A Local Micro Adventure.
Bikes, beer and a break from life.
William O Connor
This story begins at my house, in a small village in the west of Ireland. Bank holiday biking plans are being made. Our usual biking plan involves packing a van, a motorway dash, service station food and a late night drive home. Our rule of thumb states that time on the bike should be at least twice as long as the journey. So a two hour drive should equate to a four hour bike ride. So to get a big day out on the bike we might have to head the night before to conform to this rule. So suddenly what should be a simple day out on the bike involves a lot of extra time,cost and complication..
Lately I am on a new found quest to make my biking more adventurous. Taking inspiration from the British explorer Alistair Humphrey and his idea called a microadventure.’ A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap’. The above routine frankly lacks adventure. It isn’t local. And doesn't work out that cheap. So working from this premise I started with three basic principles. Firstly on my next biking trip there should be no cars involved. Secondly there needs to be camping involved. And third there still needs to some good mountain biking.
This quest for adventure had partially been sparked by the purchase of my first fatbike: a Kona Wo. Living in the west of Ireland official bike trails are very limited yet the atlantic coastline encapsulated by the term the wild atlantic way is a landscape to be explored and have adventures in. The fatbike opened up trails and areas previously unconsidered because of the type of bike I cycled. It’s a funny thing that the bike you ride dictates where you ride. A 160mm full susser makes you think about riding in a certain way. Steep, fast,technical which limits you to a very limited number of trails. Just as a fatbike lets you be more general in approach. No matter where you end up the fatbike will allow you to have fun and link sections of interest together. I had also just taken delivery of my new fat bike: a Kona Wozo. This is a fatbike with trail ambitions. So this adventure had to involve some good trails to have a blast on and see how a fatbike would ride the more technical and fast routes..
beers, bikes and a break from life
A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap
A plan started to unfold. Cycle out the front door of the house, travel about 40km across the Slieve Aughty hills on a mix of road, gravel, singletrack and backroads. The Slieve Aughtys are an upland in the south of Galway County. It’s an area off the beaten path and sees few tourists or visitors. Carry all the camp gear on the bikes and camp out wherever we can while making our way to the closet enduro style trails near Killaloe. Co Clare. This would usually be about an hour and a half drive. The route was plotted linking various bits of trail I had ridden over the years.
Garry, my biking buddy and local bike shop owner was immediately in once I pitched the idea to him. So the day came and myself and Garry headed off out my driveway to embark on a bikepacking microadventure. We had our bikes loaded with camping gear and were giddy with the thought of the 24 hours ahead. When I say giddy I mean I was excited to be leaving the chaos of my house. My 4 year and 2 year olds were going through a phase of constant illness. Which wasn't helped by the fact that my wife was pregnant and was having horrible morning sickness. Life was a mix of no sleep and irritable family members.This microadventure couldn't be better timed. Garry on the other hand was giddy with a mix of nurofen and paracetamol trying knock the early onset of man flu on the head.
We quickly settled into the natural rhythm of pedaling and banter. Ten minutes out from the house riding atop my fatbike loaded with camping equipment the frantic life at home was quickly slipping away. As we came through Kilchreest, a small 1 pub village( that’s how we measure the size of a village in Ireland) we passed the window of a small rural shop. I had passed this little shop on numerous times in the van on the way to a local gravel grind. I had always wanted to call in. It is a particular type of shop. These traditional shops were once a common feature of rural Ireland but are disappearing. Normally the front room of a house is converted or a small annex to the local pub. They will be gone in the next 5/10 years as a generation comes to an end. The shopkeeper and a local farmer are inside chatting. It's a small room with basic wooden shelves stocked with everything from blue rope to beef nuts to porter cake and bread. It's a definite slice of nostalgia. A bit of chat and the inevitable checking of family lineage starts until ‘sure I knew your father well’ said the farmer. He was sad to hear of my father’s passing 2 years previous and was very apologetic that he hadn’t heard. On a bike the pace of life changes and stopping at a small shop and taking time to talk to local people seems so logical. A simple pleasure that so often passes us by in the blur of a car window.
The adventure had begun yet we were still only 6km from the house. We are soon up into the hills and the road changes to gravel. The weather is amazing with big blue skies. The clocks went back the night before and we are feeling the pressure of time. Garry is impressed with the amount of off cycling we are managing to get in. There is a huge network of forest roads criss crossing the hills. A high point gives us a spectacular view over the route ahead. We are aiming for the small lakeside village of Mount Shannon (who’s paying attention, 3 pubs makes it a good sized village). We need to start covering ground and put a push on. The route unearths little gems of trail along the way. Small sections of sweet forest trail or classic gravel descents. We are riding through a autumn scene. It’s a magical time to be out in the forests. The first big winds from the atlantic have not yet blown in to strip the trees of their autumn foliage. It's a landscape of golden yellows, burnt oranges and amber browns. There is nothing subtle about the landscape at this time of year. It's a feast for the eyes.
My estimate of the route was proving a bit rough and we were finding it hard to cover the distance planned. The last section into Mount Shannon was a hard ride to make it before dark.
We rolled into town just as it was dark enough that we needed lights on the bikes. Spinning past a small pub I thought it would be rude not to reward ourselves with a quick pint.
This is where thing quickly deviated from the plan. Inside was a small country pub. No tv, open turf fire and one of the aforementioned little grocery shops attached. About 6/7 local people were sitting at the bar. We had left the bikes just out on the street propped against the pub window. I knew from previous adventures that Garry wouldn't be able to leave them out on the street.
On a recent biking trip to Scotland he had got kicked out of the accommodation for having his bike stored in the shower of the room. He claimed the shed wasn't secure enough and wasn’t able to sleep with the thought of it.
I had just taken my first sip of the pint when I could hear Garry asking could he bring in the bikes. The proprietor was a lovely friendly woman. She said he was more then welcome to bring them in. The sight of two fully loaded fatbikes being wheeled into the pub immediately spun the locals around on their bar stools. The next hour was spent chatting, explaining and laughing with an incredible welcoming and open group of people. The pints were flowing. With little food eaten and a hard day behind us on the bikes the pints kicked in and myself and Garry were in full flow. It was still only 5.30pm. We needed to eat or else sleeping bags and tents could end up pitched in the middle of the pub. We were directed across the road to a small hotel where a feed of chicken curry helped quieten us down. Garry had been assured the bikes were fine in the pub and would be watched as we having our dinner across the road. Upon our return to the pub Garry was in shock. The bikes were gone. In their place were 2 old high nelly bikes fully loaded with our gear. The bar erupted in laughter. The locals had switch them and had been waiting our return. This pub was some craic.
The sight of two fully loaded fatbikes being wheeled into the pub immediately spun the locals around on their bar stools. The next hour was spent chatting, explaining and laughing with an incredible welcoming and open group of people. The pints were flowing.
A little fire and a huge starry night sent us off to bed. The pints always help with sleeping and I was almost instantly asleep.
The morning came. I was feeling sore from the previous day’s ride and fuzzy headed from the pints and whiskey. It was a fine dry morning. Coffee was quickly brewed. That was about all that happened quickly. It was slow to get us roused. But eventually we hit the road. The plan for the day was get to the local mountain bike trails and ditch the bike packing gear. Then spend the day ripping the local trails.
We spent the morning grinding out the distance on tarmac to get to the trails. The quiet country roads are a pleasure to ride. There is always something over a wall or around a bend to catch the eye. We arrive at the trails on a perfect day for riding. The trails are bone dry and in the best condition I have seen them in. The trails are built by local riders. I don’t know the history of who started the trails but there is a current enthusiasm for building and the trails are amazing. When I first started mountain biking I was brought down here for a cross country National Points Series. I was riding a yellow, rigid, steel Gary Fisher hardtail that belonged to my younger brother. I think it was a Pyrahna. I knew nothing about mountain biking. The first climb is a monster to the top and I still remember thinking this was some kind of joke and how could anybody find this enjoyable? Over the years my biking improved and my bikes got better and while the climb is still a killer it’s now manageable.
The bike packing gear is stashed away and the seats are dropped. The trails are steep and fast. The Kona Wozo really eats up the ground. The big wheels give you confidence to stay off the brakes. You know they will eventually grab something and keep you pinned to the ground. Garry explains the tweaks to the bike that he helped design with Kona that give it trail credentials. Super short chainstays, short stem, aggressive head angle. Stuff I always read about in magazine but never really pay attention to. All I know is I am riding fast and the fatbike is the equal of anything I have ridden before. We have a great day riding super trails. They are a real credit to the local trail builders. We finish the day sitting on a bench high up on the hill overlooking Lough Derg and the hills we crossed to get here. We have definitely had an adventure. We managed to leave from the front door of my house on bikes and have had 2 days fully immersed in the experience. The idea of a microadventure, something small yet achievable to anybody changes the way you can approach your biking. Adventure biking doesn't have to be far away in some exotic corner of the world.
It can found just outside your front door.