Forget sheer grit or determination. Forget dramatic tales of desperate heroics as people battled against their own bodies to cross the final finishing line. The truth is that the vast majority of us cycling to the finish of the 80km South Leitrim Charity Cycle in aid of the North West Hospice last Saturday had only one thing on our minds - finding the nearest public toilet.
After over five hours of pedalling up hills and, sadly it seemed, more hills, the reality of forgetting to take a toilet stop since Drumshanbo really hit home 12 miles from the finishing line. For those not quick enough to think of spending a penny in Fenagh - our final break stop - the last few miles were brought sharply into focus by our bladders. It’s not pretty, but that’s the truth of it.
Really, all other things aside we could not have picked a better day to complete the charity cycle. There was an air of optimism evident as nearly 90 cyclists descended on the carpark of Mohill Church. With bucket collectors, support staff, family members (God bless you Aunt Nevy and Uncle Patsy) and well- wishers all turning out to wave us off, I started to believe this whole venture might not end pathetically in the back of the Order of Malta ambulance.
Best of all was the range of people taking part from the youngest participant - aged just 10 - to the oldest, a very sprightly looking 74 year old. And the presence of at least eight guys channelling the spirit of Evel Knievel - complete with white boiler suits, star spangled accessories and motorcycle helmets - certainly helped to make us laugh in the face of a very, very looooong cycle.
But what really made the day was the sense of comradeship. We were all in this together. Most, like me, weren’t supremely confident we’d see the end of it, but as a group, well, we were going to somehow drag each and every one of us over that finish line.
It got off to a great start with the trip to Dromod and even the hills exiting the village onto the old N4 didn’t seem too bad. My arse wasn’t in agony and the day was beautiful, what more could you want? Well, a drink wouldn’t have gone astray. Don’t get me wrong I had plenty of water in my sports bottle, the only problem was it was comfortably resting in the new bottle holder I’d put on the bike the night before the cycle.
Really common sense should have told me to check if I could reach it without killing myself. I failed to do this and had to suffer the indignity of being extremely thirsty, having a drink almost within reach, but not being able to do anything about it without crashing spectacularly. I could have kissed one of the support staff when she handed me a bottle of water as we made the approach to Notley’s Hill in Annaduff, until I realised I’d have to screw off the lid while cycling.
After a spectacular amount of swearing and a manoeuvre which should have seen me killed or arrested, I managed to get the lid off. As punishment for my lack of preparation, I then got to hold the open bottle for the next 10 miles to Carrick-on-Shannon. Hand cramp anyone?
At Carrick we regrouped and cycled onwards to lunch at the Ramada Hotel, Drumshanbo. The public were pretty supportive and motorists were more than tolerant, although the, um, helpful words of one of my work colleagues as I cycled through Leitrim Village didn’t do much to inspire me - “Get a move on Leonie, you’re way behind” - yeah, thanks Willie, next year I’m signing you up for this.
Following a nifty brown lunch bag of sandwiches, drinks and most importantly, chocolate, we were all in pretty good spirits as we took our lunch break at the Ramada. There was plenty of banter, lots of food and lots of toilets - really we were in heaven. Then we hit the road for Ballinamore. We really should have just stayed in Drumshanbo.
It’s not that Ballinamore doesn’t have it’s attractions but the road from Drumshanbo is, as one of my fellow cyclists put it, “a complete hoor”. Engineered by someone clearly with an aversion to straight lines, this nearly 20km stretch completely sucked the joy of life out of me and I wasn’t alone. People who previously were laughing and joking about the cycle took to gritting teeth and cursing the lack of any decline. I mean we seemed to be going up a lot of hills but when you got to the top instead of a happy down slope there was just another level plateau ending in yet another hill. To cheer us up ample distance signage served as a constant reminder that yep, we still had a bloody long way to go.
Those of us on hybrids - crosses between mountain bikes and road bikes - started suffering a bad case of bike envy. Anyone on a superlight road bike seemed to coast effortlessly for miles barely pedalling at all. It was a real killer to hear the click, click, click of their coasting bikes sneaking up on you before they casually breezed by - still not effing pedalling. But to be fair those of us on hybrids were having a much better time of it than the poor unfortunates on heavy mountain bikes. Forget coasting, a mountain bike was a personal guarantee you’d be pedalling constantly til you died, or reached Mohill, whichever came first.
My legs were like jelly. It didn’t matter what gear I was in I was only going one speed - slow to the point of nearly falling off. My arse had been hurting but somewhere on the road from Drumshanbo the nerves in my nether region had given up and died so I was only suffering a weird numbness.
When we arrived in Fenagh for our final stop, my backside was so numb that I only managed to dismount onto a nearby wall. The idea of getting back onto the bike would have reduced me to tears except Tracy was funnelling enough sugar into us to power a small South American nation.
Suffice to say that when the rain started to fall shortly before we made it to Selton Hill just miles from Mohill, I was pretty much oblivious. I’d gone way past my own reserves and was only staying on the bicycle through sheer ignorance - well that and the encouragement of other more experienced cyclists who were sheparding us over those last few hills.
I don’t remember Selton. I know I had to get off and walk up two hills. I think Selton may have been one of them but somehow, I actually switched off from reality and missed it. Hooray.
What I do remember is Lachlan and the Looney Hoppers van blaring out music. Brian, the father of a work colleague telling me I wasn’t actually going to fall off and die on the roadside - despite my best wishes to do so - and the Monaghans blessedly yelling at me from the roadside that it really was almost over.
As we turned the corner and cycled up the Main Street into Mohill to the sounds of a cheering crowd of supporters - including my blessed Aunt Nevy - I knew one thing with absolute certainty ... I was NEVER going to do this again.
No Tracy, I’m unlisting my number. I no longer want to walk like John Wayne minus the horse. Nope. No. Nada. It’s not happening. Ok, maybe talk to me next April, when I can bend my knees again and we might discuss a return performance. Until then I’ll be lying on the floor of my bathroom wondering, yet again “what the hell was I thinking?”.
Donations for the cycle can still be dropped into Leonie, c/o Leitrim Observer, Carrick-on-Shannon.