommended the local cafe in Goleen, Along The Way, so I headed off to find it. I didn’t know that Kate had phoned ahead and the owners and staff were expecting me. Kate had paid for my lunch in advance, so I ended up receiving a lovely panini for lunch and I stocked up even more for the remaining kms. Thank you so much, Kate and everyone at Along The Way – this was an incredibly kind thing to do! 🙂 🙂
I left the cafe feeling great and knew that I could finish the race before the end of the day. There was only 80kms to go, but it was hilly, with small, steep hills, and rough roads. These conditions made this part of the race seem to go on forever. I finally got to Kinsale without remembering the name of the place where I was meant to get my Brevit card stamped. I asked some locals whether they knew where I would get a stamp. They pointed me towards The White House Pub. The pub was packed and the people at the bar looked at me strangely and started asking questions about where I had come from and what I had done. When I told them they, looked at me even more strangely and told me I was crazy. (Really? Aren’t they the crazy once? Sitting in a pub not exploring their beautiful country?) I apologised for my scruffy look and wished them all a fun night. The road from Kinsale to Blarney was up a hill, and along a main road. It took me through the centre of Cork, passed the university and down to Blarney. I arrived in Blarney and couldn’t find the castle or the hotel where the finish line was located. I had been cycling for 18 hours, and couldn’t wait to finish. Angie, another rider who unfortunately had to scratch from the race, came out of the hotel to congratulate me. She let me use her room to shower and change my clothes. In the bathroom I noticed how much weight I had lost over the course of the race. I was shocked!! I had probably lost 1 stone or 8kgs, my cheeks were hollow, my nose was sunburnt and my lips were peeling and incredibly swollen. I still couldn’t feel my fingers and toes. My saddle sores were hard lumps underneath my skin.
Angie and I went down to get some food. We bumped into Jack and George, who had been drinking since they arrived in Blarney. The Chinese food we got was good, however, there is evidence that I was too tired to enjoy it (see pic below). It was great to have people around me when I arrived. Without my phone I had been unable to contact anyone, and it would’ve been sad to have arrived with no one there. Jack had arrived a few hours before me, and George had to finish early because of his knees giving up on him. It was interesting to talk to Jack about how anti-climatic it was to arrive at the finish. At the same time, I was incredibly happy that I managed to pull it off.
I was glad to have entered the race, at such short notice, and finishing 3rd (in less than 7.5 days) was an incredible success given the timeframe between my ankle break and entering. As a ‘newbie’ in long-distance racing, I learned a great deal about what it takes – physically, mentally and in terms of equipment. I will take these lessons into my next adventure!
I would like to thank Adrian (for organising such a great race), Michael (for running race HQ), the other riders I got to know, Beth at Wildcat Gear (for letting me use their amazing bikepacking bags), Phil at Assos (for providing me with a free pair of shorts) and everyone who helped along the way, especially Ross!!!! 🙂