We, Becci and Al, take thee TransAtlantic Way, to be our long-distance cycling honeymoon....
Venue. Tick. Band. Tick. Dress. Tick. Now for the most exciting part of wedding planning - where to go on honeymoon. After completing the Transcontinental Bike Race (TCR) in 2016 and the TransAmerica Bike Race (TransAm) in 2017 we wanted something a little more... active once the knot was tied.
A small amount of route planning revealed that we'd be swapping the honeymoon suite for 2255km in the saddle around the west coast of Ireland on the TransAtlantic Way (TAW). For us it was the perfect escape. Focusing on the primal needs of eating, sleeping and riding for 12-16 hours a day provided the ideal post-wedding wind down.
And after all, nothing says romance quite like eating sausage rolls on the side of the road followed by a 250km bike ride in the rain.
From this day forward, and around, and out and back......
The TAW spans two countries on one island - the Republic of Ireland ("the South") and Northern Ireland ("the North"). Start in Dublin, finish in Cork - it looked pretty close on the map, a mere 280km according to Google... so where was that other 2000km coming from?
On closer inspection, we would actually start by heading north to find the Atlantic, the complete opposite direction of our final destination. The first checkpoint was in Derry before following pretty much every single inch of coastline on Ireland's west side - around all of the peninsulas as well as out and back to every headland. From the most northerly and to the most southwesterly point of Ireland with the sea being the ever-present 'third wheel' on our honeymoon adventure.
The most northerly point of Ireland was a loop around Malin Head in Donegal - a spectacular piece of coastline with some of the most fantastic views on near-deserted roads. The dramatic descents and tough climbs out of the bays were worth every watt of effort.
There were times that riding this convoluted route became quite psychologically tough... especially when seeing a countdown for Tra Li on a particularly wet and windy day - a town we’d stayed in over 200km of riding ago, and yet we were headed straight back. The stunning coastline kept us focused and enjoying the ride, along with the rowdy media crew. Just when we started to think we were out there on our own someone would beep their horn and put their head out of the window to make sure we were ok.
To have and to hold, to follow the wheel.....
We often get asked “how is it riding together?”, “it must make it easier having someone to ride with?”, “do you argue?”. Riding as a pair has positives and negatives. It’s great to have someone to keep you motivated and tuck in behind when you’re struggling, like on the penultimate day when I woke up with legs of lead.
I took some pain killers, ate a massive breakfast, had a coffee, listened to music, had some sugar, another coffee... but nothing made it better. I continued to grind, locked in my own battle even with Al's wheel to sit on. I know Al could have quite easily zipped off and made much more progress that day than we did - but being a pair we stuck together.
It can be difficult when your good days and bad days don’t align. For the most part though we are in sync and it’s great having someone else to share all of these moments with and to reminisce together afterwards about the parts of the adventure no one else can understand.
In sickness and in health, in form and out of form.....
Through sunshine and hailstorms.....
We started the ride in beautiful clear blue skies and gentle winds. It was glorious - riding late into the summer evening, watching the sunset and soaking in the scenery. One of these evenings we rode through Glenveagh national park – epic scenery, no cars, sun starting to set, when I saw we were taking a right turn off-piste down a gravel descent- I was glad it was sunset rather than nightfall! With the extra weight from my bike packs though I was like a tank – so sturdy – I’ve never ridden so quickly on gravel. That night we rode until midnight under the romantic light of the stars.
Then storm Hector hit early Wednesday morning- we awoke to drizzling rain, feeling fatigued and drained from 6 days already in the saddle. We had a short disco nap in an Audax restaurant (petrol station) before continuing as the rain became torrential and the winds started to howl. It was pretty miserable riding made so much better by our shared suffering and the knowledge that we weren’t alone. That evening we took shelter early with the hope that tomorrow would be kinder.
The dregs of the storm continued into the following morning. Our spirits were soggy and I wasn’t sure how much more pruned fingers and toes I could take. Feet frozen, head down to avoid being blinded by the rain we continued to ride. After a 6am start we rode over the Gap of Dunloe, a stunning mountain pass taking you up along single track roads through a luscious green scenery past a lake and through the jagged rocks at the tops. We were greated by a rainbow arching over the road. The rewards from these long distance rides cannot always be put into words - but in that moment we were glad we had gotten up that morning, glad we had ridden so far the day before, because in what other circumstances would we have been up there at dawn in the rain. It is these moments I cling to, remembering that nothing lasts forever. Plus, of course the double breakfast we feasted on 80km later.
Till climbing do us part.....
The TAW didn’t have any great alpine passes like in the TCR or any long drags up to 3500m such as in the TransAm, however it is interspersed with some beautiful mountain roads. In order to honor Mike Hall’s memory, long distance cycling legend who was tragically killed during last year’s Indian Pacific Wheel Race, the organisers added in a climbing challenge to recognise the fastest rider up each of the ascents.
The most memorable climb was the Gap of Mamore in Donegal. You can see this beast ascending tightly up into the sky as you approach. At only 2km in length it makes up for its short distance in gradient maxing out at 22% in parts, explaining why the road up was littered with cyclists pushing their laden bikes. At the top we had an enthusiastic greeting from one of the local cycling club’s presidents who had been trying to catch as many riders as possible - he informed me that all of the women he had seen were crushing the men up this climb!
There were around 15 female riders at the start line out of 160 so we were definitely in the minority… Hopefully as cycling sheds its traditional male-dominated image we will see more and more women lining up to take on these epic rides.
An extra vow....
Getting to the finish was a mixed bag- exultation to have finished in just over 9 days averaging over 150 miles per day... excitement to catch up with all the other riders we had come across on the road… sadness that it was all over and I wouldn’t be riding my steel pony tomorrow.
Flash back 2 weeks later, sat in a café eating breakfast whilst simultaneously waving for the bill we looked at each other. “No races next year” we promised each other. Definitely not. They take over your life, there’s no time for relaxation, you feel guilty about any time off the bike and you can’t enjoy your meals. No races next year. As I write, I’m sat in our fancy hotel ordering room service and relaxing… looking up which race to do next.
Text & Photos by Rebecca Harrison