Cycling Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, 2100km in 7 days

What does it take to cycle 2100km in 7 days with over 24000 metres of climbing, along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way? It takes character!

Why would someone choose to endure this physical and mental gruelling challenge? Is it to escape, to live in the moment, to test your limits and beyond, to explore the unknown and be at one with nature up close and personal? Is it simply a sporty holiday where you want to join your adventure buddy, test your endurance levels and meet lots of inspirational characters? For me, it was all of the above – and more.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way (AKA in Audax terms ‘The WAWA’)

The Wild Atlantic Way Audax Ireland event started on Friday 17th of June and required cyclists to pedal 2,100km over 7 days and 7 hours – in other words, they had 175 hours to get from one end of the Wild Atlantic Way to the other.

In total a field of 56 riders representing Canada, Australia, USA, France, Germany, Brazil, UK, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland took on this gruelling endurance challenge, cycling unsupported from Kinsale to Derry.

The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal drive/cycle/run/walk in the world and showcases the spectacular beauty of Ireland’s west coast, from wild horses galloping on deserted beaches, rugged headlands meandering into the wild Atlantic Ocean, to colourful villages and towns steeped in heritage and traditions.

Audax control point

Audax control point, sponsored by Mayo.ie

Audax Ireland is a group that promotes long distance cycling in Ireland. This is not racing, although there are time limits, meaning riders can’t go too fast or too slow.

A rider in Audax terms is called a Randonee and one has to be prepared for anything. It’s not like racing where if it starts to rain someone hands you a jacket out of a car window. Riders carry everything themselves, food, tools, lights etc.

The first I had heard about Audax was in January when I received a Facebook message from some guy (AKA Eamon the organiser) saying, “I heard you are into this mad stuff, we have no Irish women entered to date but I bet you wouldn’t be able for it.” Attached was the link with the details of the WAW cycle. I found it amusing and responded, “Who are you and what have you done?!”. He said he’d done PBP (Paris-Breast-Paris, 1200km). I quipped  that it was very flat over in France and it must have been easy. I clearly struck a nerve and he seemed to appreciate the comeback!

After having a quick look at it, I decided I was doing it and if I was doing it, then so was my adventure buddy Linda. I sent her on the link asking her thoughts on it. She responded: “That seems nuts, I’ll have to think about it”.

In my head and knowing Linda, that means, “Great, sign me up!” I got straight back to Eamon and said “You not only have one Irish woman but two – where do I pay the deposit?”

That was it – we were signed up. I informed Linda, not that she was surprised I had gone ahead and made the commitment for both of us. I’ve lost count of the number of events we have done together in the past 10 years, from the Marathon des Sables to ultra trail runs in France, exploring the mountains in the Phillipines, NZ, Australia, the list goes on. I feel very fortunate to have someone so compatible to share all these experiences with; at this point we don’t even need to talk to communicate. We are possibly faster individually for shorter events but for anything endurance we are a duo power machine and most importantly, we love the social side of the longer events and it seems to attract some great characters. Yes, you have to be a bit nuts to do some of this stuff.

So what training did we do to prepare for this 2100km? That’s a good question!

The response is very simple, not a lot!

Having recently moved back home to Ballina, setting up a tourism business ‘Rachel’s Irish Adventures’, as well as starting a new job in the Connacht Whiskey Distillery and trying to settle into a ‘new’ place, making friends, adjusting to the lifestyle in the west of Ireland and connecting people with the same passions, finding the balance has been a challenge.

The longest cycle I had done previous to the WAW cycle was 220km and Linda’s was the 180km Ring of Kerry, which happened to be our warm up on day 2 of the event.

The Audax organsiers were concerned about our lack of experience going into the event and apparently had a meeting where this concern was raised. The other participants of the WAW cycle thought we were nuts jumping from 220km to 2100km and no real training done. We already knew we were nuts and although you need to always be humble in endurance events, we secretly knew we would cross the Peace bridge in Derry in 7 days even if we had to run with the bikes.

Myself and Linda after registration in Kinsale (The calm before the storm!)

Myself and Linda after registration in Kinsale (The calm before the storm!)

 

I’m very fortunate to have gotten the Ventus titanium bike sponsored by Van Nicholas and GC sports. I didn’t know anything about titanium bikes, but I was reassured by endurance riders that this is the best option for comfort. Titanium is noted for being tougher than steel and vibrations are reduced which leads to less body fatigue and faster recovery time.

I arrived in Kinsale on Thursday evening for registration, met Linda and all the other excited, but anxious participants. We were checking out each other’s bikes, all wondering who was the maddest, the truth is, anyone that willingly signs up for a 2100km cycle unsupported, ready to persevere the weather conditions and terrain on Ireland’s western coastline deserves respect, although many may argue that they need to get a check-up.

All geared up and myself and Linda went for another dinner at the hostel where we got to bond with some of the other warriors. I was immediately intrigued by one gentleman, a very experienced ultra-distance runner and full of stories to share. To be honest every single person was so interesting, each with their own stories to share and their own unique and mad character.

 

Four ladies start and power to the finish line. Catherine Shenk USA, Bridgit Zimmermann Germany, Linda o’Connor Ireland, Rachel Nolan Ireland

Four ladies start and power to the finish line. Catherine Shenk USA, Bridgit Zimmermann Germany, Linda o’Connor Ireland, Rachel Nolan Ireland

Day 1: Kinsale- Kenmare 326km and a lot of big hills

4.14am on Friday, the epic journey begins.

A couple of buckets of museli and two coffees, on the bike and a nice roll down to the centre of Kinsale. We were all anxiously hanging around till the ‘GO’ at 6am. It was like a scatter of wild lions ready to be releaset. 3,2,1, GO.

Wooppeeee, we were off and starting with fresh, uninjured and clean legs. Once people have a helmet on, it’s like going to confessions, you can say and admit to anything as it feels like the person can’t see you.

We were all bunched for the first couple of kilometres, Linda was one side of me, never more than a metre apart for the entire 2100km, and to the other side was a lovely man I got chatting to. At one point, he yelled out, “oh no I forgot a spare”,  I thought he meant a spare tube.  “With all these bumps on the road if they fall out I don’t have a spare set and won’t be able to talk to anyone”. Yes you guessed right, he was talking about his teeth. His concern was losing his teeth on the ride and not being able to chat to everyone. This English man, AKA the Teddy bear is a true character, possibly in his 60’s, big white beard and an amazing positive energy. His favourite time of the day was choosing a bar to have his daily pint of black stuff, I caught him and his buddy a few times when we were in the bars loading up on coffee, it was like they were just on a Sunday spin.

The first few hours were all very sociable, the sun was out and the skies were blue, and then…. the ‘big hills’ started…. (To be continued)