Kinsale – Kenmare, 0 - 322km
Eamon is a special sort. A first encounter and you’ll not be quite sure what to make of him. Have you offended him in some way? Is there something you’ve misunderstood? But persevere. You’ll find that he has a heart of gold inside that exterior. He greets us warmly as though he’s put on the Wild Atlantic Way Audax just for the two of us. You could see it in his eyes; the genuine warmth with a hint of mischief that is but a blink away.
A breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast in the local café with Stuart Blofeld and Andy Nuttall. Both riding Elliptigos. They have their own brilliant stories to tell, as does everyone who stepped into the wild that day.
The café has a number of motivational quotes / pictures on the wall. I remember this one “Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” The café has a subdued energy, potential energy waiting to be transformed into the kinetic.
Outside to collect bike. Eamon introduces me to Paul to help him with a GPS he was using the very first time. We roll quietly down to the start, by a large mast, the harbour sleeps, sailing boats bob on the gentle waves. The whole softly lit. The wild reaches out with her long slender fingers and strokes my skin with the lightest of touches. It’s electric, my skin begins to tingle.
A few motivational words from Eamon, a warning about leaning bikes on the Campervan used as a control, and with a countdown and a cheer the embrace of the wild begins at 6am on Fri 17th June 2016.
The journey begins with a Garda escort for the first few km and then we are set free.
The roads are rough and this slows the bikes with the skinniest of tyres. Thankful for titanium and 28mm tubeless, I float in a group of 15 or so riders. Slow burn, slow burn, the candle must last for 7 days.
The roads are empty and peaceful. Skylarks sing above us, gulls skim over the water. We weave around the coast, sea glinting in the sun. The road gently rises and falls, passing in and out of inlets, riders already on the opposite side. We enter and leave the small fishing villages of County Cork.
Occasionally the road rises away from the sea to climb over a head land before dropping back. A turn missed on a climb, mistaken for a farm track, only ½ km gained, not to worry.
A campervan in the distance resolves into the Baltimore control. A directive to complete a short loop round the village. I settle into a chair for tea with chocolate bourbons and cake. A brief chat with John Sabine and off towards Mizen. More golden sand beaches tempt me.
A group of us including Birgit, Nick Dale, Paddy, Meyrick, Pete Turnball and others reach a village, where we stop at a café. Mint ice cream and a chicken panini in that order for me. The quickest riders are already returning from Mizen.
I am captivated by the scenery returning from Mizen. I can no longer resist the wilds charms. I stop, remove my shoes and socks, and feel the golden sands between my toes. A little paddle and then I sit a few minutes as my heart slows my mind empties. The fingers of the wild move beyond my skin and begin to caress my heart and mind.
The day grows hot, I sweat, and I begin to recognise all too familiar symptoms. I’m losing energy, growing tired, my appetite diminishes, and a mild nausea takes hold.
I stop at a pub with bikes outside. A fellow rider leaves me some salted chips. I have lemonade. I remove my blue hat and it has turned white encrusted as it is with so much of my life sustaining salts. I ask to fill my water bottles and for my hat to be soaked in water to cool.
I remember the quote “Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible….” I regulate my output, dropping my pace. I drink and take on the salty foods that I can. I keep moving forward.
I see signs to Kenmare and foolishly calculate an arrival around 11:30pm. As we reach a sign saying 27km to Kenmare the route turns left and heads north in a loop taking in Healy Pass. Here as I climb the first rise, Eamon and Seamus jump out their van, announcing a secret control with great joy. Brevet marked, an exchange of humour. I’m on my way again.
The Healy Pass ascends a remote rocky and mountainous area. It is alpine in scale and grandeur as it makes the sinuous climb up those slopes, combining hairpins with long straights. We are now heading into the last light of the day. I can see the red tail lights of riders ahead and make out the crossing point high above me. The climb is slow and steady, enough to keep me warm as the air begins to cool.
I crest the pass. The headlands and inlets to the north are spread out as shadows below me. The lights of the towns twinkle. The sea a silky ribbon rests between the shadows. The Moon projects beyond the clouds lighting the way. It’s just after 11pm and a faint light lingers in the sky, reluctant to leave. I too am reluctant to leave. I pause letting a bit more of wild into me, and more of me into the wild. The headwind drops, the night is becalmed. Descend I must before Morpheus takes a hold.
At the bottom I reach a T junction with a bottle bank. Cooled by the descent I sit down and put on my night layers to keep warm for the last 23km to Kenmare. A rider passes asking if I’m alright. Yes, all is well, despite my dehydration and loss of appetite. I am doing what’s necessary.
The dozies begin to attack. I find myself closing my eyes on my bike. I stop in the middle of the road. Put my arms on my handle bars, close my eyes, and rest my head for a few minutes. I set off again, gain a few more km, then once again stop, feet either side of bike, arms crossed on bars, head on arms.
During one such time Eamon and Seamus pass and stop in their van. He jokes that I’m spending more time asleep on my bike than riding. I respond he’s probably right. Only 20 mins he says, yes 20 mins riding and 20 mins sleep I respond. Good to see you still have your humour Phil, good to see, and they are off.
I reach Kenmare, at 1:15am. I’m utterly fatigued to the bone with no appetite. I decide that sleep is my priority. Straight to bed. I opt for 5 hours sleep. I know from past experience that dehydration and appetite issues have been successfully dealt with by extended rest. I crawl into my personal sleeping bag, in the clothes I’m in, sleep comes quickly.