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The Epic TransAtlanticWay Bike Race.

14 min read

Many of you know, we closed our studio for a few weeks and took on our first ultra endurance cycling challenge - TransAtlanticWay bike race. It all started with us cycling to Dublin from our home on the 7th of June, using greenways and country lanes, which we thought was a good 190km warm up for the TAW race especially since we both had new shoes on and hadn't really ridden a bike fully loaded! We had beautiful weather and a super chilled ride into Dublin with plenty of time to the briefing by Adrian, the race director. Once we made it in, sat down in the briefing room, opened our welcome packs and absorbed all the information we were ready for some Nando's and a good night sleep. 
The next morning we woke up early to make the most of the breakfast, guess what! we weren't the only clever ones, the canteen was full of cyclists, and only cyclists at 7.30am. Not sure there was any porridge, bananas or coffee left after we all cleared out! We got back to our rooms, packed up our bikes and headed out to the starting point.
And here's where our real adventures began..... A few kilometres in Greta had a puncture. Oops, we thought we just need to get to the starting point, and we can sort it out there, so we started walking, but we soon realised that we wouldn't make it in time if we walked so we stopped by the river to fix the puncture so we could ride on. Zulfi kindly took charge knowing Greta will take way too long, and we didn't have much time, he took the wheel off, tyre off, inner tube out, put a new one in, got the pump out and like the slippery sucker it is, it slid out of his hands and went into the River Liffey! Nervously giggling away, we were in trouble, not just because we were out of time and with a flat wheel, but because we couldn't go on and start the race without a pump! Surely more punctures were to come.... We stood looking at each other for a minute, digesting what just happened............ Zulfi decided he would cycle to the starting point, borrow a pump and cycle back whilst Greta walks towards the start, we'll meet along the way, fix the puncture, and we'll just have to find a bike shop on the way and buy a pump. Eventually we made it to the start JUST in time, and rolled out with everybody, 10 minutes in Zulfi realised he had left his sunglasses at the start.... doh! This was turning into a comedy of errors. So he cycled back quickly (although it felt like a lifetime), got them, and we cycled on, although by now we have lost the group that was leading us out of Dublin to the real start of the race where everyone took their own route to the first check point - Derry. Damn it! We google mapped our way out of Dublin, whilst cycling heavy bikes in new shoes in busy traffic luckily avoiding disasters, and just as our Wahoo started blinking that we're about start our planned route it started to rain. We thought, OK, now it all feels right! Let's do this. Needless to say we were the last ones at this point. Many beautiful country roads, many little and not so little hills, about 230km in we made it to Peace Bridge in Derry and got our first stamp, Woo hoo! As you can imagine our first question was 'are we still last?', and it took us by complete surprise to find out that we weren't! there were 15 people behind us. We cycled off with the biggest smile on our face, determined to make it to at least the next town before settling for the night. We got to 275km for the day and Greta got another puncture, we took it as a sign, found a place to bivvy and had a few hours kip. 
Woken up by the noise of freewheeling we quickly realised those 15 people we overtook yesterday were making their way past us and we had to get up! We tried to get up and pack up quickly in slight panic, but nothing seemed to have worked as it should have! Packing up the sleeping bags and bivvies took for ever, changing the puncture and pumping the wheel took another century but we got there at the end. We then realised we had no food to fuel us and we had no idea how long it will be until we hit a town that sells any sort of food... OOOPS! Distracted by the beautiful views and the warmth of the sunshine we made it to Culdaff, where we had an Irish breakfast in a fancy hotel. A few other riders joined us and we all sat there for way too long charging our devices and drinking too much coffee. Once we got the move on, it was up and up and up and up! Luckily the breakfast helped us get there, and the views at the top always made it worth the tough climbs. By the time we reached Letterkenny Zulfi's knee had swollen up from grinding up those hills and pushing ourselves to our limits. We stopped. We got a little frightened that it's only day 2 and his bad knee was flaring up, so we decided to call it a day at 175km, found a hostel in Letterkenny, iced and rested the knee and we were back on the road at 4am, to try and make up the distance. A few others stayed in the same Hostel, so we knew we weren't doing THAT badly yet.
From here onwards it's all a bit of a blur full of breathtaking views that pictures can't capture, lots of climbing, lots of rain and lots and lots of headwind... serious 45 - 60kmph kinda headwind where you feel like you're pedalling but not moving forward, maybe even a little backward... and if its also raining, every little drop stings your skin! It was hard, but we were determined. We cycled over 200km each day no matter the weather. 
When we got to Day 4, Zulfi's cleats where destroyed, so we sat down to change those and boy was that a bad idea. Things kinda went downhill from here. Zulfi's foot just couldn't get comfortable on Day 5, many adjustments later on day 6, and in agony by day 7. By now it was shooting pain on the kneecap, and we are still not sure whether it was the cleats, the pushing too hard or a combination of both. We didn't want to stop, mentally we were in the game and determined to finish even high on painkillers. So we got ibuprofen, deep heat and whatever else the chemist had on the menu in Galway and we carried on unfortunately only making it to 175km. We checked into a fancy hotel somewhere past the cliffs of Moher and soaked in a bath to try and relieve some of the pain. We got up at 4am the next morning hoping to make up some mileage, knowing that we can overtake a few riders at this point in the morning whilst they're still sleeping. But it was ouchy, OUCH with every pedal stroke, somehow the resting and the hot bath made Zulfis knee worse. We were moving very slow. So slow that the riders we planned to overtake, woke up and rode on leaving us behind. We don't know if it was the combination of pain killers, coffee and junk food, but we couldn't shake the giggles, which made the ride more bearable. We cycled 10km and we had to stop. We had to stop and walk up a tiny hill because it was too painful for Zulfi to cycle up it. But walking wasn't pleasant either! A few hours of very slow moving we made into a little village called Doonbeg which we later called Doomsday .... It had a shop/cafe in which we sat for a few hours, resting the knee and having the biggest breakfast roll EVER. Zulfi's determined to finish the race, doesn't want to give up and we stand up and try again. We move even slower to the next town - Kilkee. We stop. We find a cafe, get an ice pack, we rest. We realised we cycled 40km in 8 hours - thats not going on strava! And we decided that there's no point spending another 8 hours if we were only going to get to the next town. We found a hostel, got an ice pack, and rested.
We set our alarm for 9pm to cycle through the night. 9pm, we get up, Zulfis in agony.. We set an alarm for 1am LOL. 1am, we get up, have breakfast, Zulfi's a tiny it better, get's on the bike - OUCH. Ok, we set an alarm for 3am. We wake up at 6am! doh! We have breakfast LOL. At this point we feel rested and maybe a little over rested and we just want to go! Zulfi tries to cycle up and down the road, he comes back and says 'it's the same, but let's hit it!' . So we do. We slept lots, we can cycle through the night as long as the knee lets us. Zulfi gets in a granny gear, straps a bag of ice to his knee and we're off. When we get close to the next town, at about 8.30AM a car swings out and comes way too close to taking Zulfi out. We're talking millimetres..... We have a little face off with the driver, we pull over to the side of the road in shock for a breather, we notice that the back wheel is jammed. A kind stranger comes round and asks if we're OK and insists we come in for Tea, we accept the offer and whilst the tea is brewing Zulfi sorts his wheel out. It takes him some real force, and some kicking and swearing but he gets it done. Ahhhh, cup of tea... We're smiling again. The kind strangers own a shop, and tells us about all the cyclists that have stopped by to refill their chocolate and snacks and to have a cup of tea with them like us, we slowly accept the kindness and forget about the near hit and run. We thank the strangers a million times and we get back on the road feeling positive. As we get close to Ennis, Zulfi's bike starts to rattle, it seems it's coming from the headset. We find a bike shop, they have a look at it, tighten things up, and voila! With smiles on our faces we go off again.... An hour or so later, the rattling comes back ... at this point it's too late in the day to look for another bike shop, so we carry on. We cycle through most of the night, taking a half hour kip here and there and we make it to 227km for the day. It took us 24 hours to get that far. Damn. We got to Tralee at 6am, found a shop, and slept outside it for a few hours in the sun until it opened so we can get some ice..... Many locals walk past us in those few hours with their dogs, say 'good morning', others drive past and beep, we're not sure why as we must look like hobos at this point... lol. 8am, the shop is open! we wait a couple of minutes not to look as desperate as we are, we go in, they have coffee! YES... and ice cubes, YEAAAAS!!!!! 2 cups of coffee, 3 croissants, a tin of rice pudding and a bag of ice cubes. We sit outside in the sun with the ice cubes on Zulfis knee, having our breakfast and coffee. A local cycling club spins by in their shorts and short sleeve jerseys whilst we sit in our layers, leg and arm warmers, overshoes, the lot. We realise we must be exhausted if we feel THAT cold. We sit for another hour, the ice is melting. We fill a small bag with ice cubes, tape it to Zulfis knee and go off.
But it's 25 degrees at this point, so the ice melts in no time and we stop again. Slowly but surely we make it to the next town, rattling away, but we find a bike shop. The mechanic there gives us the bad news. We need a new headset, but he doesn't have one for a Canyon. DOH! he also says we should NOT by any means cycle another kilometre with it like that. damn it! we don't accept it, we ask for directions to the next bike shop which is 15min walk. We make it there, the man has a headset that isn't for it but might just about fit! He fits it in, it's not perfect, but it seemed to have worked and we go off with smiles. 10 min later the rattling comes back. ARGH! We stop, laughter, becomes delirium and we sit down on the floor. We're silent for a moment, neither of us wants to say it, neither of us wants to give up. We just sit..... It sinks in. The pain, the broken bike, the exhaustion, all the hills and the kilometres to come... many thoughts go through our head. We let our emotions take over for a minute, we giggle and then we cry... The frustration!..... We then take a deep breath and focus. We lay out our options. Plan A - We find another bike shop, see if they can fix it, that wont be until tomorrow now so we need to make it to the next town first. Plan B - we take a risk , we go on with the rattling bike. Plan C - We scratch. Neither of us like any of these options. We ask ourselves another question. IF we got the bike fixed by some miracle, would Zulfi be able to go on another 500km and more knowing the Dingle, The ring of Kerry and the rest of the route is very hilly.. Well he won't be able to cycle up those hills that's for sure! and how long will it take us at this pace if he walks up? we only had another two days with the dog sitter, perhaps 3 at the maximum. That meant 2-3 days of non stop cycling with no sleep and we just rode through the night.... We sit quietly for a while again... We get a message from Adrian, the race director, cheering us on, saying we can do it! he must have noticed the lack of movement on our trackers. Emotions take over again.. We're quite good at making decisions quickly and firmly but here it somehow was just impossible to do that. No idea how much time goes by whilst we sit in quietness on the side of the road, but suddenly things are a little clearer. The bike is broken, the man is broken and getting worse, we need to embrace our fate.. We call Adrian and we tell him we're going to the finish line, but we're taking a shortcut, game over. We felt emotionally destroyed, defeated, we felt deep disappointment within ourselves whilst we knew this was the right thing to do, we couldn't help but feel extremely sad. However at least getting to the finish line was a little better than just turning around and going home. We tell our Wahoo to take us to Blarney Castle, Cork, which was the finish line, it finds a route for us which is just over 100km, and we set off. It takes us through country lanes, and up some serious hills! we think this is hillier than the official route, but we know we have to go on, so we walk up them. Zulfi's in agony by the time we make to the top of them. We take a breather, eat a pack of haribo and we freewheel downhill, only to find another hill, and another after that, and another after that... We walk up, we freewheel down, we walk up, we freewheel down. On way down the last hill in our horizon, we stopped at the junction to regroup, Zulfi couldn't unclip. He took his shoe off, left it in the pedal and had a quick look as to what's happening. Two out of three screws were gone out of his cleat! WHAT! how does that happen... We look around, trying to find them on the road, Zulfis only wearing one shoe! I think were going a bit cuckoo, we laugh, we cry.... Half an hour later we found the screws, god knows how... We fixed the shoe and carried on. 80km to go, at this point it feels like we're never going to get there, we're going at 10-15km per hour in 27 degrees with no breeze. Is this really Ireland? Where is the wind? the rain? We carry on with giggles. We realise that the Wahoo is taking us country lane kinda way to Cork, which is harder on the knee and hillier, and slower. So we pull up google maps and try to navigate ourselves onto the bigger smoother roads. We had some success, but with many stops and the slow pace it takes us almost the whole day to get to Cork. Zulfis in so much pain and Greta keeps lying about the distance that's left to keep him motivated. Almost there.. Almost there... You're doing great.. Almost there... Just think about the bed, the ice, the shower... We finally pull into Blarney where we get welcomed by Adrian and a few riders, they're clapping, they're cheering. We know we don't deserve it as we took a shortcut, but we accept it. Adrian says, you made it here by bike, that's all that counts right now. You're at the finish. We get our picture taken, we take a few breaths and try not to get emotional. We're officially done. Game over. We go into the pub for a moment whilst Adrian waits for a few more riders coming in and then he'll take us all to the accommodation. We get a drink and we stand talking to a few other riders... Greta falls asleep mid conversation standing up with her tongue out! No one seem to care so much, as everyone is completely exhausted. Adrian calls us in, it's time to go. As soon as we sit into the car Greta is hanging off the seatbelt swaying, sleeping whilst Zulfi chats to Adrian about cycling, life and more. We get to the accommodation, we check in, we get separate rooms with single beds. We wheel our bikes in, take a shower, take a seat on the bed and realise we haven't made a plan for tomorrow! Greta texts Zulfi in the next room 'Are you awake?'. 8 hours later she wakes up with the phone in her hand, half sitting half laying down in the bed. it's 8am. She dresses up, washes her face, and goes to wake Zulfi up which begins with OUCH OUCH OUCH. He barely stands up, the knee has gotten even worse, we realise we made the right call ending our journey. We're both still exhausted and sad, but we get ready, we make ourselves a cup of tea, and we realise we need to find a way home, as originally we planned to cycle back, but of course with the broken man and the broken bike it was no longer an option. We find a train option, we book our tickets, we're going home.............. 
Because everyone always want to know what you wear, what you take, what you eat and where you sleep.
Mainly we wore Svelte London bib shorts and heritage jerseys. Teamed with Assos chamois cream we were hardly ever in any sort of discomfort. These were the most comfortable bib shorts that over 16 hours in the saddle could handle, thank you Svelte!!!!!!! In the clothing department we also had arm warmer, leg warmers, spare socks, gilets, Vulpine Hoy rain jacket and a Sugoi reflective rain jacket and high vis As bold as gilet. Leggings and a long sleeve top that was kept dry for sleeping. 
Cheap ultralight sleeping bags which did the job, and SOL emergency bivvies, which we wouldn't get again. We recommend getting a quality one and make sure it's breathable! We also recommend getting a sleeping pad, as the floor gets cold and you get cold.
We cycled our Canyons (endurance AL 7.0) with Profile design aero bars and bag we made (saddle and handlebar). 
We used Wahoo to navigate - which worked as a treat! battery lasted about 12 hours and it stoop up to all the rain! SeeSence lit our way at night and we used 3 juicy power banks to charge things, no dynamos.
On those much needed refuel stops, we knew that our bikes and gear were safely guarded with our Hiplok cafe lock.
So that's it! any questions, let us know!
PS - nothing is waterproof in Ireland.
A Huge Thank you
Goes out to Adrian O'Sullivan and his crew for making this the most pleasurable, yet painfull thing that we have ever done. He has single handidly converted us to masochists, and I'm sure there will be more adventures to come. To every rider that started this race, and we met some amazing people, that we can go on to call friends, we salute you in your endeavour and hope our paths will cross again soon.