The TransAtlantic Way RaceEvents
Words and Photography: Rich Marshall
‘I lie in my bivy bag on the unlocked toilet floor of a rugby club, a fairly standard choice of shelter for a long-distance race involving minimal sleep and maximum hours in the saddle. It’s not comfortable. I gather my kit and wheel my bike outside onto the more forgiving surface of the beach. I wrap up like a cocoon, my face covered to avoid the flies. Exhaustion gives way to valuable sleep until I feel sudden nudging in the ribs. I’m being stepped on. Quickly I unzip the cover. A wet dog is my unwelcome alarm.’ John Love
Relentless hills, mountain passes, small villages and towering sea cliffs, battered by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean: this is Ireland’s West Coast. Etched into this landscape are the roads aptly named, The Wild Atlantic Way. Here lies setting for the TransAtlantic Way Race, a 2500km single-stage road race from Dublin to Kinsale, outside Cork.
This year’s event, in June, included over 160 riders. Following the tradition of Trans Am and Transcontinental races, the TransAtlantic Way is a completely unsupported bike packing adventure. From the start, the clock never stops ticking. Months in advance, riders agonise over route plotting, equipment choices and bike setups, decisions of equal importance to fitness training. While some riders plan their stops to include a few hours sleep in a BnB, others ride on into the night, clocking up as many miles as they can before sleeping the next day. Bus shelters, barns and petrol stations all offer immediate shelter. Bjoern Lenhard, a veteran of Trans races, explains how sleeping away from the comfort of a hotel room enforces urgency. ‘You wake up cold outside, so you really have to hurry up and get on the bike’. He spent his last night of the race sleeping in a large concrete pipe.
Storm Hector threw a dramatic curve ball into the centre of what was a hot and dry race. Riders were forced to take shelter or battle on into the darkness. Laura Scott experienced head winds so strong she was forced to push the bike uphill, her worn out cleats providing so little grip she opted to struggle on in bare feet. Meanwhile, Jason Woodhouse, after 195 miles that day, took cover behind a brick wall in his emergency bivy bag: ‘The wind was roaring and I was pretty scared as even my bike was being blown along the ground as if it was tumbleweed’.
A tracker device attached to every rider’s bike ensures their location is visible on an online map. George Bennet explains: ‘There’s always someone catching you up or getting away from you. Every time I stopped I kept looking at the app on my phone. It can play havoc with your mental state. “I saw you yesterday. You looked dead! Now I see you’re riding through the night!”’
In stark contrast to the harsher elements is the warmth of the Irish people. Often, upon meeting riders as they enter villages, friendly locals offer free accommodation and food. Riders call them road angels.
Despite the sleep deprivation, storms and saddle sores, the TransAtlantic Way rewards riders with an unforgetable experience. Rider Chris Jackson poignantly reflects back on the race ‘Many people may struggle to understand the appeal of racing such a distance. For me the attraction of an event like the TAW is the opportunity to totally explore my limits and fully commit to a single thing without the many distractions and compromises of normal daily life. It feels kind of primal, like a survival mode. ‘At the close of day 5 when my neck was starting to give out I knew I had to take a long break and nurse it to the finish or face having to scratch from the race again as I did in 2017. Priority number one for this year was to finish the race. I’d achieved my initial goal of making it to the ferry on day 4. Now my priorities had to shift. I could so easily feel down, frustrated and angry or I could re-frame the situation. There were many positives to be taken from slowing down. Now I’d be forced to have more days to enjoy the event. I was still in beautiful Ireland and I was still going to finish.’
This year, Bjoern Lenhard successfully defended his win in 5 days, 3 hours and 38 minutes. Unclipping from his bike for the last time he simply said, ‘I’m done’. Karen Tostee won the women’s race, crossing the line in tenth place overall in 6 days, 6 hours and 22 minutes. Americans Matt Roy and Bradford Smith won the pairs competition in 7 days, 15 hours and 42 minutes.
With the stunning changes in scenery, the unpredictable weather and the kindness of strangers, the TransAtlantic Way is much more than a race.
Transatlanticway 2019 entry is open in September