Recollections from a 1,200km cycle ride around the south-west of Ireland, June 2018
The Mile Failte is a 1200km audax radiating around the south west corner of Ireland from its base in Killarney.
Continued from Part I
It wasn’t long before I was back up the hill and sipping fine coffee and sumptuous cakes at the café overlooking Queen’s View. Already it was warm and the sky an aquamarine blue. Motoring and invariably overweight tourists vied for one of the few parking spaces, a passenger got out, a dumb photograph showing more car than view taken, before re-boarding and zipping off up the road. At times like this, as you take another slow slip of coffee and allow the sugar-coated pastry to linger a little longer on your appreciative tongue, you ponder on the plight of your fellow souls here on earth and wonder whether you haven’t been singled-out and blessed by an unseen force that led you to take to two pedals and place your hopes and dreams in the simplicity of the aesthetic and noble life of the bicycle traveller with no cares greater than a safe passage to the next control, a place to rest, and the company of like-minded companions.
My left-hand downshifter had been growing increasingly difficult to manoeuvre, and somewhere along that fine stretch of rugged road that leads to Dingle had become positively seized. Borrowing a screwdriver from a friendly chap at the Dingle Control, and using perhaps a little more force to release the offending lever than might have been absolutely necessary or wise, I was confronted with the uncomfortable realisation that I would be without the full range of my front-triple chainrings for some considerable miles to come. Selecting the small 28 chainring as my safest bet (at least until I had said farewell to the hills), I headed out towards Slea Head, legs spinning ten-to-the-dozed as the night began to set in. I’d had this small-ring issue once before – a pretty rare thing to happen – and discovered that far from tiring me out, it actually ensured that I span without too much effort and just conserved rather than expended energy (no grinding it along the flats or downhills – just rapidly spinning-out of gears and then freewheeling at a slowish pace down even the slightest downhill).
Of course, there were no downshifters to be had between Dingle and the end of the Mile Failte, but there were plenty of hills. And so completing the rest of the ride in my small front chainring was no problem at all. And even after the ride, as I set out back for England, there were no downshifters to be had in Killarney, or, so it initially seemed, in Mallow, where the trendy youthful staff in Pi Cycles looked slightly bemused when I pointed out the shafted shifter. Any other cycle shops nearby? Another blank. By accident I got slightly lost and headed south towards the River Blackwater (rather than north and west along the N72) where I chanced upon Cremin Cycles – a gem of a proper old-fashioned bike-shop that stocked, among other vintage components, cotter pins. I knew I was in safe hands and was quickly shown a cardboard box (circa 1970) brim full of assorted downshifters. I went wild and chose a double shifter which I soon had mounted in place and re-cabled. Happy days. With my large chainring back in action I verily coasted along towards Tallow where I was to spend the night, but not before 3 fine pints of Guinness in Mc Carthy’s bar.
But I digress, after Dingle left my left downshifter left dangling, and I’d rounded Slea Head with my legs going two to the dozen, I hit the bottom of Connor Pass. Night had well and truly fallen and unfortunately there was little to see but the road rising inexorably before me. I made the crest after watching a bunch of red lights slip out of view and then I was hit with a dose of the dozies. I made it down the other side gingerly, stopping once or twice to gather my concentration, before finding a pleasant patch of turf on the left-hand side of the road. Somewhere a dog barked, but I was too tired to care when I slipped off into a roadside reverie. Still dark and gathering my thoughts I saw a cyclist approach me from the direction of Connor Pass and was soon introducing myself to x, who had taken the precaution of booking a room in Tralee. My guts told me that the use of a bathroom would be most welcome and I asked if I could avail myself of the facilities to ease myself of a heavy load. Being a good Irish fellow, he was happy enough for me to do some serious damage to the water-closet and a welcome wash. Sometimes there is nothing that can beat a good solid shite to lift the spirits and help to keep the pedals spinning. This got me on my way again until I reached Knocknagashel where I decided to take a very short rest before heading south again to Killarney. It was some ridiculous small hour in the morning when I lay my head on the pillow. I’d already decided that I was going to allow myself a decent sleep as I had plenty of time in hand and needed to get a decent rest before my ride back to Oxford.
The last loop was the shortest – just 100km – and yet in some ways it was also the toughest. After arriving back from the Dingle loop I calculated that I could have a pretty decent few hours sleep before completing the last miles of the Mile Failte. More importantly, by setting off later in the day it would be possible to escape the worst of the heat. By now the land was getting scorched by temperatures more common in the south of Spain or France and the cumulative baking was beginning to take its toll on the majority of riders. To add to the stifling heat was a series of ramps that made me glad to have only the small chainring to spin in. On the outskirts of Currow is the statue of a bicycle. I pulled over to take a pic of it and as I did so saw a familiar VW Beetle with Paul’s friendly face leaning out of the window. All good thanks. The last few riders were still completing the third loop. Wow! I thought. Wishing them well and then into Currow where there was a photo control and shop well stocked with ice-creams and cold coke, which was essentially survival equipment in this heat. Onward to Kanturk control where overheated and exhausted bodies slumped and rehydrated in the late afternoon heat. The N72 offered the opportunity to cruise along a relatively smooth and rolling surface with some cooler air towards the welcome arrivee, in addition to checking out my exit route east the following day (Kate’s Café at Barraduff noted), where I would see the pale green Beetle pass me for the last time – a welcome arm waving out of the window. Farewell fair green isle, until the next time.