Cycle for Carolyn
The health of a friend has recently deteriorated severely. Not only that, but due to the nature of healthcare in the United States, she is facing catastrophic medical bills. As if that weren’t enough, her husband is suffering from leukemia.
When I heard about all of this, and coupled with some bad news from closer to home, I knew I needed to do something to help Carolyn out, and to help my brain out a bit too.
With that, I decided to hit the road, on a 320km cycle, from Kilkenny to Portlaoise, to Limerick, to Carrick-on-Suir, to Portlaw, and back to Kilkenny. The route was one I had in the back of my head for a while, so I could call into my siblings for a chat and a cuppa as I pottered around the country. The timetable for the spin was just accelerated by a month or so.
To make sure I was all in on this I created a GoFundMe campaign before discussing it with anyone. I couldn’t really back out once I had the campaign page ready.
Without much consultation I put together a route plan for the trip and shared it with my family. They have things to do in their lives too, and I didn’t want to put anyone out, after all I was the one who decided to do this, so I should have been prepared to do it on my own. But, (you knew there was a but, right?) they all agreed to my itinerary and that was that, all systems go.
Chapter 0 – The Preparation
Fail to prepare, prepare to look like an idiot!
The first thing on the agenda was to make sure the bike was in a healthy state. It was in grand shape, but I thought some new rubber would be prudent as I wanted to limit the risk of punctures.
Then it was time to get the inventory sorted. I packed all of the spare clothes and supplies I needed into a box, which was going to be passed between the support vehicles. You can check out my Inventory List to see how over the top I went on this one.
On Friday, Olivia (my wife) and my two kids brought the box, wheels, water, and pump to base camp in Portlaoise, as Kevin (my brother) was going to be first on the road to support me.
I was up at 04:30 on Saturday morning, and I planned to be on the road at 05:00. This wasn’t a good start &emdash; I’m slow to get going (even though I had everything laid out). I put in my lenses and got half-dressed and ate a massive bowl of Flavahan’s (Hon the Deise) porridge with Highbank Orchard Apple Syrup. Quick toilet visit (always before the bib shorts go on!), got dressed, all ready - time 05:15. Told you I’m slow.
Chapter 1 – Kilkenny to Mountrath
Kilkenny - Durrow 25k Durrow - Abbeyleix 10k Abbeyleix - Portlaoise 15k Portlaoise - Mountrath 12k
It was a dull mild morning as I set off on the Kilkenny Ring Road. The forecast was for South/South-West winds, so I had expected a pleasant opening stint up to Portlaoise at least. Got to the crest of the hill near the Golf Club and was hit with a headwind. I wasn’t best pleased. If things stayed this way, my trip from Limerick to Portlaw could be tougher than I thought.
I pedalled on through the quiet countryside. The odd car and the frequent Glanbia lorry (milk tanker), the only traffic on the road.
The rain started before Ballyragget, and I was a bit bothered as my overshoes were in the supply box. I hate having wet feet, but luckily the rain had stopped by the time I was pulling into Durrow. I met two lads there who must have been sleeping something off because there was no budging them.
Onwards up the N77 towards Abbeyleix and the day had brightened and the wind had dropped so I was happy out. Abbeyleix, like Durrow before it, was asleep. The only sign of life was Pat the Baker waiting for SuperValu to open. He gave me a look of “What the hell are you doing cycling at this hour of the morning?". I smiled and accepted the green traffic light. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever passed through Abbeyleix without stopping at those lights.
After Abbeyleix, the road was quiet, and the surface good, so I rolled up to Portlaoise feeling boss.
Time to turn South West, and head into the wind. In my mind this was going to be the toughest part of the day. I didn’t know what would happen to my legs after about 180k, I presumed they’d be grand but I didn’t know. Even if they were less than good, I was thinking of that lovely tail wind that would push me from Limerick to Portlaw.
It’s a short stretch from Portlaoise to Mountrath, and even though I felt the wind, it wasn’t very strong. About half-way to Mountrath I passed a man who I would guess was nearly in his sixties, running along without a bother. I was going up a tiny rise in the road and thought that he looked fresher than I felt. Shut up brain! Onwards.
I was about 20 metres from the petrol station in Mountrath, when bang on schedule, Kevin pulled up alongside in the car, roaring “Allez allez allez” at me. A big smile on my face, a brief rude hand gesture, and the day had officially begun.
It was getting a bit warmer, so I ditched the long sleeve jersey and put on a lighter one, and refilled the bottle. The petrol station in Mountrath is much more modern than the last time I visited, which surprised me as the Limerick traffic now bypasses the town. We spoke rubbish for a while (did you know there’s a 24 hour outdoor laundrette in Mountrath!) and then it was time to hit the road again.
Oh, and normal service was resumed as the traffic light greeted me with a big beaming red face. I still haven’t made it through there without stopping. Life Goal #394.
Chapter 2 – Mountrath to Birdhill
Mountrath - Borris-in-Ossary 13k Borris-in-Ossary - Moneygall 28k Moneygall - Dolla 17k Dolla - Birdhill 19k
The next bit wasn’t so bad. The wind wasn’t very strong, but the sky was getting sweaty and heavy, and the rain started falling. Kevin came back with my rain jacket, and I forgot to put on my overshoes again. I laughed at my incompetence and cycled away. The rain stopped shortly after so it was no big deal, but there was no sign of Kevin. What the hell had happened to him? I pulled in at Roscrea to see what the story was. He pulled in as I was going to call him.
Heh! He was updating people on the state of affairs, as people were very bothered about me it seems. Phone calls, texts, smoke signals. It must have seemed like a work day in the office for him.
The ring road in Roscrea wasn’t nice to cycle on, the road is heavy, and it felt way harder than it should do. It gave me the impression it was downhill, but it didn’t seem that way. I wanted as much free distance as I could get.
At the last roundabout on the ring road, I took the first exit, signposted for Obamaland (Moneygall). First bad moment of the day.
The hard shoulder is horrible to cycle on, shaking seven shades of sh– poo out of me. So I would keep checking for traffic, none coming, swing out onto the road. I snaked that way into a horrible headwind towards Moneygall.
On the opposite side of the road, a group of around ten cyclists went flying past me. I was jealous of the invisible hand pushing them, but consoled myself with the thoughts of turning South East later on.
Saw Kevin pulled in at Moneygall, and thought I’d have a wee chat. It was just 10am and we shook our heads in bemusement at tourists getting their photos taken in front of the Obama Plaza sign. We also discussed staging a photo of my bike up on a fence and me face planted in the field, but decided it would take too long to do.
Crack on, next up – Toomevara and then we’d swing off the main road to avoid Nenagh. I’ve nothing against Nenagh (The Home of Supermarketing), but the new road layout is a pain (if you’re not using the motorway).
Sped along here without issue, and the road from Toomevara to Dolla is lovely, going along the side of the Silvermines. All going good. We’d a quick review of how manky energy gels are (I had a Mojito one which was horrible) and then studied the map for the final stretch to Birdhill. It looked grand.
Passing through Silvermines, the hills hadn’t rinsed their cloud shampoo yet, and the roads felt damp and a bit foreboding. Well less than foreboding, maybe just sulking because the clouds and mist were stopping the sun from shining on them.
The roads now took a turn for the worst, and this stretch was much longer than I anticipated. Even when I eventually swung onto the R445 (the old Dublin Road) it was further than I thought to get to Birdhill where Cathy (my sister) was waiting. I’d sent Kevin up the road to keep her company as we were a good bit behind schedule at this stage.
I pulled into the car park opposite Matt the Thresher’s to Kevin clapping and Cathy raising an inflatable Olympic flame. Funny folk, eh! Haha.
Cathy then produced a warm chicken and cheese roll, and a chococlate cookie the size of my face. Washed that down with a can of Cola-cola (someone in my childhood called it that and it’s stuck with me).
We’d around 130km done at this stage, averaged about 25kph and everything was going as well as it could really. I wasn’t trying to go fast as the most important thing was just to get it done. So I was keeping an eye on the heart-rate and trying to keep it around the 140bpm level, and dialling it back if I went over 160.
I bid a fond farewell to Kevin, who even gave up his afternoon nap and everything!
Chapter 3 – Birdhill to Golden
Birdhill - Ballysimon 19k Ballysimon - Cappamore 18k Cappamore - Cappwhite 23k Cappwhite - Dundrum 10k (R505) Dundrum - Golden 10k
It was around 12:15 when we set off from Birdhill. The bike lane on the R445 is amazing in parts. It’s better than the road surface. I went well into Limerick and swung a left just after Castletroy, and headed over the Groody Road to Ballysimon.
This was an important point mentally, as I pointed the bike towards home. In my head, I knew if I made it to Portlaw, then it was going to be grand getting back up to Kilkenny. There was a slight breeze pushing me on now, and everything was going fantastically.
Cathy was waiting for a photo op before we left the N24 (Limerick-Waterford Road) because Carolyn said she wanted a photo of me on the bike. A quick wave and I bid farewell to the nice road surface, but also to some of the lunatics who drive on it. I chose this route purely because there’d be less traffic on it. It’s a nice enough spin up there too though.
The weather was great at this stage, not too warm just lovely. I stopped in Cappamore for a quick chat with Cathy. I love the way people have stories about places. Cathy had one about Cappamore when she had car difficulties a few years ago. I mean it’s a small town where we have no connections but there are still stories. I probably sound a bit mad, but I love that type of stuff. In saying that, I’ve also been known to say “I love that field” as I pass a place most people wouldn’t have even noticed.
We drove on, and the legs were feeling great. We passed through Doon (my geography let me down, I thought that was further North), and I was going up the little climb just past the village on the Limerick Tipperary border, when a young lad of maybe seventeen/eighteen from Raparee CC just flew past me after a very brief hello.
Onwards through Cappawhite and Annacarty (love the castle there) and into Dundrum. A quick chat to make sure we took the correct turn-off and we were almost in Golden. The end of another chapter.
We pulled in beside the bridge in Golden, right outside the Bridge House pub, and I had a brief moan that the chipper was closed. I mean it was around 15:20, and the chipper was closed! No bother though, Cathy went up the street and came back with a rib steak sandwhich for me. It was destroyed in barbecue sauce, and then I destroyed it. It really hit the spot for me.
Again there was a couple of stories about Golden. One involved a pee stop (no pun intended), and the other a half-pounder of near-death. Cathy also tried to get Dermot (brother) to do a slow motion run so she could pass the Olympic torch. He was skeptical thinking he might be on some type of hidden camera show.
Chapter 3 was a wrap and it was goodbye time. Cathy’s long stint was over and after a good auld cuddle I was on my way again.
Chapter 4 – Golden to Piltown
Golden - New Inn 10k New Inn - Clonmel 17k Clonmel - Carrick 20k Carrick - Portlaw 12k Portlaw - Piltown 8k
Shur I was nearly in Clonmel, which meant I was nearly in Carrick, which meant I was nearly in Portlaw, which meant I was nearly in Piltown. All broken down into little stages.
We hit off again, and the road to New Inn was quiet and I was travelling well. Dermot was pulled in, admiring the name of the shop in New Inn. What’s it called? The Shop.
I took the road towards Cahir, thinking it was the road towards Clonmel, and luckily I did, because of later technical snafus. Again we travelled well along the N24 (my old friend), and hit the Clonmel Ring Road at around 5pm.
The Ring Road was fast and we were past Clonmel with ease. Legs were feeling good, and my stomach wasn’t complaining too much about the shit that had gone into it (looking at you gels!). It was quite warm at this stage and of course Bulmers loomed large so my mind wandered a little bit.
Approaching Kilsheelan and my Garmin (bike computer) beeped a warning message – Low Battery. Ah no! I was just coming past Ikes and Mikes and saw Dermot was pulled in. On the other side of the road I saw Ross (brother-in-law) going past in his car.
Tried to charge it in Dermot’s car (actually it was my Mammy’s but I don’t know if she knows that yet!) no joy. Just really lucky Ross had pulled in, and we left it charging there for about ten minutes. That should be enough to get me to Piltown where we could top up again.
Okay, minor panic over, continue on. I came into Carrick and went over the Old Bridge, so I could cycle out the back road (R680) to Portlaw (and spend a little time cycling on Waterford roads). Little did I know Dermot was going up the Pill Road, and that Gavin (brother) and his family were waiting outside the Sean Kelly Centre to give me a cheer as I went past. I felt bad about that, but time was pushing on so I had to keep going.
A doff of my cap passing Humphrey’s to remember a man who I didn’t know very well, but the memories I have of him were him being very sound indeed.
Into Portlaw for a tiny passthrough, down the Priest’s Lane (not a pun either!), and then I had a quick chat with Dermot at the hurling field, before heading on to the last little bit of this chapter.
At around 17:20 we met up with Olivia (wife) and our kids in the car park behind Anthony’s, and plugged the Garmin in to give it that final top up. Olivia went across the road and grabbed me a quarter pounder and a can of coke as my final bit of fuel.
Time to wave goodbye to Dermot, and one big hug later, we were off again.
Chapter 5 – Piltown to Kilkenny
Piltown - Templeorum 6k Templeorum - Newmarket 11k Newmarket - Knocktopher 4k Knocktopher - Stoneyford 7k Stoneyford - Kilkenny 18k
Ross arrived in Piltown by bike, and he was going to accompany me out to Knocktopher. I love how he was jumping in for the toughest bit of the cycle. We left Piltown at around 19:40, and conqueured Templeorum hill at a steady pace, before enjoying the long downhill stretch all the way to Newmarket.
Lillian (sister) then passed us and we all met up at the petrol station in Knocktopher. I was a bit jealous as I saw them scoffing 99s but I needed to flake on (pun intended), as the light was going.
The road was quiet and the legs were still good, and we went through Stoneyford (21:15) and faced the last part of our journey. On the way from Danesfort to Foulkstown, Olivia was able to pull alongside and Ellie (daughter) and Shane (son) were cheering me on and trying to have some unusual conversations with me too. Almost there.
Olivia and the children went on home as I was coming into Foulkstown and I did a quick video update to let people know how things were going. The video has provided one of my workmates with a few laughs as they paused it, took screen shots, and then shared them with the company.
I spun up the last bit of the Ring Road, and at 21:45 took a photo of the bike at the roundabout where it all began, and our journey was complete. What a great day!
As we were going around I was seeing some of Carolyn’s Twitter updates, and it was great to see the effect we were having on her. Thanks to everyone who physically helped out on the day, without you being there it would have been a completely different kettle of fish, and I wouldn’t have made it around in as good a condition as I did.
Thanks to everyone who retweeted, liked, shared and spoke about the cycle. Getting the word out is a big challenge when fund-raising.
And a massive thank you to all of our supporters who donated money to help Carolyn out. Fair play to you all.
P.S. More Donations
I’m going to keep the donation page open until Friday for anyone who might still want to donate.