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Pan Celtic Active Root - Ireland
Back in July, Active Root sponsored the inaugural Pan Celtic Race. Taking on some of Britains most scenic roads, the race route took on 1,476 miles and climbed 88,260ft. Having completed the Scotish leg of the route, Active Root Ambassador Toby Willis talks about part 2 of the journey - Ireland.
I take the opportunity to dry what kit I can underneath the hand driers in the gents toilets on the ferry from Scotland to the next leg, Ireland. The buzzing air is warm as it envelopes my wrinkled palms. I’m chaperoned by a cleaner with a mop following my every move as I leave a trail of puddles across the shiny floor. I find a plug socket and rid my wallet of all my change in the vending machines. It’s nice to take my shoes and socks off and give my feet some breathing space although I’m not sure the other passengers would agree. Other Clan members arrive in a similar condition and the crossing is filled with tales of woe, misfortune and pleasure. Those who travel have stories to tell.
Day 5 begins in the race’s second stage, Ireland. Exploring more Celtic lands and charm as the race unfolds further with each passing day. The weather promises to improve with only heavy showers forecast and intermittent sunshine. I indulge in a large breakfast and head north along the coast. The road is flat and hugs the shoreline as a rainbow dips across the road ahead. The smell of sea air again fills my lungs and I feel totally free as I eat up the miles early on.
It’s late morning when I reach Torr Head, the remarkable headland of the Causeway coast with its rugged limestone cliffs and insane inclines. Pitch by pitch the sharp climbs slice through my legs as the route rises and falls again and again. I’m riding with my bib shorts folded down to ease the pain of sores I’ve developed in the rains of Scotland.
The early morning rainfall fizzes in an eerie mist rising up from the scarred tarmac as dark clouds roll across the skyline. I push forward eating from my stem bag and drinking Active Root, passing through wild landscapes and into the afternoon.
I’ve passed Lee who despite pushing hard and riding fast has fallen ill and has had to call it a day. I feel a huge part of my race departs along with him. My emotions take control and my fight is now firmly against the negative thoughts that attempt to thwart my ride. I push the pedals and find a supermarket in a busy town where I take shelter from another shower and fuel the rest of my day.
It’s a long difficult day journeying through idyllic countryside as winds whip across the huge Lough Neagh keeping the horseflies at bay. Hours pass slowly as the afternoon light fades and I find myself riding along stunning rural paths enduring canals and into Newry. A cobbled road reminds me of the pains I’ve managed to mask all day long. The day is coming to a close as I head over the Ring of Gullion and I’m happy to be back amongst the mountains again as they bask in the sunset light with cooling air heading in from the coast. The descent is long allowing my legs an extended rest and my freehub screams with delight. It’s cold now and the sky is dark once more. I’m riding with Bryn from Llanberis and it’s nice to share his company as we talk about plans for the night and the day that awaits us tomorrow. I spot a pizzeria and slam on my brakes waving goodbye to Bryn. It’s past 11pm and the occupants give me funny looks. I’m asked if I’ve come far. A question asked on so many occasions and one that when answered leaves people speechless. I order a pizza and take two cans of fizzy pop before wheeling my bike inside and sitting in a corner to devour my reward. The kind folks offer me chips and I’m chuckling to myself as I find that they fit perfectly inside my stem bags allowing me to ride on with the joy of chippy chips and greasy fingers for the next few miles. A perfect end to a challenging day. I find a small community centre with a well lit car park and head around the back out of sight where I roll out my matt and sleeping bag and steal some sleep.
Day 6 shrieks into the life as crows squabble loudly in the early morning light and I rise quickly from my slumber. I nervously check MAProgress and see that Bryn and the ever closer Scoot are already on the move. Another race develops and I feel my motivation returning after yesterday’s loss.
I search for food and somewhere to brush my teeth and freshen my face before moving on to find a full Irish breakfast in a small cafe in Navan. I take my time and soak up the local atmosphere as people on first name basis come and go. I take stock of my needs and sort out my things ready to ride onto CP2 located in the Wicklow Mountains. The roads are never ending and at times I wonder if I’ll ever arrive. The horizon is flat and it plays on my mind.
After what feels like an eternity the roads begin to climb again and I move across valleys through narrow lanes. It feels as though I’ve stumbled into a lost world as the Wicklow Mountains now bear down on me and civilisation is left behind. I pass signs for Sally Gap and the wilderness welcomes my aching limbs. I grumble and complain as I’m enveloped in beauty I’m unable to enjoy and appreciate. I long for the checkpoint that continues to keep me waiting. The route is breathtaking and I should be revelling in what would normally be my element, but the truth is I feel done. It’s a dark place mentally and the harshness of the brutal climbs and high chilling winds are scarring my every move. Tree tops roll in every direction and this area of remote beauty tries its very best to lift my spirits but instead it seems to crush them as I pass a signpost for Glendalough and feel dejected with the realisation that it is still at least an hour away in my current condition.
Checkpoint 2 finally arrives as I see Tomàs with his camera in hand. I’m struggling to ride as I hold onto sandwiches I’ve just purchased down the road and I roll into the car park to a welcome from the team that lifts my weary spirits. I’m desperate for the rest and have some decisions to make. I’d originally planned to ride through the night and catch the early morning ferry from Rosslare to Fishguard but I decide to take an extended break. It gives Bryn and Scoot the advantage but at this point my only concern is to finish the race. It feels good to spend time with the rest of the team and Richard from Enigma who has travelled to help. We enjoy a few beers and I eat and rest and laugh and forget about my problems and soak up the atmosphere of a checkpoint for the second time.
Day 7. I leave the hostel and round the valley on a gravel track through heavenly dappled sunlight before I am led up and over another climb and the vast mountainscape that now surrounds me is seducing and mesmeric. I head for the coast on flowing roads punctuated by towns and villages as I travel to Rosslare and the second ferry crossing of the race. I’m in no rush at all even though I’m now finding myself being caught by more riders. It’s irrelevant as once again the race is neutralised by ferry times. It’s a welcome respite and I stop frequently to eat and rest. My knees are in pain and I worry about the route through Wales...