Category Archives: cycling

Night Riding

In order to rebuild a good cycling habit and also build fitness I need to be cycling regularly through the week and spread out to allow for recovery between rides. As I have to fit this in around my full-time job it means I have no choice but to cycle at least 2 evenings a week. At this time of the year that means riding in the dark.

I’ve done a bit of night riding before but this has mainly been off road with the Club MTB group. There’s a definite sense of security riding in the dark on chunky tyres and with company that is absent when riding a road bike solo.

To make things easier on myself I’ve chosen a route that is mostly on quiet country roads or with a good hard shoulder when I can’t avoid the busier sections. The downside of this is that the roads are narrower and rougher. Meeting traffic can be difficult if they have bright lights or don’t dip but so far I’ve had very few issues. In fact cars are often confused by my lights at night thinking I’m a much larger vehicle and holding back giving me space to pass safely.

Getting set up for night riding can be reasonably expensive but over the years I’ve already invested in good headlights, helmet light, tail light and reflective harness. I’m probably more visible to many drivers at night than during the day!

The most significant difference riding at night so far has been visibility. While my headlight is pretty bright and gives good coverage it is limited and I have to be careful that I’m not blinding other road users. Unless you have a floodlight style light with a high capacity battery it’s never going to be as good as a car headlight so the limit of visibility will always be restricted and you have to ride to the limit of what you can see. This is where the rougher nature of the roads comes into play and speed is reduced as you have to keep a good eye for potholes or gravel deposits to avoid taking a spill or damaging a wheel. Apart from one heart-stopping wobble last night I’ve managed to avoid all of that so far too.

Last night was my 3rd night ride having lost last week to the snow and ice that covered most roads for 5-6 days. The first two were wet nights but last night was dry. I was pleasantly surprised how much this improved visibility. Not only did my light have better penetration, showing me more of the road, but the road itself was easier to see and read. When wet the road is a uniform black at night but it dries out to a much lighter grey with potholes and cracks showing up as darker patches. Much easier to identify and avoid. Gravelly patches are still difficult to spot though.

Reduced visibility means a reduction in overall speed. This suits me right now as I need to concentrate on building fitness rather than exhausting myself. With cycling you often need to go slower to get faster so that’s my excuse for now! The need for less speed is most evident on downhill sections. It’s just not possible to tuck in and fly down those descents when you can’t see enough of the road ahead. It also has a pronounced impact on cornering. Normally on corners you need to look well ahead and the bike will naturally follow where you are looking. Only being able to see 4-5m ahead means I’m often looking at the wrong section of the road on a corner meaning the bike flows differently forcing me into corners at a different angle and having to scrub off a lot of speed.

Overall I’m enjoying the night rides so far. The roads are quieter and it’s definitely adding a bit of variety. Last night was particularly enjoyable with a dry, mild night, less bulky clothing and that little bit of extra visibility. Having lost last week to what is hopefully the last gasp of winter, it’s given me a new boost to keep going.

Header image by Reactual.com

Humble Beginnings

Yesterday marked what I hope is a new start for me on my cycling journey. My cycling activities have declined significantly starting in the second half of 2021 but completely collapsing during 2022 with only 860km in total and my longest ride being slightly over 56km back in May.

Some of my decrease in activity I put down to a decrease in Club group activities during Covid. The majority of my cycling in 2020-21 was solo and I’ve always found it more difficult to self motivate. The social aspect of Club riding can be challenging at times but overall I found it having a positive effect. As my cycling became more erratic during 2021 and I lost fitness I found it increasingly difficult to take part in Club activities as the group I was a part of became too strong for me and I couldn’t stay with them. I did do some rides with this group and while a few of them were understanding and helpful it quickly became frustrating for everyone and I stopped riding with them. I then found it difficult to find a new group that I fitted with as comfortably and the Club became less attractive for me. Then I got into a spiral of decreasing interest and declining fitness resulting in my worst year since I started cycling back in 2013.

The other reason for my lack of cycling motivation last year was the lack of a goal. Yearly distance goals are too long term for me and a randomly selected weekly mileage doesn’t really motivate me either. My two best years on the bike were 2016 and 2017. It’s no coincidence that I was very active with the Club in 2016 and had two big events that year.

Wicklow 200: June 2016

Causeway Coast Sportive: September 2016

In 2017 I discovered Audax and that gave me a series of goals to work towards that year with the 4 Provinces Challenge. It’s also significant that my cycling dropped off very quickly shortly after I completed that challenge in October 2017 and 2018 was a much poorer year without a specific goal to aim for.

All that is a long way of saying I’m planning to turn things around by setting myself a goal for 2023. I turn 50 this July so as well as having a goal I want it to be something special as a milestone for the year. I’ve decided to take on the Audax Super Randonneur Challenge. This is a series of Audax events that comprise the full set of distances and requires completion of at least one each of a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event during the Audax calendar year (November 1st – October 31st).

I have selected 4 events that will also allow me to complete the 4 Provinces Challenge for a second time as events can be used to qualify for more than one challenge at a time. The first of these events is the Dark Hedges 200 on April 23rd. This is a route I’ve ridden a few times now and one I’ve enjoyed. It’s a challenging route with a lot of climbing in the second half but will be a good test of my fitness and an indicator of my chances of success at the longer distances.

My first ride of the year and my first step on the road back to Audax fitness was yesterday afternoon. A simple 27km with a little climbing to break me back into the cycling habit. My “plan” is to use this loop to rebuild my cycling habit and some form of base fitness throughout January by completing it 3 times each week. In February I’ll start to increase the distance and elevation and add in some more structured training. For now though I want to focus on getting back to a regular cycling routine.

Header image by alexandre saraiva carniato  from Pexels.com

Nightrider

Riding at night on the MTB, sounds take on a much greater significance….

click, click, click as we clip in and leave the yard
calls of “clear” as we head out on the road
the whirr of knobbly tyres on the tarmac
puffs and pants as we hit the first hill before we’re properly warmed up
conversation petering out
the buzz of the transformer on the electric pole at the forest entrance
the first crunches of gravel as we enter the forest trail
the clunk of changing gears as the trail steepens
calls of “straight on” as the lead man almost takes the wrong turn
the blood thumping in my ears as the climb hits 12%
splashing through puddles as we descend the far side
the wind whistling past my ears as the descent picks up speed
the irritating rub of grit in my brakes from the earlier puddles
skidding tyres as we stop abruptly for the forest gate
calls of “holes!” as the lead rider discovers the massive potholes on the next descent
the noisy stream as it cascades down the hill in full spate
the clatter of a falling bike as one of the guys mistimes clipping in after the short break
the unwelcome intrusion of car engines as we briefly rejoin the main road
the beep of my Garmin as I complete another 5km – why so long since the last one!
the whirr of the power assist as one of the guys passes me on his ebike on the next steep hill
the crunch of metal cleats on tarmac as I step off and walk the hill that I swear was 20%+
bark, bark, bark of the dog – stay away from my house
silence then BARK! BARK! BARK! – I’m going to catch you and kill you all!
the rhythmic whoosh, whoosh of the windmills hidden by the darkness
the sound of rain hitting the plastic shell of my helmet as a short, sharp shower passes over
calls of “car back!” as we get closer to town
the crunch of beech nuts as I take the slightly longer route through Drumboe Woods
the “quack” of ducks on the river and splashes as they squabble
the rumble of tyres on wood on the small forest bridge
the squelch of wet leaves under my bike on the bicycle path
tyres on concrete as I lap the yard to avoid finishing on 29.9km
beeps of my Garmin as it confirms my ride is saved
rain thumping on the roof of the van just minutes after finishing my ride
hellos! as I finally come through the front door

Header image from mbr.co.uk

catch up 2.0

For anyone that is still reading this blog or following me on Facebook it looks like all I’ve done for the last 5-6 weeks is read, listen to music and play Wordle. Although all those things have occupied quite a bit of my time I’ve also been messing about getting back in the cycling groove.

I’d decided that group cycling probably wasn’t the best idea just yet as I haven’t really ridden anywhere close to consistently since July last year. I was out with a couple of guys early February and on the Club MTB rides a few times over the following weeks but somehow managed to drift away again after that.

Shortly after my Barnesmore Hike I somehow started getting the urge to get back on the bike. Possibly influenced by lengthening days, improving weather but also by the realisation that time was running out if I was going to get any meaningful cycling done this year. I’d already drifted through Spring and if I lost Summer too then that would be it really.

I knew my weight was way up and that my fitness was shot to hell. This was partly my reason for not cycling with the Club yet. I was also wary of embarrassing myself in front of guys I’d fallen way behind. Anyway my cunning plan was to increase my fitness by completing a weekly routine of a couple of short solo runs after work and a longer spin at the weekend while keeping up the reasonably regular early morning walking habit I’d developed.

The theory was a short run of approximately 25-30km would be long enough to push me back to fitness but not painful enough to discourage. Going straight after work meant I didn’t have the opportunity to talk myself out of it by going home first. I figured a few weeks of this would be enough to get me confident enough to get back out with the Club on a Sunday morning.

I’d identified a few routes around Omagh but one really grabbed my attention. This was a spin out towards Gortin and the Gortin Glens Forest Park. This is a slightly hilly road (good warmup) and there is a tarmac forest drive that I figured would be a bit hilly but traffic free with a good road surface. The last two bits were correct but I seriously misjudged the hills and I really should have known better!

forest park entrance

insane elevation profile

A number of climbs were >15% with at least one of them being >20%. I stopped on three of them and had to stop twice on the last and eventually walked a section as my legs were like jelly. Of the total 390m climbing I had 360m at the 18km mark! It’s a great training ride when my fitness is built back up but was a bad idea for a returning, get back into the swing of things kind of ride! After that I came up with a few other routes that were a bit less punishing.

I also knew it was going to rain a bit that evening so had a waterproof gillet with me. What I didn’t expect was heavy rain for most of the ride. I ended up soaked to the skin, chilly and driving home wet due to lack of preparation. Over the next couple of days I developed a rotten cold that took me a good 3 weeks to shift completely. I had a cough, breathlessness and a snotty head that kept returning when I thought I was OK and went out for another spin 🤨

I didn’t do too badly though. During May I managed 6 rides totalling almost 240km and two 50+km rides which were each my longest since July last year.

© garmin

What did take a hit was my walking. At the end of last month and into the start of this month I’d developed a good routine of a short 4.5km walk each morning before work. It was setting me up well for the day and as Catriona has been walking a lot recently and also before work, I was used to being awake at that time of the day anyway. The head cold knocked that a bit. It left me quite tired and I didn’t feel able for both cycling and walking especially on the same day. I also felt that I needed that extra hour of sleep each day to knock the cold properly and not getting it was part of the reason it was dragging on.

© garmin

© strava “training” log

If you’ve come this far with me you might notice a drop in activities completely in the last week of the month. Part of that was lingering tiredness (laziness? 🤔) and working extra days at work (2 x 6 day weeks) but also prep for going on holidays. I’ve been off work since Wednesday for the start of a 2 week break. The highlight of that is a week away so I’m very happy to say that I’m writing this from a holiday resort on the shores of Lake Garda

accommodation area at 10am

We arrived very late last night after a very long 15 hour journey (long story!), hungry, tired and dehydrated. Today has been about exploring the resort, getting our bearings and recovering from the journey. Tomorrow the proper touristy stuff begins…

Header image by Mike from Pexels

pan celtic race

As part of my interest in longer distance Audax cycling I came across this fantastic event a couple of years ago. It’s a self-supported ultra long-distance endurance cycling event. The 2019 event was the first as far as I know and the route was simply amazing.

The 2020 event was scuppered by Covid but by keeping it restricted to England & Wales, they managed to put together a route and run the event for 2021.

As part of the celebration of the 2021 event they created a really good film and I’ve linked it below. I’d recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in cycling or endurance sport of any kind. The standout for me was the camaraderie of the riders and how ordinary so many of them are while still being extraordinary.

The 2022 route has been released and as a nod to the fact that they couldn’t get to Ireland in 2021 it’s almost exclusively here this year. I’m especially glad to see that they are also visiting Donegal.

All images © Pan Celtic Race

killygordon and clady mountain bike

Biking

On Sunday last week I finally made it back on to the bike after almost two months to the day. I had a lot of digestive issues in September, had two bouts of illness heading into October and totally lost motivation for cycling or much of anything else fitness wise to be honest. Any focus I did have went into training for the sponsored run for Pieta.

Sunday though was such a perfect cycling day that I couldn’t let it go to waste. It was mild, bright and dry with very little wind. I decided on an easy paced cycle down to Clady and back to Killygordon using a mix of back and main road. The treat at the end was a short off-road section along the river in Killygordon and a final spin around the forest trails of Monellan.

Mid morning on a Sunday the roads were pretty quiet which was a nice, relaxing re-introduction to the road. Just over the border in Clady I made some new friends.

The trail along the river was really nice with the trees all colourful with changing leaves and lots of water in the river after all the heavy rain of the last few weeks. In Monellan the trails were better than expected and definitely drier than I’d hoped for, really enjoyable.

autumnal bike porn!

After Monellan I was still feeling good so decided to tackle the pretty tough climb up Gleneely Hill before heading home via the long, easy downhill. This is never easy on any bike, never mind on a mountain bike and definitely not after such a long break but I surprised myself and made it to the top without passing out! I was more than ready for an easy glide home though 😊

Filming

I also decided to try and film for the first time while cycling. In July I got a budget action camera (Akaso Brave 6 Plus) and set of accessories for my birthday. My plan was to use a mixture of handheld and chest mounted filming but it didn’t go very much according to plan. The handheld bits were fine but I totally miscalculated the placement of the camera on the chest harness. I ended up with a lot of footage but most of it of my handlebars 🙈

I was also using the camera in the protective case which kills the sound quality so the two pieces to camera that I filmed needed an external voice recorder. This worked well for the introductory piece but having just finished the climb up Gleneely I totally forgot about the external mic for the concluding piece which left it totally unusable. I’m still using my mobile for editing (VN Video Editor). This worked pretty well but synchronising the voice over and the video was tricky.

In the end I managed to salvage just over 6min of reasonable quality footage and I’ve decided to go ahead and post it up as a learning experience. I’ve posted a link below if you are interested in giving it a view.

metric challenge 2021: august

It’s hard to believe we are so far into the year already and that Summer is now officially over! The approach of Autumn can definitely be felt at both ends of the day bringing to mind layers, gillets and arm/leg warmers that have been discarded for months. Thankfully we are experiencing a bit of an Indian Summer that seems will carry us well into September with mild and dry weather to soften the blow.

As the month drew to a close I was running out of time, yet again, for a Gran Fondo ride and/or an Audax Permanent. I’d wasted a lot of cycling time in August with a mixture of illness, bad weather and time spent on family days out and painting the house. The last two reasons are obviously not wasted time but combined they all left me lacking fitness and carrying a little bit more weight than I’m comfortable with.

Last week I managed to get myself back in the saddle and get a few rides in to try and get myself back in reasonable shape. The plan was to do my own Audax Donegal 200 route as a Permanent on Sunday. Saturday morning my plans were derailed fairly significantly. I woke up with quite a bad digestive issue that left me tired, uncomfortable and out of sorts and needing a strong dose of immodium to get me fit for work. Initially I figured it was a reaction to my cholesterol medication again but it didn’t feel the same.

I eventually worked out the cause on Sunday morning. Friday evening I’d gone for a 60K spin and needed water half way. In Raphoe I was attempting to use a service station tap that was disconnected and a local man directed me to a public spout. I thought this was a great novelty to be drinking from a natural water source. In hindsight I looked back at the photo I took and it was most likely the cause of my woes!

Regardless of my lack of energy on Saturday evening I pushed on with my plans and prepped my bike and gear for a 200K ride on Sunday morning. I woke early and felt tired but OK but quickly realised that my digestive system still hadn’t fully recovered. The 200K was off the agenda and I wasn’t even sure if I’d get out at all.

Eventually by lunchtime I was starting to feel a bit better and decided to risk an afternoon attempt at keeping the Metric Challenge rolling along. It was bugging me to break the streak this late in the year. I decided to repeat the route from April which was pretty straightforward, had minimal climbing, made the best advantage of the light breeze and allowed me to call and visit my brother at his coffee van.

All in it turned out to be a pretty good ride. It did take me about 40K before I felt comfortable and relaxed and lost any anxiety about taking ill while out on the bike but I managed to enjoy it and it was good to see my brother again and have a bit of a chat. He was very busy which reduced our ability to talk but it was great to see his business flourishing.

click here to view on strava

The Strava graphic above shows that it was a pretty fast spin for me. I wasn’t trying to push things so was dead pleased how it worked out. As I was leaving Stranorlar I realised that I had approximately 8km to go for the 100K and it was possible to push hard and get there for 3hr45min which would be a very fast time for me on any day. I put the head down and concentrated on maximising power and speed. It was tough going and the traffic lights were with me in both Stranorlar and Killygordon but the 100K alert popped up on the Garmin just as I reached the junction in The Crossroads and the time was 3hrs44min! I was really chuffed, absolutely beat but delighted that I had that still to give. My last 5K was in a time of 9:21 which is very fast for me. The last few kilometres were done at a much slower pace especially having to climb the last 1.6km to home!

The downside is that my RRTY has now been broken once again and I’m back at the start. However, I’m determined to get right back at it again in September and have time booked off work in October/November to give me a chance to select the best weather days to get those two difficult months completed as easily as possible. It will still leave me finishing in 2022 in summer and hopefully with a string of good weather rides.

running out of excuses

I’ve been off the bike for a week and a half, in fact I haven’t recorded a single activity since my 200km spin on the last day of June. I’ve been in a real slump over the last week but I’ve felt it coming for the last few weeks. The real indicator was missing a couple of days in the middle of June, recording no activities and breaking the streak I had kept going since the middle of January. Until today I hadn’t even done one of my previous self imposed minimum distance 2km walks.

Everyone is very aware of how tough 2020 was but to be honest I’ve found this year much harder in many ways. Since the start of this year it has felt like a constant barrage of negativity that is very wearing. However, it’s not all Covid. It’s in me as well. I’m very easily distracted and find it difficult to stay focused on long term targets. I’m an expert prevaricator and as well as finding excuses to stop doing something, I’m also great at putting off starting things.

I don’t know if it’s a fear of failure or simply a lack of drive and self belief. Since early this year I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos on wild camping, backpacking and bushcraft. I’ve lots of ideas where I’d like to go and I’ve endless lists of gear I’d like to buy. Realistically I don’t have the perfect gear setup but I have enough to get started but it’s pushing myself over the starting line that is the hardest thing to do. I’ve been like this for many years but it seems to have worsened recently. Easy to blame Covid again but it’s not just that.

This last 10 days I’ve surpassed myself with excuses though. I had planned to take Thursday off to rest weary legs and recover. Friday night I didn’t sleep as I was driving support crew for one of my friends competing in the Donegal 555K Ultra race. Saturday I was exhausted from the night before and an inability to sleep that morning. I also had my second vaccine so on Sunday I was wiped out with the side effects (shivers, sweats, slept most of the day and generally very, very tired). Monday I was back at work but still tired, Tuesday I snoozed the alarm instead of getting up early and the evening was spent taxiing the boys to and from football training. Wednesday was my day off but as Catriona was also off I opted to spend the day with her instead and we went to Derry for a wander around the shops and for lunch. This is the one day I’m glad I skipped! Thursday I was also off but I had the dentist first thing and really didn’t feel like riding that afternoon with a swollen mouth and tender jaw. Friday it was raining after work (easiest excuse of the week) and Saturday morning I snoozed the alarm once again.

Today I really was all out of excuses. It was warm and dry and not very windy. The boys didn’t have any training, Catriona was at work and I was off. Still, it took me until 3pm to get myself off the couch, away from my Kindle and YouTube and out on the bike. During the early afternoon I’d planned and discarded a number of route options before finally settling on a reasonably simple and easy 32km ride.

I have a big cycling plan for 2022 and I have my RRTY challenge just started. If I’m going to achieve either of these I need to break myself out of this current slump and get back in a positive frame of mind. I still have almost 3 weeks to spin my legs back up and get ready for the second 200km. Retraining my legs will be easy, the real challenge will be retraining my brain.

rrty – here we go again!

I may have mentioned it before (🤔) but RRTY stands for Randonneur Round The Year. It’s an Audax Ireland challenge to ride at least one Audax route (minimum 200km) each month for 12 consecutive months. I’ve tried 3 times before but have quit for various different reasons. My longest streak so far was 4 starting in 2017, which derailed in December that year due to lack of motivation. My latest attempt was last year when I got frustrated by Covid restrictions and decided to park it until things had returned to normal.

My tentative plan through the first part of the year was to restart in June. I figured this would give me a number of months of decent weather and longer days to build some kind of momentum into and through the tougher winter months. It would also give me a chance to build my fitness to a level that would make this all possible.

I’ve been building my distances throughout June with an early 100km spin, a strong 165km spin and a hilly 87km ride to get the legs in shape and build my mental confidence. This, combined with work and family commitments meant it was going to be very late in the month to get this done. The weather forecast was predicting a great day for Wednesday and I took the reasonably safe gamble to leave it to the very last day of the month.

I have a choice of three nearby permanents; my own Donegal 200, the Fermanagh 200 and the Dark Hedges 200. I chose the latter as it’s an easy drive to the start, a route I’m familiar with and easy to navigate and it has the least amount of overall climbing.

The sting in the tail is that it’s very unbalanced with the climbing increasing towards the end. In the first 50km there is a total elevation gain of only 180m (the next 2km have almost 30% of that alone), 50-100km is 400m, 100-150km is 520m and the final 50km is 650m. In that last section 320m is gained between Moneyneany and Feeny alone at 150-165km.

interesting elevation profile!

The weather didn’t turn out as good as predicted but good enough. I started about 7:45am and expected a chilly start so was wearing arm warmers and my wind/waterproof gillet. This also gave me a higher degree of visibility in the early morning pre-rush hour Derry traffic. I really didn’t expect to have to wear this for the first few hours. With dull, grey skies and very low cloud it wasn’t until 1:30pm that I felt able to remove the gillet, followed by the arm warmers 20min later. It was quite warm when stopped but chilly when moving in my self created wind. The rest of the day was then a real scorcher which added a bit of extra bite to the climbs later in the day.

I changed my bag setup a little this time. For the first time I used the Podsacs frame bag I purchased back in January paired with the saddle bag and my usual top tube bag. On these longer runs I like to carry sandwiches, sweets, power pack and charging cables to keep me and my recording devices well topped up. The frame bag allowed me to carry much of this in the middle of the bike, keeping the centre of gravity low and retaining good stability. Bar bags and larger saddle bags inevitably introduce a measure of “swing” when standing but the frame bag didn’t. In addition it is very accessible on and off the bike and gave me lots of space for storing my gillet and arm warmers when I was eventually able to take them off. Well worth the slight extra hassle involved in using my water bottles.

I gave a pretty detailed route description in my September post and it hasn’t changed since. I felt a bit stronger this time though and the wind was a lot more favourable. It was very light and ended up on my back from Ballymoney to Maghera making it a lot less of a slog than normal. My 200km time was 7:56 moving and 9:50 total time bringing me home under both key time targets and giving me a huge confidence boost.

the dark hedges at 90km

Last time I took a nutritional gamble on a cowboy supper in Ballymoney at 105km. I was delighted to see this still on offer despite the renovations under way at the shop. This is now my traditional mid way feed on this route 😊

click here to view on strava

meen machine

Title inspired by unironedman’s latest post:

Meen; a mountain meadow

Meen is a common townland name and it is usually an indication of hilly terrain. It’s no surprise that many Irish windfarms also have Meen in their name.

In this part of the country it’s hard to avoid hills but most of my recent rides seem to have involved quite a bit of climbing and according to Strava (including today) I’m way ahead on my climbing challenge (98%) vs my distance challenge (58%).

My ride today was very hilly but that was by plan rather than accidentally like the rest of the month. It’s a route that has been on my list for a few weeks as the hillier bits are part of the recent Sperrin Sportive run by nearby Strabane/Lifford Cycling Club. It’s a challenging route but I’m planning an Audax ride on Wednesday and wanted a hilly ride to give me a confidence boost.

The first 25km followed the same route as my Friday evening spin taking me into Clady, over the Glebe climb to Victoria Bridge before a couple of more climbs into and out of Douglas Bridge to Newtownstewart.

At the top of the Glebe climb out of Clady I could see across to the hills in the distance and the TV mast I’d be climbing to later. It looked very lumpy from this vantage point.

The river at Victoria Bridge is one of my favourite local views and with the river low today it was particularly scenic.

There were a few anglers and I watched one guy casting for a few minutes before heading on.

At Newtownstewart I made a slight route error. I turned left on the usual road to Gortin and ignored my beeping Garmin as there’s only one way to go. After a couple of 100m I remembered I’d decided to use a more rural road on the other side of the river when designing the route. I couldn’t be arsed turning back and decided to go on as the two roads eventually meet about 5km up the way.

The road rolls nicely all the way to Gortin. It’s mostly agricultural land but very scenic and especially so today with the sun shining. Just before Gortin there’s a very deceptively steep climb. It looks easy but felt tougher than it should have. Looking down it was a 10% gradient and I was pushing 280W. No wonder my legs were moaning!

The last bit into Gortin is really lovely. It’s a winding descent on a good surface with streams to one side and a mature forested area to the other. I was barely into the edge of the village before I was out again on the Plumbridge road. Gortin sits nestled in a small valley at the foot of the mountains and close to the popular Gortin Forest Park. The road from Newtownstewart was busier than expected with traffic so it looked like lots of people were there enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon.

gortin glen forest park © tripadvisor

Approximately 1km outside Gortin the route turns right on to a new road for me. This is the scenic driving route to Barnes Gap (not to be confused with Barnesmore Gap between Ballybofey and Donegal Town). It was lovely. It’s mostly a single lane road that rises along the side of the Owenkillew valley with fabulous views across the valley to the wooded far side. The surface is very good for such a minor road and with lots of trees and high hedges it was sheltered and cool for most of the time.

After about 5km the road becomes a lot more minor and starts climbing more significantly. The terrain takes on a more mountainous look and it was clear I was approaching Barnes Gap. It was a nice steady climb and really enjoyable. At the top the Gap is really narrow with hills on both sides before it drops down the other side and into the Glenelly Valley. This was a fantastic descent with twisting roads through wooded areas and an almost new tarmac surface. I wanted to let the bike go free but I was wary of the road being my first time on it and not knowing what was ahead. I still noted 45km/hr on the Garmin screen. At the bottom of the hill there was a great parking area with toilets, a shelter and picnic benches. I stopped for a stretch and a bar before refilling my bottles at a tap kindly pointed out to me by a guy who had been MTBing in the local area.

The next section was beautiful and easily the best part of the day. The road gradually descends along the side of Glenelly Valley with views across and down to Plumbridge. The surface was smooth and fast and virtually traffic free. I loved it!

Arriving into Plumbridge the real climbing is straight in front. As you leave the village on a short descent the road ahead rises like a wall with the first of 4 climbs to the TV mast. Within the space of 100m you lose all your speed and hit the lowest of your gears with a 13-14% gradient that seems to go on forever. The road eventually levels out a bit and on the top I passed an unusual memorial looking across the landscape towards Bessy Bell that I climbed a number of weeks ago.

Shortly after this the road drops again. This is the theme of this challenging climb. The first three climbs are all followed by a significant descent cancelling out much of the hard earned height of the previous climb. This can be mentally very challenging also as it’s frustrating to lose so much of your hard work and have to repeat it all again.

The worst of this is between the third and final climb. The descent is long and fast and incredibly enjoyable (I hit 65km/hr here today) before you have to face the hardest climb of the day once again seeing 13% on the screen. The first time I climbed this road I thought the 3rd climb was the last. The forest at the top hides the descent and the mast looks very close. Dropping back into the steep valley and having to climb out the other side was soul destroying that day. At least today I knew what to expect.

The TV mast itself is 305m tall and the tallest man made structure on the island of Ireland. It’s lit at night with a series of red lights up its length and is a very visible landmark and a very welcome sight when travelling home from Dublin, indicating the journey is almost over.

After a brief stop at the top there is a great descent into Strabane that I wasn’t able to enjoy to the full. Coming over the hill I was now on the exposed side and very susceptible to the strong, blustery breeze. The road constantly changes direction as it winds down the hill meaning I had to control my speed so as not to get blown off course by the changing breeze.

Back in Strabane I was getting hungry and decided to stop for food. I’d been carrying a sandwich in my bag all day, seemingly for nothing, but finally it had a purpose. In the first shop the young assistant provided no assistance and watched me waste 3min getting a tea started and struggling to get hot water. When I eventually asked what was up she informed me that the machine was switched off for the day. Why didn’t she say something sooner! I left with a real hump 😆

Getting a good but expensive (£2.40!) cuppa at the next shop I enjoyed the warm afternoon sunshine while eating the staple of any irishman’s diet – a good old hang samwich before enjoying the last 20km home with a tailwind for most of the way. Of course after a day of challenging hills I finished with one last 1.6km climb to home.

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On a more functional note I seem to have cracked my hydration on the last few rides. I’ve always been bad at drinking enough on rides but I have been stopping to pee mid ride this last few weeks suggesting I’ve finally nailed it. Either that or my prostate is playing up!

Header image source: pinterest.com