One of the things that’s important to accept before going cycle touring is that things can, and often do go wrong. Being mentally prepared for that will leave you prepared for when things do go wrong.
With that said, here are the annoyingly-long list of things that went wrong on my Wild Atlantic Way ride.
The biggest thing that went wrong was the train strikes. I need to qualify that though: I was, and remain supportive of the striking rail workers. What went wrong is not that they went on strike, but rather that they were placed in the position where they had no real option but to go on strike.
Yes, I was personally impacted by the strikes, but I only blame the government and the railway companies, not the striking workers. Remember, for strikes to be effective, they need to be disruptive.
I was meant to travel to Holyhead, via Birmingham, on the 12th of May. Rail strikes meant the only way I could get to Holyhead was to take a train to Birmingham a day earlier, then stay overnight in a hotel. The train from Birmingham to Holyhead is run by Transport for Wales, who weren’t striking, and so their trains were running as normal.
However, the Chester Races were on, and that train started off quite packed, and rapidly became extremely overcrowded, all the way to Chester. It was by a huge measure the most overcrowded train I’ve ever been on.
I had my bike serviced by experienced mechanics before the ride. I also fitted a brand new chain and cassette, as well as new brake and gear inner cables. I even had the headset bearings regreased! As you can tell, I tried to ensure my bike was in good shape for the ride.
Despite that, I had problems with the bike. The first started on the second day of real cycling, when suddenly I couldn’t shift gears on the rear. Given that Cork is rather hilly, that was definitely sub-optimal, and meant on at least one hill I had to get off and push.
It was raining quite a bit that morning, and I couldn’t see properly (I need reading glasses) so I cable-tied a sizeable stone between the chain-stay and the gear cable. That moved the derailleur roughly to the middle of the cassette, meaning I could ride again.
I was meant to stay over at John Devoy’s home that night, and contacted him to let him know that I’d be late. John, being the absolute star that he is, immediately offered to collect me from Timoleague. The following day was Sunday, and everything was closed, but on the Monday we took my bike to the superb Bike Circus in Clonakilty, where they soon had most of my gears available to me.
Bearings and a snapped bolt
Later, along the Mizen (pronounced Mizzen) peninsula, the rear wheel started making the dreaded popping and clunking sounds. I knew what that meant: the bearings were gone!
Typically, if you can catch it early enough, all that’s needed is new bearings, and a mechanic that has the fine touch to set it properly. However, I was very far away from getting it fixed, so simply continued, hoping it will last until I can get to a bike shop that will replace the rear wheel.
On the next peninsula over, Beara, one of the bolts holding my bike’s rack up sheared off. The broken bit was flush with the frame, and there was no way I could remove it by the roadside, even though I had spare bolts. I “fixed” that using a rock – The Stone Of Destiny – which I cable-tied in place. Basically, the weight of the rack now pressed down on the stone, which in turn pressed down on the QR skewer. It wasn’t pretty, but it held all the way till I could get it properly fixed. You can see that bodge in the pic at the top.
Eventually I had to divert into Killarney, after the “bike shop” in Kenmare proved to only be a sport shop that did a bit of cycling stuff, and was unable to help me. The bike shop in Killarney, O’Sullivan’s, is owned and run by David O’Sullivan. David is both an extremely nice person, as well as a very good mechanic. He made time to work on my bike, and within an hour it was fixed, with a brand new rear wheel. David also managed to remove the snapped-off bit of bolt, and replaced it.
My trusty Vango self-inflating mat decided to stop holding air in. I’d inflate it at night, after pitching my tent, and would have to re-inflate it in the middle of the night. By the morning, it had gone flat again.
The primary purpose of a sleeping mat is not to provide comfort, but rather to insulate your body against ground cold. When I started doing winter camping, I soon discovered that my Vango mat wasn’t designed for that (most sleeping mats aren’t) and I started supplementing it with a closed-cell foam mat. Together, it worked really well.
With the Vango mat deflating, I was heavily reliant on the foam mat, but towards the end of the adventure I pretty much stopped trying to inflate the Vango mat.
Solar panel and dynamo charging
I have a (claimed) 80w foldable solar panel, and I carry two large capacity power banks. The solar panel, especially in gorgeous weather like what I had most of the time in Ireland, makes a big difference. I also rely on the USB-charging feature of my dynamo lights. Between these two, I can charge up a power bank while riding, and when setting up camp.
Unfortunately, the USB connector on the solar panel came loose, meaning I could no longer charge anything using the solar panel. Also, the USB plug from my light has become badly corroded, so I lost dynamo charging, too.
Both of these were temporary setbacks, and didn’t really impact on my tour in a big way at all.
At one point, I developed a cough and a runny nose. Initially, I was concerned it might be COVID, but the symptoms didn’t match. When I had COVID before, I was wiped out, and even walking up half a flight of stairs was extremely hard to do. Despite the cough and runny nose, I was still happily doing 40+ hilly miles on a heavy touring bike.
Someone suggested I take antihistamines, and that had a measurable impact, starting very soon after I first took it.
The one injury that seriously concerned me was that I previously had a torn meniscus in my right knee. If I re-injured that, I could easily have ended up back in the position where I struggled to bend my knee. Cycling over mountains on a laden touring bike is a great way to ensure that happened. Fortunately, though my knee complained a bit during the last two or three days, it otherwise behaved.