Ballina – Lackenhagh,  1503 – 1799km

A cooked breakfast and tea and back out on the road just before 9.00am.  The roads are fast.  I stop at a garage. I get talking to a local and his daughter.  He knows Rachel Nolan, and that she is doing this ride, small world. He takes a picture whilst extolling the beauty of County Sligo I’m about to enter.

The route continues along quiet narrow hedge lined lanes.  In new territory beyond both London Edinburgh London and Paris Brest Paris in distance. Past 1500km and going well. I feel strong, have no physical ailments and mentally great.  The wild, she continues to tease and encourage me.  The land opens up once more, Atlantic left, mountains right, the route weaves between them.

Feeling great

I stop a while by the Ballysadare River and spy another heron.  Further on as it opens out into the sea; I lean the bike against a gate.  I clamber down onto the rocky shore line and once more paddle. Then sit in a moment of stillness.

Enjoying a moment of stillness

Continuing on I join Nick and Paddy as we pass through Sligo and the heaviest traffic by far.  Meyrick with a puncture, we wait, then continue together to Rosses Point.

Rolling through Sligo
Puncture time

We have a bit of fun posing with the statue. Nik pretends he’s dancing with her. He says he can’t reach her breasts. Do you usually have this problem with women?    I sit on her trailing skirt, my arms open in imitation. I stay a little longer looking at the view, whilst the others head on.

Having fun
Having fun
Nick Dale dances with her

The sculpture reflects the age old anguish of seafaring people who watched and waited for the safe return of loved ones. The men and women of Rosses Point Parish have a proud history of courage and survival of loss and grief that should not be forgotten by future generations.
It is to honour the memory of these brave people who once lived, sailed or were lost at sea, that this woman, cast in bronze, stands today on our headland

The road continues hugging the coast on quiet lanes, before joining the N15 for a short while. The mountains of Sligo became more rugged as I climb towards them. Cliffs run along the nearest.  As I hit the N15 I spy a garage and pull over for lunch.  Perfectly laid out, I grab a fresh orange juice and my vision catches sight of a hot deli.

Sligo Hills near Drumcliffe
Hills near Drumcliffe

An old lady waiting in front.  I give her the most almighty surprise.  A vase falls and smashes into a thousand pieces. She exclaims “This gentleman gave me one, and that caused me to have another”. It is ripe for innuendo, but not the time.

After apologising for the shock, we soon help clean up.  A burger and hash browns with my orange juice.  As I eat, a fellow rider who’d had to drop out in the first couple of days due to digestion issues, comes in.

Burger and hash browns

We sit chatting a while over our food.  We discuss how I’d managed my digestion issues in the early days of the ride.  We chat a little about London Edinburgh London 2017.

I spend longer stopped than intended. Very generously he gets me another orange juice and then insists on paying for everything I’ve had.  Another act of kindness.

Back on the quiet lanes, my gaze alternating between the sea and the mountains. A flat topped mountain dominates the view to my right.  Fast cycling down the N15 but busy.  Out on the Mullagmore loop a helicopter appears, making a rescue on the sea cliffs below. A diversion sees me back on the N15, before I exit onto quieter roads into Bundoran.

Beach, Bundoran

A take away spicy hot pizza and coke down on the sandy beach.  Shoes and socks off, sand between my toes a brief paddle. Pizza finished I continue on towards Donegal.

A small village I stop again for crisps and a Ribena.  The owner doesn’t believe I’m cycling the Wild Atlantic Way Audax. He says I look too fresh and those in front like zombies, the cycling dead.  A charmer this one.  Whatever the truth it makes me smile even more.

Back on the N15 I see my first sign for Londonderry, at least another days cycling away. Cycling into Donegal I meet Nick also alone.  He isn’t feeling well and we decide to cycle together to Killybegs. He’s thinking of getting a hotel.  A slowdown in pace. Heavy rain showers return.  A rainbow with a pot of gold?

Passing rain showers

Killybegs, Nick and I say our goodbyes.  I park up outside a pub with Fajitas on the menu, which my salivating taste buds say I want.  Alas they stopped serving food  30 mins ago.  Back outside, warm layers on.

About to give up I find a kebab shop open, cycling out of town. Once more Sheesh Kebab with chips and a few cokes and chance to warm before the night section.  Next to a rowdy pub. A local warns me to be on my way before it empties at midnight, or my bike will be no more. I take heed.

My front shifter had gradually got stiffer and stiffer over the day. Now stuck in the big ring. Not a problem on the terrain so far. Out of the saddle has let me deal with the gradients so far. I’m about to enter the hills of Donegal, a succession of big climbs and descents, one after the other, relentless and brutal.

I pass John O'Sullivan , stopped at the side of the road. We ride together a while, but the big cog slows me down.   I give the shifter one almighty shove, and manage to get the chain onto the middle ring, where it will stay.

The rain eases then stops, allowing me to dry out.  At the top of a climb John asleep at the side.  He’d only intended a quick doze, and we continue on together once more.

The roads rise and fall across the Donegal Mountains, remote, dark and beautiful with the distant lights of towns hiding in the valleys shadows below. A few riders are up here, red lights glowing in the distance.

Now alone I shift my chain into the spokes as I near the top of the final big climb of the night.  The chain breaks, it is 3.00am and pitch black.  Head torch on, chain tool out, it is soon fixed.

In the pitch black

I crest the top. The descent has some sharp hairpins after which it straightens out.  After the hairpins I let the bike roll, and soon fly (95km/h the GPS data says). The bike develops a shimmy and doesn’t feel right, so I apply the brakes.  The descent is long and I can smell burning. A tyre begins to rub. I can’t tell which with the wind rushing past my ears.

I brake to a halt. I’m glad to be running tubeless, with no risk of a blowout from overheated inner tubes. The rim burns to the touch. I loosen the brakes a little and start rolling slowly again to let the air cool them. The rubbing gets worse till the bike grinds to a halt.

I check again, couple of drive side spokes bent, tension gone.  A patch of grass on the right and I sit down, get my toolkit out once more.  A squadron of midges bite me on every exposed bit of skin.    I search and search but my spoke key is missing.  I definitely packed it. Maybe a sandwich bag wasn’t the best place to keep it?

I wonder if a fellow rider might turn up soon, but there is no guarantee.  I cycle the eTrex screens. It is 47km to the Lackenhagh Control. Walking there is out of the question and besides the rubbing on the frame will make that seriously hard work.

I get my phone out, turn off airplane mode.  The battery is on 7%, I need to make the call count. I ring Eamon and get his answerphone.  I’m about to call Seamus when Eamon calls back.  He asks what I need. Just a spoke key. He asks if that is all. Yes, if they can get a key to me, I can fix it.  We confirm where I am, my tracker more precise if necessary.

Waiting for David Finnigan, I decide not to waste this time. I get my emergency silver blanket out and wrap it around myself.   I’m rapidly cooling now.  After a few tries I get comfortable and warm but the midges are biting away. Long sleeve thermal top over my head keeps them off at last.   I fall asleep.

A loud souped up boy racer car comes racing down the glen, music blaring out.  It wakes me. The driver screeches and skids to a halt, reverses up, and checks I am alright.  A reminder not to stereotype people too quickly.  I fall asleep once more.

An hour later a gentler engine note of a car coming up the glen that pulls to a halt nearby. It’s David. A cold wind blows through me as I unwrap myself from the silver foil blanket.  We sit in the car for warmth whilst I fix the wheel.

I try fixing it in the frame but it’s awkward. So I remove the wheel.  Two spokes are obviously bent and I bring them up to tension. Pinging the spokes, then one or two that didn’t lose tension, and listening to the sound. I then feel around the spokes and tighten 2 or 3 more.  Pinging them also. I put the wheel back in the frame. It’s spot on, nice and true. A 5 minute job that cost me 1.5 hours.

We agree I’ll start riding down the glen and David will follow in the car. If all is ok I’ll give him a thumbs up and he can head on back to the control.  All is good and off he goes. It is now shortly after 5am, and the dawn is close by.

I roll into the control shortly after 7:30am.  The control is packed to the brim with riders.