I heard a sharp pop coming from my rib cage before doubling over in the ring. My opponent stopped and made that screwed up face we all do when we realise someone’s hurt. I got back on the balls of my feet and played out the remaining 20 seconds of the round: mostly dancing. Trying to shoot that ramrod left jab out but being electrified by pain every time it almost straightened. Climbing out through the ropes I knew that my place in the competition was gone. Sitting at home in the bath with a bag of ice on my ribs I wondered what to do with the days off work I had coming for the fight. They say when one door closes another opens: this time they were right….
ACROSS IRELAND ON A BIKE
I had always been drawn to the idea of crossing Ireland unsupported: either by foot or by bike. Usually the plan would be outlined to non cyclists or hikers a half an hour before closing time in a pub or at a wedding. The fantasy fuelled by the warm glow of enthusiasm brought on by whiskey and usually received with polite expressions of disinterest. Hikers and cyclists know the look. The one when we know that whomever we’re talking to just doesn’t get “it”. Ask anyone to explain precisely what “it” is and they’ll usually fail. But we still know what “it” is. We still take to the roads and hills and know when we’ve found “it”. I was determined not to waste my days off and so dusted off the pipe dream and made the plan.
The simple plan consisted of cycling coast to coast across Ireland and bivying along the way. 113 miles across the top of Ireland in as little time as possible. I had done no cycling preparations prior to setting off but the excitement had already took me and there was no stopping me now. Kit packed and with a few crude directions on my iPhone I mounted the borrowed racing bike and set off on a rainy Monday through heavy Belfast traffic.
The incline to get out of the valley of Belfast was a shock to the system however after 30mins or so I found myself looking down over the city and heading towards Antrim. The lack of traffic and green fields of the 7 mile straight soothing my cluttered mind and as the endorphins kicked in I felt the thrill of this new adventure take told.
My bike was kindly loaned by fellow Hikers blog member Oisin and perfect for the job. Originally I had though of using my own mountain bike. A few hours into the journey I realised that this would have been disastrous. I settled into the rhythm of the road quite well. Stopping here and there at garages and shops to fill up on high sugar snacks. My marathon experience taught me that running low on fuel could end any such trip quite quickly. Hitting the wall when the body’s glycogen reserves are depleted brings the body and mind to some strange places. The will starts to dwindle and excuses come to mind as to why you should stop. Failure stalks you in the form of rationalising to yourself why you should stop. In any endurance event learning how to avoid listening to these thoughts is key. I was able to avoid alot of this by keeping fuelled up.
The first days cycling brought me to Plumb bridge. Just the other side of the Sperrin Mountain range. A lack of any form of rational planning meant that I had accidentally plotted by route directly over the Sperrins. Much of the route was therefore uphill and the Sperrins for all their beauty took an astonishing toll the first day. As daylight faded and I limped into the town of Plumb Bridge in search of food and a spot to make camp I was utterly exhausted but still extremely pleased.
After a quick meal, several pints in the local pub and a hearty sleep I was back on the road before sunrise the second morning and surprisingly enthusiastic as I knew I would arrive that day. I can only describe the excitement like that of a child on Christmas Eve.
As I cycled on the Sun came up and brought with it warmth and the knowledge that I would be in a warm bed that very evening. Crossing the boarder at Strabane I cycled for hours across hills, endless fields and small towns. Letting my thoughts wonder. Content and happy in the rhythm of life on the road. Deeply meditative. The experience was very like walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Soaking in the silence and the scenery.
Reaching the County of Donegal I was impressed deeply by some of the stunning landscape. The barren but beautiful hills of Donegal reminded me that I was near my destination and I actually found myself slowing down to enjoy the cycle. Knowing that by afternoon the dream would be over and I’d have arrived.
I was pleased to see the yellow directional markers on the Bluestack Way in Donegal. The yellow markers are the same as the ones used on the Camino and part of me was pleased to see the tradition being continued with the Bluestack Hiking trail in Donegal. As I pumped the pedals for a sprint finish into Ardara town I felt ecstatic. I felt like I’d just won the tour de France! Exhausted but happy I climbed off for a well earned pint of Guinness.
The cycle in total took me a day and a half. Respectable enough however without a rucksack I’d imagine it could be done in a day with some training. Importantly though the experience reinforced the joy one can get from jumping in and going for those expeditions that we all have in mind. To go for it, not over think it and let the adventure carry you!