Now that there was a car available , we made a decision (without much hesitation in fairness), to ditch the bags for the last day. Given that we had about 400 miles in the legs and wanted to tackle the Gap of Mamore it was a fairly wise decision. Althought the legs were stiff, the sun was shining and so morale was high.
As per usual we eased into the pace until legs were loosened out, but the route out to Buncrana was fairly flat and we tipped away at a nice pace, stopping once to get some gear out of the car. But the weather Gods had been quiet all week and by the time we pulled into Buncrana we were well and truly saturated. And with the northerly wind the temperature dropped as well .
We had lunch at a petrol station, and just as we were about to pull out (the rain hadn’t subsided yet), a local came up to us talking about the spin. He had done Mizen to Malin 4 times previously, and was quite enthusiastic. Once he found out we were going to try Mamore near the end of M2M, and in those weather conditions he thought we were nuts! In fairness he was very helpful with directions, and even lead us through town to the road. But between the bad weather, and the tales of woe ascending and descending the gap, morale started to take a downturn.
And of course the complete lack of signposts didn’t help either. But deciding the keep the coast on our left we plodded along, checking iPhones every few minutes to see if we were close. We knew the road would be rough and ready, and after a few really sharp pulls (18%+ or so) we thought we were pretty much on it. After a couple of hundred yards I was off the bike, walking, then back in the saddle on the less steep bits, barely spinning in the triple. At least I was making progress. And then we came off the boreen, on to a better stretch of road. And to our left was what can be best described as a tarmac wall. “Ah”, I thought “bingo!”.
IN fairness, the run up to it was straight, the surface good, and it didn’t look impossible. so after a few minutes break, people took on water (some emptied water!) ,everyone settled and off we went. For me it was pretty much just a duathlon! Don’t think I lasted more than 1/2 a mile. we have photo’s but they don’t really do it justice. Basically if you stopped at all it was nigh on impossible to generate enough momentum to go forward again. Best bet was to tack across the road and pray you could clip in.
Only one man made it up on the bike the whole way (in fairness the rest gave more valiant efforts than me), but the extra weight was an absolute handicap on the way up. Having said that by the time I eventually hauled myself over the line i thought I could just coast down the other side. Wrong! Having a combination of weight, wet roads, and just sheer fatigue I knew the only way down on the bike would be to absolutely ride the brakes. And after a few minutes at 3/4 miles an hour I was really struggling to keep the speed under control, so again it was a dismount to get down. In fairness I might have made it, but fear of not making it to Malin Head because of a broken collar-bone was fairly prominent in my thoughts, so no regrets.
At least once near the bottom we were able to spin away, back to normality. And just as we were progressing down the road we spotted “the Rusty Nail”. “PINT?” I called out. “PINT!” came the reply. And we that we were pulled over again. Decent pints outside, but they tasted so much better after Mamore. It was here we spotted a broke spoke on MOC’s bike, the only mechanical failure (zero punctures!) of the week. Just as we were about to head off again the heavens opened, so we just stood under the shade of the pub, waiting for it to break, and talking to a local who did a lot of club cycling.
It can be tough when you land into Malin town and then realise there’s still another hour to go, but c’est la… We tore through Malin anyway, and on the open road, pancake flat, the lads led a leadout train, pushing away at around 21mph, into the wind. Tough work, even tucked away sucking wheel! But once we hit a final set of bumps we were all blown. From here on I just wanted to spin, and just get there. The last few miles are tough enough, no long drags, but some really sharp little digs (15, 20%), that the only way up is out of the saddle.
I eventually rolled in to the base of the Banba, for the final climb. Here the 3 amigos that had done the whole were waiting for me, and in a gesture that was (truly) appreciated, they insisted I lead the way to the top, where our supporters had gathered. And what a tough few hundred metres it was! An absolutely fantastic feeling once we got there, having an actual finish line was really nice. Big cheers to the 2 girls who came up to drop of MOC for the last day, and to Dick for driving the rest of us home. Also tahnks to Mike’s mate Vinnie, who dragged the family up for support. Greatly appreciated all.
I’ll spare the details of all the photos etc, but I would like to mention the owner of Caffe Banba, who had a coffee truck up there. He gave us some really great coffee gratis. A real gentleman.
Our original plan had been to cycle from Ballyshannon past Letterkenny, just to leave us with a short day at the end, (circa 45 miles or so). But since Martin O’C was driving back up from Limerick to cycle the last day with us, we decided to have an easy day on Friday instead. Everybody was looking forward to a nice easy relaxing day, and that’s how it started.
Since we had a short day the lads wanted to break it up a bit, so our landlady at the B&B advised us to head through the town and head to Rossnowlagh beach. The street through Ballyshannon is pretty steep, so a shock to the legs first thing, but once through town we just spun away for a few miles, until we arrived at the beach. Stopping off at the beach was a great idea, it really helped break up the day. One of the drawbacks was a bunch of lads trying to change on a packed beach without any towels or swimwear. And as a certain member of the group found out (name withheld), you need to keep up a certain amount of momentum when cycling unto the sand, otherwise unfortunate dismounts can occur!
After an hour or so on the beach, it was back on the bikes, a handy spin 45 mile spin to Letterkenny. Morale was high in the camp, although there were a few tired legs, everyone was looking forward to getting to the B&B early, just to relax for a few hours. For the whole week while not killing ourselves with pace, we had very little downtime in the evenings: normally once checked in and showered it was normally straight out to dinner.
We stopped at a petrol station on the run into Donegal Town for a quick sandwich and then back on the bikes. Barnesmore Gap was the only climb of the day into Ballybofey, but it wasn’t as bad as expected, and once into Ballybofey we stopped for another coffee.
Unfortunately this is where things went awry. Long story short we missed the turn that was signposted for Letterkenny, and ended up staying on the road to Lifford. Since we had a westerly wind we had actually been tipping away at a nice pace, and it was only after about 7 miles we realised we were on the wrong track. The options were either to cut across country (over a narrow network of roads), or cycle back all the way to Ballybofey, and then pick up the right road. Getting advice from locals (obviously not cyclists!), we headed over cross country: big mistake! The route was quite narrow, with some really nasty, sharp little climbs.
and of course we missed a few other turns (the Irish just don’t do signposts). After about an hour and a half basically going round in circles, we eventually got back onto the right road (if you look at the garmin activity the detour is fairly obvious). Of course because we were expecting only a short spin, I didn’t eat enough, and the bonk hit on the final climb up to the top of the hill before Letterkenny. I must admit I was doing a lot of whining. But at least once we hit the top it was all downhill.
The descent into Letterkenny was expected to be the fastest descent of the week, and it lived up to the billing. Because I wasn’t overly happy with the braking with the extra weight on the bike (plus a few hit manholes on the way down), i kept my top speed to 39 mph. Mike hit about 47, the highest of the week, although Donal wasn’t far behind (very hard to read a cycle computer with your eyes running!). Fortunately the B&B (Burndale House) was just off the turn, and we were home for the day.
Once we had the usual shower etc we headed off to find what can only be the best hidden gem in Letterkenny, the restaurant Fantasia. Hidden inside an industrial park, we were convinced we were on the wrong track (once again), until we caught the waft of garlic bread. And were we in for a treat! A unit across from an NCT centre, the restaurant was very nicely decorated inside, and given the large crowd it’s obvious that’s it’s not that hidden to the locals! Every plate was cleared, many rounds of Peroni consumed, and to top off the dinner the waiter gave us a round of Citronella on the house. Fantastic!
Martin O’C and the girls arrived just as we were finishing dinner, and Mikes contact (who had suggested Fantasia), next recommended the Cottage pub on Main Street. I’ll spare the details, but a good night was had, and we were back home just after last orders.