Rachel’s Blog

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The story of my bicycle

The story of my bike – by Rachel Nolan

‘Rachel Nolan!… slow down or you’ll fall and cut your knees!’

This is one of my first and strongest memories of being on a bicycle. My Granny staring at me with a shocked expression on her face. She was not used to seeing little girls racing around on the bike, it was just not very lady like. It got serious when she called me ‘Rachel Nolan’ and I was enjoying the attention and decided to put on a performance of ‘no hands’ going down our driveway. At the time it seemed like a big, rocky hill and rushing it down made me feel brave and free.

This was probably where the love-story of ‘Rachel and her bicycle’ first started. Looking back on over 30 years of adventures on two wheels, I realised my whole life story can be told by sharing bicycle anecdotes. Now, on a rainy winter’s day, as I’m sitting on the couch instead of cycling through the storm, my feet wrapped in woolly socks, I feel it is a good time to write about some of my best bike-memories. I hope you enjoy the story of me and my bicycle.

Rachel on the road bike
On the road bike
Rachel Nolan hiking her bike
Hiking the mtb through the wilds of County Sligo

My first bicycle

The first real bike I ever got was shiny and purple. It was a Christmas present, had no gears but a pink bell, which I absolutely loved. I was just about 5 years old and couldn’t wait to take the purple bolt outside for a test ride. The weather was cold and rainy that Christmas morning, but I begged Mam to take me outside. After a while she gave in, we changed out of our Christmas pyjamas and went over to my cousin’s house. Their driveway was super flat compared to our steep, rocky hill and a better training ground for my first try on the ‘big girl’ bike. From the first push down on the peddle a dazzling feeling of pride arose within me. Balancing the bike felt as natural as it can be, and I picked up the pace. I went as fast as I could and loved the feeling of the wind blowing my hair all over. That day I promised myself (and Mam) to ride my bike every day.

Well, I guess it wasn’t quite every day, but I raced around our house, down to Peggy’s our local shop and over to my cousins a lot. The purple bike with the pink bell was my favourite toy for years. I don’t remember wearing a helmet too often. Maybe back then gravity was just not around as much. Quite possibly I had convinced my parents that my crazy curls would protect me better than anything.

A teen out on the bike for the first long adventure

From a young age, the bike was always my preferred mode of transport. It offered me a lot of freedom and independence. Besides, I really didn’t like to walk anywhere because it was just too slow. Therefore, I either took the bike or, if the distance was very short, I’d run. It was all about efficiency. Who wants to waste their valuable time walking if it could be spent with friends playing ‘tip the can’, curbs or football?

On the way to the beach

At the age of 14, myself and my friend Sarah decided to cycle to Enniscrone beach. We wanted to join some buddies to jump off the pier – still one of the number 1 activities for cool west coast teens. Usually, our beach trips involved sticking the thumb out on the Quay Road until a nice passing local would pick us up and drop us down to Enniscrone. Sorry Mam if you are only finding this out now.

This day, I convinced Sarah it would be mighty craic to be independent and cycle down. Enniscrone pier is about 8km from my house. The longest distance ever if you’d ask my 14-year-old self. We started from my house and headed north along the coast road. Little did we know that this route would, years later, become part of the famous Wild Atlantic Way. Back then I had little admiration for the rolling hills and the idyllic scenery we experienced on our way to the beach. The journey ended up involving lots of breaks, but we made it. We arrived down at the pier and the others admired us for our adventurous spirits. Enjoying the sunny afternoon, we jumped off the pier and treated ourselves to an extra-large 99 ice-cream. Personally, I always liked it without the flake and still do. The flake just distracts me from the ice-cream. Time flew past, and we had to go back home.

Why is the way home always longer?

We mounted our bikes and started peddling, but our enthusiasm for this adventure seemed like it got washed away by the waves. After only 2km, Sarah got off the bike, sat down at the side of the road and started crying. She swore she could not go any further without dying. Home was too far away, and she was too tired. A minute later we laughed about ourselves, fired the bikes into the ditch and hitched home. Later, I had to get my Dad to go back with me and his trailer, to pick up the bikes. To this day, we laugh about this experience and cherish the memory of our big bike adventure. A few years later I ran the same route to Enniscrone, jumped in at the pier and ran back. It reminded me that distance and time are just relative and depend on your experience. What really matters is you enjoy your adventure.

Sunset in Enniscrone
Sunset in Enniscrone

College-bike memories

During my time in the University of Limerick you would rarely meet me without my bike. Back then I called a shabby, silver second-hand bicycle my own. I had bought it off a friend of a friend for €25, a few of the spokes were broken but it got me around the place just fine. Whether for a night out, going to football training or off for a wander – I’d cycle anywhere all year around.

I studied business and marketing, but in my free time I was often hanging out with the PE students. One day I cycled to the gym and met them for a climbing session. When I came out again, all I found was a broken lock at the place I left the silver bike. I could not believe it. Someone had gone through the effort of breaking a proper heavy lock to rob my shabby old bike. This was the only time someone stole a bike off me. To this day I can’t understand how my silver bicycle with the broken spokes could have been appealing to a thief. I was quite angry, but worst part about the robbery was probably that I had to walk all the way home that evening. For the next few weeks, I looked closely at every person’s bike cycling past me and inspected bike racks around the city. Unfortunately, I never saw the silver bike again and eventually I left Limerick for an Erasmus semester in Greece.

Erasmus friends
Cycling tour in Greece

Awakening of the travel bug

I was lucky to spent lots of my University time abroad. This is when I started to fall in love with travelling and I availed of every opportunity to explore new cultures. I started with discovering Greece and its islands during an Erasmus semester. Soon after I travelled to Turkey, France and Spain for my summer holidays and went back to France for another semester abroad. Wherever I was I loved renting out bicycles to discover the place.

Back in Ireland, after the tragic loss of my silver bicycle, I got another second-hand bike to get me around the place. This time I also invested in an unbreakable lock. It was massive and I had to wrap it twice around my body while cycling, but it kept my bike safe until graduation.

The first good bike & my first solo cycling trip

During my last year in college, I had saved up to buy a brand-new Giant hybrid bike. I was surprised how easy it was to cycle a bike that fits me properly. Soon after I took my new ‘good bike’ on my first solo cycling trip. I had booked a flight into La Rochelle on the west coast of France and back out of Biarritz.

Without a guidebook, map or the internet – all I knew was I wanted to go south. I met the most amazing people. Some randomly invited me into their homes for coffee, wine or snacks and I ended up camping in someone’s back garden. I felt free and limitless like never before. Ever since I love bike-packing! I have explored many regions and countries around the world by bike and for me there is no better way to travel.

Cycling offers the perfect pace to enjoy the fresh air and never miss an opportunity to explore a hidden gem or unknown experience around every corner. All it takes is an open mind and some lust for adventure…

On my first solo cycling trip
Friendly locals giving me water and treating me to ice cream

Bike to work

Fast forward to the start of my working days. My first job out of university was in the media industry based in Dublin. One of my tasks was to watch lots of films in the cinema. This was considered research as I would be selling in the ad space to companies. What a job! – until the recession hit.

I always cycled to the cinema and went from screen to screen until I was up-to-date with all the movies and had eaten a serious amount of delicious popcorn with melted Maltesers on top. Within days of arriving in Dublin, I knew every back road, side road and alleyway in the city, and I loved to venture to the coastline and the mountains to escape the hustle. I considered myself a very street-wise cyclist and felt very comfortable with my bike skills in traffic.

When I later started working with Irish Distillers on the Jameson Graduate Programme, they quickly saw that I had natural selling skills. I was not the shy type and always up for the chat. Instead of sending me abroad, the company kept me in Dublin and put me in the middle of the sales team.

Bike over Rover

My job description at Irish Distillers changed and evolved over the years. From the start I was given a fancy Jameson-branded Land Rover. It ended up spending most of its time parked outside my house near the entrance to Phoenix park. Once again, I had bought an old second-hand bike and I favoured it over the Rover every single day. The few times I took the Rover into the city I was shocked on the amount of time I wasted looking for parking. I tried leaving it in the loading bay but got clamped far too many times. As I could not expense this out, I decided that the car would not be used unless I was leaving the city.

In the fast lane

Each morning I suited up, stuffed my ‘ladies bag’ into my old backpack, threw it over my shoulder and off I cycled into the city. I would ride my bike from Spar to Dunnes to Tesco and so on. My job was selling in the next promotions and negotiating product placement. Nobody could ever understand how I got the work done so fast. On top of that I must have been the cheapest employee they ever had since I never had to expense out parking tickets.

If it rained, I put on my rain-overall on top of my business outfit. Once I arrived in the city, I stripped the overall and left it with a buddy at the off-licence I regularly visited for a coffee break.

Flexible hours and lots of liberties drove my job satisfaction up to 101%. As a result, my sales performance was top of class. Spending a good part of my working day on the bike and outside made me feel free and like I was hardly working. There was no stress, and I could move at my own pace. My good old bike turned out to be the key to success.

Rachel Nolan Whiskey Expert
Rachel behind the Whiskey bar

My bikes nightlife

On nights out, whether for work or with friends, I loved the independence the bike offers all the same. The idea of waiting in a queue for a taxi seemed like a waste of time and money to me.

I threw on my night outfit, put on a temporary extra overlayer, runners and cycled to the first sociable destination on the evening. If it was a ‘dressy’ occasion, I’d have the heels in the bag and do a quick change before discretely leaving my extra bag behind the bar. One of the benefits of working in the drinks industry is you know all the bar staff and they’d gladly do you a little favour like that.

The first long distance event – Malin to Mizen for Autism Ireland

During my years in the drinks industry in Dublin I first heard of people cycling long distance for fun. Someone had told me about a group cycling from Mizen to Malin head. A bike-tour from Ireland’s most southerly to most northerly point. That sounded like a crazy fun adventure.

It was a charity event for Autism Ireland. At that point I didn’t know much about the effects of Autism and what families have to deal with. I started to do some research and quickly realised this was a group I wanted to be part of, and I wanted to help raise money. I rocked up to the start of the cycling event with my hybrid bike and runners. The first thing I noticed was that almost everyone else had a fancy road bike and special shoes that made lots of noise walking.

The Big Red Bike Ride Malin To Mizen

Becoming a part of the cycling community

The pace of the event was leisurely, our baggage got transferred and we stayed in nice hotels en route. It was an amazingly nice introduction into group cycling. Lots of men and one other woman called Ciara participated in the event. Even though people of different ages, backgrounds and abilities had come together, I quickly realised that, once we put on our helmets and got on our bikes, we are all the same.

I had meaningful, deep, and honest conversations with all of them. In just a few days, the whole group had developed a lasting bond and respect for each other. This experience left me with the feeling of being part of a family. I had not only learned lots and met inspirational people who shared their life stories with me; I also had discovered that there is a whole community of bike-fans out there who love exploring on two wheels as much as I do.

My first road bike

The following year I signed up for the Paris2Nice cycle to raise money for Aware – who offer services for people with depression in Ireland. On this occasion I decided to get a new bike on Ireland’s bike to work scheme. I splashed out an got a Giant Avail, a light full carbon bike. With a more ‘professional’ bike also came my first clip in pedals. A friend gave me a pair of second-hand cycling shoes because she was throwing them out. I took them to the bike store to test my new bike and pedals. I thought I will have enough time to get used to them during the cycle from Paris to Nice. Funny enough my friends old cycling shoes were my only road cycling shoes until last year!

Paris2Nice
Paris2Nice

How to cycle up hills

At about the same time I also started doing short adventure races with my buddy Linda. The Wicklow Adventure Race was our first event. I can remember this occasion vividly since this was the time that I first started to figure out how to use gears correctly. Until then I had not cycled many super hilly routes at pace and I usually just went with the flow and didn’t pay much attention to the gears.

The Wicklow mountains were a tough lesson on ‘How to not fall off the bike going uphill’. I had borrowed a bike for Linda and she had even less of an idea how to use the gears and to top it off she was afraid to touch them thinking she might brake them. The two of us were decent runners at the time but were total rookies at multi-sport events. It took only a few hours to complete the whole course. We suffered a good deal but also couldn’t stop laughing. The next day we wondered if the sore muscles came from the sport or from all the laughter.

After all I enjoyed the challenge of cycling up the hills a lot, and even more the part where I got to go down fast. The atmosphere around the event was simply amazing and I knew I wanted more. Soon after I did some iconic sportive events such as ‘The Ring of Kerry’. Wherever I went I met inspirational people. At this point I could write a whole book about all the amazing personalities I have met through cycling and about the unique experiences we have shared.

Gran Canaria by bike
Cycling in Gran Canaria with my adventure buddy Linda

2 wheels around the world

After some years working and cycling in Ireland, I got itchy feet and craved a bit of change. Within two weeks, I left the job and boarded a plane to Brazil where I started a one-year world trip. My backpack was just 6kg light. I only brought a few pieces of clothes and a French-Spanish dictionary. It was delightful to leave my phone and the laptop at home. All I needed was lots of time and an open, curious mind – I was ready for a new adventure. This year of traveling was life changing for me on many levels. On every occasion possible I rented or borrowed a bike to explore or join the locals for a ride.

Cycling tour in Bolivia
Winery tour in New Zealand
Winery tour in New Zealand

2 wheels with an engine

In South America I also had my first real experience of riding on a bike with an engine. I ended up on a back of a motorcycle for 6 weeks cruising from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile right down to Ushuaia – the end of the road. Some weeks later I crossed the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile on a Goldwing 1500. What an adventure! But I still prefer the muscle powered version.

Motorbike South America
2 wheels with an engine
Dirt biking in New Zealand
Dirt biking in New Zealand

South East Asian bike fun

Wherever I went I was looking for a local immersive experience. Throughout my whole world trip, I only stayed in a hostel twice. Couchsurfing was my preferred method of getting in touch with the locals and to make new friends. When I came to South East Asia, I sometimes felt like I was exploring the home-land of all bicycles. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that I ended up spending more time on slow-two-wheels again.

Exploring Vietnam

Traveling through Vietnam I enjoyed every opportunity to get off the beaten path by bike. One trip stands out in my memories a lot. From an internet café (I didn’t own a phone or laptop at the time) I got in touch with a young woman on Couchsurfing and she offered me to stay with her family. Their house was in the middle of nowhere and I couldn’t have reached it by public transport. I hired a single speed bike and started to cycle, trying to follow the directions she has send me on. Tarmac merged into dirt roads and houses along the roads were replaced by endless fields. After lots of bumpy lanes, twists and turns I arrived at a concrete building next to a rice field. Not sure if I was in the right place or lost, I stopped at the construction that looked a lot like a shed or storage facility to me. A young woman came running towards me waiving enthusiastically. She introduced herself as Ca, my Couchsurfing host.

bicycle in Vietnam
Bicycle chicken transport in Vietnam

Couchsurfing with Ca

Ca lived in the concrete building that served as a home to families who worked on the field behind. Each family’s section was separated by curtains and there was a shared ‘eco’ toilet area. Inside the building it was dark. It didn’t have any windows which kept the place cool and protected from the scorching heat outside.

Ca told me about her life here. She and her parents worked at the field; her two younger brothers helped after school. When I complemented Ca on her English skills, I found out, she had taught herself with help from the internet. These families lived a simple life without many luxuries, but they had access to the internet. Thanks to that I was presented with this opportunity to immerse in their local community.

Ca was 22 years old and her dreams were to be an English teacher and to travel the world. Her parents and two younger brothers did not speak a word of English, but they welcomed me and made me feel part of the family. My time with them was beyond exceptional; the welcome, the contentment and love I felt between them was a life lesson for me. Their life couldn’t be more different from my ‘capitalist’ life back home – in the light of experiences like this I couldn’t help but reflect about my own values, motives and life choices. That’s why I love traveling.

I had seen a small food stall about 1km away and invited them for dinner, it was like they won the lottery, and I don’t think they could have been more thankful. That night we all slept close together on a straw mat that covered the concrete floor.

On the way to my couchsurfing host
On the way to my couchsurfing host

Moving to France

After my world trip I returned to Ireland and continued working for Irish Distillers. It didn’t take too long, and I craved a change of scenery again. At this point, it felt as though I knew every pub and supermarket in Dublin and in fact throughout Ireland. After years working on the road all over Ireland, I felt there wasn’t much left to discover. I wanted to explore something new.

My boss/coach came up with the perfect solution and not long after I moved to France. I was still working on the Jameson brand, but in a different county and through my second language. That was an adventure worth taking on.

In the end I lived in 4 different cities during my 4 years in France. I brought my Giant Avail road bike and, from the start, used every opportunity for a spin with local cycling clubs.

Once again I purchased an old second-hand bike. It cost me €35 and was often described as a danger to me and everyone around. Ah sure look it, what more do you need when wandering the streets of Marseille?! (Especially since Marseille is renowned for making things grow legs and wander off on their own)

Cycling Marseille
Off to work in Marseille

The Fixie club

Soon after I had settled into Marseille, I decided that joining the local fixie club would be a great way to find new buddies. I was right and became part of a super friendly, hipster fixie-community. A buddy from Nantes helped me to create my own fixed-gear bicycle. We mounted a wooden Jameson Whiskey crate onto the handlebars and gave the bike a bottle green finish. The look of the Jameson-fixie was brilliant, and it became my favourite work vehicle. I cycled from one bar to the next, my crate often filled with product samples. Soon I was well known around the place. The Jameson-fixie was also top class for brand visibility. Manoeuvring the fixed-gear bike up and down hills, while balancing the heavy whiskey crate construction on the handlebars, was also a good workout.

The Jameson Fixie
The Jameson Fixie
My fixie bike at work
My Fixie at work

The first really big hills

My four years in France deepened my love for cycling. I had lots of great opportunities to get out exploring and to push myself a little further. Work took me all over the country and I always found a way to squeeze in some time in the mountains. During my weekends I spent lots of time in the Pyrenees and the Alpes, climbing up the famous Cols and taking part in local events.

One of my highlights was L’Etape de Tour. This yearly event chooses a different section of the Tour de France to close off the roads and open it to novice cyclists like myself. The year I participated the weather was particularly hot and the route of course hilly. I well remember the atmosphere was electric. Myself, Linda, and my French buddy Christophe stuck together and shared all the physical and mental ups and downs. This still stands out as one of my highlight outings on the bike.

French cols
French cols
French pyrenees
French pyreenes

Falling for the mountain bike

During my years in France, I started to get more into adventure racing. I had already done a few shorter races and quickly understood that these multi-sport events really suit me. I love how it combines outdoor sports with exploring wild places that you would probably never find otherwise. While shorter adventure races, that only take a few hours, often feature a road bike section, longer expeditions usually require a mountain bike and take you far beyond known roads. When I added a mountain bike to my fleet, I fell in love with it straight away. The mountain bike offered me a completely new type of freedom to explore. It suddenly felt so easy to get off the beaten path.

France is full of amazing opportunities to train on the mtb and I signed up for adventure races whenever possible. It was always a blast.

Testing my Testing my Van Nicholas mtb with Linda Niclas mtb with Linda
Testing my Van Nicholas mtb with Linda
Mountain biking in Ireland
Mountain biking in Ireland

Rediscovering the west of Ireland

I moved back to Ireland in the winter of 2015. In the past 12 years I hadn’t been home to Ballina for more than a weekend. I left my job in France following a gut feeling that told me the time was right to go back, reconnect with family and rediscover the west of Ireland.

It was amazing to see my childhood home with new eyes. One of the first things I did was signing up to the local cycling club. I couldn’t wait to find buddies to go out for a spin and a chat. It didn’t take long, and I had discovered all of Mayo’s roads and started to explore the surrounding counties on the bike.

MTB Mayo league
MTB Mayo league
Rachel Nolan mountain biking in front of Nephin mountain
Mountain biking around Nephin, Co. Mayo

The WAWA

Only a few months after I returned to Ireland I received a Facebook message from ‘unknown’. Attached was a link and the message read:

‘Heard you are into mad stuff, bet you are not able for this. We have no Irish women entered yet’.

My first contact with Audax

Intrigued by this assumption and curious what was behind it, I opened the link. That was my first contact with Audax – long distance randonnée style cycling. The link took me to the website of the Wild Atlantic Way Audax. A self-supported cycle of 2100km with over 20,000 metres of elevation. The route follows the Wild Atlantic Way on the Irish west coast. It starts in Kinsale and finishes in Derry. The goal is to complete the route in less than 7 days and 7 hours. I found out that self-supported means you follow the downloaded route on your GPS. There would be several check points en route but besides for that, you move and stop at your own pace. Of course, keeping the goal in mind to arrive in Derry within the set time frame. This certainly made me curious and I replied to this new friend of mine:

‘Eamon, who are you and what have you done?’

The fun started. Eamon had kicked off an interesting Facebook conversation about both of our past cycling experiences and he had certainly triggered off my curious explorer spirit.

Adventure? You don’t have to ask me twice!

The decision was made. I was signing up for this event. And if I was doing it, so was my adventure buddy Linda.

I sent the link on to Linda. She responded:

‘That seems nuts, I’ll have to think about it’

In my head that translated to

‘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?”

We were signed up with under 6 months to go.

My first Titanium bike

Only a few weeks before the WAWA I decided to get a new bike. My buddy John from GC-sports told me about titanium bikes and their advantages for cycling long distances. I put a good few hours of research in myself; browsed the web and haunted all my cycling contacts to ask their opinion. Most of my sources agreed – titanium is the way to go for ultra-distance cycling. When my Van Nicholas Ventus arrived, only a few days before the WAWA, I couldn’t wait to find out if everything they say about titanium is true. I got the bike fitted but had hardly any time to try it out. That got me even more excited about the WAWA.

Before we arrived at the start, I had probably done 100km on my new Van Nicholas. Our maximum distance cycled in one day was 180km.

That changed quickly. You can find the complete story of our WAWA experience here.

WAWA 2016 before the start in Kinsale
Rachel and Linda before the start of the WAWA
WAWA finishline in Derry
WAWA finishline in Derry

Always ultra 😉

After the WAWA we were hooked. We had fallen head over heels for ultra-distance cycling and everything that comes with it; the highs, the lows, the laughs, the physical and mental games, the exploration, the amazing people you meet along the way and the super random stories it leaves you with.

What’s there not to love about the process and the journey of ultra-distance cycling?

You get on your bike and you keep peddling until you cross the finish line. It sounds simple and in many ways it is. To me, every long cycle is an adventure that takes me to explore more about the world around and the world within me. I believe, behind every adventure lies a physical and a mental challenge that pushes you towards new discoveries.
Endurance sports can amplify this experience of discovering the unknown. You have enough time to go through a process of questioning your level of sanity, to realising and accept who you are and what you are doing. Keep going and you will start feeling grateful for your privilege of freedom to choose this adventure, until you end up in blissful appreciation of your choice to step out of the comfort zone and push your boundaries.

Celtic Knot 1000km
Celtic Knot 1000km
Quiet Man 300 2017
Quiet Man 300

London Edinburgh London

About a year after the WAWA myself and Linda signed up for LEL, London Edinburgh, London. The goal of this ultra-cycle was to complete the route of 1400km in under 90 hours. Ah sure look it, how hard can it be!
This time, we decided to put in some training. We signed up for the Celtic Knot together. Starting in the middle of Ireland we cycled 3 loops to complete the 1000km route in 3 days. I took on some Audax events in the Mayo area such as the Connacht 600km, Mayo Extreme mtb 200km, The Quiet Man 300km and 4 or 5 more.

Finally, the day had come to take our bikes on a trip to London. The atmosphere before the start was amazing. It was great to meet cyclists from all over the world and of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Everyone came here with the same goal – to ride their bikes up to Edinburgh, hit the check point and cycle back to the where the start became the finish line.

You can read more on our experience of taking on LEL in this interview with Outsider Magazine.

London-Edinburgh-London
London-Edinburgh-London with Linda

Adventure Racing – Where it all comes together

After LEL, my little adventure bug was more alive than ever. It was always difficult for me to decide which sport I enjoy the most. I was torn between exploring the mountains on two feet, waterways by kayak, climbing off cliffs edges, cycling and so many other ways of enjoying the outdoors.

This is where adventure racing presented itself as the solution to my struggle. I love how it often combines more ‘traditional’ outdoor disciplines like trail running, hiking, mountain biking or kayaking with activities I have not tried or practiced much. Coasteering, stand up paddling, roller blading and abseiling are just a few examples.

Raid Edhec AR France
Raid Edhec AR France
The Beast AR
The Beast AR

ITERA Ireland

Just 2 months after the WAWA, I was part of a team taking on ITERA in Ireland. During this 5 day non-stop adventure my road bike took a break and I was off exploring on the mountain bike. The race took place in August. You might expect sunshine, but Ireland made sure we had a true Irish ‘4 seasons in one day’ adventure. The event disciplines included mountain biking, trail running, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, navigation and a few special surprise activities. It was a true adventure throughout the course with a few unexpected challenges to be overcome on the way to the finish line. For details check out my blog about ITERA Ireland.

ITERA
ITERA

AR around the world

My favourite part about adventure racing is that, participating in an expedition is the perfect opportunity to explore another country and culture The racecourse usually takes you into the most remote corners of a region and to places you would never even think of going to. On top of that I enjoy being part of a team and sharing all these amazing experiences with likeminded nutters.

In the past years some of my top adventure racing memories include taking on the Beast AR several times to explore different sides of the Irish wilderness.

I joined Team Powerbar Swiss for an unforgettable expedition through Belize during the Maya Mountain Challenge. If you want to find out what happened after our kayak capsized and sank along with our bikes strapped onto it, feel free to read my blog about the Maya Mountain Challenge 2018.

I’ll never forget how I had to switch my two wheels for eight to roller blade a section during Slovenia AR or how I had to learn to pitch a tent, as fast as possible, while being sleep deprived and hungry in the south of France.

Rachel Nolan and Team Powerbar
With Team Powerbar
Cyclocross
Cyclocross

The World’s Toughest Race

My most recent expedition brought me to Fiji to take on the bedrock of adventure racing. As a member of Team Ireland AR we bushwhacked our way through the Fijian jungle to collect Eco-Challenge medallions. If you are curious why I still have nightmares of hiking my bike up slippery slopes through muddy red clay – check out my blog about the World’s Toughest Race.

World's Toughest Race Eco Challenge Fiji Team Ireland AR
Race briefing by Bear Grylls

Exploring Cuba by bike

In 2019 myself and Iszy went on our first bike-packing trip together. Iszy hadn’t cycled much before she met me. To prepare for our adventure we went to Mallorca and Valencia for a cycling holiday, prior to our Cuba adventure. We had a great time, and it was amazing to share this experience with her. Upon our return we wrote several blogs about our Cuba trip. 5 reasons why cycling is the best way to travel Cuba and more you can find in our Cuba by bike blog.

Rachel & Iszy cycling along the coast in Cuba
Exploring Cuba by bike
cycling on Mallorca
Iszy on her first cycling trip on Mallorca

2020 – year of the bicycle

2020 was the year of the bike for many of us. With public transport declared contagious and indoor sport facilities closed down, bicycles were on high demand.

My personal ‘year of the bike’ fully kicked off on June 1st when I decided to sign up for the TransAtlanticWay.

The TransAtlanticWay

This ultra-distance cycling event is self-sufficient. The route, following the Wild Atlantic Way for the most part, is over 2100km long, starts from The Peace Bridge in Derry and finishing in Kinsale, County Cork.

On this occasion I took on a coach and followed a woman specific training plan. To create a positive goal in this difficult year had helped me to keep strong and sane. I focused on training, getting my nutrition right and enjoyed the physical and mental freedom that cycling offered me. I’ve never spent so much time in the saddle, but not one kilometre was wasted.

In September 2020 I took on the TransAtlanticWay together with 11 other athletes. Full 5 days later I crossed the finish line in Kinsale as the first of them all. What happened in between and how I cycled ‘like a girl’ to become the first woman to ‘win’ the event, you can read up in my blog about the TransAtlanticWay.

TransAtlanticWay Rachel Nolan
TransAtlanticWay
Rachel at different stages of the Transatlanticway

The cycling lifestyle

To me, cycling is more than just a healthy and sustainable mode of transport; and my bike is more than just a workout machine. Cycling has always provided me with time to reflect and to switch off. On the bike I’ve travelled as much inwards as I have around the world. My bike has helped me to explore new places and to discover myself. Cycling has helped me to get into balance and to keep going.

I have met the most inspiring, engaging, and craziest individuals in the cycling community – all people I feel humbled to now call my friends.

Today, looking back onto over 30 years of stories around the bicycle I can tell you:

‘Making friends with your bike will result in a life-long relationship that you can rely on!’

I’m very much looking forward to another 30+ years of adventures on the saddle and can’t wait to find out where my bike journey will take me next.

I hope you enjoyed reading my bike-life- story. Keep those wheels turning.

Exploring Myanmar
Exploring Myanmar on the bike
Cycling on Achill Island
Cycling on Achill Island
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2 Comments

  1. avatar
    Posted by John Purcell| February 10, 2021 |Reply

    Great stuff, Rachel, you are amazing and ahead of your time, I especially enjoyed the IDL and PR stories.

    • Posted by Rachel Nolan| February 10, 2021 |Reply

      As you know yourself the bike keeps the balance in your life, especially on a working day 😉 If you’re up for a trip to Mayo, I’d love to take you on a cycling adventure! Keep up the training!

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