Kenmare – Ballyheigue, 322 - 642km
I awake, lazily pack my sleeping bag. Corn flakes and bacon sandwiches. I down a whole jug of fruit juice, have multiple cups of sugared tea. I linger over the breakfast having not eaten when I arrived. I find I cannot eat too quickly. During this time Stuart and Andy appear having come in perhaps an hour ago.
The sun cream is once more applied and I set off into what promises to be another fine day. Not far on the edge of Kenmare I stop. It is already too hot for my overnight gear and I strip a layer or two from upper half. Stuart and Andy pass. I catch them up and we ride together for a while, filming and chatting. I move ahead.
I pass Tony Greenwood and then catch Birgit Zimmerman. Birgit and I ride together, the road has gentle gradients a good surface. Trees are either side of the road with the sea to the left. I breathe the scents in the air as we glide along.
Before long we are on the Ring of Kerry. Another day, another county. A long climb sees runners coming the opposite way, with support cars. We’ll see the runners for a while as they are doing a sponsored relay the opposite way round the ring to us.
The climb continues for a good few km as the views open out to the mountains ahead. The landscape is gradually changing, and cycle pace is perfect for that transition. A light drizzle begins to fall, gradually getting heavier. I stop to put my jacket on.
Gradually I pull away from Birgit. A fast descent, an extended flat, two more climbs sees me over to Finians Bay. My gaze darts across to the Islands, filtered through sea mist and rain. I try and capture it on my camera but cannot for I am seeing with more than my eyes. Where the landscape ends and I begin is beginning to blur.
A long climb with off camber bends and steep gradients. Nuno Lopes passes me here, then I pass him, before he once more passes. A final ramp reaches for the sky, a heart rate of 500 bpm and the patience of a saint sees me finally crest this pass.
An extremely fast and straight descent sees me reach Port Magee where the campervan control awaits us. We move the table under the awning and gain brief respite from the rain. Sugared tea, chocolate bourbons and custard creams. My appetite is improving but is still fussy as to what can be eaten.
Today is slated as the hardest of the ride. With 4 climbs before lunchtime it certainly feels different to the first day, where the big climbs were concentrated at the end of day.
A few hours into the wind and rain sees Castlemaine Control reached. A pub on the turn with a bike outside. Birgit inside having a coffee. I join her, dripping onto the tables and chairs. A coke and two packets of bacon fries, plus a receipt. The rugby is on, Ireland vs. South Africa. It makes for a welcome interlude, and a chance to dry a little and gain warmth.
On to Dingle the traffic increases to a trickle. I catch Stuart and Andy, pass they must have whilst I was in the pub. After discussing the superior view they have from their lofty positions I move ahead. It’s a busy place with tourist coaches and cars, a shock after the solitude of many of the sections so far.
On the climb up to Slea Head. The traffic disappears. The rain lashes my face. A mist moves in, shrinking my world. The wind hurls the rain at me and slows my progress. I see a ford ahead and commit to my line for crossing. Too late I see the ford is cobbled and my GPS is thrown from its mounting.
I successfully cross then turn to look for my GPS. It’s there floating in the stream. Re-attached it seems to have suffered no harm.
As I reach Slea head I turn the corner and enter the lea of the wind. I dismount my bike by the statues. All is calm in the mist and rain. I can hear the muffled sound of the waves coming up against the cliffs. A profound peace settles, all alone, but at one with this time and place. The wild’s embrace grows tighter.
Continuing on the loop I am surprised at the extra hills. Dingle I stop to eat. The fish and chips I’ve ordered is beautifully cooked. My stomach rejects it.
David Coupe has joined me and has a sheesh kebab. It smells nice. I try a bit and find it goes down okay. I order sheesh kebab with a lightly spiced sauce. Eating is slow but bit by bit I finish it. The owner refuses to take payment for the fish and chips I was unable to eat. A random act of kindness.
I pass the pubs of Dingle, light music and laughter drifting out. So tempting. I turn left and join the long climb up Connor Pass, the highest in Ireland. David is ahead but not in sight. I pass signs saying turn back now. Wise advice. The wind picks up, the rain gets heavier. I can see lights neither ahead or behind. I crest the pass just before midnight. The wind is blowing a hoolie. I take a selfie, one eye closed, as the rain lashes my face.
I start the steep descent, the road is narrow with hairpins. My GPS detaches a couple of times on the bends, and I have to stop to retrieve it, luckily its backlight makes it easy to spot. The wind is blowing me sideways, the road is wet. It is a battle to maintain my line. Descent is cautious. Eventually the gradient eases. The road straightens, allows me to pick up speed and drop out of the worst of this weather.
Like clockwork the dozies attack. I repeat the tactic of the previous night, then away again. The wind eases and the rain stops. Every few minutes, taxis from Dingle pass by.
Whilst having an extended doze by a bridge, I hear the voices of Stuart, Andy and John Sabine. Stuart offers me 3 pro plus. It works a little but I’m not wired awake like Stuart.
I decide to use Stuart and Andy as pacers. W ride together, then I stop for a doze, then I catch them up, ride together, then I doze, repeat. Anyone following the trackers will wonder what is going on.
The rain comes back heavy just when we’ve dried out. Three wet riders roll into Ballyheigue control, a volunteer out on the road guiding us in.
It is 4:15am or so. Hot shower, a shave, fresh kit, food, sleep. I opt for 3.5 hours sleep.