Charity Cycle: Malin Head to Mizen Head - The Reboot!


DAY 1 (again)

Fair play to Hurricane Foley, after assurance from the amazing staff in Dublin's Crumlin hospital that Roisin would be ok, he got back on the road. He biked it from home to Connolly Station, took a train to Belfast, a change onto Derry, a taxi to Malin Head in Donegal and clippity-clip he was back cycling the hills and valleys of this fine land. 

He avoided the black-road-of-hell where Roisin had her heartbreaking fall and found himself safely tucked in beside the North Atlantic. Ocean routes gave way to country roads with only the odd trundling tractor for company. He coursed through the picturesque town of Carndonagh and punted by Quigley's Point where the sea made his acquaintance once again. As a cyclist without borders he paused in Drumquin Omagh for a glamourous (but lonely) supermarket sandwich. 

With the sun on his back Dom whizzed through Enniskillen. On our first trip to Northern Ireland, back when Roisin ruled the streets, we had stopped in the same town to stretch our legs. We had sat outside a little deli place on the main street and had a family cup of tea (obviously Roisin didn't have the tea, she's a strict coffee girl). While slurping on her mocha-choca-nothin and grazing her eyes from one end of the street to the other she had the following observation to make:

"On one end there is the British Heart Foundation charity shop, but on the other end there is the Bank of Ireland... so where are we, Britain or Ireland?"

I thought about using the moment to launch into a overview of past 800 years with a folksy take on 'This land your land, This land is my land, but it's technically their land'. However, I settled for "Well, it's a bit of both". 

Dom left the troubles in the past, crossed back into the Republic and finally came to a standstill 115 miles (185km) after he left Malin Head in the far distant tip top of Donegal. He showered and changed (don't change, Dom) and met his old London school buddy Kieron in Smyths pub, Ballinmore, in the fine county of Leitrim for a pint of Guinness.

Day 2 will see Dom and his trusty bike cycle another 100 miles slipping deeper into Ireland's hidden heartlands.

But enough from me, here's what the man himself had to say....

Mal to Miz reflections

Day 1

Definitely a bittersweet day for me. Whilst I was delighted to finally get going, and bring some closure to a bad week, I was gutted not to have the family with me.

As you come out of Malin Head, The scenery is genuinely stunning; I found it hard not to reflect on how we would have stopped and taken a bunch of family photos. Not much time for that with the agenda I had planned.

Passing out our hotel in Derry felt like a watershed. Finally, I was breaking new ground. It quickly became apparent that the goal of cycle mode in Google maps is to keep you off the main roads. For some sections that's not a bad idea, but main roads are not quite the same in rural Ireland as they are in California. Back country roads even less so.

And so it was that I spent 50 or 60 miles that day cycling on single track, grass-down-the-middle-of-the-road serious backwaters. The very few cars I passed were easily outnumbered by tractors (presumably working the farms I was cutting through). 

With no one to talk to, the mind can seriously wander, not helped by the curious habit farmers have of stopping their tractor on the middle of the track to take a phone call. At least, that's what I finally worked out. At first I just thought these guys were getting past me, then stopping half a mile down the road to let me get in front of them, so they could  then follow me for a bit more. I defy anyone who has seen the movie Deliverance to spend a day on their own and feel comfortable with this situation continually repeating.

Western Northern Ireland is truly beautiful. Lush and green with rolling hills that could almost remind you of Hertfordshire -if it weren't for the occasional town festooned with British flags.

However, I don't care who you are, cycling anything near 100 miles hurts. After I passed Enniskillen, I still had 30 miles to go. Those 'rolling' hills were not fun anymore, and certainly didn't seem beautiful from my bike seat. 

Consider this… you stare at a half mile of straight road in front of you, and see a huge dip, and climb beyond. The first 400 yards are an inviting downhill, but the road is potholed, so you're never able to properly relax, trying your best to steer the bike away from a potential puncture. If you're lucky, you might hit 25mph at the bottom of the slope, and have enough momentum to carry you some way up the other side. 

You need to change gears at the exact right moment to get the maximum benefit, but make sure you don't leave it too late to find yourself struggling to pull the bike up the hill -no laughing matter carrying 30lbs in the pannier bags.

Inevitably, you run out of momentum. You need to dig in with everything you've got just to make it up the remainder of the hill. Bear in mind you've been cycling for 8 hours at this point, and all you've eaten since breakfast is a pre packed sandwich from a gas station, and a few energy chews.

I promised my wife I wouldn't complain, if it hurt. I knew whatever discomfort I experienced was just a fraction of what my daughter had gone through with her broken arm. But the truth is, I complained a lot on those last 30 miles, and swore. Alot. For an hour and a half those "rolling" hills, got a good talking to. It's probably a good thing my daughter wasn't around to hear any of it.

Eventually I crossed the border into Leitrim. Clearing the northern Irish border was a massive mental boost. I picked up my speed, sustained by the fact that 12 miles down the road Kieron, my friend of over 30 years was waiting for me.

I pulled into Ballinamore an hour later than originally planned, but over the moon. I'd just completed the biggest cycle of my life, and kieron was waiting for me with a pot of tea and a few biscuits. After 10 hours near continuous cycling, 115 miles from where I set off, We celebrated like I'd just summited Everest. Which right at that moment, it felt like I had.