Nearly there

It’s the last of the 14 days of Cycle Against Suicide, and my 13th day on the bike after missing one day out for work. We’ve come from Belfast to Malin Head to Mizen Head and back up the midlands spreading the message “Everyone feels shit sometimes and that’s ok. It’s also ok to tell someone” (alright, alright, the official version is “It’s ok not to feel ok, and it’s absolutely ok to ask for help”) :)

This year on the cycle I’ve felt more of an undercurrent of negativity than last year. That’s partly because of pretty nasty weather conditions, and I think partly due to organisational issues – there’s a lot of familiar faces missing. But even with that bit of negativity going on, the message is way too big, too positive and that steamrollers over everything.

When the long orange Cycle Against Suicide train rolls into town the local population are invariably out in force clapping and cheering us on. The local schools have made a tremendous effort with kids standing out in the cold holding orange balloons and ribbons for 30, 40 minutes before we arrive.

Last year I had a couple of incidents where I spoke with some folks and I think they were helped by message this cycle is spreading. This year, finally, I had another incident like this. I spoke to a guy quietly in a pub corridor maybe only for 2 minutes. He shared with me that he had been very close to taking his own life. He never heard of the Cycle Against Suicide, but he’d be along in the morning with his whole family to cheer us on and he’d be volunteering next year. I could see tears forming as he thanked me for doing the cycle. That makes any negativity worth bearing.

 Here’s me, singing away to my heart’s content on the Caha Pass, secure in the knowledge that no one was anywhere nearby.

Except Joe Dixon, stealth photographer, and the 20 people just around the next corner.

Back in the Midlands

  It’s been a busy few days so apologies for lack of updates. 

Tuesday evening after finishing in Skibbereen I met my parents – dad is down to join the cycle, mum is providing support and enjoying being part of this big orange circus.  

Still in my cycling gear, I drove their car the long drive up to Mayo, finally arriving about 7 hours later including a snooze & food. The next evening at 7pm I was standing in front of a group of business owners, giving them training in website management and optimisation. They were very good to me and let me head off a bit early – I was out the door and on the road at 9.40pm, at least half an hour earlier than I expected. I arrived at Jury’s in Cork at 2am and had a really good 5 hour sleep before getting ready for Cork to Clonmel with Anne-Marie and her friend Melissa who were both starting & going on to Dublin. 

All the talk the next morning was how easy the previous day had been – it was the shortest day on our schedule, they had good weather and a massive tail wind. Pity to miss it, but I’m delighted we had a good day, we deserved one. 

Cork to Clonmel was a long spin and the pace car seemed to have upped the ante. I could see folks struggling with it and tried to help directly where I could or – more often – steer some of the stronger cyclists towards them. We stopped at the hotel on the outskirts in Clonmel for a photo op, a lot of folks thought it was the finish and several who were staying in the hotel decided to call it a day there. It was a mostly dry day and we finished up at the Hillview Sports Club with refreshments a 2 minute walk away at the Loretto. Also a rare non-climbing finish!

Yesterday was horrible. The conditions were nasty at the start with a constant rain making preparations unpleasant. We also had the biggest numbers of students on the whole trip – 160 from six different schools – so getting them prepared and their bikes checked out took an extra 15 minutes with everyone standing in the rain wondering what was going on (I knew from overhearing a marshal’s radio). 

On the road there was a nasty headwind hitting us and the initial climbs out of Clonmel were not pleasant. The students who had started en masse at the front were almost immediately spread throughout the peloton. Even on the flat we were crawling along around 13-14km/h and a lot of the youngsters were even struggling with that. I was near the back helping a girl called Marguerite who was on a mountain bike. She was finding the headwind tough but was spinning the legs well despite that. There were people stopped at the side every kilometre or so, and the sweeping marshals behind me shouted up that the 53 seater bus had only 6 seats left. 

We got into Cashel for our Sos Beag and the emergency foil blankets were out in force. I went into a bistro at get my water bottle filled with hot water – something I do whenever possible in the cold days, a literal hot water bottle to warm up cold hands or stick down your jersey. 

Inside the bistro I noticed soup for sale but I had left my wallet with the bike – I had €3 instead of the required €4.50 so I asked the guy behind the counter could I have half a bowl for three quid. 

“For you, Alastair, it’s on the house!” What? How does this guy know me?

Turns out this was a guy who I shouted a warning to a previous day when someone stopped suddenly in front of him. He avoided the crash and thanked me – and now here was karma in direct action. 

Back on the road we had left a lot of folks at Cashel abdvutvwascacsimilar struggle at slow pace to our stop in Thurles. I felt so sorry for the school there, they had a massive carnival themed display ready that was completely rain off. Pity to miss the stilt walkers. 

Inside was carnage. Everyone in foil blankets and very cold. Word passed down that we might be cancelling the post lunch spin to Portlaoise, and that’s what happened. 

I was talking to Breffni – pedaltheplanet.tv – and he said he had to cycle on for his around the world challenge, so he was going on alone. I decided to go with him, it wasn’t a nice day to go alone. 

After about 15 or 20km toward Portlaoise by ourselves we stopped for a cup of tea and just as we got going again we were caught by a larger group of 8. The spin to Portlaoise was fast and enjoyable with the group! 

West Cork

  We stopped in Bantry after a very long day – 128km from Tralee to Kenmare to Bantry with around 1100m of climbing including a single, gradual 14km climb from Kenmare up through the Caha Pass. It was very cruel to give us two final and fairly serious short climbs at the very end in Bantry – one of them was 11 degrees! But the massive welcome we got coming through the town spurred us on up these – it was absolutely amazing with so many people cheering us on from the square when we arrived into the town centre proper.

Every person who gives us a clap or a cheer, every car driver that beeps as we pass, every truck driver that gives us a deep blast from the air horn, they make it so much easier to continue pedalling when soaked to the bone and your hands going numb. Thank you!

Arriving into Bantry I was feeling very good, full of energy after taming the big climb out of Kenmare. It was a different story earlier in the day, my legs weren’t there. Most mornings it takes at least 10-15km before the legs warm up to operational temperatures and the peddling becomes easier. 

Out of Tralee we were getting soaked and had some tough climbing to do with a strong headwind. I tucked in behind a wheel as much as possible to get out of that wind, a gust hitting you can feel like you’ve just hit the brakes hard, very demoralising on a tough climb or even downhill. 
My legs never seemed to get past the heavy, leaden stage all morning and we rolled into Kenmare cold, tired and wet. 

The massive climb of the day was still ahead of us and it was a big topic of conversation in the group. I was concerned: although at this point I’m a fairly strong cyclist, I am slow on the hills because I’m extremely heavy in cyclists terms, there’s no two ways about it. 

I had heard one of the marshals mention that after the previous day where many people, myself included, spent a lot of time helping push weaker cyclists up hills and into the headwind, that today they would have to put those who can’t keep the pace in the climb into the bus. I was worried so asked one of the marshals about it and he confirmed: “You climb at your own pace but on this climb if you can’t keep with the group there will be no mercy, you’re going on the bus. I’m serious about that, Alastair”.

Well fuck that, I ain’t going on the bus. 

I grabbed my gear and went to put on my jersey that I left hanging in the wind to dry: still soaked. So I bought a new one from the merchandising stand, putting the wet gear into my day bag and left. I told a couple of lads what I was at and got out of there quick as I could. Apparently I left 20 mins before the group rolled out. 

In Kenmare town I confirmed directions with a few people before setting off up the road to give myself a lead, hopefully they wouldn’t catch me until I was well up the climb, but they could leave anytime because it was a very late lunch stop (3.30).

Spinning up the hill at my own pace was great, I didn’t feel I had to keep the pace at what suited anyone else. 

After 10 mins in the road I was passed by the supplies van, then one of our cars a minute later. A motorbike marshal passed 5 minutes after that and I was looking over my shoulder expecting to be swallowed up like a breakaway on the last day of the Tour de France :) 

But I made it! Nothing visible behind me, I made it all the way to the top. I took a few photos and an energy gel, and got back in the bike singing loudly to myself on the completely empty mountainside.

“I got a picture of you on your own there” shouted down Joe Dixon (our photographer and amazing guy) from the rocks above me. Oh shit, he heard me singing?! 

Halfway there

We’re in Tralee and halfway around our 1400km journey. Last night a few pints were had in Fels Point Hotel, and there was a pretty serious karaoke competition – serious in quality terms at least, it was a fun evening. 

I limited myself to 3 pints and a relatively early night because today is going to be tough. We have a very hilly spin down to Bandon, Co. Cork, include long uphill drags (one is 14km apparently). With a nasty headwind like yesterday that could be a tough slog. 

Yesterday was tough in some ways, in the morning I heard that here had been a suicide in one of the towns on our route ahead of us and the mood was subdued. 

In the afternoon the route involved long draggy up hill roads into a big headwind. I started at the back because I’m feeling stronger finally (it’s taken me about 1000km to recover from Malin Head!)

At the back the marshals had their hands full with a lot of folks needing a push. I helped out where I could, particularly when I could see one of the girls had gone to her own limit pushing someone else. It was a long slog up the last few hills into Tralee. 

It was worth it for the welcome, it seemed like the whole town was out to meet us. There were orange banners and flags and even bikes everywhere, it gives massive lift to see that. The school was awesome, very organised and a spread of food that was incredible. No photos I’m afraid, dead battery as usual! 

 I stayed with my friend, Eoin, who came up to Limerick to cycle with us yesterday, I’m hoping we can get someone to drive his car to Bantry so he can join us today. 

Onward and upward!

Limerick

I got my bag back about 30 minutes after posting yesterday’s blog post! The system works: one of the crew noticed the bag in the morning and dropped it over to the night bag truck. I was very glad of it as I could put on long cycling trousers instead of the thin summer shorts – with that weather I needed them!

Even better, Anne-Marie and her brother, David, came up to cheer us on at the start. She brought a goodie bag for me in case I hadn’t my own bag back, awesome stuff. She’ll be joining us in Cork after finishing some exams and will be with us all the way up to Dublin :)

Yesterday was a dreary wet day, but a fairly easy spin from Birr to Limerick. I had some tricky mechanical issues that stopped me using half the rear cassette gears. This resulted in the lads from City Cycles giving me a spare bike for the afternoon leg. I’m hoping they can repair the broken shifter so I can continue on my own. If it can be fixed they’ll manage it. 

It’s amazing how your spirits can go up and down so easily with minor things. Cycling out of Longford I was pissed off about being late and not being sure about my bag. I was cycling with a  guy who had once run a business employing more than twenty people but which had disappeared with the recession, leaving him to have to lay everyone off and sell the family home.

He told me he looked down from a motorway bridge, but thankfully couldn’t make his fingers let go. 

Fuck the bag, really!

I have had some very deep and meaningful chats with some people,  and just had the craic with others. The talking makes the miles fly by unnoticed. 

The constant is that everyone has their own story. Many, sadly, are cycling in remembrance of a loved one, others in fear for someone going through a bad patch right now. I’m cycling against depression – I’ve written a bit about that here – Cycling against depression.
I believe in the message of Cycle Against Suicide, I think that people need to know that it’s ok to look for help when they’re feeling crap. 

You can talk to a trusted friend or one of the many trained professionals from the organisations that are out there to support people who need to talk to someone – you can find a list of phone numbers here: http://www.cycleagainstsuicide.com/help/  

It’s looking good out there, onward to Tralee!

  

Bilbo Bagless

As I mentioned yeterday, I was under time pressure in the morning. I arrive late into St Mel’s in Longford, the orange train was getting ready to leave the station. 

I had been wearing my big rucksack while pedalling furiously into town from the B&B, so I looked for Doreen’s day bag van to chuck it into. I saw a van with the CAS logo, the side door was open and there were a few bags in there so in went mine, and off I went to join the cyclists. 
8 hours later I discover my mistake: that was the wrong van. 

Unfortunately the crew – and bike – parking was a bit messy when we came into Birr so checking the vans was difficult and proved fruitless so far – I’ve a few more vans to check today. 

Until I find it, I’m in my summer shorts and praying the weather is just wet but not cold :)
 

Arrival at Birr
 

Glad that one is done

It looks like another misleadingly beautiful morning out there. 

I’m staying in The Fiddlestone Pub and B&B in the village of Beleek on the border of Co. Fermanagh, UK, and Co. Donegal, IE. Raymond has been a fantastic host here, helping us get wet cycling clothes and shoes dried out, all while running a busy bar at the same time – thank you!
It’s 7.30am so I have an hour to dress, eat & pack before we get a lift with Angela the 20ish miles back to Enniskillen. 

Yesterday was a crappy kind of a day. Constant rain from even before we got on the bike, until the final 10 minutes of our spin into Enniskillen. The rain makes everything more difficult – everyone in the group has to be more alert for a wet shoe slipping off a pedal ahead, make sure brakes are dry and try to stay positive while getting progressively colder and the whole group slowing and speeding up with the undulations of the countryside. Your hands, arms and shoulders start to go numb & lock up from the tension of clutching the brake levers for hours. 

It wasn’t a particularly difficult day in terms of distance or massive climbing, but the cumulative effective of 3 days of rain and headwinds is noticeable. 

Personally I was feeling the pain yesterday morning after my extra-curricular activity the previous day – a spin up to Malin Head and an extra 32km on the day’s regular cycle. So in the morning session I stuck in behind a wheel at the front and tried to refill my reserve tank which was completely empty. It took a long time. 

We had a fabulous pasta lunch in South West College in Omagh after a route change because of an accident on the road way ahead of us (nothing to do with our group).

After the lunch break I planned on being up front again, but one of my pedals decided enough was enough and parted company with the bike (not the first time with this model of pedal). I removed the spindle while waiting for the peloton to pass and the support van to stop. Mark from City Cycles had a spare platform pedal on the bike within 60 seconds and I was back on the bike with a cycling marshall helping to pace me back up to the group. Awesome teamwork from everyone and I was back on within 2km. 

That was enough exertion for a while so I hung out at the back, having a chat with many folks. 

The final spin from Dromore in to Enniskillen was very pleasant despite the rain, I had a great chat with a lady called Donna who lives in Dromore and was able to reassure me that the final few miles were not too hilly!

Feeling better this morning, let’s see how it goes. 

Derry

 

Alastair & Barry - Partners in Climb
Partners in Climb
 Lying awake since 5, listening to the rain on and off. More off than on as the morning brightens, hopefully!

It sounds like it’s going to be another nasty day out there today, I think I’ll bury myself in the middle of the pack today and recover from yesterday’s exhertions. Damn that wind for shifting around to remain a headwind as we turn south, not funny you guys.

Little does he know…
In Derry I had a meandering 2 mile GPS-less walk to find my B&B, exhaustion had kicked in making it longer than necessary.

But it was worth it as Paul, the owner, is a super guy. He didn’t seem to mind the drowned rat that turned up at his door traipsing in & dripping everywhere. I was cold to the bone and not only did he have a bath available, but a jacuzzi – capital-L Legend!
Paul had my gear rinsed and drying last night so hopefully that’s dry or close to it, shoes are the biggest concern… I should have brought the spare pair of cycling shoes I was thinking of.

Have drunk about 6 pints of water (with electrolytes), and not rushing to go anywhere :) so clearly got very dehydrated in the cold yesterday – it’s so much harder to remember to drink on the cold days.

If we pass a good bike shop I’ll nip in to look for decent gloves, my ‘winter gloves’ weren’t up to the task of dealing with driving rain and that headwind. (RealFeel of -6C apparently). The 3 or 4 energy gels really helped get me through the tough parts.

Massive thanks to Barry (pictured above) who stuck with me all the way through that nasty afternoon leg despite me going backwards at times.

If you’re looking for a B&B in Derry look no further than Angel House, Marlborough St. 

243km so far
I’m a bit tired and only slept about 4 hours which is slightly out of character, but I’m not feeling sore at all, that’s a good sign. I’ve been watching my nutrition closely because that’s essential especially this early on. 

Onward south.

It was a beautiful day, apart from the weather

A very brief update on Day 1, Belfast – Ballymena RFC – Coleraine.

100km. Started 10.50am, finished 6.59pm.

Weather: 4 seasons in one day. 

I regretted not having my winter gloves, very cold afternoon session, although no repeat of the brief hailstone shower of earlier. 

Some photos of Day 1