Day 11: Donegal to Letterkenny (90.7km)
Our usual 7.15am briefing started with a prophecy of impending doom in the hotel lobby. We were all aware it was going to be a hilly day heading north on the 11th day of our end-to-end odyssey along the Mizmal route of western Ireland. But the weather gods apparently weren't going to make the day's cycle any easier.
"There's going to be 90% chance of rain and winds up to 30mph. So we will shorten the tea break stop to see if we can get you over the highest pass before the weather gets too bad," predicted Paul Kennedy, the tour leader.
So what ensued was a breakneck cycle through Donegal's moorland countryside to race against the weather. Normally, I languish somewhere near the back of our dispersed peloton. But I decided to pick up the pace today and what better way to try that than attaching yourself to the 'Mancs Flyer' - Damien. For a moment - when he went past me - I breathed the rarified air as a fast road cyclist. But as the picture shows - I was soon just looking at his back and then a tiny spec on the horizon. The boy's quick.
Nonetheless, I rode quickly enough through the beautiful twisting and hilly countryside of the Bluestack foothills in bright sunny weather - pausing only briefly at the always well stocked lunch van as I attempted to outpace the elements.
Then the scenic treat came as I rode into the wonderful Glenveigh National Park. The coppery hillsides bookend a broad u-shaped glacial valley flecked with purple flowering heather and incised by feisty whitewater streams. Its a rhythmic and smooth although steep ascent to the top of the pass. The sky was blue ahead but behind the clouds were gathering. But I was ahead of any bad weather so there was time to pause and take in this majestic moorland landscape where golden eagles fly.
The rain never came. The last section though was a fairly vicious section of climbs and descents and crumbling roads that made my wrists ache with vibration. I'll have to say too that Letterkenny town didn't exactly inspire to go and explore too far and wide. Yet that was also partly down to fatigue as (by my monitor) I'd now ridden 937km.
Happily, when we checked into the Radisson Blu - the staff were happy for us to take our bikes to the room. My poor trusty steed CFDT (Carbon Fibre Death Trap) has had a traumatic week with 4 punctures and a crank failure. So it deserved a night of hotel room luxury as we both remember the striking moorland of Donegal for very differing reasons.
One more day to go.