Back in the saddle

I’ve really neglected cycling this year. We had a pretty tumultuous time, with two moves in three months, the first being very chaotic, the second being… well, you can read about it here. Whatever the reasons, I didn’t do nearly as much pedalling as I did last year.

Today, for the first time in months, I had a really wonderful cycling adventure again. I am and always will be in love with two wheels and pedals. There is just nothing like it to give you a sense of delight in life, in this stunning country, in your health and strength. It’s like a psychological cleansing for me, and I am left happy, relaxed and feeling fulfilled when I get back home.

In truth, I dawdled this morning and left late. Having to drop off a coat for Lara, who was visiting a friend on the other side of town and forgot to take one, I chose to cycle from the west side of Dundalk out towards Forkhill.

This quickly takes me out of town and into the country.

I’m always aware of what a privilege it is for us to live in this country, but today the beauty all around brought it home to me yet again. Even the most arbitrary little corner can really touch your heart.

I have a particular soft spot for Roche Castle, for some reason. This is just an old ruin, nothing to write home about and certainly very unimpressive compared to many other castles. It’s only the size of a big house, really. But to me it’s a particularly impressive place, where, when you let yourself be still, you hear the echoes of those who lived and died there. I took this photo on the part of the road when it just becomes visible. It was so beautiful.

I’d started the trip wearing lined track suit trousers over cycling shorts, my sealskin socks with my cleats, a long sleeved tee shirt and fleece jacket, and my Eskimo gloves. Most of you probably know that I have very cold hands and feet, and this is probably my biggest challenge with cycling in winter: keeping my fingers and toes from freezing off. I was very quickly too hot, and changed into thinner gloves and a lightweight cycling jacket. The track suit trousers were too hot, but I had to keep them on as I didn’t take my proper cycling leggings. This was a big mistake, and I must remember to not do that again.

Just after Forkhill, something odd happened. The mist that had hung around became thick and close, quite quickly. I could feel this sudden cold closing in around me. My fingers started getting way too cold, and I changed back into my Eskimo gloves. Less easy to solve was the problem of my legs really feeling the cold. It was a very weird feeling. Another reason to regret not having taken my proper cycling leggings. If I’d worn them, I could just have pulled the track suit trousers on over them.

Strangely, I still felt comfortable with the lightweight cycling jacket and tee shirt. That’s always the problem for me, my torso is fine but my hands and feet just about fall off the ends of my arms and legs with cold. Even sometimes when I’m in short sleeved tee shirt and cycling shorts, I’ll still have gloves on and have to ‘claw’ inside my cleats to keep my fingers and toes from freezing. A good friend of ours gave me some herbal tea which can really help with this, though. I wanted to save it for winter, and I think it’s time to start drinking it.

I passed the entrance to Slieve Gullion Forest Park, and a little way on, by a quaint stone church, stopped to eat a banana. And to take a picture, of course.

This is the other man in my life. Ronan, I don’t know what I’d do without you.

Feeling particularly good, I pedalled on towards Newry. However, having left so late, I had limited time and would not have been able to stop for a significant rest anywhere if I followed my planned route. Also, I would be cycling to Newry and then going back the direction I’d come from. I wouldn’t normally mind, as more distance is a good thing, but time was tight – I’d promised to be home by six. I eyed a road turning east off the one I was on, cycling north. It would be ludicrous to turn onto an obscure little side path on a day I could see less than ten metres ahead, and therefore would be unable to identify landmarks to show me I’m on the right track. Also having already cycled three quarters of my route, unfit, and therefore a little worn out.

But hey, such trivialities have never stopped me before, so I checked for traffic and gleefully pedalled the way I vaguely suspected might be a quicker route to the other road I needed to be on if I ever wanted to see home again.

It was absolutely fantastic. I soon crossed the railway line, going under a bridge, and therefore knew I’d made the right decision (I knew I’d have to cross the train track at some point, at a certain angle, if I was going the right way). A bit of a head-scratcher here and there: left, right or straight? But I was lucky with signs to towns I was more or less sure were where I should go. Then lo, a little problem. A mist-shrouded fork in the road, not a sign in sight.

What to do, what to do!

Just after I took this photo, a car hared past me and took the right fork without a moment’s hesitation. As cars are generally driven by people who have more of a clue where the hell they are than I do, I followed suit. It turned out to be the right decision.

I was blown away by how close I had in fact been to Carrickdale Hotel, the place where I wanted to stop for a cup of tea. This is useful to know for future pedalling insanities. It was very good that because of the shortcut I now had some time to stop, as I had little sensation left in my toes. After a cup of tea and a few more pages added to the children’s book I’m working on (it was a fun piece to write as I got the hero’s pony to bite the bad guy’s snooty horse in the knackers), I left for home.

It was pitch dark outside, but I’d anticipated this and came prepared. I’d been caught in the dark before, on the Carlingford/Greenore road, and it had been a complete nightmare. Even though I had safety lights front and back, their purpose is to make others aware of you, not to light your way. There are few things as uncomfortable as cycling in very thick darkness, right beside a nasty little kerb that wouldn’t kill you if you fall off it but would result in a nasty fall indeed, with safety lights that serve more to blind you than show the way.

So this time I stuffed Micky’s head torch into my backpack before I left. I fit it to my cycling helmet and set off. Though still a little scary – perhaps because of it – cycling in the dark was fecking awesome (feck is technically not a swear word). This was true most of the time, but every time a car approached from in front of me it was a different story. I suppose drivers are programmed to turn their brights off if they see another set of lights. Sometimes only when the other driver turns theirs on. However, if you see a bicycle (they could not have missed me, not with my own ‘headlight’ and me being outlined in their sport-stadium-spotlight-quality space-beams), I suppose that kind of trigger malfunctions.

Time and again I was pedalling along just fine one moment, the next moment speeding along COMPLETELY BLIND into pitch black, heading into the middle of the darn road for all I knew. Even a trick my dad had taught my brother when he was learning to drive and which I later remembered and used successfully when I started driving, didn’t help (what you do if a car approaches at night is to not try and focus on your lane as you normally would, but to focus on the painted line on the side of the road, just until the car has passed you. This way you avoid being completely blinded by the bright light ahead as you don’t look at it so directly, and you avoid the disorienting light causing you to steer in the wrong direction as you orient yourself by the side-of-the-road line). Tonight, I could literally not see anything other than the car’s headlights.

I sort of solved the problem by, the first time in exasperation, pointing to the car, then covering my eyes with my glove for a moment, then lifting my hand away with an exaggerated movement. To my surprise, it worked – s/he dimmed the headlights. So I did that every time, and though a few drivers (I’m really working on not calling them idiots here, because I can understand it’s not something you’d necessarily realise, that you’re rendering someone completely blind, and that on a bike that is SCARY) only got the message when I repeated the action a few times, it worked in every instance but one. With this exception, I gave up and started coming to a very quick halt when finally it seemed to dawn on the driver what I was going on about.

I was soon on the well-lit bypass, so the trouble with the idi… the bright lights was behind me. I stopped for a moment on the bridge over the river. This photo really doesn’t do justice to how beautiful the lights reflecting on the water were.

Ten minutes later, I was in our wonderful, fantastic, beautiful, comfortable new home.

What an amazing day.

Distance: 42.7km (I know, I know, I’ll do better next time)
Time: 2h28m (that’s pedalling time only, I was out for just over four hours)
Average: 17.2km/h
Max: 39.5km/h
Odometer: 4987.1km


One thought on “Back in the saddle

  1. Always a pleasure to read these posts and thus share in your adventures, Roche Castle — in Staffordshire there is a vast rocky area of moorland known as the Roches. It was named by imprisoned French soldiers from the Napoleonic wars. Roches is French for rocks (I think).

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