A Little Bit of Background
A year previously, I had done my 1st longish cycle to Enniscrone from Castlebar, and at this stage of my cycle enthusiasm, I figured it was a good goal to aim for one big cycle a year during the summer, when the conditions were right for it. So, after a couple of weeks (maybe months) of mentally psyching myself up for it, I finally picked a weekend for a cycle home from Dublin to Inistioge in South Kilkenny. I had been checking the BBC weather 5 days forecasts religously for about a month, and finally conditions were perfect for a sunny Friday cycle back home.
Honestly I had no real idea what I was doing, or what I was in for. As I had been cycling to college/ work at high tempo for the previous year (about 13km each way a day), I thought I was fit enough & from my 60km cycle a year before, a figured a 20km/h average speed was an easy guide, so I knew about 6 and a half hours would be about right. These two assumptions weren't necessarily wrong, but there were a lot more things to be taken into consideration and this combined with a lot of little mistakes along the way insured my first introduction to The Wall....
Mistake #1: The Route
Mistake #2: My Gear In General
Mistake #3: My effort levels
Mistake #4: My Nutrition
The prospect of cycling all the way home to Inistioge was a bit intimidating, so I decided to stay as close as possible to the route I was familiar with travelling on by car/bus. This was a dual carriageway /motorway (N7/M7/M9) for the 1st 60km and had no intention of cycling that, so tried to stay parallel to these roads as much as possible, via Newcastle, Kill, Naas and Dunlavin before joining familiar territory 10km before Castledermot. The plan after Carlow was to divert off the familiar but busy main road and take an alternative route to Gowran via Leighlinbridge, Bagenalstown and Goresbridge before joing familiar territory for the 'home stretch' back to Inistioge. All in all this came to about 125km on Google maps, 'only' twice as much as my cycle the year before, so I felt confident
Gear wise I hadn't been introduced to cycle wear yet, so was simply wearing normal shorts and a football jersey with a hi-viz jacket, with my two newly purchased pannier bags attached to the bike. I didn't even have a bottle cage back then, (I had never used one before, so the question of needing one never entered my mind) but I naively thought I would just stop for food and drink on the way when I needed it, and so stocked nothing in that respect.
As this was back in the pre-smartphone days, I printed out my google
maps route on 6 pages (1page for approximately each 20km) for back up,
as I wanted to avoid any rush hour traffic until beyond Naas, I left
early at about 7am on Friday morning, full of energy & optimism....
The cycle started out pretty nicely. The roads were nice and empty, there was early morning dew in the air and it was cool & fresh. However, I had already started too fast, feeling obliged to go fast on the flat and downhill and even on the uphill I retained an attitude of "let's get this over with". Just outside Newcastle, I encountered a long uphill country road. I rather stubbornly stayed on a tough enough gear and powered on through it. The handle bars creaked loadly as I tried to put as much power as I could through the pedals. I became more aware of this noise as I passed an old man walking his dog. He remarked, "Is that you or the bike?!". I grimaced a smile - I would have laughed if I had a spare breath!
The cycle continued without too much drama, occasionally stopping to confirm my directions from my printouts, and even felt a mini sense of accomplishment as I came through Naas by 9am by means other than car or bus, for the first time. After Naas however things got a little tricky... I was supposed to be looking for a turnoff onto a secondary road to Dunlavin, but the main road to Kilcullen was busy now, with trucks thundering past me at 100km/h plus, and no spare room on the road to feel out of the way. The road was pacy too, and I made the most of it, picking up speed as much as I could and honestly I enjoyed it. However, I quickly found myself cycling past residential suburbs and then on a main st, and then realised I missed my turn - I was now in Kilcullen! I thought i could keep cycling and adjust - afterall the bus home passed through here so I was hardly gone too much wrong. I cycled another couple of km, but then it dawned on me - I would have to join the dual carriageway, or go on a massive diversion around the other side of it, I had to turn back. I was now 10km off course, planned journey plus 20km.
I found a turn in Kilcullen that joined the road to Dunlavin (after careful studying of my printed maps) and found myself on my way again. Luckily as I had left so early, I had time for this sort of set-back, & was quickly in good spirits again. Dunlavin was a nice little town, with a nice wide market street and a prominent church. I stopped for a quick little snack and a bottle of water and went on my way. Soon I would be joining the familiar main road to Castledermot and would be going through a sequence of towns to get me home....
This is where my familiarity with my well driven route really backfired on me. To summarise, cars are much faster than bikes, and don't feel hills like bikes do!!
The main road to Castledermot was wide, fairly straight and long, and looked flat but really had a gradual incline that went on for at least 10km, with nothing but fields and very distant hills for visual reference. This became demoralising very quickly as a constant stream cars and trucks flew past me at 120km/h, nearly 10 times as fast as I was! There was no landmarks to focus on, and for the 1st time I became aware of my fully packed bike. I felt like I was getting nowhere. Unfortunatley, I made a big mistake here - I tried harder.
By the time I made it to Castledermot (about halfway on my journey), I was spent. It seemed appropriate to stop and have some lunch. I had a roll and a lucozade and took my time, admiring the monastery ruins just off the main st., not so much the cheaply built barbershop shed that sat clumsily infront of it. Siteseeing on this trip was a bit of a mixed bag.
I left Castledermot slightly renergised, and after passing under the newly built Carlow bypass, was comforted by the fact I'd be coming through Carlow soon. Again, my in-car distance perception let me down and it took me an age! On bus journeys home Carlow was the landmark when I would generally call the parents to give them a half hour notice to pick me up so I still felt like I was getting somewhere.
From Carlow to Leighlinbridge turn-off was more long tedious wide roads. Is this article starting to feel unneccessary long? Are you losing the energy to finish this? I think you're starting to get a sense of my feelings on this trip! However, once I turned for Leighlinbridge things started to get a bit better....
Leighlinbridge is a lovely little town, the approach flanked on the right by a riverside park and on the left the old well maintained grain store buildings, the beginning of the town itself marked by a prominent mill at the end of a series of weirs. For the 1st time on the trip, I stopped to drink in the scenery. It really gave me a second wind, and Bagenalstown to Gowran felt like a breeze. I became aware of what a lovely day it was, and really started to enjoy the twisting country roads, and the sound of just my wheel and the road was quite relaxing.
Gowran to Thomastown was the funny thing. The familiarity worked for and against me. Obviously it felt a lot longer on the bike than in a bus or car, but the roads were narrow and bendy, giving me more of an impression of speed and progress and the knowledge that the bus did this stretch in 15 minutes spurred me on. Unfortunatley this meant I probably exerted a little too much on my final push. I reached Thomastown, knowing I had only 7km left. I went to primary school here and was in really familiar territory here. I felt pretty parched, and even a little hungry but thought I'm on the final stretch, I'm not stopping now!
Coming out of Thomastown something very strange happened very quickly. I lost all energy in my legs. I was cycling on the flat and it felt like I was cycling steeply uphill. Suddenly I felt that my palms were bruised and my body ached. Nothing was left. I hadn't reached the limits of Thomastown yet and in the space of 10 minutes I had gone from reasonably energetic to a completely spent force and Inistioge felt further away than it had 4 hours ago. I had hit The Wall.
Even then I was too stubborn to lighten the gears. I'm too close to ease off now, I thought. I struggled on. I got to Brownsbarn Bridge, something I used to cycle to when I was 12. Familiarity was irrelevant at this stage - this was another world I was cycling in. The last 2 km to Inistioge was an age. I had cotton mouth at this these - I was a shell of the person that left Lucan 9 hours earlier. I looked at my speedometer. I had aimed for 20km/h average on the trip, and when I had left Thomastown I was at 20.8 - I was now at 19.7. This may not look like a lot but represented a massive drop in speed over 5km! When I finally reached the village, the sense of victory was not there, I still had a 1km climb up the hill to my house. I couldn't face cycling that. I couldn't even face walking it. I stopped in the park in the village and weighed things up.
Eventually I called my mother who gave me a lift home!! It was funny feeling. I had done so much but didn't feel any sense of accomplishment because I didn't cycle all the way home (I would soon get over this!). My body was in tatters for a week after. I didn't have any muscular pain, but there was not energy in my legs at all. I could go for a walk, but walking uphill was a massive struggle. It was unbelievable, I had never felt anything like this before. I knew if I ever did this again I would have to approach it differently!