In late August my first gravel race is on. The race is 64km long with a reasonable amount of climbing. In order to prepare for this I decided to try and get some general long distance cycles in. We had plans to go down to Dungarvan in Waterford with friends at the end of June. Someone mentioned cycling part of the greenway one of the days, and I thought "how long is it start to finish?" 45km each way according to Google. 90km total, a decent distance and one I'd never attempted. Let's do it. A tarmac path along an old railway is as ideal as you'll ever get for attempting such a distance.
I knew I needed a different bike. I'm not a fan of drop bars, so I definitely didn't want a gravel bike. And my days of riding a rigid bike, in spite of my notions, are probably behind me. Ireland has a scheme where you can buy a bike with a tax discount assuming your employer pays for it up front. It's called the bike to work scheme and was set up to encourage active travel. It is a very successful project, but I'd never actually taken part in it. Time to find the right bike and apply for the scheme.
After considering the kind of races I'd be doing I fell upon a Trek X-Caliber. Mostly as it was reasonably priced and in stock in my size. Order made, I collected it the weekend before we went away.
I had every intention of using this ride as training and a test for my race day plan. This didn't happen. I should have a pump and spare tubes mounted on the bike along with all my food and tools on the jersey pockets. As it happened I took my small backpack with me. It turns out I cannot fit a full size bottle in my vertical bottle cage, so bottle 2 had to be carried elsewhere. I also needed room for a jacket and a lock (the lock spent the outward journey with Hannah). I had two nut bars and a bag of jellies as fuel. I also had 4 sachets of emergency energy goo, just in case. I'd not used one of them before, but I knew they'd be good if we found ourselves in a hole.
It's worth starting this conversation from the night before. I'd been talking about this spin amongst our friends for some time. Two of them, Damo and Anthony, were all gung-ho to join me on the day. With responsibilities being what they are as a father, we settled on a very early start. 7am was declared departure time. I set an alarm for half 6, and was happy out. Hannah said that if the other two weren't able to join me, for whatever reason, she'd like to give it a go on the condition we left at a more reasonable hour.
To say I was apprehensive and excited would have been an understatement. I didn't get to sleep early, nor did I sleep for very long. I woke at 4:30am and couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and made myself coffee and some oats. As I ate my breakfast and checked the weather for the day. We had ideal conditions, warm with a bit of cloud cover to hide from the full heat of the sun. As the rest of the house began to rise it became obvious that fatherhood being what it is meant I wouldn't be joined by the lads for the full trip. Instead I happily waited on until Hannah was ready to go. We hit the road at about 9am and pedalled our way to the start of the greenway on the Dungarvan side. Next stop Waterford City.
The route out of Dungarvan crosses the estuary and climbs up to top of the cliffs. The climb is very gradual and barely noticeable. The joys of following an old railway line. We made good time and took in some spectacular views along the way. There are some very small play areas at the side of the greenway on the Dungarvan side that looked kinda cool. Not much, but something at least. Eventually you will cross over a viaduct and cut through a tunnel. Both these were very cool to do. The views of the valley you crossed were spectacular from the viaduct, and the temperature drop as you pass through the tunnel is quite an experience. We were later told by my aunt and uncle that at halloween in particular they decorate the tunnel and make it a great place to go for young families.
As we closed in on the midway point we crossed a couple more viaducts and passed over the top of Kilmacthomas. Just the far side of the village there is a spot called 'The Coach House' which marks roughly the halfway point to Waterford. We stopped for coffee and a sizable sausage roll each. We were feeling good and so pushed on. The leg into Waterford City itself is predominantly downhill. It traverses loads of farmland, is flanked occasionally by small woodland, and winds it's way along until it joins the only stretch of active railway left. This is a section of railway that can be hired out by groups or students to run from Waterford Suir Valley until the end of the track at a carpark just outside Waterford. This section of the spin was mostly uneventful. We followed the Suir river, passed by WIT, and made our way towards the city. We stopped for a photo just outside WIT, but missed the opportunity to capture some lovely wood carvings that were around the corner. The only cause for concern was the very large number of daisies that were along the side of the trail. This would have been lovely, except it played havoc with Hannah's hayfever in particular, which made it very tough for her to keep the pace up.
Once you get to the carpark at the end of Quarry Road the greenway stops. It's expected to continue into the city proper and cross over the Suir river and continue on through Kikenny, but those sections aren't currently built as of July 2022. Looking on a map you can see how the railway could continue on the far side further out to New Ross, but we will have to wait to tackle that section of it. As it was, we decided to roll into the city and see if there was anything there worth looking at. We descended and started to carry on along the quays passed the bus station but couldn't see what I remembered as being a lovely pedestrianized area just passed the clock tower. This option ruled out, we turned back and decided to have a refuel stop at the carpark instead. The Waterford City side appears to have not been as well developed yet, and so there's very few places to get snacks or coffee just off the finish.
We refueled and set off again. This time the wind was against us and Hannah's hayfever was really slowing her down. Unknowingly I was pulling away every time Hannah would catch up to me. This was not in the spirit of the ride (and is generally a shitty thing to do), so I focused on staying with her more. We heard from our friends that they had hired some ebikes and were planning to meet us at the coach house for a late lunch. At this point we were about an hour away from the meeting point and the promise of food spurred us on. We arrived at the coach house but our friends were nowhere to be seen. I assumed we'd missed them, but as it happened we were early.
Joined by our friends and their kids, we got a table and ordered food. We enjoyed our meal and prepared for the final leg. Lunch took longer than expected and Damo was eager to get the cargo bike, with his two children on the back, returned in time. He pushed hard. I saw Hannah was in conversation with Sarah and decided to push to try and catch him and keep up with him. This, it transpired, was a foolish mistake. I stopped to collect some rubbish I guessed had been jettisoned by a 2 year old, and felt my legs starting to cramp. Hannah and Sarah soon caught me and we carried on as a group of 3 for a short while.
After some time Sarah decided to make use of her battery power and try and catch Damo and the kids. Myself and Hannah settled into a comfortable pace. My thighs started to cramp around 70km, and a few kilometers of no sign of them stopping I complained to Hannah. She suggested taking an energy goo. I followed her sound advice and promptly ate one. If you've never had an energy goo it's essentially condensed mi-wadi/blackcurrant cordial. Pure sugar, and if you're not careful you can burn through one very quick. I made the deliberate effort not to up my pace for two reasons. 1) I risked dropping Hannah, which was not in the spirit of the ride, and 2) I risked burning through the energy far too quickly when we still had 25km to go. Onward we rolled, but I was also aware of another side effect of those goos and kept an eye out for a portaloo. There was one 3km away, and we decided the best bet was to stop there for a break anyway. When we got to the stop, I made a dash to the loo. My fears were unfounded, and I was able to come back out having not actually needed the toilet. We spied Anthony and his sister approaching and waited for them to join us before setting off again.
The rest of the trip into Dungarvan was fairly uneventful. Anthony regaled us with stories of his youth as we crossed viaducts and began the descent into the town. The views were absolutely spectacular and well worth the price of admission. We made short work of the trip into town where Anthony and his sister left us to go straight home. While pedaling in, Hannah noticed her watch died. Somewhere around 93km. We continued to the end of the greenway and looked at my watch, 95km done. We turned around, headed to the far side of the estuary and back before returning to our airbnb. Our calculations were spot on. As we rolled to stop outside the door the distance ticked over to 100.9km. I stopped my watch, saved the activity, and we went inside. Thoroughly exhausted, but feeling a great sense of accomplishment.
Trail Length: 100.9km
Moving Time: 05:44:18