Mizen to Malin Day 7: Letterkenny to Malin Head

Letterkenny to Malin Head (64 miles)

Now that there was a car available, we made a decision (without much hesitation in fairness), to ditch the bags for the last day. Given that we had about 400 miles in the legs and wanted to tackle the Gap of Mamore it was a fairly wise decision. Although the legs were stiff, the sun was shining and so morale was high.

As per usual we eased into the pace until legs were loosened out, but the route out to Buncrana was fairly flat and we tipped away at a nice pace, stopping once to get some gear out of the car. But the weather Gods had been quiet all week and by the time we pulled into Buncrana we were well and truly saturated. And with the northerly wind, the temperature dropped as well.

We had lunch at a petrol station, and just as we were about to pull out (the rain hadn’t subsided yet), a local came up to us talking about the spin. He had done Mizen to Malin 4 times previously and was quite enthusiastic. Once he found out we were going to try Mamore near the end of M2M, and in those weather conditions, he thought we were nuts! He was very helpful however with directions and even lead us through town to the road. But between the bad weather, and the tales of woe ascending and descending the gap, morale started to take a downturn.

 

And of course, the complete lack of signposts didn’t help either. But deciding the keep the coast on our left we plodded along, checking iPhones every few minutes to see if we were close.  We knew the road would be rough and ready, and after a few really sharp pulls (18%+ or so) we thought we were pretty much on it. After a couple of hundred yards, I was off the bike, walking, then back in the saddle on the less steep bits, barely spinning in the triple. At least I was making progress. And then we came off the boreen, on to a better stretch of road. And to our left was what can be best described as a tarmac wall. “Ah”,  I thought “bingo!”.

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Mamore Gap

In fairness, the run up to it was straight, the surface good, and it didn’t look impossible. so after a few minutes break, people took on water (some emptied water!), everyone settled and off we went. For me, it was pretty much just a duathlon! Don’t think I lasted more than 1/2 a mile. we have photo’s but they don’t really do it justice. Basically, if you stopped at all it was nigh on impossible to generate enough momentum to go forward again. Best bet was to tack across the road and pray you could clip in.

Why you shouldn’t walk in cycling shoes

Only one man made it up on the bike the whole way (in fairness the rest gave more valiant efforts than me), but the extra weight was an absolute handicap on the way up. Having said that by the time I eventually hauled myself over the line I thought I could just coast down the other side.

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The descent from Mamore Gap

Wrong! Having a combination of weight, wet roads, and just sheer fatigue I knew the only way down on the bike would be to absolutely ride the brakes. And after a few minutes at 3/4 miles an hour I was really struggling to keep the speed under control, so again it was a dismount to get down. In fairness, I might have made it, but fear of not making it to Malin Head because of a broken collar-bone was fairly prominent in my thoughts, so no regrets.

Guinness!
The Rusty Nail

At least once near the bottom, we were able to spin away, back to normality. And just as we were progressing down the road we spotted “the Rusty Nail”. “PINT?” I called out. “PINT!” came the reply. And we that we were pulled over again. Decent pints outside, but they tasted so much better after Mamore. It was here we spotted a broke spoke on MOC’s bike, the only mechanical failure (zero punctures!) of the week. Just as we were about to head off again the heavens opened, so we just stood under the shade of the pub, waiting for it to break, and talking to a local who did a lot of club cycling.  

It can be tough when you land into Malin town and then realise there’s still another hour to go, but c’est la…  We tore through Malin anyway, and on the open road, pancake flat, the lads led a lead-out train, pushing away at around 21mph, into the wind. Tough work, even tucked away sucking wheel! But once we hit a final set of bumps we were all blown. From here on I just wanted to spin, and just get there. The last few miles are tough enough, no long drags, but some really sharp little digs (15, 20%), that the only way up is out of the saddle.

the crew who drove up, to drive us home!

I eventually rolled into the base of the Banba, for the final climb. Here the 3 amigos that had done the whole were waiting for me, and in a gesture that was (truly) appreciated, they insisted I lead the way to the top, where our supporters had gathered. And what a tough few hundred metres it was! An absolutely fantastic feeling once we got there, having an actual finish line was really nice. Big cheers to the 2 girls who came up to drop of MOC for the last day, and to Dick for driving the rest of us home. Also thanks to Mike’s mate Vinnie, who dragged the family up for support. Greatly appreciated all.

I’ll spare the details of all the photos etc, but I would like to mention the owner of Caffe Banba, who had a coffee truck up there. He gave us some really great coffee gratis. A real gentleman.

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