The Thing of Kerry
A 200 km DIY audax off Kerry’s beaten track.
It’s funny how things go. Last week I checked my facebook page and saw some guy doing a 300 km ride in England, mainly in the dark. He was commenting how peaceful and tranquil it was. Fast forward to last Sunday which was miserable and gave me too much thinking time. I had a 200 km ride planned with an extremely early start thrown in, for the night ride experience.
After about 3 hours sleep, the alarm woke me at 3 am, after breakfast and some organisation I was ready for the road at 4 am. Siobhan one of our cycling club companions drove over for her first audax and at 4 minutes past 4 we hit the road. The moon and stars were shining and the streets of Tralee were quiet. We took the back road (Spa Rd) out-of-town and headedtowardsFenit to meet Aileen our other companion. Once we’d left the artificial lights of town, we had to rely big time on our front light to see the twisting and often bumpy road surface. It took a good 15 minutes to get use to the conditions, but a kind of 6th sense kicks in, which helps with navigating in the dark. Once we were out by Spa village the reflections of light on Tralee Bay and the wider road made things much easier on the eyes. Then we were 3 and looping our way around the North Kerry coast, towards Ballyduff. I very nearly came a cropper early on. On the decent from Churchill towards Barrow I ran into sand on the road. For a moment the tyres lost contact with the road, but within a micro second I’d regained balance and was still up right…pheww! A dose of gravel rash at this early stage is not what you want! One of the unusual differences of night cycling was the variation in temperature. Cycling near the sea was noticeably warmer. On a few occasions when we dropped into dips and the temperature plummeted. Cycling across the marshes nearBallyheigue was quite a cold and unique experience.
By 6 am we had the worst of Kerryhead completed and was treated to a fantastic sunrise.( 40 KM) A wonderful red sky, with the sun coming into view over Knockanore mountain. Once on the North road the sun was blinding, making viewing the road quite difficult. Our first test of navigation skills kicked in as we left the main R 551 and headed in land towards Finuge and eventually Castleisland. Thankfully I’d done my home work well and the country roads in this corner of North Kerry couldn’t fool us.
From a personal point of view our first big test was approaching. (80 KM) The Listowel Road / 6 Crosses to Castleisland. It didn’t disappoint as the West to Easterly direction with its hills, forest, bog and fresh Southerly wind proved challenging to say the least. 16 km on and finally a good downhill plunge into Castleisland the stomach was making noises. Scrambled egg on toast was my fixation. I’d nearly make it myself if Castleisland’s Country Kitchen couldn’t oblige. They did, and it was the best ever, with brown bread, lashings of toast, coffee and jam scone. Bliss! (103 KM) With over just over 100 km down it was into the 2nd half of the cycle. First a rare venture onto a main road and the N 23, then quickly off it again and through the picturesque Currans village (112 KM). Continuing on across country to Ballyfinane before turning left onto the old Killarney – Tralee road and through Firies Village. At this stage we were on the real remote country roads in Mid/South Kerry and creeping towards Faha and the outskirts of Killarney. During most endurance events you hit “the wall” and I was hitting it around now. Tiredness creeps in, the legs start getting weary, and you are moving forward on will power. On our approach to Killarney we took a left and headed up to Agadoe Heights (136 KM). Once you are there, it’s quite spectacular with magnificent views of the lakes and mountains, but getting up there was sheer agony. I was not in the mood for soaking in the views! Finally we reached the summit and Ard na Be for a roadside rest. Here I pulled out my secret weapon. A mandarin. These little things are my lift. Together with some fizzy Belorussian sweets from Siobhan we were ready for Ballyhar and Kilcummin.
Arguably we entered the toughest and most picturesque section of the cycle and the climb to Bawnaglanna (152 KM). This is quite a remote road that links the Kilcummin area with the Currow area. A quiet, narrow climb reaching a boggy area before some spectacular views of the countryside and a twisty mountain pass. The decent towards Currow seemed to last for ever, but at this stage I was airing caution as I wasn’t too familiar with this road.
On to the spiritual home of Kerry cycling, Currow (167 KM) for a pit stop at the local shop and a tea, some crisps and a mars. The hard work was done now and it was just a case of staying composed and finishing the job.The route from here into Castleisland was back onto the main N 23 road which was extremely busy and it was a relief to get back on the country lanes. Our choice was the really old back road going through Mweennalaa, Clogher (182 KM)andBallynahinch, entering Tralee viaBallinorig. At this stage of the proceedings the rain had started, but the high roadside hedges and trees kept the worst of the rain off us and sheltered us from the increasingly gusty wind.
To finish things off we did one last climb up Ballyard (194 KM) and took Kearney’s Road to Blenneville before coming back home via Lohercannon and Strand Road. 199.2 KM total distance….