Currane Bothy – Ballina, 1207 – 1503km
We properly enter the landscapes of County Mayo. Breakfast, a chat with Eamon, then on the road not long after 7.00am. I ride the first downhill section with Pete Turnball. As we turn south west onto the Achill Island loop we are greeted by a brutal headwind.
My first mechanical, at 1221km, is minor. The quick release on the front wheel has come loose, and my tyre is rubbing against the mudguard. I urge Peter on whilst I sort it out. With impeccable timing Eamon and David pull up in the red car just as I am adjusting the wheel in the forks. After ascertaining that help is not required, he smiles and captures the moment on his phone.
The headwind continues to buffet me as the road and rises and falls. My eyes are watering, and once or twice I have to hold my hat in fear of it departing on its own. Any cobwebs are stripped from me. Waves crash against the cliffs. I come across a graveyard facing out to the Atlantic, a fine place for your final rest; onwards I go.
The ascents are slow, the descents screamingly fast. On one such descent I see Eamon and David rapidly reversing back into a pull in area. They can see I’m committed to the descent, hands on drops, big ring, legs, heart and lungs engaged, as I swoop with joy and energy down these sinuous curves looking for the fastest line, above the cliffs and sea.
A climb further on; out of the saddle, legs straining, heart pumping, lungs gasping, wind that pushes me back and forth, the Atlantic crashing all around me. Eamon at the top of the climb with an SLR clicking away. This is the wild in all her glory, she’s got me tight in her embrace, testing me. My God do I feel alive in this moment.
I come to a turn and take a left, a garage is a little ahead on the right. As I head north now with a tailwind I begin to doubt myself, I can see a track heading the opposite way to the south, back to the bothy.
What about Keel? I check my brevet card misread Keel as 1354km (it was at 1254km). That surely must be after a return to the bothy? The loop is meant to be 78km or so. Scared I’ll miss the return to the bothy heading north this way I turn round back into the headwind.
The ride back to the bothy is slow. Uphill into a brutal south westerly. I crawl along. Paul Whitehead shouts a friendly “How Do?” partially lost in the wind, as he passes with a fellow rider. I meet Andy going the other way and we stop for a chat and photo.
I arrive back at the bothy and Eamon’s look of surprise paints a picture. He asks about the campervan / info clue of Keel. I must have ridden the loop fast.
Reality slowly and agonisingly dawns on me. After a ride, so far just over the distance of PBP, I’ve messed up. The main thoughts going through my head, are f**k, s**t, you stupid b*****d, how could you mess it up, this far in? My timings had been like clockwork each day up to this point. A familiar pattern had formed, good sleep, leave with around 3 hour’s buffer, then build up some more for the next night. I am furious with myself. I feel like screaming.
Eamon brings calm into my turmoil. Go and get something to eat and drink then we’ll drop you back on the route where you made the mistake. I sit and eat amongst the other riders, feeling annoyed, and a fraud right now. I shouldn’t be back here yet.
Eamon is right, I’m just tired. I just made a mistake when fatigued. I shouldn’t be beating myself up, but I am.
Bike in car, holding onto wheel to stop it falling out the back. David Finnigan and Eamon drive me back to that turn before the garage. Was it really this far from the bothy? We pass Andy on his Elliptigo and we slow whilst I speak to him “Don’t make the same mistake as me…”
We reach the point of error and I’m dropped at the side of the road. I turn left and once more pass the garage. I see Pete Turnball going the other way back to the bothy, he asks if everything is alright. Yes I respond, barely masking my annoyance with myself.
My fury translates into energy. I hurtle round the loop, pushing and pulling those pedals. Keel appears. I’m so blinded with a mix of fury and fatigue that I spent a good 20 mins cycling up and down searching for the campervan. I even head to one parked in the beach car park. I head uphill beyond Keel till no more houses can be seen before returning. The campervan has gone. I note the info clue down and continue round the loop.
I see Stuart unexpectedly ahead of Andy, as I leave the loop. We greet each other in passing. Back past the garage and once more I ride up the hill, into the brutal headwind.
I meet Eamon in his van, driving another rider back onto the loop. The rider has made the exact same mistake as me. I wish him well.
The bothy is now closing up but I am able to get soup and uncover some bacon to make butties. Paddy, Nick, Dave are still here but otherwise it is all but empty. Their presence does however calm me.
Those I arrived with last night are still here, I am not so far behind. They leave before me, as I continue to eat. That mistake cost me 1.5 hours. I thank the volunteers and head out.
Initially I’m still furious with myself. I gaze upon the sea below the cliffs and the mountains to my left. I feel the wind on my face and arms. I let my heart slow, I breathe slowly and deliberately. I empty my mind of recent thought and emotion. I take a moment and the wild rushes back within me. She forgives me my fury, and once more lets me back into her embrace.
A turn left. I now have a tailwind pushing me north to Bangor. A well surfaced road with gentle gradients. Big ring flying. The landscape opens out, a mix of bog grasslands and forestry with gentle rounded hills on the horizon, Atlantic to my left.
In Bangor on a turn, a supermarket with a hot deli. A large slice of meat feast pizza, plus 6 chicken chunks in batter with a chili dip. A Lucozade. Refuelled I make the turn for Dohoma. Once more into the wind.
Gweesalia, at the start of a short loop to Dohoma, Meyrick outside a shop. He’s done the loop and is waiting for the others, Nick amongst them. I continue on, without getting something to eat. A mistake, for when I exit this loop the shop will be closed.
Dohoma is quiet, though I note there are two pubs, one a little back up the road. Two young lads kick a football about.
The leg to Blacksod lighthouse is much further than I think. I regret not stopping at the shops open when I pass. But nothing to be done.
In Belmullet, kids are jumping off the bridge into the waters below. Such joy on their faces, their laughter echoes in my mind.
I get a few greetings, including a well done keep going shout from Nick as I pass riders in opposite direction, me outbound a strong headwind to Blacksod, they on the return. Small greetings but they lift my day from the trough it had entered at the start.
Blacksod is a wild and empty place. The lighthouse, a small beach, a few boats, a row of houses, a pub back up the road.
I’ve been riding into a hoolie for a while, but here in the lee of the lighthouse all is calm. I go onto the pebbled beach, remove shoes and socks and let the waves lap over my feet. I absorb Blacksod past and present.
There is a poignant connection with the Second World War and I think of the terror of those days, contrasted with this moment. Night layers on. I return with the wind.
The sky turns black and not 200m from the lighthouse a storm envelops me. I’m buffeted and whipped by the heavy hail and soon soaked, but the storm blows onwards within 20 minutes and I am clear of it.
Near where the route splits in Belmullet I find an Indian. Sheesh kebab and cokes. I opt for 3 cokes to see me awake for the night section. I turn the phone on briefly and exchange messages with my wife and Idai. I get warm and dry. I’m feeling good with no physical issues and in good mental spirits.
As I leave the Indian I meet Stu on his Elliptigo and a couple of riders heading out to Blacksod. Perhaps 2.5 hours behind. I take a photo as we chat. He’s in good spirits as well, and I feel warm knowing he’s doing just fine. Sadly I hear Andy may have had to stop.
I pick up a tailwind as I leave civilization behind. I’m wired, the caffeine clearly having the desired effect. As I head out to Ceide the Neolithic site I catch sight of a rider ahead. All is dark around, the only sound the waves crashing against the cliffs. I put on a spurt of speed, another rider for company would be good after spending most of my day alone after my mistake early on. I can see their PBP gilet in my lights, their taillight shines red. I crest a rise and they evaporate as morning dew in the sun. The blue cycle signs I’d seen either side of them have also faded from my vision.
Further on, a lion crosses the narrow lane, illuminated by my lights. It turns to regard me for a moment, before continuing on its way. I come to a junction and need a wee. A car is coming on the other road, so I stop 20 yards short. I look to my left and there in front of me are little people made out of bushes, two girls and a boy. They smile at me, the boy puts a finger to his lips. Stay quiet whilst the car passes. Yet further on, a man with a parachute hanging in a large tree on the left. He smiles at me, with affection in his eyes. Others lurk in the trees and shadows but do not fully resolve themselves in vision to me, though they stroke my senses.
I am having hallucinations, for the first time. Something I’ve complained about to others before. At the lack of them! Normally I’ve just get sleepy on these long rides. Others have spoken of monsters and other such. But none of these are monsters.
A profound and overwhelming calm settles over me, everything is going to be alright. In this night, with my friends watching over me, guiding me. I move across dimensions and realities with ease. I am the wild of the night, and wild of the night is I; we are one in perfect synchronicity, physically and mentally conjoined in an imperturbable joyous exultation. My analytical mind observes with amused detachment.
As I enter the Neolithic site I come across lights and voices. The lights move and I can make out two voices. I pay them no head. Almost on top of them, I find myself facing David Coupe and Paddy. Another reality bubble forms around me, the wild of the night is carried off, a whisper on the wind.
Paddy has been sleeping in a grotto and been found by Dave. They were trying to take a photo of a sign. Paddy white as a ghost, David shivering. Confusion reigns. I try to organise them to split up to find the info clue answer. It won’t take long. We look around a while then settle on the wording on a sign (The photo timestamp later reveals it was 2:40am). We ride the remaining km to Ballina in the pre-dawn light.
Ballina dreams, light by streetlight, the moonlight glinting on the water. Birdsong modulates my thoughts in the final km to the control.
The control a rugby club appears. Card stamped, now 4:45am, a shower, a shave, fresh clothes, and a bite to eat and sleep. An 8:30am wakeup.