Originally I had no real plan for today, the last day of my long long weekend off work. I did have plans for a 100K spin on Saturday and 160K on Monday but the vaccine on Saturday pushed both of those off the table. I thought the 100K on Saturday was unwise and I was knocked on my arse for Sunday and Monday with an incredibly sore arm on Sunday and quite a lot of tiredness. I ended up falling asleep for an hour on Sunday afternoon having spent the day at Fort Dunree with Catriona and the boys.
I was still up for a spin Monday, just a shorter one, but shortly after lunch I fell asleep again and managed to sleep for 2 hours! At that stage I decided a walk was probably the better option.
Tuesday I was well recovered and back to normal so decided to go ahead with my plan to attend the first Club spin for a very long time. This was pretty full on and left me with tired legs this morning. It was still nagging at me that I hadn’t got my 100K done though. Getting up early I had a plan for a hilly but interesting route that made the most of the challenging 22km/h breeze.
I had to wait a while before I could leave. The forecast was giving heavy drizzle showers up until 11/12 and I didn’t really fancy having to start off either wet or wearing a waterproof gillet. I also spent the morning trying to contact my car mechanic to find out when my car would be ready for collection. I’m not having much luck with mechanic communications this week and need to change my approach as I didn’t get speaking to him until 5pm this evening!
Rolling out shortly after 12 I first of all went the opposite direction into Killygordon before turning for Castlefinn. This gave me an easy extra 5K to start and allowed me to finish coming downhill to home rather than uphill and into the wind.
At Castlefinn the fun started. For the next 30km it was a lot of climbing and straight into the wind. My legs were really feeling the effects of the previous evening and I hate headwinds. I must be the least aero dynamic person and really struggle with the wind. After the first 6K climb it’s a long descent into Castlederg and despite only being at 20K it felt like time to stop for a brief break and a bar.
The next section is up out of Castlederg to Ederney and Kesh. This was a real slog. It’s a series of small and big climbs punctuated by the occasional short descent. The overall emphasis is on up and I was still contending with the headwind. Approaching the toughest section, climbing over Scraghey, the rain came on. At first it was only a light drizzle so I pushed on thinking it was pointless stopping to put on my waterproof gillet. I figured I’d dry out quickly in the heat and strong breeze. By the time the rain became more consistent and I realised I’d made the wrong call it was too late and I was soaked. By the time I finally dropped in to Ederney I was starting to dry out and although 46K felt too early to stop I was getting hungry and had enough for now.
I didn’t stop long, just enough time to scoff a sandwich, drink a tea and top off my water bottles. I wasn’t completely dry and despite the warm day I was wary of getting chilled.
Kesh saw me over the halfway point and turning for Pettigo. I was now on unfamiliar roads but also starting to swing away from the headwind. Up until now I had been following part of the route of our Club Sportive but in the opposite direction. I was expecting a crap road from Kesh to Pettigo but it turned out pretty good and I seemed to blast through to 60K before I knew it. The food and lack of headwind seemed to be having an immediate effect.
Pettigo is an unusual little town. It straddles the border between Donegal and Fermanagh and therefore also the border between UK and Ireland and now the border with the EU. The town has two names, Pettigo in Donegal and Tullyhommon in Fermanagh. It is rumoured to be the inspiration for Spike Milligan’s story Puckoon. This is set in 1924 in a village divided by the border which runs through the pub meaning beer is cheaper in one corner than in the rest of the bar.
Leaving Pettigo I was now following the main approach to the pilgrimage site at Lough Derg. This is famous for the religious visits through the summer and in particular the 3 day penance retreat of fasting on water and bread while walking the Stations in barefeet and trying not to sleep, not really my idea of a weekend away! About 2km from the lough the road takes a swing right bringing you up above the lough with a cracker view across to Station Island and as close as I ever hope to get to it.
The road was now starting to rise again but with 65K done and the wind at my back I could sense the end and felt my second wind coming on. This area is open mountain bogland. It’s very open and exposed so I was glad to have the wind with me. It was very pleasant and pretty today with lots of wildflowers but must be an unforgiving place in the middle of winter.
Just before 70K there is a sudden and unexpected steep descent down into a river cut gully. This is the River Derg and marks the border crossing bringing me back into Northern Ireland once again. Even if I hadn’t seen the border on the map there are subtle road and signage differences that are plain to see. The management of the countryside also feels much more organised and maintained in NI versus the Republic, especially along the border.
The payment for any river cut descent is always a steep ascent on the other side but once up the short, steep climb I was in the midst of yet another windfarm and back on familiar territory with great views down the valley to Killeter and beyond. From here to Killeter it was pretty much all downhill and on great road surfaces. The upside of the windmill construction was a fantastic upgrade of the small country roads giving them a finish like a runway that’s still in great condition some years on.
The good surface lasts all the way to the closing of the big loop just above Castlederg. The fast run-in is finished with a steep climb up to the junction. My legs were really flagging on this climb and I knew I needed something to get me the last 14K to home and up the last climb of the day. I stopped in one of the small supermarkets in Castlederg for a Fanta and a chocolate bar. Not very healthy but the sugary goodness carried me all the way home and I even set my second best time on the last climb. This may have had something to do with the nicely planned tailwind too though 😆
Arriving home with a nice 800m free wheel I had just over 101K and slightly over 1000m of climbing done. No great speeds today but after last night I was delighted to get it finished and also to have my metric challenge completed early in the month again. That’s halfway through 2021 now which is a bit frightening!
This weekend off and especially last night and today have given me back a lot of the cycling confidence I managed to lose during April and May. I’m now starting to feel that Audax is back on the cards and tentatively planning to restart the RRTY Challenge before the end of the month.