Photo credits Richard Marshall and Adrian Crapciu

Such a sweet deep slumber in such a simple place as a static caravan, but to me it felt like the best 5 star hotel’s bedroom I could possibly imagine, and wild horses could not drag me out of its warm embrace. Except maybe the sight of Karen Tostee and Mark Newton’s dots passing my location in Doolin. Out of my chrysalis I crawled, hardly transformed into a butterfly, but certainly partially rejuvenated in comparison to the previous bivvy mornings.

My body had taken the bed to be a sign that the race was over and had tried hard to repair the cumulative damage of well over 1000kms of riding and handful of disturbed sleep.  I must have looked like cro-magnon man emerging from a cave coming out of the caravan, my knees were so stiff I almost had to push them straight.  So having loaded up and heading out of Doolin to be faced immediately with a climb was enough to make me curse into the cool morning air.  But I had a ferry to catch and 2 dots in my sights one of which was soon upon me as I passed Mark’s bike outside a corner shop on the way.  No need to stop I thought I should be at the ferry terminal at around 0830 where there must be something to eat.  I eventually rolled in to the tiny port area thinking I had just missed a ferry  (on the fly logic and calculations were getting harder by the day)  but was told it was actually just leaving and I should rush on to it, and so I did.  I duly showed my prepaid eticket (50cent saved, thank you very much and thanks to John Love for the tip) being told that I was the first cyclist in the race to do so, and I was the first cyclist that day (apparently) which was uplifting but tempered with a short sharp  ‘your lot came through yesterday’ as well, which put my position in context.  The 20minute crossing affords you a strange sense of calm in the middle of a race, you clearly can’t make any faster progress than the ferry takes you, but you feel obliged to make best use of the time. Time to make an overdue call back to the missus, and release my inner glutton at the snack store on the boat, homemade cake, coffee, crisps and even an apple helped past the time and set me up for the next stint after landing on the other side of the estuary.

Next significant landmark on the route was the next segment on the Mike Hall king of the mountains competition (in which I was unlikely to make an impression), Connor pass, after passing through Tralee and a rather busy and unpleasant road out of it along the north side of the Dingle peninsula which thankfully calmed down as the main road veered off southwards and the road to the traffic restricted (no buses, trucks or caravans due to the narrowness of the pass itself) pass carried me onwards into the warm sunny afternoon.

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The climb up to the pass was a long gradual and enjoyable ride, albeit with a couple of hairy moments due to less than observant tourists careering round blind bends but I was uplifted upon cresting Uplifting climb, stop at the top for a well earned muffin and a run in with Richard Marshall, donned my wind jacket and set off trying to look cool for the lens (you be the judge) before almost being blown off my pedals by the wildly buffeting wind cresting the pass.  The long gradual descent was enough to make me whoop with joy , the view, the smooth roads and the sight of a town against the glistening seascape.  Dingle was the destination and it was well and truly in tourist mode and bustling to boot.

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From Dingle the route took us on a classic TAW loop out and back the peninsula,  the fading late afternoon light would accompany my expedition around the headland to the first view of Skellig Michael with the reciprocal star wars gimmickry on mainland where the tourists gathered to catch a glimpse of Skywalker’s island refuge.  Although Skellig is the big ticket sight to see the whole peninsula was quite beautiful, maybe to do with the evening light or my increased emotion brought on by fatigue but I probably stopped the most times in the whole race while riding around the headland.

On returning  to Dingle I stopped for well earned chips and large coffee in a deserted chippy.  Quick check of trackleaders showed that Chris White was out on the loop, and Turloch was in Dingle as well (later found out he was at his sister’s for food). Fed and watered I headed out into the early evening into what should be even prettier part of the route, Killarney and the Ring of Kerry.

The road out of Dingle back east quietened down as the evening drew on and my path crossed with Ian Tosh again, but this time with time for a long chat reminiscing about TCR in 2017 and we marvelled at Irish hospitality as he recalled the bike shop that refused to take his money for a repair earlier in TAW .   When the sun set the farming day is over in rural Ireland and so  tractor rush hour began just as we were navigating through the labyrinth of single width lanes in the single lane roads, playing chicken with huge tractors with a barrage of head lamps , needless to say we gave way.  Our ways eventually parted and Ian went off to his B&B for the night to continue his cycle hard sleep hard tactic. My plan was to reach the foot of the Gap of Dunloe, a tourist highlight which I did not want to ride through at night without seeing it, rest there and tackle it in the light of the next day. So a night behind the toilet block in the car park at the foot of the valley it was to be.

Distance 325.49km Moving time 14:37:33 Elevation 2,978m

An eerie, other worldly but beautiful sight was just reward for not riding through the gap of Dunloe at night.  Not a sight or sound of human activity accompanied me up the misty passage transporting me to fictional fantasy land steeped in mist and mystery. The mythical journey continued into a forgotten world of the heart of Blackvalley, shrouded in a misty rain, that my mum would describe and soft and good for your skin but prompted me to don the waterproofs for the first time in the race.

Now I was in the Ring of Kerry proper and as much as I was whisked away into my imagination with the rain, I was glad it cleared mid morning just in time to see Turloch again as he was finishing his morning ablutions by the side of the road, wasn’t sure it was him to start with as he had a high viz gilet on his head at the time, supposedly to keep the swarm of midges out of his face.  We rode together until Sneem where we scoured the place for any signs of life, but pre 8am generally means ghost town in rural Ireland and this was no exception. But he did spot a Raleigh in the window of the bike shop and stopped to take a picture as a fellow Raleigh rider himself, not knowing that Karen was in town waiting for that very same bike shop to open after breaking a shifter cable. I rode on only to be caught up by Turloch again as we climbed up and over and descended into Waterville and then happening on a petrol station and hardware store combo where we both stopped for a well earned breakfast and stereotypical chat with an American tourist (he had Irish heritage of course) who had just arrived to explore his routes and play golf.

We rode on, after what was a self indulgently long feed and chat in the warming sunshine, but we soon separated on the road. Which was for the best as I took a comedy tumble  while trying to dismount to walk up a climb short of Portmagee, the lesson is clearly, ‘just keep pedalling’.

I pushed on into the afternoon heat, even resorting to buying an ice cream while turning back into the heart of the ring of Kerry to tackle the  Ballaghbeama Gap and Moll’s Gap both of which were stunning in their own right.  The day had been so enjoyable and full of breathtaking scenery it was hard to cram it all into my shrinking sleep starved memory banks.  But I was on my into Kenmare, site of an almost long forgotten childhood family holiday which stirred up pleasant memories of times gone by. Not to mention providing a well stocked supermarket with a amazing toilet facilities, which even included a shower.  I did avail myself of the former due to the pressures of eating like an elephant for days on end, but not the latter with the hope of hitting the finish the next day, could I really be so close?

Again I ran into Turloch, this time also round  about the same time as Tom Searby (who I hadn’t seen since day 1) , splitting up again until I made my last food stop of the day at 10pm at a Spar in Castletown Bearhaven where a rather sorry looking Gavin Dempster stood outside cradling a coffee. His had been a new dot in my vicinity that day, after seeing the same initials around me for the last days, and as it turned out Gavin had been up with the fast riders and the ones who had taken the ferry on Sunday, so no wonder I hadn’t seen his dot, but by his own admission, he had gone deep to keep up and ‘had gone to some dark places’ to get here, he looked and sounded spent, my state seemed positively fresh by comparison. Part of me sympathised and the other did feel a guilty pang of smugness for not having rushed for the ferry, but looks can be deceptive and Gavin is a far tougher rider than that forlorn figure let on.

300km remained to the finish and the time was 10pm, better people than me would push  through without sleep (check Tom and Gavin) but I am creature of habit and by the time I crawled up the hill just before Ballylickey, I had already lost time on Tom and Gavin and figured I would not catch them but had a decent cushion over the mechanical stricken Karen 90km behind me.  So I afforded myself a few hours sleep by an outdoor launderette.

Distance 344.97km Moving time 16:58:29 Elevation 3,794m

Race mode ON, triggered by Karen’s dot ahead of me on the road,  Gavin and Tom having also ridden through the night, were out of sight, but Karen however, was within range, let the race begin! Dawn had not yet broken, but I was riding like a man possessed, kicking myself for taking too much rest the night before, but would the extra recuperation help me to ride harder on the final push to the finish?

The finish was getting closer, but so too was a storm coming in off the Atlantic, no sunshine today, just ominous clouds and a steadily strengthening wind to battle with.  But the route was in our favour, a couple of thin out and backs along peninsulas meant that the return ride from the headlands was wind assisted and bringing us closer to the finish line with every pedal stroke.  I caught up with another rider I had not seem on the radar, David Downey , looking cold and no wonder, he had also ridden through the night (had I really been that lazy?) and had taken an early morning nap at the highest part of Sheep’s Head peninsula. But it was at this point that I noticed that Karen, although ahead of me when I woke up had actually stopped in Ballylickey and was behind me.

The scarcity of roads mean that mean that the peninsulas allowed me to gauge my distance to the riders around me, I was measuring the time it took from fixed points and crossing the paths of  Karen and David to see if I was losing ground or not. Not only those two but another rider entered my little world at this point Matt Ryan who was looking strong  but no time to chat just shout a few words of encouragement into the growing wind as we passed. The racing spirit had taken me, for the first time in my short endurance racing career I was actually racing and being raced.

Without planning or forethought I had stocked my feed pouch with peanuts and jelly babies, which was ideal for this stage in the race, where I did not have time for stopping, and needed to punch up every hill in a desperate attempt to keep ahead of Karen who was relentlessly pursuing me and did not seem to be tiring at all. But with full bottles and food pouch, at least I could save time by not stopping.  When I did eventually stop to replenish my water, it seemed I had a little cushion to Karen and had lost ground on Matt, breathing room to take my foot of the gas, but not too much!

The storm was building as I pulled into Kinsale, just in the nick of time I thought, but there was one more sting in the tale courtesy of Adrian’s organising. I had seen the photo on Facebook of the road up to the holiday park for the finish, coming through the town I could not yet imagine it in the centre, then boom, hidden up a side road a seemingly near vertical incline, up I went with resigned acceptance and elation that this would be the last of the day, and there is was the sign for the holiday village, rolled in and….nothing! No one, was I in the right place? Had I climbed that cliff face for nothing?  Luckily not, spying a green cap through a window, there was Adrian, I had made it, a welcoming hug and cuppa was on offer.

A deeply enjoyable experience, as an adventure, a journey, a race. No regrets whatsoever.

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Final Day: Distance 253.97km Moving time 11:32:42 Elevation 2,453m

Race Stats

Elapsed/Race time 6days 5hour 55mins (full stats on Trackleaders and Strava)

TrackLeadersTAW18

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