Ballycastle’s Giro de Baile – a novice’s account of a first sportive

It was some trepidation that I loaded the bike into the boot of the car for the Giro de Baile on a rainy Sunday morning in August. Having never taken part in a cycling event before, and having done no serious training, I don’t mind admitting I was panicking a little at the prospect of what lay ahead. 60km along the exposed north west Atlantic coast in the wind and the rain? Sure, you’d have to be mad.

Giro de Baile sign

Giro time

Having recently moved back to North Mayo, I was on the lookout for a new hobby. Cycling is something I’ve always enjoyed but never pursued regularly, apart from the odd commute or jaunt around Dublin or Mayo. Having been aware of the success of the inaugural Giro de Baile in 2014, and smitten by the stunning route, I’d been keeping an eye on their Facebook page, and had it pencilled it into the diary. As the day drew closer, the nerves multiplied, but there’s nothing like a challenge to make or break an intention, right? Having been chatting with the organisers on Twitter, they very gently cajoled me into giving it a shot. And when a group gets together and puts in a shedload of work to organise and promote an event to benefit and promote their community and locality, I do feel it’s important to support that effort where possible.

Arriving in Ballycastle, the festivities were in full swing, with a DJ pumping out motivational beats, an impressive inflatable start line and of course a healthy lashing of green and red flags. Football is at the heart of everything down here. Inside the Community Hall, there was a palpable air of anticipation as 320 cyclists, experienced and novice alike availed of the spread of food and refreshments provided, and prepared for launch.

Giro de Baile volunteers

Volunteers, you rock.

With a cheer, we were off. Pikemen, reminiscent of the 1798 rebellion which forms a huge part of the county’s historical narrative cheered the procession of cyclists at the first corner. Motivational messages on the challenging (this is a euphemism) Flagbrooke Hill gave an extra push (“It’s only a hill, get over it”), though I will admit that it eventually got the better of me and I had to get off and walk. Which I have absolutely no regrets about doing, as it meant I could stop for a second and look back at what is probably the most magnificent view in North Mayo. (If you’re doing this event next year, remember to look around you as you go – on a challenging route, it’s easy to keep the head down, but it means you’re missing out.) A samba band greeted participants at the crest of the hill. Throughout, stewards and marshals were helpful and encouraging. The roads were quiet and felt safe. Even the oncoming traffic was friendly with plenty one-fingered salutes (not that kind, the country kind!) and beeps from motorists.

Flagbrooke Hill

The never-ending Flagbrooke Hill. Yes, there was a “Mayo for Sam” message

I’d tackled the event with a friend who is (thankfully!) of similar ability, and while at times, we found ourselves a little isolated on the route, we were never too far from a race marshal. After the third stop in Moygownagh, we realised we had only 14km to go, and we spent the last 10km telling each other how great we were. Then we turned the last corner into Ballycastle to be met with that last hill! It was probably the most challenging moment of the day and needless to say getting over the finish line was a memorable moment. Our time might not have broken any records (or if it did, it was of the Wooden Spoon variety), but we made it. For two first timers, we couldn’t ask for more than that.

A shot from the 130km route. A good incentive to go further next year

A shot from the 130km route. A good incentive to go further next year

Two things really struck me from the outset about this event.

Firstly, when starting out in anything new, encouragement is important. For novices, taking part in an event like this can be daunting. In the week leading up to the event, the Giro team posted updates on their social media account aimed at participants taking part in their first sportive, such as including practical advice about cycling. In addition, they were hugely reassuring to anyone who might have doubted their abilities to keep up with the pack (i.e. people like me!) If you can do 20k, they said, you can do 60k. There is no pressure to compete. The atmosphere carries you. Plus for every uphill climb there’s a downhill freewheel! Such information might seem trivial to the experienced cyclist but means a great deal to the novice.

Secondly, what stood out was the obvious determination of the wider community of Ballycastle to make this a success. There was a strong and cheerful volunteer presence along the route, plenty of opportunities to refuel and refresh, lots of cheering spectators, and veritable feast of food at the end. The Ballycastle community is a small but proud one, and cycling along the breathtaking route, even in the rain, it’s very clear to see why.

Giro de Baile

Probably one of the happiest moments of my life – seeing the barbecue at the finish line after 60k. Thanks to my buddy Martina for keeping me going!

If any of you are considering doing the Giro next year, and are looking for a new route, I’d recommend checking this out. And if you’re a local wondering whether you’re up to the challenge, my unequivocal advice would be to go for it.  The Giro website says: “The ride is not a race, it’s a chance to enjoy a challenge with like-minded people with spectacular views throughout the routes”. What they don’t say is just how well the event is organised and just what a great sense of achievement you get from taking part and crossing that finish line. It’s kickstarted my cycling hobby and I know I’m looking forward to next year’s event already where hopefully I can tackle the longer 130km route. And let’s hope the sun shines!

Only another two hours to wait for us to finish, Bernard!!

The next Giro de Baile cycle takes place on 31st July 2016, and all information on this North Mayo Sportive can be found at girodebaile.com. Proceeds from this year’s events were split between three local organisations: Cancer Care West, Kiddies Korner Playschool, Ballycastle and Moy River Rescue.

Pic credit; Giro de Baile on Facebook.

Driving Me Round The Bend

Some useful tips to help you become a good driver, as published in the Mayo News on Tuesday 14th October.

I often wonder whose idea it was to start designating certain days and weeks as National Awareness ones. Whoever it was, I am truly grateful to them, because otherwise, I’d have nothing to write about. Last week was National Road Safety Awareness Week, so it feels timely to talk a little bit about driving.

Driving to me is a necessary evil; to be endured, not enjoyed. I do a lot of it, and because I am some kind of sadist who likes to make life as difficult as possible for myself, my commute takes me across Dublin city every morning, from Rathfarnham to Clontarf. This daily penance has made me wonder at times whether I am in fact actually Super Mario, trying to navigate a course with threats and obstacles appearing unexpectedly from all directions.

We all know bad driving, and sometimes we even drive badly ourselves, but I can confidently say that eight years of driving around Dublin has made me the best driver in the country, unlike everyone else around me. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you some useful lessons I have learned over the course of my driving career. Only when you have successfully mastered all of the below are you considered a competent driver on the country’s roads.

ONE: Headlights are installed on your car as a means of decoration, and occasionally, they can help you to see when driving at night. They are not, of course, in any way meant to help you be seen by other motorists. This is why, under no circumstances, should you use them on a wet day while travelling on a three-lane motorway at 100kmph. This might mean that other motorists attempting to change lanes actually  have a chance of seeing you. The key thing to remember about using your headlights is that as long as YOU can see where you are going, nothing else matters.

TWO: Indicators have a similarly decorative purpose, and are to be used at your own discretion. Times to consider using them could include: changing lanes on a motorway, exiting a roundabout (in this case, it doesn’t really matter which indicator you choose) when overtaking, and pulling out of a car parking space into moving traffic, but these are all optional. Most Irish drivers are telepathic and already know your intentions, so don’t feel under any obligation to help them out. (I often marvel at the fact that there is as yet, no universal hand signal for “USE YOUR BLASTED INDICATORS! I think I might invent one.)

THREE: It is a prudent and efficient use of your time to continue your grooming routine behind the wheel of your car on your morning commute. This can include, but is not limited to, applying a full face of makeup, plucking your eyebrows, squeezing your spots, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Paying attention to surrounding traffic is optional while you embark on this crucial process to ensure that the sight of your 8am face does not scare the living bejaysus out of your colleagues.

FOUR: Good news, cyclists! You are completely exempt from adhering to any of the Rules of the Road. In fact, just do the opposite of everything the rules say and you’ll be grand. In particular, be sure to treat red lights as drivers treat green ones, and in what is a growing trend, cycle to the right of traffic so that you have double the chance to be indignant when they fail to spot you where they would normally expect to see you.  Apply the logic behind tips 1 and 2 above to the use of bicycle lights and hand signals. And treat drivers as The Enemy. (I cycle myself, so this of course gives me the authority to be judgemental of and self-righteous about other cyclists.)

FIVE: When you occasionally break free of the city and head west, ensure to bring the exemplary driving habits you have learned with you to the streets of Ballina and Westport. What Mayo needs more than anything is an influx of angry, impatient drivers, rolling their eyes and giving out about hesitant tourists and elderly pedestrians. In particular (and this is tried and tested), when driving around the dual lane system that blights the bridges of Ballina, be sure to use your horn liberally at anyone who does not understand the term “lane discipline”. This will surely result in a positive outcome and endear you to your fellow drivers.

So now that you have absorbed all of the above, you should now in theory be one of the best and safest drivers in the country. Off you go, do the opposite of everything I have written above and remember, once you are behind the wheel, you are never, ever wrong.

Happy motoring!

driving and shaving