Do not go gentle into ‘The Dying Light’….

Until I sat on it yesterday, I had not been on my race bike since the last stage of ‘Ras na mBan’. And, other than the Westport to Achill spin with Burren CC, I haven’t been out on the ol’ Winter bike either. So it was with rubbery legs and a head full of “life” that I rose before dawn, ate my porridge, spent a good 2o minutes layering up, and pushed my good bike out the front door into darkness, and trepidation, at 7:15 yesterday morning. I switched on my lights (never had lights before, thanks Jim!), pulled on my warmest gloves, clipped in, and pushed off.

Bliss. Cold bliss, fecking freezing in fact, but bliss nonetheless……

There is nothing like that feeling of sitting on a bike that feels like it’s always been a part of you. Within moments I’ve forgotten how to walk. The bars are an extension of my arms, the pedals have grown from my feet. My legs only move like this. I slide into that perfect place on my saddle, rest my hands on the hoods, the wheels roll willingly, it’s like embracing a loved one. Despite the onGodly hour, and the week behind me, I am smiling away to myself as I spin along beside a glassy-coated Grand Canal, and towards a whole new cycling experience…..

There are many types of cyclists. A Venn diagram of all categories would display plenty of overlap, the sportive cyclist is sometimes a racing cyclists, the racing cyclist is also a commuting cyclist, the commuting cyclist mountain bikes at the weekend. And then there are those who enjoy an Audax. They are on our Venn diagram too, and they intersect with all the other groups, but dare I say their circle is a little oblong? Extending, as it does, over the edge of the page, and into territory that other cyclists remain a little wary of….. 600km, 1,200km, London to Edinburgh…. and back, around Ireland, across America. It has been said that sportives are for those who like to pretend they’re racing, and Audax are for those who like to pretend they’re not. But there is a lot more to Audax than finishing inside the time limit, and yesterday I decided to investigate further.

In the giddy eagerness of the early hour, I was the first to rock up outside Spar on Baggot Street. Me, the homeless guy, and an exhausted taxi driver had a 10 minute conversation about what madness I was about to engage in. Once I’d convinced them that yes, really, REALLY, I was planning to cycle to Cavan and back, we all agreed that I was possibly, right then, the one of us most in need of tea & sympathy. Steadily more blinking lights and well wrapped-up cyclists gathered. Greetings were exchanged, brevet cards were signed, excess fig-rolls were given to the chatty man sitting in the sleeping bag, and then, at 8am, 37 of us crossed the bridge and made our way northwards across the city as it emerged from the darkness into the first frosty morning of a new Winter.

We cycled together for the first 30km or so, until we were well clear of the waking suburbs, and I was almost able to feel my fingers again. Then, as the pace threatened not to break the 20kmph barrier, a breakaway group formed through some unspoken code and disappeared around a corner. I hadn’t made a plan-for-the-day in my head, I didn’t really know how I felt about cycling 2ookm, and I was also interested in spending time with the people around me, so, even though I was anxious to cycle faster, if only to get warm, I didn’t race off after the fast group to join it. Also, I knew I was going to be too lazy and cold to stop and examine the route sheet, so as long as I stuck with some of the troops who clearly knew where they were going I probably wouldn’t have to think all day. Yeah, yeah, a bit of a cop-out, I know.

We passed through Donore, putting the first quarter of the journey behind us. Slivers of ice still lay carelessly on the roadside puddles, and the grass verges were white where the promising sun had yet to shine. We chatted as we cycled, praising/bemoaning the weather, comparing reasons for being there at all, and matching names once heard to faces now seen. After 70km I reached the First Control at Ardee in one of the many splinter groups that had formed. I had really only barely thawed out, so after a quick cup of tea, some awesome banana bread (thank you Andreas&Sharon!), and a visit to the “facilities” (thank you Wogan’s Furniture shop!), I was back on my bike in less than 15 minutes,  and I was determined to up the pace to body-temperature, at least.

Kingscourt, the most northerly point on our Audax was at 93.5km, and it was also on top of a mountain; something those who had sold this 200km to me as “flat as a pancake”, had neglected to mention!! By the time our group had crested Alpe d’Kingscourt, and the drumlin country beyond, we were down to 5 merry souls….. Aidan was in charge of navigation, Bernard was our mechanic, I was wrong turn maker (Fiona! FIONA!!!! Not that left, the NEXT left!!!! ….. in fact with all the racing off in front, turning around, and chasing back on I did, my computer read 213km when I finished!), and Trish & Sarah were in charge of the horses ;-).

We five cycled the second century of the day together. We talked 300km events, Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 aspirations, and a bit of life-in-general. We enjoyed the backroads beauty of the Autumnal countryside, we mustered a modicum of curiosity in the villages and townlands we passed through, and we changed two puntures. Then we rolled through The Phoenix Park, back down by the canal, and landed in through the green door for homemade soup and a pat on the back.

And what did I learn?

Well, this is what I think………

Inside every Audax rider lies a dream.

It wasn’t really about speed today, it wasn’t about who got back first, or in the first group, it didn’t matter who cycled 200km the fastest. I believe everyone who set out from Baggot St. yesterday morning could have cycled ‘The Dying Light’ faster than they did, I know I could. But it wasn’t about that. I think it was about the smile inside your head as you rested your bike against the wall in Eoghan & Celeste’s back garden, that feeling in your legs as you climbed the stairs to their apartment. You still felt good, fresh even. Finishing a 200km cycle is part of a process. A process that includes knowing that you could have kept going. That you had another 200km in you still, that you could have kept cycling all night in fact. Audax cycling is about always having another goal.

London-Edinburgh-London, …….Paris-Brest-Paris, ……..Race Around Ireland, ……Race Across America……..  everybody needs a dream.

And finally. IT WAS NOT FLAT!

(putting my race bike away for the winter now…… might put the blog away for a while too….)

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 

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If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Aside: I originally published this post about ‘Ras Tailteann’ on 27th September 2012, but in a rush of blood to the head (well, finger….) this morning it got deleted (see “No men were harmed….etc.” below for background info!). Anyhow, someone kind and good had saved it elsewhere……. I am so happy, and flattered, Thank You !!! 😀

On the morning of Good Friday this year, in a car-park in Kilorglin, someone introduced me to Gene Mangan. He was leaning against a car having a laugh with Ted Crowley, I was, in theory, leaving team wheels with Neutral Service for Ras Mumhan, …….. except I had no idea which car was doing this job so I was wandering from one to the next like an abandoned puppy….. When we exchanged greetings and he offered his hand, I couldn’t shake it because my hands were covered in that black tyre-dirt that now I barely see as dirt at all; I wish I could have shaken your hand Gene……. to me you were just another gentle man, one of many involved with Ras Mumhan that weekend……. little did I know you are also a hero.

Last night, during a fortunate lull in “on-call”, I watched ‘Ras Tailteann – Rothai an tSaoil’ on TG4. This documentary, dubbed ‘The Secret History of The Ras’, was typical of the insightful material produced by TG4, and I couldn’t believe I was the only one sitting in front of it in the tv room in The Res. I wanted everyone in the hospital to be enjoying this, especially everyone who wonders why I spend my weekends and my holidays supporting cycling, or trying to be a better cyclist myself…… “Look everyone!!! This is what it’s all about! Look at them……. this is what loving the work is; you can’t do this unless you love it. They look like they are suffering, and they are, but inside they are smiling, every one.”

I watched enthralled as one after the other these Men Of The Ras reminisced about the early years of this great race. Gene Mangan and Se O’Hanlon spoke not only of their pursuit of victory in the Ras, but also of being spirited away to France to race against their continental peers under assumed names……. The infamous Joe Christle instigator of the very first Ras Tailteann (and several other notable historical events…. who knew? Not me.) was featured; a shadowy figure with a big dream…… Mick ‘Iron Man’ Murphy talked of being forced to leave home because his fanatical training, at ungodly hours, drove his family to distraction….. Stephen Roche confessed that his experience of the hardmen-racing-style of The Ras helped to make him the legend that he is today…….. The inspirational Dermot Dignam talked about the evolution of The Ras from it’s Nationalist origins, to the international event it now is. I lapped it all up.

But for me the most moving aspect of TG4′s golden hour was the black and white footage of these men (no women featured in this program, why would they, The Ras is all about men, as it should be; for me The Ras has come to mean what being a man is all about…… this may not represent a great reflection on me, or my judgement!!). There was Gene, young and handsome; Paudie Fitzgerald, full of youthful energy; Mick Murphy, glowing with strength and vitality; and here was Paddy Flanagan, young and indestructible, being interviewed as he rode the Ras of 1970….

“Will you win this one Paddy?”

“No. I’m too old”

Paddy was 29.

Working in a hospital gives me a perspective on life and death that is not afforded to everyone; this is something for which I am unashamedly grateful. The people I am required to X-ray on-call at night, like last night, well, they are the proper sickies…… newborns struggling to get started in this life, and elderly patients, gasping their last few breaths within these walls. Who are they all. Nice old man in Bed 2…… who are you? What’s your story? What things did you do that everyone exalted you for? Did you fulfill your dreams? I meet “visitors” on the stairs and always try to smile, who are you coming to see? did your sister just have her first baby? is your mother dying in CCU?

I don’t mean to be maudlin people (though I am not long in the door, and I am over-tired…), but I do want to say… “Do not take this life for granted!”

Do not take this life for granted.

Shay Elliot, Des Hanlon, Paddy Flanagan, Peter Bidwell, Ben McKenna, Mark Hayden, Kevin McInerney…. Cycling in Ireland has a long tradition of honouring its departed heroes by naming races after them….. And, not to favour one legend over another, The Paddy Flanagan 2-day is run each June, by Newbridge Cycling Club, in memory of this 3 time Ras Tailteann winner. Paddy died in 2000, he was (only) 59 years old. I am rambling a bit now (again, I’d like to play my ‘Tired’ card…), but,….. just….. You too will be old someday my friends…. do The Ras while you still can, do it as many times as you can, do it because you will suffer, do it because great men have been here before you, and you will be great men too…….. there is a legacy to live up to, ……do it because to finish a Ras is a victory…..

How does it go?….. If you are ever forced to look back & ask yourself if you have regrets, regret the things you did, not the things you didn’t do.

“No men were harmed in the writing of this post”, The Sequel

Last night I wrote a post that had the attached Disclaimer: “This post may have nothing to do with cycling”.

It didn’t, it had some random cycling references and characters in it (Victoria Pendleton and her relationship with her coach Scott whoever was mentioned, as was Bradley Wiggins and his vaguely one-sided relationship with Chris Froome), all of which were employed to illustrate a critique of my relationship history. MY RELATIONSHIP HISTORY.

It’s my blog, IT’S ABOUT ME!!

Anyhow, unexpectedly, some people I care about took offence. I have deleted my post because I care more about other people than I probably should. And I care about some people more than I care about myself. I am replacing the post with part of the explanation I have offered to one of those people I care about. Why? Because I cannot know that others unnamed did not also feel a perceived jibe from my introspection….

“Dear Victoria,

It was about me.

Fabian very kindly spent several hours yesterday listening to me bemoan my lot (ask him). He laughed & critiqued each of the my relationships as I described them to him, not just with men, but those with my family. At the end of it all I was in much better form, mostly because I’d stepped back and had a good laugh at myself.

I know we are all paranoid enough, at times, to think that if two people we know are in a room they must be talking about us….. do you know what I mean? Well, as you also know, deep down (because sometimes you are one of the two people…… Sometimes we all are……), this is mostly not the case. Why? Because we are all narcissists. All we really want is to talk about ourselves……. we want someone we care about to sit down in front of us and say “Go!”, and not get up until we’re done. I know because I am more often the one who says Go. Yesterday I got to do the talking (poor Fabian) & then when I got home I wanted to retain as much of what I’d taken in as possible…..

For me the obvious forum for this was my blog. Why? Because it’s my blog, it’s about me, it’s about how I feel about stuff….. read it.

But you know what the thing is, I am old enough to be made up of bits of everyone….. what I mean is, none of my experiences are unique to me really. Anyone out there who has been in more than one relationship, has been in a relationship that I’ve been in too (possibly even with me!). I intended that post to be self-reflective, I intended it to be something I would go back & look at, and use to remind myself to be nicer to myself….. to aim for the honeybee – flower relationship frankly. And at this point I can say that THE ONLY NON-ME relationship I considered was, believe it or not, _______ & _______ ….. from my outside perspective I think they personify relationship perfection. And you know what else? That’s the other thing, I’m around a while but I’ve known, & acknowledged, for a very long time, that nobody knows what goes on between two people other than those two people. I respect that, I know that, I WASN’T speculating about / judging anyone’s relationships other than my own.

I am not perfect and make no pretence about it. I am as flawed as the next person and as proof I offer you this: I DID NOT consider that anyone would take offence to my blog post. If I thought anything, beyond that it might be too much of an exposé of my own insecurities, I thought (vainly, stupidly) that it was pretty funny. Imagine.

Anyway, it’s gone now, completely…. And why? Because on a second reading of it Fabian thought it might be offensive to Jens. And Jens in turn pointed out to me that other people might read themselves into some of my tragedies, people I know, people I care about.

I spent 3 hours working on it. Of the 84 hits it had in its 12 hour existence any feedback I got online was positive; people laughed, people enjoyed it. People I don’t know. Anyhow, now it’s gone, and all that with it. But that’s ok. Isn’t it.

As for your relationship ……. [redacted]…..
If it’s any help at all, I am very upset about this whole idea that I’ve upset anyone else. In my innocence I never thought my disasters would invoke any reaction in people other than pity, for me. And I am upset that I was forced to delete something I’d poured so much of myself into.

I’m sorry, and I’m sad.”

And now I’m done.
Sent from my HTC