The night before I left for Ireland I was certain I could NOT make my pack list any lighter. However, this was not entirely true, even I had to accept that the hot water bottle was a luxury!
Day One: Cork to Limerick – 123km Ascent: 1150m
Having been allocated our groups the previous night, seven groups of 8-10 cyclists set off from Cork, in the Southwest of Ireland, in the hope of arriving in Limerick later on that day. Kitted out in our Bath Rugby Foundation attire we certainly made an impact, full of high hopes, nervous excitement and apprehension as to what lay ahead. Meeting my fellow group riders was a rather intimidating experience, particularly being one of the only females within the group, bar my colleague Rebecca. It was comforting to discover they were extremely welcoming, down to earth and were going through the exact same emotions themselves.
At precisely 9.15am we set off, however, it came to light roughly 500m from our hotel that Duncan, our cycling experts sense of direction, would be a topic of entertainment amongst the group, for the many days to come. Having taken a wrong turn, on the very first road out of Cork, was rather spectacular and this continued in the same jest for the remainder of the challenge. That said, it’s important to say that Duncan was a superb leader and I think we would all agree he got us through those inevitable tough times with his sense of humour and great advice.
Around 10am the first lung busting hill hit a couple of miles in, which in hindsight certainly set us up nicely for the future delights in the days preceding. There was also the pressure of attempting to pace oneself with the realisation of the many miles looming ahead. As the day developed by we passed through towns such as Ardpatrick and Herbertstown and felt thoroughly supported by the fabulous ‘pie events’ teams who were standing at various points enroute cheering us on. The weather was a rather mixed affair from wind, rain, sun and more rain.
My key learning day one was in order to sustain morale and avoid crotchetiness, it’s vital to keep up blood-sugar levels and take full advantage of the hot food on offer, which was thankfully in abundance. We were the last group to arrive at the hotel that evening and it became apparent we should get used to this position in the many days to come. However, we’d done it, day one in the bag and not a puncture in sight – result!
Day Two: Limerick to Galway – 146km Ascent: 1089m
Day one lulled everyone into a false sense of security. Day two was a whole different ball game, 92 miles of hardcore cycling (for us amateur cyclists anyway) and a couple of savage hills thrown in for good measure!
On the plus side we had a memorable 20-mile stretch, along the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast line, with stunning scenery and glorious sea air. We had been told the coastline would be a much flatter affair than the hills we had just experienced so far that day and they were right. It was fascinating to see man-made stone walls cascading down each hill-side along the coast too. There was a real bond developing amongst the group and I felt very privileged to be part of this amazing experience, I know it’ll be an emotional moment when we finally get to the end.
They say that bad news hits when you least expect it and this was definitely one of those times. Eighty miles into the day, high spirits amongst the group, from such a fantastic days riding and then it hits… Rebecca came hurtling down a steep downhill stretch, lost control of the brakes resulting in an ambulance and visit to the University Hospital in Galway that evening. A doctor happened to be passing by and assisted us until the ambulance finally arrived in what seemed like an hour (but I would imagine was far less than this in reality).
With only another ten miles to go and numerous support and medics around Rebecca I was strongly advised to continue on and go straight to the hospital when the day’s ride had been completed. This was an emotional ride as you can imagine with my mind on Rebecca rather than the ride itself. However, there was a lighter moment that amuses me still now. One of the riders within our group (who shall remain nameless) flagged to a complete standstill 9 miles in, we all rallied round to feed him a gel, snickers, and offer lots of tender care to get him through. We then mounted our bicycles ready for the final part of the journey only to discover the hotel was 100 metres down the road. It’s fair to say he was buzzing for the rest of the evening in bar!
Thankfully all x-rays came back clear and injuries were superficial ones albeit rather nasty for poor Rebecca. A frightening moment which reminded us all within the group to take extra care whilst on the road.
Day Three: Galway to Sligo – 143km Ascent: 858m
During the first three days we had cycled a distance equivalent to a trip from Land’s End to London.
Swerve bum cream is starting to come into its own, I had heard of saddle sores prior to the event but not really experienced them until this stage. I started to hold onto these packets of cream like they were contraband. Following on from Rebecca’s accident and ensuring she was still breathing before I left for the day, this was the first days cycling as the only female member of the group. The men rallied round to make me feel very welcome, the pace was great, hills exhilarating and I was very grateful to still be riding after my poor colleagues experience the day before.
Cycling all day gives you a long time to think… and think I did! I realised just how fortunate I was to be able to take part in a challenge such as this and at the age of 41 had found a real passion in life that I wanted to maintain. I had exercised in the past to sustain a healthy lifestyle and weight, out of necessity not enjoyment, but this form of exercise was pure joy – what a pleasure! I felt truly alive and intoxicated and it’s a feeling I want to repeat again and again.
Day three was the day I felt I had my most energy, which was unfortunately in contradiction to the majority of the group. The hills were a breeze and I spent the majority of the day enjoying the faster pace and biting at the bit to increase it even more. However, I should point out, this was also the day I started hallucinating due to sheer exhaustion no doubt. Regrettably for me, I decided to vocalise one of the views I was under the impression I had witnessed, pronouncing in my surprise why a perfectly normal detached domestic house would house a lion in their back garden?! Oh dear you can only imagine the responses that came back my way, probably more in concern as to my well-being. This was the moment I realised it was probably important to drink a little more water than I had been and keep quiet for a while…
Day Four: Sligo to Londonderry – 144km Ascent: 1143m
In defiance to my fellow riders, this was my ‘hit a brick wall hard’ day, it felt like three rolled into one. The distance was harsh, the hills were harsh, I’d had a bad night’s sleep and thanks to a temporary shift in the Gulf stream we seemed to cycling into a headwind pretty much most days, which was taking its toll.
Thank goodness for Tim Carson’s (ex Bath Rugby Player) sense of humour to get me through, he managed to make me go from wanting to throw my bicycle into the nearest ditch to laughing uncontrollably in the space of 5 minutes and probably without even realising. He is a naturally funny, lovely man and just what the doctor ordered on a challenge such as this. I know Tim hates cycling but he wanted to support the Bath Rugby Foundation all the same, which says a great deal about the type of character he is – just wonderful.
With the luxury of hours to while away, I found out a lot about my fellow riders lives and families. These chats are what got me through and made the miles melt away. This was officially the longest day to date and we finally arrived at the hotel just before 7pm, having taken on a rider from another group that was struggling with the hills. We soon learnt once you’re on the road, try to get into a rhythm, it’s better and less tiring to roll along slowly without stopping.
It was comforting to know whenever a cyclist was going through an inevitable bad patch, there was always someone on hand to help them through to the next pit stop, where some fluid and food invariably picked up the spirits and indeed energy levels.
Jonesy’s (ex Bath rugby player) rendition of ‘I’m Climbing Up Sunshine Mountain’ in the hotel restaurant that night, which culminated with everyone in the room standing on chairs and tables, singing enthusiastically will stay forever etched on my memory. What a fabulous idea and the timing was simple perfection, just what the doctor ordered. I shall certainly be pinching that idea on future nights out.
Day Five: Londonderry to the Giants Causeway – 121km Ascent: 913m
With Bath Rugby Shirts on we all set off for the final descent – these shirts really helped me psychologically with the route plastered on the back of the tops, an image that will be forever etched on my mind. Very satisfying to see just how far we’d come and the shirts also gained us numerous cheers from the general public as we cycled through the more populated areas of Ireland. We were even permitted a sleep in that morning due to time restrictions at The Giants Causeway end later on that day – what a treat!
The riding that morning felt amazing, groups cycled in unison and the atmosphere was electric with the finish line in site. We arrived at our lunchtime destination in high spirits in anticipation for the final 35 miles ahead. With a warning of a horrendous steep long hill to tackle straight after lunch we gathered together our gear with a slight nervous feeling of what lay ahead.
Bear in mind, in contrast to many of the other groups, we had miraculously managed to escape punctures, bike repair issues and broken chains to date. Someone from up above obviously felt this was justly unfair and threw the lot at us over the next hour and a half. Within that space of time we had three broken chains and one medic, to see to poor Ron who was spitting up blood. With the help of various pie event medics and organiser’s we were safely back on the road as a full team, with Ron in tow. Time pressures now upon us and a GPS tracker failing the poor cycling expert we were forced into making a very speedy run through to the final pit stop prior to the Giants Causeway. We made it only to find other cyclists whiling away their spare time with a game of tennis!
With wounds now having had a chance to heal this was the point that Rebecca had agreed to join us for the final leg of the ride, we were now a full team again and it felt great! Blessed with glorious sunshine on the final day made the final descent into the causeway pure perfection. To witness those finish line flags being waved frantically in the wind was incredible and very emotional. The celebrations continued on until the early hours and with a 4.30am airport transfer to make all of us were wearing the same clothes as the night before that particular morning.
The memories of this challenge will live with me forever. David Trick summed it up perfectly on the final evening stating ‘We will always have Ireland’ and how true that is… I can now say with great pride ‘I did it’ and to see how proud my family and friends are is priceless. It’s also very important for me to say I couldn’t have achieved this without the support of my adorable husband who has supported me throughout this crazy adventure, with endless hours on his own with our kids whilst I was out training. Not to mention the financial implications of purchasing the kit required to complete the challenge and the six nights I was away from the family – although he might argue that part was bliss.
What a privilege to be part of such a loyal and supportive group of people where incredible friendships had been built up over many years. One of the ex-rugby players said something to me I shall never forget and was very touching; ‘these are men that you would want to be fighting by your side, men you can trust.’
The feeling of overwhelming accomplishment eclipsed all memory of the struggle and hardships I had endured to be there. The finish line will be just the start for me and I knew this whilst training for the event. The sense of freedom on the road is immeasurable. As others race by enduring the nine to five, I had the pleasure and fortune of simply meandering down the road, taking in all that’s around me, focusing on nothing else but our next destination. This release from the stressful responsibilities of everyday life is completely euphoric and allows you to really think about where you want to be in life, which, at that precise second for me was right there on my bike, completely engulfed by the moment.
To date, this adventure has raised just over £50,000 for Bath Rugby Foundation which will be an enormous help as they continue to deliver their award winning programmes within the region. A special thankyou goes out to all of our clients, colleagues, rugby player friends, friends and family that have donated to this great cause, we couldn’t have completed this without you and are so grateful.
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