Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Saturday, 21 June 2014

A Sensa Pace - Rosslare to Dublin with Brian Attley

Well, this was one of those crazy ideas that was exciting at the time, but one that I never thought I would follow through with! When I had been back in Ireland on the bike for  the Easter holidays, I had visited my friend Sabrina for dinner. During our catch up session she told me she was planning on having some kind of 30th celebration at her house on the 21st of June, and of course I had said I would do my best to make it. It also made sense to come back that weekend as my sisters birthday was on the 23rd and my mother's birthday the following week, so I thought it would be nice to drop into Inistioge on this weekend too.

Only when I was back in Wales a week later did I start thinking about how exactly I would do this. Would I get ferry over on the Friday, get picked up in Rosslare by the parents stay overnight in Inistioge, get bus to Dublin early Saturday, leave my stuff in Lucan, wonder how the hell I was going to get back there post party, and try and do the reverse of that whole journey the next day? Or maybe get the train from Rosslare to Dublin directly (presuming the ferry and train matched up, which they generally didn't),  find a friends place to stay and head back the next day? This was a better option but pretty expensive with trains and all. The option was simple - I was going to cycle there! Not only was it a great money saver, but I'm always looking for an excuse for a long cycle!

So this was all still a bit of a vague plan. I knew Rosslare was quite a bit further from Dublin than Inistioge was, so I started to think outside the box a bit - if I arranged to stay at my sister's place in Saggart, on the outskirts of Dublin, that would cut down the cycling distance for me. I plotted a route - if I went via Wexford to Enniscorthy, I would find myself on the N80 which leads to the very familiar N81 which leads straight into Dublin and within 2km of Saggart. I checked the distance - 146km! All of a sudden this seemed a bit more feasible, but still felt a bit longwinded. I even thought about maybe posting whatever clothes I needed for the weekend to my sister, so I could cycle without luggage on the Sensa!

I put this to the side for a bit - I had a few things going on that month, and had moved house, so I didn't really think about it for a month or so. As a result of my busy-ness, money was really tight for me so I really held off on making any firm decisions on anything for a long while. I needed more motivation.

Then I had a thought, what if I got some people along for the ride? I really wasn't sure who I would ask - after all a 150km is not that appealing to most. I thought about JJ and Brian Attley - I had obviously cycled quite a few long cycles with JJ, and Brian's family have a place in Rosslare, and would both be at this party so it made perfect sense! As it happens, JJ crashed and wrecked his bike pretty much the week I thought of this, so I resorted to only asking Brian.

The plan would be that he would get the train down to Rosslare after work on Friday and stay overnight. Meanwhile I would get the ferry at 3am, (this was the 'affordable way' with Megabus), arrive in Rosslare at 6.45am, rendezvous at Brian's place and embark on our big adventure. Exciting! When I contacted him, he was recovering from a virus, but in principal was up for it. We were about 3 weeks away at this stage, so things were looking up.

I couldn't commit to a decision until REALLY late though. I had moved into my new place a week before the term in my old place was up, and the estate agents were really taking their sweet time giving me my deposit back. Because I had obviously had to give a deposit to my new landlord I was essentially broke! I waited and waited, and only due to the fact that I got paid a week early as the director was going on holiday (thank you cycling gods!!), I just about managed to book my ferry on the Thursday, two days before our planned trip - finally it was all systems go!

One or two little things subtly changed in my plans over the course of these 3 weeks of deliberating. My sister was not going to be in Ireland the weekend of the cycle, so instead of staying in Saggart I would be staying in Brian's place in Clontarf which made more sense. I didn't really think about at the time, as there was plenty of other things to be thinking about but this meant that that the distance would be closer to 170km instead of 146km. Also as I had left it so late, I didn't have the time for the 'mail my clothes' plan and so would be taking the hybrid instead of my Sensa, and would be taking some luggage as opposed to well, nothing! This really didn't sink in until I had finally booked my ferry. Ah sure it was going to be grand. One thing in the my favour, was the weather forecast, which predicted a smashing weekend ahead.

So Friday was a busy day. 1st of all i managed to get a pretty good pair of bib shorts second hand froman advertisement I saw on facebook. I had been looking for bib shorts for months, but even on deals I couldn't find anything less than £60 - here I got the shorts as well as a jersey for £25 combined! It may have been something to do with the fact it was a Team Discovery Kit (Lance Armstrongs old team), but I didn't care. Bargain!
After work I needed to get everything ready by the evening so I could get a nap in before heading to the ferry at 2am.  This involved giving the bike a thorough clean and oil, trying to pack everything I thought I needed for the weekend into one pannier (in the end I couldn't avoid absolutely stuffing it), and doing my stretching routine and a bit of a session on the foam roller.  The last bit was crucial - I had burst a massive blister on my foot running on grass earlier in the week, and whatever compensation I had made to my stride had caused my calf muscles to be in an awful state! In any case, all this preparation seemed to take ages, mainly because after a busy day in work I was a bit all over the place and instead of doing one task at a time, I seemed to be running around in circles doing all tasks in tandem! All of this meant that by the time I got to bed at 9 o clock, my mind was racing and I couldn't get to sleep at all. By the time my alarm had went off at 1am, I'd say I was lucky if I had managed an hour of shuteye.

There is something quite nice about night time cycling (once you have a good enough headlight) and I really enjoyed the short 20 minute trip to Pembroke Dock, despite the cold. After my usual negotiations with Irish Ferry to get my bike on for free (and by sheer jamminess also getting into the Club Class Lounge for free!), I managed to nab a blanket and get a whopping 2 hours of sleep in. It probably would have been a bit more if it was not for the sudden brightness brought on by sunrise at half past 4. I didn't mind though - it was pretty spectacular and it was going to be a lovely day. There was no point in trying to get more sleep in at that stage - I fashioned a sort of breakfast from the complimentary food available, plotted my route to Brian's place and just enjoyed the rest of what was a pretty smooth sailing.

4.30am Sunrise in the Irish Sea
Coming off the ferry at 6.45am on the bike was pretty liberating, it's a nice way to arrive in any country! No time for stopping though, I pushed on and was at Brian's place by 7.10am. I was surprised to see a car parked outside - had he not got the train down? I was trying to figure out the logistics of driving down and cycling back when I realised what was going on. Brian's mother had driven him down, was going to stay the weekend, and bring his stuff back the following day. This all made perfect sense of course, but had one major implication - he was going to be cycling without any luggage! In fairness, Brian's mum offered to take my luggage too, but I needed most of it that night. Either way I didn't dwell on this too much, Brian holds a good touring pace, so I was confident (at the time) that it wouldn't be a problem.

All that aside, I finally got to see Brian's Sensa cyclocross bike, which I had helped him get earlier in the year through my contact in work. It was a lovely looking bike! Also Brian had made a simple but ingenious 'old-school sat-nav' - basically a laminated sheet to be stuck on the crossbar which had had all our destinations and total distances to each. In between each destination was the road number and intermediate distance between each destination. All the information you could ever need! Definitely an idea to bring forward to future cycles.

Satnav - Old School
So after getting ready etc (crucially I put some sun-block on to avoid being burnt to a crisp) we were back on the road by 8am. The plan was to cycle the main road to Wexford and then onto Gorey via the R741.  We would be stopping there at the house of fellow Cicloturisto Paul O Brien, for a some scones. Then onto Greystones via Arklow, Brittas Bay and Wicklow. Here we would have some lunch before the final stretch to Dublin via Bray and Blackrock. Simples!

Wexford was lot further away than I thought it would be! In my head it was just around the corner from Rosslare, but it took the guts of an hour to get there, and the main road was not too rewarding scenery wise. I suppose it wasn't that far, maybe my unfamiliarity with the roads was already playing it's part in my experience of cycling them. Also, I also got a sense that my effort levels were slightly harder than I would have liked them to be keeping up with Brian on his pannierless bike. It's not like it was a challenge or anything, but I did have a concern it would be unsustainable over 170km! I didn't say anything though - a part of me thought my legs would warm-up and I would find the pace more manageable, the other part took it on as a training challenge

Wexford was a lovely place to cycle through in the early morning sunshine. Cycling along the quays and then across the bridge at the town centre, you get the full experience of cycling along the Wexford estuary. I think I just like cycling along rivers and coastlines generally. The roads closed in quickly enough after leaving, and soon enough it was all about getting we were going again.

The roads were very samey, but the scenery was still very pleasant - a series of rolling fields and very lush and very green landscape. Castlebridge was a nice little place to cycle through, with some well preserved mill buildings well presented by the sunshine. That said, there wasn't a huge amount of towns on this route to break up the samey roads and give an impression of progress. Even though it was written on my destination sheet, I completely underestimated the time it would take to get to Gorey. In my head it was 40km from Rosslare, when in reality it was actually more like 60km (or 70km,including my trip from the ferry!). Other factors where starting to come into play too. As the morning I heated up I was starting to sweat a bit, and a LOT of sun lotion had been sweated into my left eye - this was a real nuisance made the next 20km seem like a lot more.  Another thing was my effort levels - with 50km behind me now (Brian had done 40km), the slightly elevated pace was beginning to take it's toll. I was fine keeping up on the flats and downhills (I even tried to lead a few times, just to be polite), but on even the slightest incline, Brian was pulling away from me effortlessly on the lighter bike. This resulted in me putting in even more effort to catch up when the roads got flat again. I have no problem saying I drafted Brian shamelessly for big portions of this cycle!

Finally we got to Gorey, but we still had a bit of a hill to climb to get to Paul's house. Ordinarily this hill would be no big deal, but my left eye was stinging like crazy, and my 'uphill cycling muscles' had signed out for the day. All in all, I felt a lot more out of sorts than I wanted to be by the time I got to Paul's place!

This was a very welcome break for me. I think Brian had been going at quite a manageable pace (I don't think he was pushing it at all), but the weight difference in the bikes had definitely taken it's toll. I washed my eye out, but it was still quite bloodshot and stinging a bit.

Paul played the role of host very well, with scones and jam and nutella on offer, as well as jam donuts, coffee and tea. I think I had a jam scone, a nutella scone, 2 jam donuts, a coffee and an espresso! This combined with my complimentary food breakfast 5 hours earlier meant I was probably at about 1million % my RDA of sugar, but I didn't really care. When you've only slept 3 hours, have cycled 70km and know you still have 100km to go, these considerations go out the window! It was nice to chill out there on the terrace with Paul and his family, who were recovering from some birthday celebrations the night before. I certainly was in no rush to go anywhere any time soon!

Also it was my first time meeting Paul, who was experiencing the buzz of getting into cycling I had experienced a couple of years previously. I had only been in touch previously by offering advice through the Cicloturismo facebook page, and sharing this very blog. It's been nice seeing someone getting some benefit from reading about my experiences - by writing these blog entries, I'm well aware that I could have done with some advice when I was starting out!

Anyways, we chilled out there for a good hour before we decided we needed to head on, at about 12 o clock. One of the downsides of going on a long cycle like this to get to an event on the other side, was that it added a sense of urgency that otherwise would not have been there. Either way it was probably good to get going again, before the legs completely cooled down. We refilled water bottles etc and I put on a sweatband to minimise any further stingy eyes, and away we went.

Leaving Paul's place, refueled and ready for another 100km!

The way back out of Gorey was nice and down hill but turned out to be pretty frustrating as the roads were jammed pack with crawling traffic. About a kilometre or two outside of Gorey we discovered a possible reason why. A long trail of cyclists in illuminous orange jerseys with a motor escort - it was the Cycle Against Suicide! As they were going at a pace to suit all levels, we overtook them steadily and easily, about 200-400 cyclists in total. It was great to see so many people out on their bikes for such a good cause. After we got ahead of the whole group, the next 20km was quite amusing, with photographers dotted every couple of kilometres taking pictures of us like we were part of the group! There was a possibility we'd be in the papers the next day, but glad it didn't turn out that way.

Well maybe it was the break, or maybe it was all the media attention, but I was feeling a lot better on the bike and was holding pace a lot better again (though I'm not sure that Nutella scone was such a good idea, my stomach was starting to feel pretty unsettled!). We worked down the km steadily to Arklow (90km done now) and it was nice to see glimpses of the Irish sea again, though the main st through Arklow town centre was packed with traffic too. It must have been people getting to the beach or something.

Just outside the town centre we turned right onto the Sea Road, and needless to say the roads started to feel a lot more scenic again. The road got a bit more lumpy here too, with little climbs leading to little descents. It was at this point that I realised my legs were not going to get any better on the inclines as this cycle continued. I think if I had been cycling on my own, even in this state, I wouldn't have found any problem with this - I think it was just demoralising to see Brian pulling away so easily on the climbs and I felt obliged to keep up!

I quickly forgot about all of this though when we started to approach Brittas Bay. Coming to the top of a small hill, this fantastic view opened out to us of the 5km crescent of Brittas beach. Over the next half hour or so, we were cycling on roads between the dunes, with occasional gaps affording us select glimpses to parts of the beach again. It was very pleasant altogether and made me forget all about distances and deadlines - it was just nice to be cycling there and then.

Unfortunatley shortly after Brittas we found ourselves on pretty hilly roads and I found myself struggling, and thinking about distances and deadlines again! Nothing makes cycling seem longer than just counting down km to a destination - I'm sure if there was a bit more scenery I would've found this section more manageable!

We had a pleasant surprise when we came to the Wicklow bypass - very good quality double lane cycle ways on each side of the road, which took us right around Wicklow to the other side. It was really surprising to see such a high quality amenity for cyclists here - more of that please! At this stage we had Greystones in our sights, 'only 30km' away. Soon we could stop for some lunch, or in an hour and a half to be more precise! The road was quite winding and sheltered by trees, and I'm sure it would have been lovely to do this section on a smaller 40km cycle, but I just wanted to get through this. My legs were starting to feel really fatigued now, and this hour and a half, felt more like 3 hours. I could not get to Greystones soon enough! As if to highlight my urgency, hunger hit me like a kick to the stomach when we were only 2 km away. Come on Greystones, where were you?!

When we finally got to Greystones, it was disappointing to see that the main town was blocked from the sea by the railway line. Not that this was news or anything, I'm pretty sure it was always like that, but me and Brian were so hungry at this stage that we weren't in the mood to see if there was somewhere to eat on the other side of railway with a view to the sea, which was a shame in hindsight. In the end we settled for an italian sandwich bar, which had street seating, in the shade. This was perfectly fine by us, though we found ourselves moving our table into the sunshine when we cooled down. In the end we could have sat or ate anywhere - we were fit to eat anything, and we inhaled whatever was put in front of us.

Then we had to make a little route alteration. I thought we were going to be taking the relatively flat coastal path to Bray from here, but we decided that Brian's tires weren't exactly suitable so we would have to cycle over Bray Head.  This represented a much bigger climb than all the little climbs I had struggled with so far today, so I was not looking forward to this too much at all. Ultimately I figured it would be mostly downhill or flat on the other side as we came into Dublin Bay, so I would just have to suck it up and do it!

The climb out of Greystones was not very enjoyable, but not as bad as I thought it would be. I think I just accepted that Brian would be getting away from me and cycled at my own pace, working down the gears. It wasn't that the climb was steep, it just felt really long, but it was a great feeling to get to the top, take in the view of the Sugar Loaf and start the descent on the other side. The descent was lovely and took us right into Bray. It was around here that I realised I hadn't been replacing my salts very well, as it became clear that my motor skills were not as reliable as they once were. The first clue to this was meaning to change the gear with my thumb and instead jamming on the front brakes with my fingers and nearly going arse over tit! It was the one time on the trip I was thankful to have a heavy pannier on the back of my bike!

The sprawl of Bray blended into the sprawl of Dublin, and we were on pretty samey subarban through-roads for a long stretch until we hit the coast just after Dun Laoghaire. My right knee had really started to seize up along this stretch, but it was such a great feeling to see the twin chimneys of Poolbeg overlooking Dublin Bay, I almost forgot about it. We were on the home strait now, and I no longer cared how long it would take. I did have another motor skills fail where I couldn't make my left hand decide if it wanted to indicate left or wave to a van that was allowing me to turn left. This was weird and worrying, but we were nearly home now! It was nice to be cycling on the flat, nice to be in familiar territory. We worked our way up the quays, crossed the Liffey at the East Link bridge and within 15 minutes we were at Brian's place in Clontarf at 5.30pm. 170km done in 7 hours and 24 minutes of cycling, my longest ever cycle by 15km, my longest cycle on a bike with a pannier by 25km! Boom.

Route & Stats [clickable link]

We had some beers and chilled out watching the World Cup, and even went to the chipper before heading to Sabrina's. I think we were fully justified in this! Strangely enough though I wasn't drinking terribly fast on the night and didn't have that much of an appetite (this is a strange thing for me, even if I haven't been cycling all day!), except for a few small cravings for munchies towards the end of the night. I was becoming aware of the stiffness in my right knee again, and wondered (probably aloud, quite possibly a few times) how the hell I was going to manage another 145km in the morning. Brian said he would cycle with me to Tallaght which I thought was great, so I just enjoyed the rest of the night.

Tomorrow was going to be a long day!