There’s vehicle trouble in the belly of the ship but this isn’t the Titanic and sadly Leo D isn’t getting hot and steamy with a certain Miss Winslet on the back seat of a Rolls. However, a new chapter is being written into Belfast’s rich maritime history courtesy of the Welsh Embassy and it’s associated diplomats. The camper sits abandoned on an otherwise empty car deck, its occupants lost somewhere in a sea of inebriated Jocks migrating for the glorious twelfth. When Matt and co finally run across the deck the gentleman in charge of disembarkation is livid. He scolds Tomas who is once again captivated by my natural aura in front of the lens and Chief Ambassador Mally briefly debates the matter before wisely claiming the diplomatic immunity afforded by the van. But it is the Welsh Embassy has the final word in this brief bi-national spat as it unleashes a defiant symphony of horns and sirens. I spectate, maintaining Swiss like neutrality until the last. Otherwise, how else could I report with such nuance and authority from the field?
As I roll off the ferry behind the only caravan I’ve ever considered not to be “total and utter wankers”, I’m entering familiar territory. I’m home, or about 3 miles away to be precise. 3 miles to my bed, to my bath, to my toilet. Who needs that life? I turn hard to starboard onto the Shore Road and embark on Stage 2 of the PanCeltic Race.
The first part, like most parts of the Irish leg, is known to me and it’s lovely. The coast road is flat and there isn’t a headwind for a change. Sick already of my Irish playlist which I had naughtily unleashed a day early, I listen instead to a highbrow discussion between Sebastian Faulks and Elizabeth Day on ‘How to Fail’. So in awe of my own elevation to the upper echelons of podcast intelligentsia I forget whats coming. Torr Head. Awful awful Torr Head. It’s two years since I rode the Titanic Torr Audax and after suffering up its namesake that day, I have subsequently made every effort to avoid that particular stretch of road. Put simply, it’s a pig.
It starts raining on the climb out of Cushendell. At the top of this smaller climb a gentleman in trainers on a road bike warns me it gets just a touch hillier if I continue on my current bearing. “AND WHAT BRUV??” I scream aggressively in his face. I’m joking of course, I flash him a wry smile and continue on my predetermined and unavoidable course. By the time I descend into Cushendun at the foot of the Torr its pissing down. There are veritable rivers running down the road towards me, monsoon conditions. Search and rescue has been scrambled for less. Fuck this. I stop under a tree belligerently believing I can see this out. 15 minutes later I run out of skittles and acknowledge the folly of this and reluctantly accept my fate. The rain does not relent and as I torque my way up the unwavering gradient my Achilles are at breaking point. As I write this in December I am only just getting back on to my bike following a fucking horrorshow of an Achilles issue. I hold Torr Head 32% accountable (see Wales for the other 68%).
I erase the misery of Torr Head from my mind as I sweep downhill on the lovely road that leads towards the north coast, resolving that that was the last time I will ever ride Torr head. Just prior to Bushmills I’m joined by the one and only Neil Lauder , which is a pleasant surprise. Now this particular psychopath was knocked off his bike in Scotland and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that when I met him he looked in clip. Thing is though, he’s one hard bastard and despite having to cede the front of the race was continuing with ferocity. Much respect due here. Neil showed me his Wahoo, the innards of which had been melted by a dodgy power supply in a 5* Northern Irish hotel. However, like all the shit Neil faced, he bats it off with a tirade of profanity which is very much speaking my language. We part ways a short while later as it’s time for me to slide a battered sausage down my gullet.
In Bushmills I deepthroat said sausage and consume a bag of chips to boot. I charge some stuff and buy a cheap tabloid to stuff down my jersey as I’m damp again and getting chilly. I set off into the night and carry on until I’m unable to continue and begin looking for a bivvy spot. I find an old church but there’s not much shelter from the drizzle so continue on to my final destination; a garden centre car park. There is an awning and no security cameras or lights. Ideal. I kip well.
Next morning my arse is in rag state due to the damp of the day before. It needs attention. Also my phone has no battery as the cable has quit on me, the fucking coward. I point my nose towards Ballymena which is well provisioned. First stop Asda and an immaculate disabled toilet. I achieve an angle in the mirror which allows a full and detailed assessment of the damage below. I clean and apply sudocrem liberally. Ever since TCRNo6 I love the smell of sudocrem in the morning, and often whilst riding I will waft my hands across the front of my face to get a whiff. With my perversions sated for the day I buy a new charging cable and head to Maccas, where I realise I have the wrong cable and have discarded the receipt. I return and luckily I had already bored the Asda man with my Panceltic tale so he swapped without much hassle. Thanks fella.
Not much else happened for a while because I know this part of Northern Ireland quite well so I switched off and just got it done. In Newry I bumped into my chief rival David, who as usual was one step ahead of me and had already eaten. Quick climb later and we’re into the ROI. This is exciting. It’s exciting because my girlfriend lives in Dublin. You misunderstand naturally, I’m not going to see her, that would be against the rules and I’m a stickler for the rules. No, I’m excited because we have developed a passion for Ireland’s prime culinary institution. Ireland is the home of the Centra deli, of fat filled baguettes and bulging bellies. I won’t describe every baguette I ate because it’d take too long, and the content would be too emotive. Just trust me.
Later in the day I bump into David and the gypsy traveller Rupert again. David is pretty fucked by the look of it. Rupert is embracing life in the back of a van, and gets a few snaps of me. I can only assume he’ll put them up above his makeshift bed, probably just next to his Chris Pitbaldo shrine.
I’m in a bit of a quandry. I want to make the ferry tomorrow. I wont make the morning one. I may make the evening one but I’m not sure how to do it. Long story short I decide to stop in a B&B at 1600 and return to the road between 2100 and 2200 and do the stretch to CP2 and the ferry in an overnight and day stint.
I book a B&B in a town whose name escapes me and head on down. I attend the local centra and get myself a delicious centra deli sandwhich. Ham coleslaw and cheese is a particular fave. Then I go to the B&B where I am abruptly told over an intercom to go round the back and through the gate. I go round the back and through a gate. I’m considerate so I shut the gate behind me. I’m now in a small alley full of bins, bit of a shithole this place eh? There aren’t any doors. Eh? The penny drops and I spin to open the gate which has helpfully locked. Ballbag. I put my hands through the gaps and paw at the air. I look like I’m trying to escape the asylum and passers by wisely avoid eye contact. I call the B&B and explain I’ve put myself in jail, essentially sectioned myself for taking this nonsense on. The proprietor ponders on this a little longer than I’d like. “I suppose you want me to come and get you out do you?” It’s that or you’re going to have to spoon me weetabix through the metal bars, your shout big lad. He appears and looks at me, I look back forlornly and say something I think is amusing. I receive a blank stare in return before he disappears next door and gets a local shop owner to release me from my cage. The guy tells me the code sharply like I should know it, like it was an obvious one, “ah yeah of course” I mutter. Tosser.
Out of prison and into my room I follow the usual eat shower dry collapse procedure. He’s made me leave my bike in the courtyard so I have Nadine monitoring the tracker with instructions to call me if it moves before I text her. Someones getting naked rugby tackled if it does. (I’m not sure if that’s a rule breach? I think it’s a sensible way to avoid bike theft but I’m willing to be reprimanded).
After a couple hours kip I departed into the late evening sun and continued my journey south. Shortly after sunset I passed the neolithic monument at Newgrange, which lit up in the heavy dusk gave cause for me to stop momentarily to take in the silence of the evening and contemplate the hours ahead of me.
Later I pass David sat slumped on a garage forecourt. He is alive and merely resting, as you do. I move on, stopping now would be fatal.
The rest of the evening is broken up by intermittent stops to clean my drive train which I assume is the cause behind my bike randomly slowing down (It isn’t I don’t discover until after the race what it was causing this infuriating deceleration). This rather annoyingly is an issue that will plague my for the rest of the race, but more on that later. I stop at 24 hour garage in the early hours for Red Bull and a sandwich. The shop worker questions where I’m off to at this hour. When I respond “the Wicklows” he looks at me like I’m a fucking headcase. The random scruff behind me buying king skins is clearly more relate-able.
The most eventful moment of the night comes in the form of a bat flying plumb into my face, which scares the fuck out of me. And then it’s dawn and I’m on the early slopes of the Wicklows. I know the Wicklows and I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately there was low cloud covering most of the views. But I know, I know whats there I smugly think to myself. The one view I am afforded is of Lough Tay and that alone is enough, because it’s stunning and it satisfies my greedy gluttonous demand for exceptional vistas.
A bit off gravel follows, followed by the final climb and the inevitable hurricane force winds at the top. I roll down into CP2 somewhat bedraggled but in excellent position to make the ferry. CP2 is characterised by the soothing soundbites of wisdom gently emanating from the long haired Buddha, Pete Borlace. Man that fucker chills me out, and it’s much appreciated. Otherwise I would have tear arsed in and out but there was no need and after he has a chat to me I stop for a brew. I also apply some salve to my hand which has swollen up like a water filled johnny, there’s an insect out there with a sense of humour clearly.
The rest of the day and Ireland is relatively uneventful. The road between the Wicklows and Rosslare is fucking horrendous. As much as Pete was a Welsh Shaman in the Irish Himalayas, he was also a fucking liar. He said this stretch was easy, but it wasn’t it was brutal. Incessant ups and downs into a head wind on busy roads with a malfunctioning bike. It was a truly miserable experience and I’m glad to be done with it. I pop into a bike shop in Wexford, lovely guys but they can’t diagnose my problem which I appreciate I do not explain well. I buy some chain lube off them, I don’t know what I think it’s going to do but I’ve got 3 bottles now. Enough for some sort of depraved bicycle gang bang on the boat if nothing else.
The ferry is great despite the lack of interest in my oily orgy. David makes it by the skin of his teeth and joins me, Neil, Jez, Toni, Kate, Alex, Will, Mick and Kate. We have a few Guinness which go down an absolute treat. For a few hours that corner of the ferry becomes home to smells and germs not seen outside of military grade labs. And as we slept in our cloud of filth you could be forgiven for thinking the hardest part was over, the final leg was the shortest after all. Well if those thoughts have crossed your mind then banish them. Lobotomise yourself, for your senses have failed you. All kinds of fuckery were waiting on the other side of the Irish sea. Sleep well pretties, sleep well (because you’re all fucked).