It was Will Durant who once said that nations are born stoic and die epicurean. It’s a quote that sprung to my mind as I wandered the car park of Biddy’s O’Barnes on an early May evening just outside my hometown of Donegal Town in Ireland. It was the first day of the local summer league run by Donegal Bay Cycling Club, and through the drizzle on that cold early summers evening, several thousand euros worth of immaculately polished carbon lay neatly stacked around the car park,
I’m off the road for the first time in two years and back in my hometown on a quest to make a few new friends, and can’t help but notice that this cycling game had changed entirely from the last time I was involved in the scene around here all of 15 years ago.
“Did I prefer it when it was just weirdos that cycled?”
It’s a thought that sprung to mind as I walked around the car park. Back then few people had bikes, fewer cycled them, and even fewer had that strange compulsion to race them. After pulling up with camera in hand on my 16-year old, 15kg Coppi, I found myself amongst the local talent all of whom own bikes so light they would seemingly smash into 4 pieces quicker than you can hit a sheep coming down Glengesh at 80 km/hr.
Having spent the last two years wandering around Asia like a hobo, having eaten more meals swimming in hydrogenated vegetable oils than I care to remember, and having contracted an impressive array of tropical diseases, I was well back in terms of fitness. I knew I’d stand no chance of matching the local talent, and a winning time of 21 minutes for the 10 mile Time Trial course on that particular evening only further reinforced my inferiority. Best stick to taking photos for now.
Accompanied with a camera while making a few new friends, and immersed in the only sport I have consistently been consumed by over the years, the obsession would slowly begin to build again over the summer. The body is a miraculous thing, surprisingly responsive to changes in activity and environment. And as I sit here writing these words, having just finished a session on the turbo trainer, the strange desire to suffer on a bicycle has now become an almost daily ritual and the fitness levels slowly build. It’s the end of another Irish summer, my first in eight years, and one which yet again has no doubt provoked a national deficiency in vitamin D3 as I find myself training indoors. The sweat still drips from my forehead onto the LCD of a Garmin on the stem as these words occur to me, my heart rate slowly dropping down from 183 bpm. It’s strange how the desire to bury myself doing prolonged anaerobic intervals on a bike consumes me, the seeming insanity of it understandably hard to fathom for those on the outside.
As the summer wore on I tackled a few events, removing myself from the comfort zone of sitting behind a camera lens. Hill time trials up through the mist on a damp summers evening to Altilow, greeted on arrival by the sight of my two-minute man, Johnny Mc Cann, buckled over the handlebars, like a cat about to vomit! He won’t appreciate the mention, but in reality few of us look our best at the top of such a climb, and I myself wasn’t much better off after arriving! Gasping for air while overlooking the rolling mist and the sheets of fine rain blanketing the sodden green landscape far below, that familiar mild high of my own neurochemicals overcame me, which somehow strangely justifies the almost preposterous nature of what we were doing. The pain is strangely and conveniently quickly forgotten each time.
On first inspection it all seems so very different from what I spent the last couple of years doing on spiritual trips around India and the like. However when it comes to being present, is there any surer way to inhibit the monkey mind? Perhaps it’s not so far removed after all?
Over the course of the summer plenty of photos were snapped, plenty of kilometers clocked on the bicycle and many new friends made. Freed from the shackles of social groups camped out in bars where dogmatic armchair fans are still be found on a Thursday night opining on last Sundays match, it’s liberating to have a social group that also share that same strangely addictive desire to cycle up hills fast, those that would converse all day on topics of functional threshold power, lactate threshold heart rates, training test score, strava segments, compact cranks and such like!
One man’s pain is another man’s pleasure
I don’t know who coined the phrase but in Ireland at least, ‘cycling is the new golf’. I’m glad to see it, people of all ages taking part in a healthy exercise, and more importantly finding a healthy outlet for the competitive nature that each of us has to some extent within us. It’s an unbelievable transformation from a decade ago.
It was on a Sunday morning training spin when a fellow club mate said to me “Thank god I found cycling rather than golf when I retired!”. It does seem that many of those who retire in these parts either find golf or cycling to fill their days. In my humble but rather biased view I would have assumed the lucky ones find the later! The unlucky significant few end up spending their retirement zigzagging the fairways of Murvagh golf course, their socks already wet not half way through the second hole, from traipsing through foot-high rough from one side of the fairway to the other! They end up demented after each round, but somehow still return convinced of their love for the sport! I say it in jest of course, and imagine any keen golfer will easily make the same argument for cycling. Afterall where is the fun in those arse-numbing hours and 100+ km on a bike in a Donegal summer, with wind and rain driving into your face as you’re dying a death half-way up the side of a mountain, where potholes, panting, pain, cramping and bonking part of the daily ritual?….Well, for me at least, and a few others like me around there, it’s paradise! (Though I can’t say I understand the golfers! 😉 )
Life at the moment
So, there’s my update, and with it my first blog post in 8 months! I’ve had a few emails of late from people wondering whether I was still alive, and that flattery compelled me to write something up. Right now I’m living down in the south of Italy, working on this idea among other things. For the time being my hobo days are on hold, but I do plan on doing a little more writing on the blog about life here in Italy, although about what I don’t know, maybe mountains, gluten, language learning (back in that game again!), self-experiments, bicycle racing, caffeine, or any other random eccentric occurrences worth mentioning.
I’ve hardly touched the camera over the course of the last 8 months I’m afraid, the desire is somehow not as strong as it once was, but since this did start out as a photography blog, here are a few photos from a number of races over the summer.
Till next time, ciao for now!
Finally a video taken with an onboard camera in August during the ‘Round the House’ road race in Ballyshannon.