A new pair of dots in the helmet mirror, hue the warm amber of halogen, distinct from the cold white of the LEDs we are running. "Car Up!" goes the call, and ten seconds later we're given wide berth, the driver no doubt startled by the strange apparition. Then gone, and once again, we have the dark night to ourselves, our convoy of seven the only thing in the world. 
 
4am, 175km in: At the one-stop, blink-and-you'll-miss-it village of Kilmacow, searching for our rest stop. No signs of light or life. Then suddenly, an inebriated madman standing in the middle of the road waving his arms wildly. Oh wait, that's Leonard, standing there since who knows when, to make sure we don't get lost. Serves him right for putting us up to this in the first place! We pull inside to find cyclists and cycles arrayed in the hall. Leonard and Andrew pull a hot dinner/breakfast out of the oven. They have been doing this since 9pm, when the 600K riders started coming through. Our measly 400K ride started at 7pm, so we'd made it in 9 hours. "Did you see the giraffe we rode past?" someone asks in earnest. 
Andrew & Leonard's 5 star rest stop!
6am: wake up, time to roll. This power-nap thing actually works, the hour's sleep surprisingly rejuvenating. Someone sights the tower of a bridge in Waterford, and then we're through the town, past the colorful buildings along the water. Now the "lumpy bits", up and down, we try to keep the group together. Some had left Kilmacow without any sleep at all: Richard from Wales, who mentioned how the 1200K Paris-Brest-Paris was easier than the 1400K London-Edinburgh-London "because there are more people cheering you on", and John from France, who happened to be in Dublin for work and figured he'd squeeze in a spin. Just us five Orwell first-timers left. We pass a pair of 600K riders from Cork who don't look too well.
 
Somewhere in County Wexford a car keeps tailing us - is the driver yelling at Val? Then, a number of cars honk as they pass by in either direction. "How rude" I think. Turns out everyone in these parts knows Val, and the word has gone out that she's on a crazy ride. They intercept us at a junction, bearing gifts of coffee, croissants, and most welcome of all, cold water, the generosity much appreciated. Val shows her friends my embarrassingly dainty retro bike. Note to self: I really need to get a modern plastic bike to "fit in" - surely my wife won't want me to be an outcast. The Cork brothers catch up, as does Helen the "Audax Queen" on her eternal RRTY quest, and we enjoy an unplanned rest. 
 
 
Getting warm now, the continual undulations taxing, the heat enervating. Somewhere we pass kids licking ice-cream, and two hours later the Centra we stop at has a 99c machine and I can't resist.
 
250K: The low point for me. The mind doesn't let you feel tired until 2/3 the way through, and gives you a rush the last 50K. It's the bit in between you need to push through. Starting to get bored: "are we there yet?" I haven't eaten much all day, and find myself on the verge of bonking, struggling to keep up. Everyone else seems perfectly fine, I'm obviously the slowest rider in the group, I can't let them see my weakness or they'll disavow me next time. I frantically poke around in the bag and dig out my in-case-of-emergency-break-glass energy gel, wash it down with a banana. Then, clouds blot out the sun (Clouds! What a blessing!), the road flattens, and we pass the 300K mark. Just 100K to go, a typical weekend spin, surely we can do that! 
 
Down the road, what seems like an Orwell jersey - or perhaps a mirage? Turns out it's Joe, our compatriot on the 300K a few weeks ago, who today chose the honors paper and went long for the 600K. 
 
 
Blessington, just the final quick rest, sitting on the curb outside a Maxol. I drink my first can of Coke in years. Desperate times etc, hope my pancreas will forgive me. Then, cresting over the final hill, someone shouts "Open it up!" and we all take off, flying down, mad grins on madmen. 
 
The last bit though city streets is a slog and there, the Dundrum bridge! Pass underneath, turn into Joe Daly's where the crew await us. Congratulations all around, well-dones and thank-yous, get the brevet card stamped else it's all for nought. We're too tired to exuberate - some sit on the floor. I just stand around trying to not look like an idiot. Now what do I do? The only thing I can: get back on the bike and ride home...
 
When's the next one?
 
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