The inaugural edition of the Wild Atlantic Way Audax was held between June 17 -24th 2016. Distance 2100km, ascent 24,000m, and time limit 175 hours. The climbing is mostly concentrated into days 1-2 ( ~ 8000m), days 3-5 you get respite though it’s not flat, then the big hills return again on days 6-7 (~ 7000m).
Weather was a mixed affair. First day glorious sunshine. Days 2-3 settled into all day rain with 16 hours of cycling in the rain on day 3. Days 4-7 were a mix of sunshine and rain to varying degrees. Northerly headwind first couple of days, then mostly a southerly or south westerly tailwind blew. The headlands and the loops meant that you had headwinds, tailwinds, and side winds at some point on most days. You faced all points of the compass during a day.
You’ll pass through some remote terrain at quite late hours (unless you’re one of those whippets) so don’t skimp on the warm layers.
In total I cycled 2016km (Garmin Connect claims 2020km but I think that’s on the high side) in 163 hours elapsed. It was 1974km on the route that I stopped, in Burnfoot. A distance of 137km and just under 12 hours remained, Malin Head then Derry. The extra distance comes from needing to go back for my jacket that’d fallen off my saddle bag on day 4 and messing up the Achill Island loop out of Curraun Bothy in my fatigued state on day 5.
My bike was a VN Yukon, Titanium with 28mm tubeless tyres at 70 psi, Son Dynamo, B&M Luxos U light, Secula rear dynamo light, 2 red Fibre Flares one on each seat stay. Mudguards with long flaps. Saddle bag, Bridge Street medium (9 litres). Alpkit Stem cell on handlebars for snacking on the go. Two water bottles. Etrex 20 for navigation, initially running off Luxos USB, and then AA bought at garages along the way. Double wrapped bar tape. Perfect for floating on imperfect roads.
It was too comfortable for my hands in the drops, where I spent most of my time, I also wore a hat keeping sun and rain out of my eyes. This almost certainly contributed to Shermer’s neck after 1800km. But from the accounts I’ve read and heard first hand it appears it can strike any time on a long ride.
Zip ties, electrical tape, chain tool, 2-8mm Allen keys and Phillips head screw driver on small multi tool (kept in jersey pocket), tubeless external repair kit (no need to remove tyre), pump, one 28-32mm emergency inner tube (used for neck), couple of plastic tyre levers. Spare bolts screwed into the unused rack mountings on the bike. Small silver spoke key that I lost somewhere during the first 5 days. Head torch. New chain and tyres fitted a couple of weeks before event.
Bib shorts, summer SS jerseys, and fingerless gloves. A winter weight (260) merino wool long sleeve top, Rab Vapour Rise Lite jacket, Castelli Nanoflex leg warmers, neoprene gloves. Kept me warm through the night and the worst of the wind and rain. I had summer SPD shoes and lightweight cycling socks that dried quickly. I didn’t get hot foot at all. An emergency silver blanket kept me warm when necessary, never totally comfortable but sufficient. A silk liner carried for extra warmth but not used. Complete change of the base bib shorts, jersey, socks and fingerless gloves at 600km and 1500km bag drops. Disposable razors and gel at each bag drop to freshen up. Two old towels, subsequently left.
Physically and Mentally
I was doing great till the neck took its toll. The neck led to pressure on the hands and saddle sores as I was fixed in one position in the rain. My hands were great up to the point where I began pushing up on them to gain forward vision, around 1850km. Feet, legs, back, arms, lungs and heart were all good and willing to the end, even with the lowered saddle.
Apart from the first night where I had 5 hours, I was getting 3 hours of sleep a night. This left me 3 hours ahead of the time limit when leaving a sleep control each day. It was a comfortable margin for me, as I’d build up more buffer for sleeping each day. I got the dozies from around midnight first couple of nights. Lack of decent sleep leading up to the event. I went slowly the first couple of nights due to dehydration and not having appetite back. Plus it was hilly! Caffeine (via 3 cans of coke) before a night stage, riding faster and / or with company worked after that.
Despite the small field there were always other riders to ride with throughout the event. I think the distance between sleep controls helped to regroup us to a certain extent each day. We each rode in our own bubble, overlapping with familiar faces from time to time. I didn’t once look at the tracking, so had no idea who was ahead or behind other than those I saw. You need to ride your own pace, but that will happily coincide or overlap with others during the event. You will struggle if you’re not happy alone in your own company or riding at night in remote terrain.
Have you been inspired to think of stepping up for the embrace of the wild?
The second edition, “WAWA the Home Coming”, is slated to be happening in 2020, the year after PBP. If Eamon, Audax Ireland, and all the volunteers give you half as warm a welcome as we had, and half as good a route, you are in for a really special treat. Start your preparations now.
Now I Rest
For now I rest, to give the neck the proper respect and recovery it deserves. I am content, perhaps for the first time, about a DNF. It is really the experiences and challenges we face along the way that shape us, remould us, rather than reaching the destination in time. We do not undertake these events because they are easy. The outcome certain. We must accept all that befalls us, capture and hold it, with no anger sadness or regret.
We cannot conquer the wild. The wild conquers us. Accept that week long embrace and a little bit of the wild will forever be in your heart.
Thanks to Eamon, Seamus, Audax Ireland, Mayo.ie, Failte Ireland, GMIT, the volunteers and all fellow riders. We shared something special didn’t we?