Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Friday, 19 April 2013

There & Back Again - A Touring Adventure With JJ Digby Part I

By the end of the month, JJ had his new bike, a beautiful Dawes Clubman tourer. He also had his own panniers (well his Orbea panniers were on order, but he was given a pair similar to mine in for the meantime), and thanks to the wonders of Aldi, had some proprietary cycling gear (including helmet). We had done another cycle to Phoenix Park a week previously, this time via the strawberry beds, the weather was good, and we were ready for the big cycle to Kilkenny again, but with an added twist - all going well we were going to try cycle back again within the same week!

JJ was actually ahead of me now on the gear front, he had got some cycle shoes and spd clipless pedals (though i really don't know why they're called clipless, they clearly still clipped in!) which seemed more manageable than mine. There was no way I was wearing my tri-shoes - whatever about my balance issues, I liked the idea of being able to get off my bike and walk comfortably around. JJ's shoes however had a football boot like sole with studs, which concealed the cleats so still could comfortably walk around. Noted!

One personal little advance I had made, was I now had a bottle cage, and was going to try and make an effort to drink water on the go, and improve my balance!

Anyways our route was going to be pretty much the same (just make sure we get the correct turn to Borris!) - as I was not too keen on cycle over the hill of death between Graig and Inistioge, we agreed to take the route to the Rower (which on the map ran parallel to the river so must have been relatively flat), then over a small hill towards JJ's house, then I would get back to Inistioge via the New Ross road, which has a nice long descent for the last 5km or so.

It really was a lovely day and as usual the cycle started well(thinking about it now, if they ever didn't start well, we probably would've just turned back!). We made slight modifications, realising (finally) that we could skip the dual carriageway by taking a parallel road through Citywest. That was the great thing about the repetition of these trips, just tweaking them all the time, making them more efficient.

Getting to Blessington was a breeze, our cycling was becoming a bit more synchronised now, our pacing more natural. Occasionally I would pull away, but similarly JJ would get ahead and make some distance too. We were both enjoying a noticeable advance in fitness on the bike, remarkable only 1 month after our baptism of fire. I did feel that JJ was also getting some extra efficiency from his new shoe/pedal arrangements and I must admit I was getting a bit of pedal envy! We skipped past Blessington, and only stopped at the lake to stretch the legs a bit - otherwise we were eager to keep moving.

Baltinglass was a similar story - even though we had some rolls in the riverside park again (a completely different experience under the sun), we didn't hang around. We were eating less, our breaks were quicker and snappier. It's funny the difference a small bit of repetition makes.

On through Rathvilly and on to Tullow, it was no longer a physical challenge, and the monotonous winding roads to Tullow were just filled with some happy banter. The good weather made a big difference. This time around we weren't desperate to more food and heat in Tullow, but we stopped anyhow to stock up on some snacky foods and some water, and on we went again.

JJ Digging into some snacks in Tullow (not Digging posing for photo into sunshine!)

Coming out of Tullow on the long draggy roads, the inevitable problems arose. I started to notice something was up. I was really starting to struggle to keep up with JJ. At first it was subtle enough, I just thought "wow, JJ's new bike is making a difference!" and don't get me wrong - I'm sure it did, but my legs felt fine and I was no longer getting the same bang for my buck as I was earlier in the day. I took a while before I realised my rear tire was halfway flat. I tried to catch up with JJ but he was enjoying himself too much, I figured he'd stop and wait at the next t-junction so I tried following till then. Unfortunately this was further away than I remembered so it turned out to be a very draggy pursuit!

JJ did wait at the t-junction in the end. However, when I caught up within 10 metres of him,he mistook my 'hang back, I have a problem' gesture as 'go on, continue!' and he took off again! Aargh!! I just thought feck it, I need to fix this. I had a pump and a spare tube - unfortunately the pump was pretty limp for getting full pressure, and I didn't see the point in putting in a fresh tube at less optimum pressure and risking another puncture. I think I had some patches , but at the time, I figured if it's a slow puncture, a quick pump will give me enough pressure to get to the next town!

Pumping a tire with a slow puncture with a weak pump under the gaze of the sun can be a pretty frustrating experience, I was not a happy bunny by the time I got back on my bike to chase after JJ! I honestly thought he would have figured something was up and turned back but was nowhere to be seen. I struggled over the hill of death and found him and the crossroads, who revealed he just thought he was going really fast and wanted to beat me over that hill! Ah well...

He's a bit stronger than me so I let him get a bit more pressure into the tire, and on we went to Myshall. The cycle was still a bit draggy, but JJ was knowingly keeping pace, which was better. These roads are very quite, so we were cycling abreast for most of it, just chatting away- probably the way cycling touring should be!

Myshall depressingly didn't have an adequate pump, but we simply thought the last pump got us 10km,and we had about 40km to go, so we were not too dispirited! The sunny weather was making a difference though, I was craving sugar and something cool, I think I had at least two cans of coke and a callipo while we were there! We added another bit of pressure and on we went, in decent spirits.

The Myshall road was fine, we went at a very sustainable pace up the climbs, just chatting away and enjoying the scenery, and attempted to break landspeed records on the descents - it was a miracle that JJ didn't end up in a ditch on a sharp bend at the end of one of them!

Finding our previously missed turn was a bit of a kick-yourself moment. It was clearly a main road we had cycled across before, and it was signposted for Borris!! How the hell had we missed that before?! However, we had a bit of a laugh about it - we were on the right track this time - after-all we were 15km up on the last time just by doing something right!

We had to pump the tire twice more on the way. It was getting a bit frustrating now, and the extra effort of the draggy tire was starting to take its toll on my legs. We were very shortly in Borris though, and it felt like an opportune time to stop for a meal.

We found a hotel bar at the top of the hill, which had a nice back garden/ lawn, but it seemed reserved for a wedding, so despite the good weather we reluctantly went inside to the bar, and had a hearty 2 course meal with some Guinness, as was becoming customary on our cycles. I must have downed 2 pints of water also, I was really dehydrated!

I must say, the meal sat pretty heavy with me, and I was reluctant to go so soon, but it seemed wedding guests were arriving and we needed to get our bikes out of the courtyard. We were politely getting rushed out a bit, but it didn't stop us putting a bit of pressure in the tire before we left. I was feeling the pressure on me though, so I quickly jumped on the bike and darted out the gate, honestly nearly knocking down the bride & groom as they were turning the corner to enter the place! Feckin cyclists!

Coming through the little valley out of Borris, there was that frustration of wanting to stop and admire the viaduct, but it seemed silly to stop so soon after setting off, and we wanted to use our momentum to get up the steep climb! The tire was holding up alright, but my stomach wasn't great at this point, and let's just say I was suffering a bit of 'saddle burn', so didn't fancy sitting down too much either! Not great!!

The normally lovely descents into Graiguenamanagh didn't feel so great this time - the decreasing pressure in the tire, made me feel like I didn't have too much control on the fast bends, so I had to forfeit precious momentum. We added more pressure in Graig and were still in good spirits - it was the final furlong now, and we knew we were going to finish it. And JJ knew the way from here (albeit only experiencing by car/bus), so no risk of getting lost!

We had to climb some steep streets to get to the ring road to access the Rower road but were soon on our way. The road was quite scenic, a hillside road under shade of tree canopies and overlooking the river valley on the left. One thing that became apparent though, was that it was gradually turning into a bit of climb. It wasn't steep, but it just went on and on. And on.

And on.

I was struggling, and the fact that I couldn't sit on my saddle made things worse. JJ tried to reassure me and said he was happy to go slow but the problem was I was struggling to go as fast as slow! The road must have climbed for at least 5km. One little reward was pulling into a lay by and getting a dramatic view of St, Mullins monastery across the valley. After a little water break, we were on our way again, and soon found ourselves at the turn for the 'little hill' we had to get over to get to JJ's house.

This hill was immediately very steep and I was simply in the wrong gear, and the bike refused to change. My legs were a bit worn out too, so I had no shame in jumping off and walking it for a bit as JJ passed by.  It did flatten out quickly enough and I caught up with JJ at the top, were we had a nice descent to look forward to. These were really zippy twisty country lanes, and they would have been a joy to cycle down, if it was not for the lack of rear tire pressure making my bike pretty unstable on the bends. I suppose it didn't stop me reaching some pretty high speeds on the way down!

I met JJ at the bottom were we were to part company. My tire problems aside, he had made it all the way this time, and quite comfortably at that! Also we had gotten down without any major route related or physical mishaps, so that was encouraging!

His parting gift was an extra  bit of tire pressure, we agreed that we'd meet up for a shorter pannier-free leisure cycle in two days time. I was on my way, with about 8km left. I did initially have a longish (about 1km) climb from Clodagh chapel, but this was fine, I knew a really nice stretch was coming up. The road flattened out, and I gained some momentum as the view of the Nore valley opened out in front of me. The road was well above river level at this point, and over the next 7km it would be slowly descending down to meet it at Inistioge. I really enjoyed this section, even though me bike was a bit draggy and I was now cycling into a light headwind. Some of my earlier frustrations were forgotten about.

My house, cruelly enough, is located about 2km up a hill just before the village of Inistioge, and is probably the steepest climb of the whole cycle. I was in stubborn form though and powered up, possibly detrimentally so for my legs in the long term, but was hugely satisfied to arrive down the driveway, 4th cycle from Dublin done, the 2nd one I had fully completed, no hitting of any wall, no route confusions, nutrition almost there. I felt I was starting to get the hang of this touring lark!

It was a good weekend to come home as well, as all of my family were back for my Dad's 60th, which of course, I had remembered. :D

Blessington 1 month on - Better bikes, better gear, better conditions!