Why I headed off route after 1,400km and other stories.
*Spoiler – surprisingly, it wasn’t entirely hurricane Hector 🙂
A few months back I decided it might be a good idea to try this endurance cycling malarkey and the Transatlantic Way Race around the Emerald Isle seemed like the perfect race to bite the bullet and have a go. I had been an avid dotwatcher since taking up cycling only a couple of years ago. First following the riders of the Indy Pac (Indian Pacific Wheel Race) and then the Transcontinental riders. Always in awe at the distances being covered and the immense physical and mental challenges to be overcome and how the riders relentlessly seemed to put themselves through the ringer. Tales of saddle sores, knee pain, gear cables breaking, sleeping in ditches, it all sounded like so much fun!
I’m still not entirely sure why I thought I might like to try it. Just curious I guess and I’d always wanted to see a bit more of Ireland. I absolutely love travelling by bike and am in the middle of trying to cycle as many miles around the world as possible over 2 years for charity and cycling is such a brilliant way to explore a country. Endurance racing was to prove very different beast altogether but enlightening in so many ways. You do see a lot of amazing roads, trails and mountains over a pretty short space of time. This ultimately is one of the reasons I liked it but also one of the reasons I seriously questioned whether racing was really for me as I pedalled past the most beautiful beaches wishing I could stop and just skim stones for an hour. Not really an option when you’ve set yourself a pretty tough deadline.
Having been cycling across Africa from Kenya to Cape Town only a month before the race and then sadly saying farewell to my dear Dad who died shortly after I got back, my preparation was probably not ideal but I still wanted to give it a go. I didn’t know many people who had done this kind of thing before but had been in touch with a couple of TAW riders prior to the race which was great and it settled my nerves a little knowing that we were all in it together (although riding solo of course and no drafting!) My pal Ian, who’s done quite a lot of this stuff, helped me with some top tips – mainly regarding petrol station stops and efficient eating – not sure I’ve fully grasped this aspect of racing yet. He was also my lighting technician for the event. My friend Nick at my local bike shop, Pewsey Velo, made sure my bike was up to the task. I was a little worried about doing the ride on my Fondriest R20 road bike but it was pretty robust, as it turned out, and I had no issues at all bar one puncture. I reckon the 6 kgs extra of mountain bike would’ve definitely been a bit of a struggle on the hills of Donegal, even though I did wish I had some extra gears and a bigger rear sprocket – 28 was really hard going at times and almost everyone else seemed to have 32 (lesson learned!)
I have recently been reading a book called Cadence by Emma Ayres (go read it – it’s brilliant) and she would probably describe riding a 28 (teeth on the biggest sprocket of the cassette) on the TAW as like playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto with the top string missing!
Off we go – Holyhead ferry. THE place to be on a Tuesday night.
I rocked up at the ferry in Holyhead, still not entirely sure of my set up on the bike, but decided you always learn what works as you go along. As it panned out, I lost a bag and a few other things I didn’t use along the way and so my set up by the end was a lot better – win. I’d been in touch with Jason Woodhouse (TAW veteran!) prior to the race. He and his pal Dave knew the ropes and seemed like great people to get to know. I was right. They knew exactly where the McDonalds in Holyhead was and that the vanilla milkshake was by far the best drink to begin any adventure. We got politely turfed out of McDonalds around 11pm so rolled back to the ferry terminal where I met some more new friends. One of these new pals was Lucy H. Lucy and I became good pals over the duration of our adventure – even though she was so fast I only passed her once during the race when she got a puncture on day 1. It was nice of her to get a puncture so I could say hi though.
L – Registration and the free T shirt and much loved cap!
R – Me and Lucy Hogger – on the hunt for chocolate covered coffee beans and a cosy hat!
Arriving at Trinity College next day (in time for breakfast) we hung out in Dublin, went to briefings and I met some of the other women riders, Laura, Meg, Phillipa, Rishi and later Jenny and Karen. All that was left to do was retire to my room to make final adjustments, fix the light I’d already managed to break, and try to sleep in the knowledge that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.
It would be fair to say that I was bricking it.