Taking on the Ring of Kerry was once in a lifetime experience
At the ripe auld age of 41 I've completed my first sporting milestone, or rather 90 mile stone, by finishing the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.
Over the past 36 years, the charity cycle has raised over €16m for charities so it was an amazing feeling completing the cycle as mist fell on the vibrant tourism town that is Killarney.
In a personal first last year I got my posterior in gear and set up a cycling group at work. We ended up doing a few sportives and before we know it we were setting off on one of the great Irish cycling routes before 7 a.m. on a warm summer's morning.
The excitement levels were building in the days leading up to the cycle and then disaster struck when I came down with a stomach bug three days before lift off. Luckily I managed to shake off my dose and was on the saddle leaving Killarney for 7 a.m. on the first Saturday of July, my work colleagues at my side. Before we knew it was 9 a.m. and we were in Cahersiveen, 70km in to a 175km spin around beautiful Kerry. We were among more than 6,000 people who took over the roads, many of which are heart stoppingly narrow, especially when there's a camper van or bus taking up the other side of the road - but I digress.
As a young chap I spent three summers helping a delivery driver and one day a week, a Friday if memory serves, was spent on the ring. We'd set off with a lorry trailer load of meats and cheeses and stop into every fancy hotel, restaurants, supermarket and shop along the way. They were long days, starting at 6 a.m. and finishing at 10 p.m. Thankfully our spin on the bike wasn't as long!
As with everything in (my) life I dive in with two feet first without much thought and hope for the best, and it was exactly this curious philosophical approach to life that I was pondering as I faced into the first difficult ascent, near Derrynane. Distracted by breathtaking views and comforted by some Brupa painkillers, gobbled having picked up a hip muscle strain, I got to the viewing area at the top where I stopped and was passed by two elderly men riding bicycles straight out of the 1950s.
I drank in the views before continuing on and it was at this point the competitive side of my personality kicked into gear when I was passed by a speed demon on the inside.
It was neck and neck all the way to the next rest stop, where I met a man who had completed the cycle seven times already, enjoying some banter while stretching beside a sweet and crisp station.
The bike was my enemy at this stage as, 110km in, I was starting to seize up. My work mates were nowhere to be found and I was wondering if I'd ever get to the final food station before the ascent up Moll's Gap.
As with everything in life the unknown is the most frightening thing to grapple with. I hadn't a clue about how steep the ascent was and, having made the mistake of listening to people along the way, assumed it would test me to the limit, but, it was grand in the end and the ride downhill was the best I've experienced, weaving on either side of the (closed) road and into Killarney where we were greeted by crowds like gods on wheels.
To see my home county on two wheels on a beautiful day was akin to a spiritual experience, at times, and one I'd recommend to everyone.