Posted by: brendanodornan | August 27, 2012

Mission Accomplished – 140km cycled

I am sitting here in front of this computer screen with aching neck muscles, tender shoulder muscles, throbbing thighs and a backside that causes me discomfort to sit on.

Having said all that I am ecstatic at having achieved the goal of cycling 140km all around Lough Neagh. It was an entertaining day out and the adrenaline from cycling along with hundreds of other people was addictive. The spectators who came out to watch along the roads gave a lot of encouragement as they waved, clapped and cheered every cyclist as they went past. This really helped keep me going. It felt like I could have been part of the tour de france. Although I did wave back at people as I went past and that’s not something you see Bradley Wiggins and Co doing.

There was a huge crowd at the event. Easily in excess of 1000 cyclists of all ages, shapes, sizes and on all kinds of bicycles. There were tandems, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and shopping bikes with baskets on them as well as the ubiquitous road bikes. There were young teenagers and there grandparents. There were cycling clubs and there were amateurs. Everyone was out for a good day out and there was lots of courtesy and encouragement extended all round. The banter was infectious and you just couldn’t help but laugh.

As it was my first time out with such a large group I learned a whole new vocabulary and sign language from the club cyclists and it makes me tempted to join up with a club for more outings.The communications involved shouting to those around you about potential dangers eg. shouting “HOLE”! accompanied by a pointing down at the road indicated that there was a hole in the road, which became patently obvious as you ploughed straight into it shaking the fillings in your teeth – of course the reason you didn’t see the hole was because it was obscured by the cyclist in front who had shouted the warning about it. “CAR UP” and “CAR DOWN” were shouted frequently indicating that a car was either coming towards you or from behind. Although my favourite warning was from those who shouted “SLOW”! and when everyone else slowed they were able to accelerate past, at least that was how it looked to me.

There were cycling club outfits from all over and a couple in particular had designs on their outfits that kept me amused as I went along. One had shorts with the phrase ‘WARMFLOW’ printed along the backside. On the back of another club jersey was the phrase ‘POWERED BY MUSHROOMS’ and judging by the speed at which they went past me I think they must have been the ‘magic’ variety! However if I was awarding prizes for the best outfit, the top prize would have to go the Scotsman who cycled the Lap with his face painted with the Saltire, sporting a rampant red wig (at least I hope it was a wig) and a pair of novelty cycling shorts in a kilt design with a pair of large bare buttocks exposed at the rear (I think they were false).

We registered at about 8.30am at Peatlands Park just off junction 13 on the M1. Then after eventually finding our starting position (between the red flags) we got released by the starting Marhsall at just after 9am. After having repeated the mantra ‘This is not a race’ over and over he then got us started by shouting “GO, GO , GO”!

We set off east and then headed south into Portadown to cross the River Bann before turning north, skirting Craigavon and Lurgan. A short water and banana break was had at Gawley’s Gate after about 40km . We set off again heading north towards Crumlin. At the left hand turn off the Lurgan Rd., my wife and daughter had turned out to see us pass and this was a huge morale boost as my daughter shouted “Daddy”! and clapped as I went past. My wife later told me that they had been waiting for about 15 minutes for us and had asked the Marshall if many people had already gone through and he replied “about a thousand”!

I don’t think we were that far back in the group.

I was cycling with my two brothers and one of them had a tyre blow-out just south of Antrim on a little back-road. During a quick 5 minute repair there must have been two hundred cyclists went past us.A few shouted to see if we were OK as they went past.

The lunch-stop at Clotworthy gardens was a welcome rest at 12pm and we got soup, a bread-roll, an energy bar and a bottle of water. A Sports Massage was on offer if you were inclined to avail of this opportunity and judging by the size of the queues plenty of people were interested in having their muscles rubbed.

We mounted the bikes again and this was when the aches were starting to be felt. The pressure of the saddle on the tender nether regions was obvious. The miles disappeared as we cycled west towards Randalstown and Toome with a few shallow but noticeable climbs around here. We then turned south and into the wind now towards Ballyronan and another water stop. We didn’t need any water top-up but just took a short rest and chewed on a few jelly babies before starting out again. There were a considerable number of people who didn’t stop at this point but just continued on.

We dismounted to cross a footbridge at Maghery with 5km left to go and this was where I was really out of breath and starting to struggle. I think it was psychological because I got it into my head that since we were dismounting, the finish must be just round the next corner. Unfortunately there were 5km of corners to go. One brother had left us, speeding off into the distance about 10km back and we didn’t see him again until we reached the finish. We thought that he’d latched onto a cycling club which wasn’t actually participating in the Lap of The Lough and that he might have been unknowingly now riding off into the sunset in the direction of Dungannon.

We crossed the finish point at just after 3pm and picked up our Lap The Lough cycling caps. There was a sandwich, tea/coffee, water and a bar of chocolate to replenish the energy. I could hardly find the energy to chew and when I sat on a picnic bench I had to keep shifting about as it hurt! As for getting back onto my bike to cycle to our parking (about a mile away) this was just agony!

We had completed the Lap The Lough in just over 5hrs, at an average speed of 27.4km/hr (17mph) and had covered 140km. I burned 4500 calories. Sadly I have no pictures as my camera malfunctioned (dodgy batteries) however the Lap The Lough face-book site have promised to post pictures so head on over there for a flavour of the event. Update – I just got these pictures sent from my brother, they were taken before we started the cycling so we look fresh.

The Lap The Lough was a highly enjoyable day out and highly recommended to anyone with a little bit of training. I cant wait for next year! Will I see you there?

Thanks for reading,


P.S. if you enjoyed following my exploits training and participating in the Lap The Lough and would like to make a donation to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign please visit my web page at

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 25, 2012

1 Day to Go – Almost £1000 in sponsorship collected

Last day before the circuit of the Lough. I cant believe the immense response I have had for donations to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. These have exceeded all my expectations. At this stage we are within a few pounds of reaching £1000 which would be double the original target. A big thanks goes out to everyone who contributed. Also a big word of thanks to my Mum who went out and took the direct approach to collecting sponsorship by knocking on people’s doors. She managed to collect over two hundred pounds herself. Although I did think the balaclava and baseball bat were a little unorthodox even if they were effective.

I didn’t have much time today to reflect on tomorrow’s Lap The Lough because I was busy with other things, getting feet measured for new school shoes (not mine), returning library books and choosing new ones (again not mine).

I did manage to follow the dietary advice though and load up on carbs. This is the sort of training that I’m really good at. I had pasta with meatballs for lunch and I had fresh tagliatelle with sauce for dinner.

Since I am bringing two cycling partners with me tomorrow I also prepared a new bike carrier for my car’s roof-rack so I can now take three bikes. Looks like a support car from Le tour de France. At least until the three slightly over-weight and ageing ‘athletes’ get out and then there’s no mistake.

Starting to feel some jitters now. What have I let myself be talked into, 86 miles – what was I thinking?! Maybe that twinge I feel in my left knee is serious? What about that head cold I’ve been feeling over the past two days, perhaps its really influenza and that can be devastating…for a man. What if its Bird Flu? I think I hear a crack from my ankle. Maybe I ought to go and lie down. I’ll measure my blood pressure instead. Mmmmm 118 over 80, with a pulse of 70, so still alive anyway. Guess I’ll keep going then.

I have laid out my supplies for the morning as it’s an early start tomorrow. In order to arrive at Peatlands park for about 8am for registration we need to leave here at about 7.20am. My supplies consist of two granola bars, some jelly babies, my water bottle, mobile phone, camera (for the blog) and a little cash.

I just read on the Lap The Lough Facebook page that some nutter has been changing the direction arrows painted on the road.

Must remember no caffeine tomorrow, it increases the heart rate and causes dehydration.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is still favourable with temperatures of 12-15 deg C, sunshine and light winds of 4-6 mph from the west changing to south later in the day. Couldn’t be better.

Log in again to hear how the Lap goes, to share the pain and hopefully see some pictures.

If you would like to make a contribution to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign please visit my page at

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 24, 2012

2 Days to Go – Time to Clean My Chain.

In order to have my bike in good condition for Lap The Lough there is one dirty job that needs doing.

It’s important to have a clean chain. This can be a job that is hard to stay on top of.

A dirty chain affects one’s performance and it’s not visually appealing. Especially if you are expecting to take part in an upcoming event. Giving one’s chain a good scrub and applying lubrication allows a cyclist to stand proud.

The ins and outs of chain cleaning are much debated however the general principles at the root of the topic are firm. There are various methods promulgated but the one which I use with some success is the old fashioned liquid soap, water and scrubbing brush approach.

A popular approach is from behind, the bike, and one takes hold of one’s chain in the left hand and adds a liberal coating of liquid soap and water. The soap is gently massaged back and forwards along one’s chain. It’s important to make sure that all the parts are well soaped up. This is usually a solitary activity but if you can get someone to help then the task will be more pleasurable. 

Sometimes if there is stubborn grease in the crevices it’s necessary to use a scrubbing brush, but be gentle, as the chain is a delicate, high performance piece of equipment, and you only have one.

Once all the grease has been removed, rinse off the soap using clean water. Then dry thoroughly. I like to use a soft fabric on my chain but also a vigorous forward and backward motion of the chain can suffice to shake off any excess water.

Once one’s chain is dry it is essential to add lubrication before the event. There are lots of types available to buy and it’s really a matter of personal choice. Lubrication is necessary because it reduces friction, easing the movement as the parts come together and also protects the chain from the harsh environment into which it is put.  All of this allows the cyclist to pump harder for longer.

The final result is a clean, well oiled, shiny chain. The cyclist is then ready to perform at his peak.

To make a donation visit my site at….

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 23, 2012

3 Days to Go – Messages received


I got a voicemail left on my telephone from The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, thanking me for all the donations they have been receiving and also wishing me well in my endeavours to ‘Leap The Lough’!

Maybe I’ve signed up for the wrong event! I might need to take a long run for that one.

The organisers of the Lap The Lough have also been in touch by email advising me to make sure my bike is in good order. I plan to give it a clean so log on tomorrow to hear about ‘cleaning my chain’. They also advise of the need to scale back the training. Since I havent done any training since last Saturday I’m wondering how I can scale this back. Perhaps I should lie down more.

Message From a colleague…thanks Jacqui,

‘A pedestrian stepped off the curb and into the road without looking one day and promptly gets knocked flat by a passing cyclist.

You were really lucky there, said the cyclist.

What on earth are you talking about! That really hurt! said the pedestrian, still on the pavement, rubbing his head.

Well, usually I drive a bus! the cyclist replied’

Weather update for Sunday.

Dry, with some sunshine, a temperature of 12-15 deg C, wind speed approximately 9mph from the west changing to south just as we will be heading south – so into the breeze on the homeward leg.

To make a donation visit my site at….

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 22, 2012

4 days to go – Final Preparations underway

With Four Days to go I’m starting the final preparations.

Diet is important to a finely honed athlete (does anyone know one?) so I dined on pasta with creamy sauce and for extra energy had a chocolate profiterole dessert.

I have my cycling clothes prepared – choosing bib shorts for the extra padding in the lower sensitive nether regions. As for jersey I’ve yet to decide on red, yellow or a black/green combo. Rain protection is a must. Clip in cycling shoes are now standard for me. Nb no underpants!

Weather forecast for Sunday is reasonably good so far. Light winds of 9mph from the NNE and light rain. So we will be riding into the wind on the outward northerly portion and then after lunch we get a tail wind as we head south.

Noticed from the LTL website that the distance has increased from 81 miles to 86 miles! Probably due to the lough swelling up with all the rain we’ve had!

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 21, 2012

Last Big Outing Before Lap The Lough, Part 2 of 2

Continued from Part 1.

I set off again down the Glens Brae incline in the direction of Martinstown. The speed quickly increased and I moved my grip onto the drops (tech term for the lower part of the handlebars). With this aerodynamic profile (holding my belly in) my speed reached 60km/hr. I should point out that I have switched to metric measurements as those seem to be the units used in cycling circles….as well as in cycling straight lines. A tractor pulled out of a field onto the road about 20m ahead and I braked sharply. The bike skidded about a bit and I overtook the tractor and carried on, breathing a huge sigh of relief. My cycling jersey was now dry but I wasn’t so sure about my shorts.

At the end of the junction I turned right and again ascended the hill towards Cargan. This time it felt easier and I reached the top without thinking that I was making a terrible mistake. The descent into Waterfoot was just sheer exhilaration with the warm sun on my face and a cool breeze blowing. At the bottom of the hill I made a  right hand turn into Waterfoot village. An on-coming tour bus stopped to let me through the cars which were parked up both sides of the road creating a single file traffic system. I cycled on through the village and there seemed to be few people around. A camper van with Italian registration plates passed me. I wondered if they’d come to Ireland to get away from the hot sun, cloudless blue skies, turquoise Mediterranean sea and delectable fresh pasta and sea food. To replace it with driving drizzle, grey skies and a pasty supper. They were probably headed for the boat in Larne.

I passed the remnants of the old railway line and bridge (the White Arch) which were briefly used to carry iron ore (circa 1870) from the Glenariff mine to boats for export to Scotland and England. The mines were operational for only a short time and suffered from a lack of skilled and willing labour in the area. The railway track was eventually dismantled, after 3 miles of it was stolen in one night, so at least not everyone was lacking in skill and shy of hard work.

The Garron point headland protected me from the wind until I turned south again and then I had to pedal to make good progress. My speed had dropped by 7km/hr when I had turned into the wind. The sun was reflecting off the surface of the sea and there was a wonderful fresh aroma of salt and seaweed in the air.

I reached Carnlough at about 11am. It’s referred to as ‘Cyarnloa’ by the local inhabitants and is a picturesque village with quaint fishing boats moored in the harbour. It was mostly built by Lady Londonderry of the Antrim aristocracy who had also built the hotel in the town ‘The Londonderry Arms’  as a coaching inn. She was an aunt to Winston Churchill and ownership of the hotel passed to him before he sold it on (circa 1930). One of Churchill’s quotes that is very apt in my endeavours to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign wasWe make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give’. Another quote of his that I like was his reply when he was addressed by Nancy Astor “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison” to which he replied “If I were your husband, I would take it”.

I stopped by the harbour and tucked into the second of my snack bars and while I was there a tour bus pulled into the car park opposite. Its passengers disembarked onto the tarmac and most headed immediately for the public toilets, forming a long queue outside. I wondered if there was a potential missed opportunity there for an enterprising young Carnlough “Alan Sugar” type to set up a stall in the vicinity and separate some of the tourists from their cash.

With my break over I straddled my bike and continued around the coast to Glenarm. The road is flat along the coast and the cycling is easy and enjoyable. A prominent feature of Glenarm is the castle which dates from the 18th Century. Castles have been sited in Glenarm in various locations since the 13th Century and the walls of the original form part of the old Courthouse in the village. The skeleton of a prisoner who was executed by being walled up inside was found here in the 1970’s.

I passed the lower end of Mark Street in the village which was where I took music lessons as a teenager. I recall the teacher had a little dog which used to run around at my feet as I concentrated on my piece. One day as I tinkled on the keys, the dog tinkled on my leg! It must have been expressing some displeasure at my musical abilities, or lack of them.

I left Glenarm and a few miles south passed a rock formation on the seaward side of the road with a large hole in the rock. This is known locally as ‘Madman’s Window’. The story goes that a young local girl drowned while swimming in Glenarm Bay and that her husband-to-be lost his mind and spent every day gazing out to sea through this ‘window’ waiting for her to come home.

A few miles further on and I came into Ballygalley. This village is an affluent suburb of Larne. If you have moved to Ballygalley you know you have made it big. Ballygalley is to Larne what Martha’s Vineyard is to Massachussetts. (Except it’s not an island, and it’s a lot smaller, in fact it’s not really like Martha’s Vineyard at all).

Ballygalley is a beautiful, quiet, coastal village with well kept villas looking out over the sea. It has a hotel which used to be seventeenth century fortified manor house. It is reputed to be haunted (the hotel that is).

Another fascinating local story concerns a Spanish chestnut tree that grows in the grounds of the cemetery of the Church of Ireland. When the invading Spanish Armada ships floundered in a storm around Ireland some sank in the vicinity of the Antrim coast. It is said that the body of a Spanish sailor was washed up near Ballygalley and that locals buried him in the graveyard. The sailor had some seeds in his pockets and these germinated and grew into the Spanish chestnut tree. Samples from the tree were recently analysed and dated the tree to the sixteenth century, adding some credibility to the legend. If the Spanish Armada had succeeded we could all have been speaking Spanish, drinking Rioja and eating tapas instead we are speaking ulster scots, drinking Irn Bru and eating fish suppers.

I took the first road on the right on entering the village and then a quick left turn onto Croft Rd. This was a category 5 climb of 5 km back up towards Millbrook. I was really feeling tired now after having done 85km, my legs were feeling like jelly, my breath was laboured, my lungs were bursting and my heart was hammering. I was hoping that each bend of the road was the last but there was always another inexorable hill to climb. At last I got to the top and turned left back into Drumahoe Rd and free-wheeled back to the car park.

I had covered 93km (58 miles), including six category five climbs and one category 4 climb. I had burned 3000kcal.

When I got home Adele wanted to go out on her Weehoo so we went to the Comber Greenway and I did another 10miles pulling the Weehoo behind!

To make a donation visit my site at….

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 19, 2012

Last Big Outing Before Lap The Lough, Part 1 of 2

Saturday 18 Aug 2012. Eight days to go. Last chance to do a big distance before Lap The Lough 2012.

I rose early, breakfasted on porridge, toast with marmalade and coffee. I hoisted the bike onto the roof of the car and set off for Larne. My first obstacle was the barrier at the entrance to the Park and Ride car park at Millbrook. The height was marked as eight feet and three inches. I had no idea if I was under that or not, I crawled the car forward and then got out to check, I just cleared it with about an inch to spare.

I got my jersey stocked for the morning with granola bars, a water bottle on the bike and put on my raincoat. Even though it was already warm at 17 deg C there were very dark and angry looking clouds over Agnew’s Hill, where I was headed.

I left Millbrook and headed north west up Drumahoe Rd and turned left onto Deerpark Rd. My muscles were feeling stiff after last weekend’s exertions (cycling) and there was a dull, throbbing ache from….down below. I was well off the pace that we set last weekend.

I passed a couple of houses on the right with a plaque mounted on the wall commemorating the Countess Balzani. This lady’s father was Squire Agnew for whom Kilwaughter Castle had been built in 1803. The castle is now a ruin. His daughter went off to Italy and married an Italian Count and returned to Ireland as Countess Balzani. The countess started a school in the area which has now been converted into two private residences and are marked with the plaque shown below.

Access to Kilwaughter Castle is not possible as it stands on private property, however you can still see it from the road and it must have been an impressive building in its prime. Soldiers occupied Kilwaughter Castle in the 1940’s including, from Jan until May ’44, members of the American 644th T.D. (Tank Destroyer) Battalion preparing for D-day.

I turned right on to Castle Hill Rd, and at the T junction turned right again onto Starbog Rd., to climb up (a category 4 climb) and skirt around the base of Agnew’s Hill. This is an area where as boys we would help our father cut and dry turf. Still visible are some banks where turf was cut although I didn’t see any evidence of recent cutting. I doubt if many people do this anymore as its heavy, monotonous work and often plagued with midge flies…which bite. These are not to be confused with midgets, as some people erroneously write, and as far as I know we have no issues with biting midgets in County Antrim.

In the picture below you can see the view from Starbog Rd across towards Glenarm with some turf banks in the middle foreground, if you look closely, with a magnifying glass.

I carried on and could soon see Slemish Mountain on my left. At the end of Starbog Rd., I continued onto Deerpark Rd., if I’d turned left here I would have strayed within a whiff of Fartown.

Deerpark road had a fast descent into a bend and then a tough climb up past the old Deerpark Creamery. It looked quite derelict so I’m not sure if it’s still operational.

At the end of the road I turned right in the direction of Glenarm on Lisles Hill Rd., and at the junction turned left onto Munie Rd. This road climbs up and through some scrub and moorland and passes the old house where my father was born. Dad lived here until he married and moved to Larne in the sixties. I’ve seen very similar buildings at Cultra Folk Museum – although those are in better condition.

This town-land region is known as Antynanum and is also home to Ireland’s longest megalithic court tomb at 70m in length. These structures date from about 10,000 years ago and were built by farming communities.

I continued on and the rain started to come down in torrents, I was glad to have brought my raincoat. I turned left onto the main road in the direction of Ballymena and soon passed Carnalbanagh Sheddings. This place is certainly no longer in operation, there used to be a farm supplies store and a public house however both are no longer in operation.

My next turn was to the right onto Longmore Rd. This was a category 5 climb and offered spectacular views of Slemish Mountain from the north. Slemish is a volcanic plug and is also famous for its links with St Patrick, who spent many happy nights here with his sheep.

My other interest in Longmore Rd is that in the historical archives there is a record of an O’Dornan renting land in this area in 1640. Farming at this time was a subsistence existence based on growing what oats and potatoes you needed to feed your family. A lot of the land up in this area is very bleak and it would have been a very tough life.

While contemplating this harsh, austere, inhospitable, hand to mouth existence, I stopped briefly, unwrapped and masticated on a chewy granola bar, savouring the chewy, nutty, sweetness and  then continued to the junction with Glens Brae Rd and turned right.

This road included a very fast descent into a right hand bend and steep ascent. I built up as much speed as I dared going downhill, round the bend and this momentum helped carry me at least half way up the far side. I got to the summit and stopped to get my breath back and removed my raincoat. The sun was now shining brightly and I was soaked with sweat under my raincoat.

Look me up later in the week for Part 2 to hear about Waterfoot, Carnlough, Glenarm and Baggyalley.

To make a donation visit my site at….

Posted by: brendanodornan | August 16, 2012

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular Dystrophy is a serious condition that causes progressive muscle weakness. For example in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, muscle fibres break down and are replaced by fibrous and / or fatty tissue causing the muscle to gradually weaken.

There are about 2500 known boys with the Duchenne type disorder living in the UK at any one time. For the general population the risk of having a child with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is about 1 in every 3500 male births.

Unfortunately no cure has yet been discovered. Despite promising research into the condition, at the present time, the only treatment that experts recommend to slow the decline in muscle strength and mobility is steroids. However, there are many possible side-effects with this.

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign leads the fight against muscle disease by

  • funding world-class research
  • offering free information and advice about care and support
  • providing grants towards equipment
  • campaigning to raise awareness and bring about change

Some Examples of How The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Uses the Money Raised

£35 funds an hour of research that could lead to a treatment or cure to improve and lengthen people’s lives

£50 gives parents one hour with a specialist physiotherapist who can show them the valuable muscle-stretching techniques that could keep their child walking for longer

£900 allows the charity to make a grant towards the cost of a child’s powered wheelchair.

£2000 covers the running costs of a muscle centre for a week, providing diagnosis and multi-disciplinary care.


In memory of John Gordon.

To make a donation visit my site at….

After the Vanishing Lake photo stop we continued onwards skirting the edge of Ballypatrick Forest and descended towards Ballycastle, passing the Golf Course on our right and the ruin of Benamargy Friary on the left. This ruined building is of fascinating historical significance and if you’re in the area is worth a visit. It was a Franciscan monastery founded in the 15th Century and is said to be haunted by the ghost of Julie McQuillan ‘The Black Nun’. I don’t have any information about why she was referred to as ‘The Black Nun’ – perhaps she practised the Dark Arts or maybe she just had dirty habits! Old jokes are — just old.

We turned right at the roundabout in Ballycastle taking us onto North Street. I was hoping my cycling colleague would suggest a stop at one of the several inviting coffee shops here but alas this was not to be. We headed up the 10% gradient on North Street and out of the town on Clare Road. This was a tough climb. I’d never been up here before and the views were excellent. The dark skies had cleared and we were now in bright sunshine. There was a very clear view across to Rathlin Island.

We continued on for several miles enjoying the sun, the views and the cycling. A car park area on the right with several tour buses tempted us to pull in to investigate and perhaps take a few pictures. A couple of American ladies got talking with us and took our picture. They were from ‘up state Noo Yawk’ and were really impressed with how ‘bootiful the scenery is in Ireland’. I lapsed into fluent American and wished them a pleasant stay for the rest of their ‘vacation’. The view of Rathlin Island from here was stunning on such a clear day.

Having done our promotional bit for Tourism N Ireland we set off again heading west along the coast road towards Bushmills. We passed Carrickarede Rope Bridge and the Giants Causeway, reaching Bushmills at a little after 11am. Bushmills was really busy and there were bikes parked everywhere outside the coffee shops. We chose one just on the left at the main square and queued for what seemed like ages to order coffee and cake. I ordered a large black coffee and Mal ordered an ‘americano’ – it looked like we both got the same thing. I had a large and delicious piece of chocolate cake and Mal had a slice of something that looked equally good but I was too busy getting stuck into my cake to notice what it was. When he finished he still looked hungry so I shared a bit of my cake with him.

Before leaving the cafe, I visited the Gents to answer a call of nature. On the way back through the door and in full view of the cafe clientele, my left cycling shoe slid on something wet on the floor, my leg flew four feet in the air, both my arms extended in an involuntary action to try and regain my balance and the momentum swung me around 180 degrees causing me to lose my footing. I fell back onto my well padded derriere. Coffee drinkers at several tables thought this was hilarious! Needless to say, I sheepishly picked myself up, grabbed my cycling helmet and gloves and left with as much dignity as I could muster under the circumstances.

I was so embarrassed I didn’t dare stop to ask for directions of how to get to Straid Rd., which was our route out of Bushmills. Thankfully we found the road several hundred metres further on the left and that was when we realised the strength of the headwind! We were now cycling directly uphill into a 15mph wind with gusts of up to 30mph! This was tough! We had to pedal really hard just to make forward progress. As if that wasn’t bad enough a quick calculation told us we would have to cover about 25 miles in this.

The road out of Bushmills towards Armoy was long, straight, uphill and with little natural shelter from the wind. We suffered. Well, I suffered. Mal, the machine, powered on regardless. On several occasions he slowed a little so I could catch up. Eventually we turned right onto the road into Armoy and we got a little respite from the wind, but not for long as we soon passed the Armoy Round Tower and made a sharp right turn onto the long uphill section towards home. A long, straight, uphill ride of many Km into the wind.

I thought this last 7 or 8 miles were the toughest of all. Even though this section was only a category five climb, my legs were hurting and my lungs were bursting. I could feel the chocolate cake lying in my stomach like concrete. Mal was by now half a mile or so ahead and had slowed again to ensure that he didn’t leave me completely behind.

After a long hard slog into the relentless, blasting wind I reached the summit and started downhill. I still had to pedal because the wind was so strong it wasn’t possible to freewheel down the hill. Eventually home-base (our finish point, not the DIY store) came into view and Mal sprinted for the finish. I watched him disappear into the distance as I crawled along in second gear barely able to turn the cranks.

As I got off the bike I checked the odometer and we had covered exactly 70.0 miles. We had spent 4hr and 53 minutes cycling. I was feeling ill. I couldnt eat. I had to rest.
The next day I was hurting in places that I didn’t even know I had places.

Bring on the Lough at 81 miles!!

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At last the weekend was here, an opportunity to cycle a route other than my Ballyclare/Templepatrick work run.

I had a partner for this outing. We’ll call him ‘Mal’….after all that’s his name. He’s been cycling for a few years now after a break of ten years or so, he’s a regular cycling with the Shannonside cycling club and he also competes regularly in Triathlons. I don’t make a habit of looking at another man’s legs but he has calf muscles that are as thick as tree trunks. I was going to be out of my depth. We were to set off from Martinstown (a small village to the north of Ballymena) on Saturday morning. I arrived at a little after 8am and Mal had his full carbon fibre racing bike ready. This bike weighs several Kg less than mine. I suppose in my favour I had the fact that I am several Kg lighter than him.

The weather was clear and bright, the sun was shining, the temperature was about 16 deg C. There was a South Easterly wind blowing at 15mph with gusts of 30mph. The wind would turn out to be the toughest challenge of the day.

Stocked up with energy bars and water we set off at 8.30am in a north easterly direction, uphill through Cargan and onwards past the old iron ore mines on the left. The village was originally known as Fisherstown after the man who started the mines here. There was also a railway which transported the ore. Remnants of the old rail lines can still be seen today. Mal was in the lead and was setting a cracking pace up this hill. I got some respite as we reached the top of the hill and started our descent down into Waterfoot.

We continued around the coast and through Red Bay Arch, built by Francis Turnly in 1817. Above Red Bay Arch is the ruin of MacDonnell’s castle which was destroyed in the Cromwell campaigns in 1652 – a quarter of the population of Ireland died during this time. I was beginning to think I might be joining them if this pace didn’t slow a little.

The sky was darkening as we entered Cushendall. It was festival week after all. There were people gathering for the vintage parade and I wondered if ‘vintage’ referred to the average age of the population. We turned left at the ‘Curfew Tower’ built in 1809 as a prison – plenty of public services for the locals here?

On we went, Mal still leading the charge uphill and round towards Knocknacarry, named from the Irish Cnoc na Caraidh meaning “hill of the weir”. The weir referred to a diverted part of the river Dun which operated a water mill. A cousin of ours was driving an old tractor in the opposite direction to us and we waved as he passed. He waved back but I doubt that he knew he was waving at relatives, probably just thought “two more obsessed lycra clad cyclists”.

At a fork in the road Mal turned right down towards Cushendun and I had the horrible premonition that he was going to try and lead me up the infamous ‘Torr Hill’ also know in cycling circles as ‘The Giant Killer’. This would not do. I summoned some energy and managed to catch up with him and he agreed not to take on the Giant Killer,….. that day! We turned and went back to the junction, taking the right hand fork onto the A2, Loughareema Rd., towards Ballycastle.

This in itself is a Category 3 climb (the climbs are graded from 5 to 1, where 1 is the toughest). The sky had now turned fifty shades of grey and was looking very ominous. I was thinking that putting all my faith in the met office forecast of a bright, sunny and warm day may not have been wise. We were both wearing short sleeved cycling jerseys and had no raincoats. The uphill route took us through Ballypatrick Forest and peaked near Loch An Rith Amach (Loughareema) or The Vanishing Lake. The Loch was empty so no concerns about being haunted by the ghost of Captain McNeill’s horses and carriage. The chance of a photo opportunity allowed a first short and welcome break. Mal opened up an energy bar which disappeared in one bite while I was getting the camera ready. He then took the picture and was remounting his bike while I put the camera away. It was like a Grand Prix pit-stop. I didn’t have time to refuel and my energy bars stayed in my pocket. He did however, open a full bag of jelly babies and shared a couple of those with me before a couple of handfuls suffered the same fate as his energy bar.

Log in again to read about where our journey took us next.

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