And so I made the front a group of 5; Lloyd from South Africa, Chris from Texas, Paul- who I had never met but had sold me my bike frame, and Dave who I had met many many moons ago doing a Mizen to Malin non-stop event, when Padraig Marrey had taken a group of very limited experience (one cyclist having been barely 6 months on the bike, me a veritable veteran by comparison with 18months in the saddle), and somehow gotten us all to the finish line 18hrs53mins and 590km of cycling later. A happy reunion, and some new friends.
The section through the Nephin Wilderness was gravel heaven; rolling climbs and descents, and a scenery that truly warrants the feral name. Not a soul did we encounter in this far out backland, where the wide vistas remained somewhat obscured by the thick clouds and ceaseless precipitation. It was marvellous to have company though, and the kilometres flew by.
We reached the checkpoint in Lahardaun (Ireland’s Titanic Village, so proclaimed for the 11 villagers who died on that fated journey), where a food refill was well and truly in order. It was also nice to finally wash my hands a little: the wet and muddy conditions had meant I had worn myself a hole into my left palm.. Despite being very used to this bike and position: note to self: wear gloves for this kind of craic..!
We meandered through more tiny back roads, my mind truly incapable of being held by its osseous constraints by this point.. I have lived in Mayo on and off for 15 odd years, and I was discovering so much new ground in this one ride. Eye opening, refreshing adventures on your doorstep. Absolutely fantastic!
There was an awesome singletrack section with a climb and descent through thick woods (Gravel sector 9), which added a nice challenge and reward- just mind the barrier near the end.. ! Another gravel sector that I think any participant will remember, is a sloppy muddy section north of Foxford (gravel sector 14). After the very wet night before, this mud slide left my high pressure skinny tyres fishtailing violently like a stricken beast, and only by an unknown grace did I keep the bike moving forward..!
Our group stuck together through cow blockades, twists, turns, climbs and descents, but on the last gravel sector, a long section climbing up to a windfarm on the aptly named Windy Gap (the one bordered with Sligo), the pace was pushed, and Paul and I slipped away from our comrades. The pace kept us warm but also was also really the only way I could ride the gravelly, wet climb on a 36-28 gear combination.. !
After passing through the windmills, we were rewarded with our final stretch of tarmac to the finish; the gentle descent off the Windy Gap and back into Ballina. The event had thrown plenty at us; weather you wouldn’t put a dog out in, climbs, mud, cows blocking our paths, blisters, my own personal tardyness related punishment, but as we waited a moment for our three buddies at the finish, all of us shared the enthrallment, and were already talking about the next.. !
A huge thanks to the organisers for an absolutely terrific day out; I cannot praise the route highly enough; a huge amount and variety of gravel, each offering its own challenges and rewards, and even the road parts were predominantly on tiny lanes I’d never been down! Mayo scenery delivers as always, however this time there are no photos, as I didn’t have even the slightest inclination to touch my phone all day with my sodden muddy hands.. You’ll just have to see it to believe it.. !
Then only the commute home remained, so I nabbed a couple of bananas, and maintained the faint hope that my wonderful wife might meet me somewhere on the way home. Thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait, and I saw the most beautiful vision as she pedaled over a crest and into view alongside the shores of Lough Conn. Woohooooo !!! She came bearing gifts as always, with mom-made brownies, fruits and more: I love you sooo much kochana !! And to top it off, she somehow brushed away the rain to complete the archetypal pathetic fallacy.
So we pedalled back home with even a ray of sun emerging, taking in some of the greenway to boot, detouring to pick some poppies…. and making sure to take the long way home to wrap up the day’s distance to 300km. Day done, time to wash EVERYTHING and have dinner.. !
Wow. What a day!!
PS. You should have seen the colour of the water that came out of my shorts; 300km of finest mayo gravel, mud and wet tarmac, yikes.. !