Cycling is the new golf. During the Celtic Tiger years, grown men could be seen sporting pink Pringle jumpers and tartan trousers.
Now, in this era of austerity, the focus has switched to fluorescent belly-hugging cycling tops and tight shorts.
And nowhere can this be better illustrated than in the charity cycle. Gone are the days of the charity golf outings with scambles, fourballs, teams of three and three-quarter handicaps. Today, it's the leisure cycling group, with carbon bikes, clip-in shoes, water bottles and energy snacks. You, too, can be a Lance Armstrong!
But this is not to take away from the good work that these charity cycles perform. Apart from a great day in the open air, they raise millions of euro each year for local and national charities.
I've always been interested in cycling, so, I am not new to suffering for the sake of exercise and enjoyment. But I lost my love affair with the bike a long time ago and, now, heading into the gathering gloom of late middle age, took up cycling again. And, so it was with some niggling trepidation, that I set off on September 3 from King John's Castle for the 95km spin to the seaside resort of Kilkee, County Clare, via Tarbert in County Kerry.
The rain is falling in horizontal sheets as the peleton sets out through the city at 9.30am. Frank McCourt was right in his description of Limerick's weather in Angela's Ashes. Within a couple of hundred yards, I am soaked to the skin. At least, I think, it won't get much worse. It does. By the time we reach Clarina, the intensity of the rain has grown. The shower-proof jacket is doing what it says on the tin – shower-proof but not deluge proof. The steam is rising from somewhere under my gear and gathering in clouds around me like a vent above the New York subway. I need a pair of wipers to keep my glasses clear.
Heading on toward Askeaton, my cycling buddy Guy, asks if I am happy with the pace. I am. I normally pedal along at around 25km/h. “Good,” he says. “By the way, we are doing 32km/h.” Small wonder pearls of sweat are cascading from under my helmet to trickle into my eyes and on to my lips.
We are greeted at Foynes Flying Boat Museum with warm smiles, drinks and refreshments by the staff. It's only when I stop that I realise just how wet I am – head, feet, backside – and the jacket now has a layer of condensation that has left me with a sodden cycling top that has to stay on for another 60kms.
But the killer is getting back on the bike. The break lets the cold in and the first hill of the day is right outside Foynes. It's not much, but the muscles have begun to seize. Thankfully, the tiny twinges disappear as the legs begin to warm up again.
By the time we reach Glin, the rain has stopped and we can see the sun on the horizon. The view along the Shannon estuary at Glin is magnificent. There are many ups and downs about cycling in Ireland and one of them is the ups and downs on the road as it undulates into Tarbert.
Just about to board the Shannon Dolphin ferry and the sun breaks through. I stand beside a hot air vent on the ferry in an attempt to dry off. A pointless exercise.
Things are going well as we climb out of Killimer, but a horrible clunking noise tells me my chain has come off. I find it is wedged in the fork. I am left alone struggling with my chain and two oily, greased hands until I eventually get it back on – just as the cavalry come riding over the hill in the shape of Guy and the backup van.
From there to the last stop at Lisdeen outside Kilkee is a pleasure. You know you are on the final lap and a warm shower and dry clothes await. Lisdeen is 3kms from Kilkee and the stop at Keanes is to allow for some liquid refreshments and so we can all ride into town together, like some giant posse.
And now is when you know that battling through the rain and the sloping roads has been worth it as family and friends gather at the town's entrance to shout “well done”. People stop along O'Curry Street to clap and give encouragement. You know that you have achieved something, but more importantly, you have helped others in your own small way. What is my discomfort compared to that of a parent who is waiting by the side of their sick child's bed in the Ark Unit or the child whose life as been destroyed by abuse and who CARI is there to help.
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