Sutikki’s Stephen Gould rounds up the happenings from the final day of the challenge.
Carlow to Dublin
After another early rise and the now customary full Irish breakfast, we retrieved our bikes from the bar – so highly valued they are that the hotel kindly locked them up with the beer and spirits overnight.
Luggage was now colour coded for later as so popular is Dublin at present that for the first time this week our group is split between two overnight hotels… red tags for The Alex and white for The Mont Clare. This was when our first incident of the day occurred. Gideon Sekigman – our tour manager and an absolute ‘whippet’ of a man – was in full organisational drive when he tripped on a kerb and took a nasty fall with clipboard still in hand onto the hard concrete.
Impact was loud and snapesque and those in the immediate vicinity gave sideways glances to one another in the searching hope of reassurance. Team GP, Doctor Richard Emms, was quickly on the scene and just as quickly diagnosed a broken elbow. Without fuss or drama, Gideon was now discreetly whisked away to the nearest A&E.
Largely oblivious to what had just happened, riders now swung their weary lead leg over their bike for the start of one last day to the sound of yelps and winces as their bruised tissue de derriére once again made compressed contact with the saddle. Ouch! It will be another 15 minutes or so now before some respite with the inevitable and very welcome ‘numb de la bum’.
Many of our riders are actually uber fit, however, if they have not spent prior training time in the saddle, this aspect of endurance riding can topple even the most elite of athletes. The commitment and dedication being demanded of this group is simply outstanding.
We head North East towards Ireland’s capital, cycling on thankfully quiet country roads and soon come to Hacketstown at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains. This is where we had our first fuel stop of the day in the carpark of the local chapel. Now the Roman Catholic Church has always had a penchant for religious statutory, but, this place must have received an EU grant – it was impressive. The immediate irony was, however, lost on our riders as most were focused on securing one of two cubicles in the toilets which were essentially a shed in the corner of the carpark. Never had said shed seen such action and just like our group on Wednesday’s hill climb day of dread, the spiritual plumbing was starting to flounder.
It was poor Dr Emms who was last in and now proving to be a multi-talented physician he orchestrated a magnificent cistern hand jive and successfully managed to send the prior backload off to the coast. At this point, the sun also broke through the cloud cover… divine inspiration indeed for what now lay ahead.
It was at this stage that we were advised that Gideon was now in A&E in Naas, Co.Kildare… not a location just up the road – and that he may be some time! There was a double whammy as not only was Gideon our leading light from Classic Challenge, but, he was also in the support car and we were now going into the Wicklow Mountains. These are higher than the not so charming hillocks of Wednesday… so where would we place the casualties as the boding inclines took their toll? It was at this point that a collective decision was made to harnesses the services of the bespoke Aykroyd’s support crew and car which had been discreetly with us all week and until now in an unofficial capacity. We had no choice as we needed the peace of mind of having seats other than bicycle saddles. Thank you David Aykroyd and crew for your ‘can do’ Dunkirk spirit and kind generosity.
So up, up and up we went en route to Glenmalure. Even the vans had to go into first gear. To picture the scene, this place was like the Hound of the Baskervilles highway and potentially the road to hell. Unlike Wednesday, however, it was largely a steady and challenging climb as opposed to a rollercoaster up and frustratingly down teaser repeat. Our riders did a Sterling job in this Euro terrain. If only the real Brexit was so formidable!
Functioning on only four to five hours sleep a night throughout and burning between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day, the strongest had settled into an efficient rhythm and the weakest were getting stronger by the day. The human body, mind and spirit is undoubtedly an incredible thing.
With two summits successfully conquered it was now a joyous rolling descent to The Wicklow Heathers Restaurant in Laragh, Glendalough, in deepest Co.Wicklow. Remarkably, the Aykroyd’s emergency rescue wagon had been unused and this is also were Gideon re-joined us and sure enough he had a broken elbow. Having handed over €100.00 and shown his valid European Health Insurance Card before receiving a medical examination and X-Ray – Jeremy Hunt please take note – he was now partially plastered and in a sling. Perhaps even more remarkable was that Gideon had deferred necessary surgery until returning to the UK so that he could be repatriated instead as quickly as possible with us, his now adoring client.
According to The Wall Street Journal, The Wicklow Heathers restaurant is the best place to eat in Co.Wicklow, however, as we had a pressing appointment with the finishing line we only had time for coffee. That said, it was the infamous Irish Bewleys Coffee who have been grinding coffee beans long before Starbucks and dating back to 1840. And what a simply fabulous and quintessentially Irish venue – a real shame to be only passing through.
It is said that Ireland’s greatest contribution to the world of arts and culture has been its literature. Always known for a rich oral and storytelling tradition, Ireland transformed into a literate island with the coming of Christianity in 400-500 AD heralded by St Patrick himself. Modern Irish writing, however, began with Jonathan Swift, whose masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is still widely read in schools. Swift’s satire of British colonialism set a tone for Irish literature which is often comic and biting in nature.
The late Victorian age witnessed a swell in Ireland’s pride and patriotism, and Irish writing soared. From the poetry of W.B. Yeats to the writing of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and Bram Stoker, Irish writers became household names around the world. And yet here we were – numbering 75+ road weary, dishevelled, aching and wanton cyclists and support crew in the Irish Writers Room surrounded by a collection of many of the First Editions of the best in Irish writing. Amazing!
Intoxicated now on both caffeine and culture, we left this serenity of civility of this charming hostelry for a final push upwards once again and over the top of the Wicklow Mountains through its National Park. This next phase would be very very tough, however, there was now at last light at the end of this tunnel of purpose. Our instructions from the Classic Challenge team were that we would re-group at the summit, so anyone getting to the top first would need to wait for the last from the bottom – in other words pace yourself. This would ensure a collective group arrival at the finish which was now tantalisingly close.
The scenery was simply breathtaking – this was like an ascent to Kitzbuhel albeit with thistles and peat bog verges. The latter is dried and burned in Ireland as fuel and gives off the most hypnotic of stereotypical Irish smells yet here it was in a thousand acre abundance. Most surprising of all was the quality of the road surface in this wilderness – the tarmacadam was liquorice like in finish; a bow tied gift indeed when you are pedalling up into the clouds on slicks.
This was the Duracell Bunny stage of on and on and up and up. One can use many cycling superlatives to commentate the range of cyclist’s contortions as we climbed and such gibberish includes: “Looking deep into the suitcase of courage”; “Hunting for misplaced fortitude”; “Turning themselves inside out”; “The cycling equivalent of the Marvel Avengers”; “The elastic has snapped”; “Pedalling squares” and truly appropriate “To endure what is unendurable is true endurance”.
As our group increasingly gathered at this ‘last’ fuelling stop, the windchill of Ireland’s version of Everest started to take its toll. Within only minutes the packing blankets from the support vans were being distributed for warmth and our temporary lay-by home was like a set from a disaster movie resembling a scene from the deck of the Carpathia after the sinking of the Titanic. Never had TUC biscuits and salted peanuts ever tasted so good – even Nikki Samuels dropped vanity for sanity and wrapped himself in a rather frayed furniture removals packing transit blanket. At this juncture Classic Challenge made the call that the group had to leave before hypothermia kicked in and any stragglers at the back were lifted by the support car.
From here it was fairly straight forward with minimal climbing and a dawning realisation that the mammoth task in hand was more or less in the bag. Over the final brow and there it was in front for all to see – a birds eye view of Dublin. No sooner had we glimpsed our utopian pot of gold and we were back into the tree line and descending rapidly.
Dublin has the youngest population in Europe with approximately 50% of those living here being under 25 years of age. We were about to re-align than statistical paradigm when we crossed the finish line at The Merry Ploughboy Pub in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. Our cycling group age continuum ranged from 24 to 65 years with the majority placed somewhere between 45 and 55 years old. Yet again – truly remarkable!
At 3.37pm on Friday June 15, 65 of the original starting line of 65 riders crossed the finishing line of the Bristol to Dublin Light Fund Cycle Tour 2018. Family and friends were there waiting, waving and cheering. Rob Willis (Max Publishing) who was unable to ride due to injury had flown in dressed as Dolly Parton… and boy was he a sight for sore eyes.
It was a hugely emotional finale for one and all and even though we had freshly poured Guinness to celebrate, the virtual sound of Champagne corks popping was deafening to all in the euphoria of completion. Then it was into The Merry Ploughboy – a former shebeen from the days of Napoleon through to Irish independence in 1921 – for a much needed late lunch before the coach transfer into central Dublin and to our final overnight accommodation.
We checked into our respective hotels and quickly discarded lycra for glad rags. No rest for the wicked! Indeed with a change of attire and the application of a bit of slap and beak, the transformation was quite remarkable and it was genuinely difficult to recognise some of our pedalling colleagues from the week just gone. We then boarded our awaiting coach and took a short tour through central Dublin to the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse at St James’ Gate.
The world’s most famous brewery was originally leased for a mere 45 Irish Pounds per year on an incredible 9,000 year lease expiring in 10,759. There are ten million pints of Guinness produced daily in Dublin and we were now in production HQ. Here we had a 360 degree view of Dublin from the 7th Floor of the Guinness Brewery where we would be having our finishing party, very kindly headline sponsored by Amscan and supported also by Art + Science, Smart Games and Rainbow Designs. True licensing higher education!
This was a marvellous evening which quite rightly became the much needed valve of the pressure cooker of the week just had. We had tremendous fun, infinite Guinness, live music courtesy of the superbly talented Ronan MacManus (brother of Elvis Costello), stonking canopés and impromptu karaoke with particularly notable performances from Simon Gresswell (Sanrio), Richard Pink (Pink Key Licensing) and Helena Mansell-Stopher (National Geographic).
The Light Fund has achieved something really quite remarkable this week and the great and good folk of licensing at largesse have dug deep in their support for such acclaim. While there will always be pivotably unique and leading individuals with any fundraising event of this calibre, this has undoubtedly been a team, group and industry wide effort – a clear thumbs up to the old adage that: “The sum of the parts is greater than the sum of the whole”.
A special and unequivocal bond and camaraderie has been established – our cyclists are a singular unit in true ‘Point Break’ style – they have become an extended family and the living embodiment that licensing the world over is a very special industry to work in. All riders – without exception – have been tested to the limit of physical and emotional extreme. When a sporting habit becomes a way of living and with mission now accomplished, the secondary feeling and sense of void is in some ways like the passing of a loved one. This has been without question of doubt the hardest and most gruelling of sporting challenges ever undertaken by all those who took part and to quote Maggie Harris (ITV): “This week was harder than child birth!”
We’ve collectively cycled 21,500 miles – the geographical equivalent of flying from London to Sydney……and back! In terms of height we have climbed 23,760 feet. To put this in perspective, if this was a mountain it would be the second highest mountain in the world after Everest and higher than Mount McKinley or Mount Kilimanjaro.
So what next? Well, at Dublin Airport on Saturday morning while some said: “Never say never!”, others were already listing their bikes on eBay!
You can support The Light Fund and our industry cyclists by clicking here to visit the JustGiving page. Alternatively, you can donate by text – simply text 70070 with BDUB32 and your donation amount – for example BDUB32 £10.