We did it!
Well we made it. 608 miles in five days. England's most Easterly point to Ireland's most Westerly using just the power of our legs, the support of our family and friends and the motivation of raising over £8000 for Prostate Cancer UK.
Today was a huge day. 122.7 miles and plenty of climbing. Scenery was beautiful but by far the most dramatic was the west point itself. Photos won't do it justice and to be honest, having had it in our minds for so long, drinking the view in with our own eyes will stay in the memories longer!
It proved rather difficult to drag ourselves away from the fantastic hospitality of Sylvia at Ach Na Sheen Guest House in Tipperary as she regaled us with stories of her youth at Irish College on the Dingle Penninsula whilst serving our amazing breakfast. Sylvia had put together her famous breakfast buffet, rivalling that of any big hotel, just for us by 7am complete with freshly baked scones and soda bread. She then produced plates of hot food and bottomless pots of tea as we psyched ourselves up for the final 118 miles of our journey.
We were finally on the road by 8:20am and leaving 'Tip Town' behind us on some of the worst roads we have encountered on the whole trip! However, it wasn't too long before we were able to take a celebratory 'only 100 miles to go' selfie. Or so we thought...
The route from Tipperary to Drumcolliher, apart from the roads, was pleasant, rural and similar to what we had seen the day before. Good farming country. As usual, our support team of Mum and Dad were waiting with supplies for us to refuel on. We took the opportunity to make a phone call to Duncan Fairbairn and report on our progress. Rob and I (and our sister Jenny) grew up with the Fairbairn family. They lived a mile down the road, we shared lifts to primary school together every day and all of our holidays were spent, all ten of us together in a cottage in South West Scotland. Duncan has been battling the late stages of prostate cancer and has been squarely in our thoughts every turn of the pedals. It was fantastic to be able to talk to him about how we were getting on and to hear his words of encouragement.
Almost immediately on leaving Drumcolliher, we started to climb up into the hills in the borderland of Counties Cork, Limerick and Kerry. This was beautiful country and on some of the best cycling roads of the trip. Our support car was never far away and though we didn't get a puncture, checking our tyres at one point revealed several holes made by the stone-chips on the earlier bad roads. Grrr!
Unfortunately, I was so diverted by the scenery, that I forgot to take one of my regular energy gels. During the trip we have been very strict about energy and liquid consumption. Cycling a long distance uses up vast amounts of energy and it is vital not to let your body go into the red or, in cyclist terminology 'bonk'. I started to feel the telltale signs of waning power in my legs and a general sinking in my mood. It didn't go un-noticed with Rob either so he called a break as soon as this view opened up in front of us. Seeing the Atlantic after five hard days in the saddle since leaving the North Sea lifted the spirits somewhat and some 'loaf' flapjack started to work on my energy deficit.
The lift in my spirits was short lived. While still about 15 miles from our lunch stop and already 65 miles in, we hit diversion and road closure signs. Hoping for a way through with a bike, we went right up to the works, only to discover a full-on bridge replacement in operation. Short of wading the river, it meant turning round and finding the shortest diversion via another bridge back to our planned route. Five extra miles when you have psychologically planned out every remaining mile in your head are a tough ask...particularly on a low energy ebb! I didn't say much to Rob for the next hour!
Mum and Dad had found the perfect spot for our lunch on the banks of the River Maine in the village of Castlemaine, just before the start of the Dingle Peninsula. I quietly hoovered up all available calories and gradually felt my energy levels return to normal. With less than 40 miles to go, our parents there to cheer us on, a gentle Northerly breeze and a broad blue horizon ahead, we could finally believe that we were going to make it.
The road along the south side of the Dingle Peninsula is spectacular. It skirts the coast for much of the way, affording wonderful views across to the Macgillycuddy's Reeks and Ireland's highest mountain. There are sandy beaches and breakers dotted with surfers and the hills of the peninsula to the right provide drama at each turn in the road. The road turns inland for a few miles and the interior of the peninsula is emerald green, laced with fields of cows and sheep.
There was one last haul up a hill before we wound back to the coast proper and over a headland into Dingle town. We whisked through the town, keen to finish, and had one final re-fill of the water bottles at the car before setting off on the last 13 miles of our journey.
As we rounded the last corner, this view of Dunmore Head was finally revealed to us. It was breath-taking (or it would be if we had any breath left to take!) and very very welcome!
We free-wheeled down the car park, arms aloft and were cheered by Mum and Dad and a couple who had been surfing in the bay below. They produced a beer each for us and we drank the first truly enjoyable carbohydrate-rich drink we had had in a week!
However, as we already knew, we weren't quite there. The very tip of the Western most point of Ireland is a 500 metre walk over the headland. So, having done the celebratory bike-in-the-air shot, supped our beer and made a quick call to Rog and Kate, we donned our trainers and set off on foot to finish the job.
It was a great feeling to come over the hill and see the last rocks of Ireland drop off into the Atlantic with only a couple of islands between us and America. This had been an idea that Rob had mentioned casually 18 months earlier which then became months of planning and training, five days of effort and it was now done. As brothers, we aren't daunted by much in life but cycling five back-to-back 120 mile days pushed our limits. I don't think either of us would have wanted to be without the other on this challenge.
So I want to finish with some thankyous. Firstly to my brother, for the idea, the company and the drafting. My family, Rog, Mum and Dad for their support driving and feeding us, Jenny and co, Kate and the boys for cheering us on. The staff at the loaf for putting up with my absence from work out on the bike and words of encouragement. And finally everyone who has so generously donated to the cause we have been raising money for.
Prostate cancer is a horrible disease taking too many lives too soon. Money is needed for research into treatments and testing regimes and to raise awareness so that we doctor-shy men come forward early for check-ups.
Thank you for reading this blog, I hope you have enjoyed it. But before you go, if you haven't already, please please please give whatever donation you can through our Justgiving page.
mileage: 122.8 on the bike, 0.6 on foot
average speed: 14.7mph
beers so far: 1 each given to us by two surfers when we arrived at Dunmore Head and two pints each of the black stuff
24,800 feet of climbing
An average of 645 new prostate cancer diagnoses in the five days we have been cycling.
An average of 150 men will have died of the disease in those five days.
Your donations will help change those stats. Thank you.
Andrew and Rob Auld
Read the other posts about the ride here:
More at www.ronnieauld.com