Oranmore – Currane Bothy, 907km – 1207km
A breakfast of scrambled eggs and beans and a little toast, washed down with tea and fruit juice. Today we enter County Galway.
The road leads through Galway and I find myself riding in the early morning traffic. This is rush hour. But, as I experience during the whole ride, this is not UK traffic. Each driver is polite, patient, leaves plenty of space, not beeped once, wide safe overtakes. I am delighted at this unexpected treatment, Irish drivers are a credit to their nation.
On a main road but in thinning traffic I escape the gravity of the city; to the left misty views of the islands open out. I stop at a garage and find my new favourite snack. Salty caramel pretzels washed down with Ribena. Opposite is a small park, some benches and sculptures overlooking a rocky bay. I clamber down, sit amongst the rocks and sea weed, shoes and socks removed, waves lapping at my bare feet, gazing out to sea.
Soon enough a turn left takes me back onto the narrow empty coastal lanes I’ve become accustomed to. The landscape once more is changing, rocky coves, yellow sea weed, the sky a perfect mirror in the water, a flattening landscape with mountains in the distance.
Lakes, bushes, grasses dancing in the wind. The route rises and falls gently as the land breathes in and out, slow and calming. I settle into a zen meditative state, transfixed by the wild and all her caresses.
I stop at another cove, rocky with brown yellow sea weed that gently rises and falls on the swell. This time I do not paddle but just sit and watch as silent and still as a boulder.
A heron comes into my vision as my eyes adjust to the stillness. Time is at a standstill. Then a sublime moment, one most unexpected. A sea otter, briefly rises amongst the sea weed not 200m away, a ripple easily missed, but no there it is again, the body, the head, and the fur. A brief connection, and then as quickly and silently the gift is gone.
On to Cill Chiarain and the campervan control. More tea with chocolate bourbons and custards creams. David Coupe once more turns up. I continue on.
The day is brightening, bright sunshine with short heavy showers but for now the sun is winning out. I stop to remove my jacket, then apply cream on my arms. Half an hour later I realise my jacket is no longer on my saddle bag. I turn and cycle back to find it lying at the side of road. I turn again back.
A hotel overlooking a deserted bay. My appetite is back with a vengeance after the first couple of day’s issues. I stop and while away an hour having spaghetti carbonara and garlic bread in the sun, washed down with coke and iced water. A few riders pass during this time but I catch them soon enough, revived and fuelled as I am.
We ride together for a while, as we near the mountains of Galway the first spots of rain from the edge of a blackness touch my skin. It’s about to envelop us. There will be no escape. It comes in hard and heavy, but it soon blows through, leaving us steaming in the sun. Jacket returns to top of saddle bag, for now at least.
A turn left and fine surfaced road, gently rising through trees with a lake to my right. The rain has set Nature’s scents free, and I can feel myself getting stronger as I breathe deep and long. A descent and the sea once more draws close with islands engaging me to the left.
Through Roundstone a most perfect fishing village, with a few riders spotted having their lunch. Rocky outcrops, bays, islands to my left, more herons, bird song, a million lakes to my right glinting in the sun, and the mountains of Galway growing ever closer.
More perfect moments of solitude, the wild has me in her perfect embrace. Later I meet up with Nick Dale and Pete Turnball. We roll into Clifden together.
I opt for a Chicken and Chorizo melted cheese ciabatta with a coke in a café I spy. Nick and Pete head off to a supermarket instead. I leave before them having found a fast and friendly service. Out onto a headland, once more alone in my thoughts with the wild.
More islands with signs to a ferry at Cleggan. A perfectly conical mountain catches my gaze ahead, which manifests as Diamond Hill (I believe) above Letterfrack in Connemara. The sun casts a polarising light across the land. Once more I am mesmerised. The km pass without thought.
A lake to my right before a rise then fall to the shores of a fiord. I head to Leenaun, with one eye on the road and one transfixed on the glittering waters to my left. The mountains rise left and right, rocky cliffs and the greenest of slopes, waterfalls tumble down towards me.
I’m thunderstruck, has my heart stopped, are my thoughts now a waterfall tumbling over rock, or cliffs soaring to the sky? I am lost and found in this place.
Past an outdoor centre, I climb up into a glen. The glen is cast in light and shadow. Alongside a lake I come across a church in the most perfect place.
Climbing into the growing dusk. I crest a small rise and enter another landscape, long grasses blowing with solitary mountains rising distant on the horizon. The transition into the landscapes of County Mayo is beginning.
Louisburgh I reach at 10:20pm, too late for food but in need a receipt I stop. I enter the Derry Lodge and order some coke and bacon fries. I forget to ask for the receipt. The bar maid writes me a handwritten receipt and adds their stamp to it. Later the manager comes out and offers me sandwiches. I decline this time.
Nick Dale and Pete turn up, then Dave Coupe. With a small field a bike outside a place is a sure invitation to come inside. I mention the manager can do sandwiches though we are now 2.5 hours since food stopped being served. Nick cheekily asks if melted cheese can be added. So it is that the 4 of us share a bountiful assembly of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. I have another coke. The manager gives me a mars bar for free for the night ride ahead. Another act of kindness.
Nick and Pete had set off after David, and came into the Lodge before him. They didn’t overtake him and realise they’ve taken a shortcut missing a left turn in the glen. This causes much anguish and they make several calls to Eamon.
Mention is made of penalty times or loops. (Eamon was joking, the shortcut was minor, but they didn’t realise). Nick’s GPS failed in the rain of days 2/3 and he’s been relying on Pete for nav. They’ve had an interesting journey by all accounts.
David and I feel Nick is about to kill Pete if left alone with him and his navigation for any longer. We agree to ride together, as a 4 riders (with 2 GPS) for the remainder to Corraun Bothy.
David is keen to get more sleep than previous nights and decides he wants to time trial the night section. He’s a demon on the next section on good roads. I take my turns at the front but my God it’s hard to keep the pace. With company and the increased pace I find for the first time I get no dozies this night.
At a turn Pete demonstrates first hand his navigational prowess by trying to turn left when the route goes right. After an hour or so we catch Paddy weaving dozy in the road and soon we are five riders together. Paddy awake once more, the night express is in motion.
A final turn in Mulranny onto the rougher and darker lanes leading to Curraun Bothy finds me off the lead into a head wind and mist. With a few turns I can no longer see the groups lights behind me and I push on. The headland is eerily quiet in the dark, no buildings or lights.
The GPS track ends and no bothy so I ride up and down the track squinting into the mist before the others catch me. We turn right, and a bit further along find the bothy.
Just before 3.00am. Brevet card stamped, some soup, bread and tea. A volunteer then takes me to my personal sleeping bag. Sleep comes quickly once more and is to be for 3 hours.