Baltimore → Ballylicky
Mileage: 66.0 miles Elevation gain: 3,341’
Total mileage to far: 128.2 miles Total elevation gain so far: 7,844’
The wind is still howling when I wake up. Fog and mist cover the Baltimore Harbor. Over breakfast, gusts of wind thwack canopies and tarps against the window by our table.
“At home we would call this a hurricane,” I explain to Noel. “But to you guys it’s just Thursday.”
He doesn’t seem to find the humor in my observation and replies simply with, “Yah, well they don’t call it the Wild Atlantic Way fer nuthin’.”
Touché, my friend. Touché.
We’ve done a decent job handicapping Noel today. He’s insisting he carry all the weight I removed from my panniers last night. He’s giving me a forty-five minute head start and he’s planning a coffee break at the Schull Harbor Hotel to give me yet another fifteen minutes.
(And do not feel bad for him! He just got back from the Tour de France for goodness sake. He wasn’t there to compete but that almost makes it worse. He was climbing the race routes up the Alps for shits and giggles, people! As Paul Kennedy, the owner of Wild Atlantic Cycling, puts it… Noel is a machine.)
With these practicalities in place I shuffle down the steep driveway and ride into the rain on my own. The training wheels are off and I need to push hard to get as far ahead as I can.
For a while I feel strong but about ten miles in I take a left and head straight into the gale force winds, practically coming to a full stop. I weigh 145 pounds. My bike weighs well over 30 pounds and my gear tacks on an additional 35-40. With every pedal stroke my legs are hauling well over 200 pounds and yet this wind is so strong it sways me back and forth like a ragdoll.
I trudge and I trudge, never looking back for fear of seeing Noel catching up.
In person Noel is gentle, funny, talkative, helpful in every way. A very giving chap. But on the bike he is a competitor first, a trickster second and a companion a far third. We take the same route. Noel never passes me. And yet, he beats me to Mizen Head by ten minutes. Trickster I say!
Mizen Head (pronounced Mizz-en) is a socked in foggy mess. I mean it’s an awe-inspiring discovery point along the Wild Atlantic Way! As Ireland’s most southwesterly point there’s a signal station, dramatic crashing waves, tons of history and a beautifully constructed bridge leading to a path with a staggering view of the high cliffs. But I can see none of this through the fog. It’s OK though, really. I’m still getting comfortable with this bike and the pannier load so I prefer to keep riding. After tea and chips (French fries) we move on.
Not long after we start riding together Noel takes off and once again I can’t see him. I start to get a little frustrated then I laugh instead. I’m constantly berating myself for not being social enough but in this situation I’m the one who wants to ride side by side chit chatting the day away, and my companion is the one who’d rather cruise alone.
He stops to wait for me a little ways up and is on his phone taking my picture as I approach. “Go on without me,” I whimper as I painstakingly grind past him. “I’ll text you tonight when I get to Ballylicky…”
Then just as I start to think my new friend might be more of a loner than I am, he does something I never could have expected. He whizzes up behind me, places his hand on my back and pushes me just like my coach used to do in Hawaii. And for a while I ride faster, stronger and happier than I have all day.
Noel is undoubtedly 110 kinds of awesome but I wouldn’t classify him as empathetic. For instance yesterday when he saw me walking up that massive hill pushing my bike he asked, “I thought you were on a cycling trip?” And today when I decide at Durrus (60 miles in) to skip Sheep’s Head and go straight to Bantry in search of a bike shop and a new saddle, he chides, “Ah so today’s a rest day then?”
He’s good at making fun of me in a way that doesn’t hurt my feelings. I don’t make it anywhere close to 96 miles as expected but I do what I need to do because my sitz bones are screaming and I’ll gladly take a few jabs to the ego over anymore pain. I don’t feel guilty for missing a peninsula so early on. I still have a lot to get used to out here. And besides, Noel reported back that there are no sheep in Sheep’s Head and there was a hill so big even he came back tired.
Tonight my face is pink from windburn. I’m tucked in early, looking forward to a good night’s rest. Tomorrow is my biggest day yet and I trust it will also be my best. Eighty-six miles to Kenmare with no shortcut options. I have a new saddle to get me through my next trek and then my first blissful day off.
Wish me luck! Sending love & light ❤