By my math the Good Friday Monster which took place last Friday the 30th March was the 5th edition of The Beast. Devised by the sadistic Gar Connolly in 2014: at 155km and over 3000m of climbing its legend has grown over time and is one of those bucket list events you have to complete once. Its founder had more important commitments this year and so it fell to Dr Donal O’Connor to resuscitate the 2018 Monster to life.

The monster has become an unofficial return to the hills of South Wicklow following the winter. For some it is a chance to show off the improvements over the winter, for those thinking of big European sportives it is a chance to see how the climbing legs are and get a feel for what’s ahead. While in previous years with pubs closed why wouldn’t you cycle. Some aim to do part or all and it is just a good social day out for the mountain goats of the club

In spite of dire weather forecasts an enthusiastic and hopeful group of approx. 25-30 people assembled at the Yellow house in drizzle, all keen to kick start their season following weeks of bad weather. As the peloton ascended a misty and damp Cruagh it started to become clear conditions were worse than forecast and even by the Pine Forest turn three of four were seen skulking off onto the left turn. You know who you are and Gar C will ensure suitable punishment will be forthcoming from the Velominati.

Onwards and Upwards! Photo by Gary Somers

The remains regrouped at the viewing point in fog and sleet and agreed if conditions got worse we would head towards Enniskerry (or so I thought). Featherbeds were a slushy mess and I expected to stop at Liam Horner but the lead descenders couldn’t be stopped (despite near decapitation by an agitated horse and rider for the second time in a year – won’t say who but sounds very like the season after spring) and proceeded up towards Kippure gate. I looked around but with no sign of others so had to follow otherwise it was going to a long solo spin.

Slush gave wave to snow and it became auditions for Bambi on Ice. There were a few discussions and the group split 50/50 as some kept going and others retraced their steps and took an alternate route to Laragh via the long hill.  Was 50/50 on either option but I felt it would be worse to descend so pushed on with a few others in the hope conditions would improve. It turned into a test of cyclocross skills as we cycled in the tracks from some four-wheel drives. Around 500m from top of Lough Bray the majority had to dismount as the conditions worsened and there was a reassembly in the fog at Kippure gate.

Shane Toman Leading the Charge. Photo by Gary Somers

Waiting in the fog and snow at Kippure Gate was a surreal experience. As it was cold we decided to get back going but the majority couldn’t reclip. Cue puzzled faces and shoe inspection revealed an inch of ice had formed around our cleats from hiking. Everyone managed to develop their own de-icing technique and remounted. Eight had stubbornly / stupidly?? made it to the top and were about to depart when a la Stephen Roche at La Plagne in the 1987 Tour de France, John Anslow emerged from the fog to swell the numbers. The road to the crossroads wasn’t much better and we were all glad upon reaching the gap to see the weather Gods reward the group’s perseverance with no fog and a snow free road to Laragh.

John Anslow emerging from the fog

What followed was a cold but wind assisted descent through the spectacular snow-covered peaks. At Laragh, there were discussions about continuing on but all agreed on a “micro” break. Tea and cake was welcome and the group who rerouted via long hill arrived 10 minutes later. Clodagh was shorthanded and reinforcements were called to ensure the masses of wet and cold cyclists were kept in sustenance (Think she would have known it would take a bit more than  some bad weather to stop the Orwell masses).

Everybody began to split into groups broadly along the lines of “mad” and “slightly less mad”. In the interest of time and minimising coffee breaks I went with the first group. This had whittled down to six who had gone over the gap and we started to tackle the formidable circuit consisting of Shay Elliot, Sliabh Maan, Brown Mountain, back up Shay and then up Wicklow Gap to Turlough Hill.

You knew it was going to be one of those days when going up Shay, Shane Toman’s crank came off while still attached to his shoe. Initially looked like disaster but good mechanical skills had him back up and running quickly. After a quick photo stop at top of Shay, Garry headed home for alleged time with the kids while the rest headed on to Sliabh Maan. After Slibah Maan the group was reduced to three as John W  & Shane headed up Augavanagh and home.

Compulsory Photo Stop! Photo by Gary Somers

I hadn’t planned on doing the whole thing but could now feel my arm being psychologically twisted. Bernard Sellars and Brendan Lawlor had that glint in their eye that they were going to be ones to ensure that someone completed the full route. They had taken an extra helping of Rule 5 & Rule 9 for breakfast and were taking no prisoners. Looking at them you knew they were not going to accept any skulking away and saying I was going home early would have been akin to telling Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony you were leaving the field to reduce the team to 14 men with a sore toe.  Brown Mountain and shay were comfortably knocked off.  Got a stitch going up Wicklow Gap so the two lads went ahead. Got to top of Turlough Hill through the last 1k of slush only to discover the lads weren’t there.  For a moment had wondered if they had legged it home around the lake and left me high and dry but I met them back in Clodagh’s and discovered they had taken the left turn to the lake while I had gone right.

Turlough Hill in the Snow

We had expected (more hoped) that some of the other groups would arrive but we were on our own with no hope of reinforcements. Whatever fresh gear we had was put on and attempts were made to dry the rest in front of the fire to the bemusement of the German tourists. Re-clothed and replenished with a dose of Clodagh’s finest soup and sandwiches we were ready to go. Initially I thought we were going home via Roundwood because of the earlier snow on the Gap however I should have known not to leave the two sergeant majors alone as in my absence they had changed plans. Burdened by the responsibility of ensuring someone had always completed the route each year they had decided the shortest route was over Sally Gap and we could walk down any bad snow sections. I tried to put on a brave face but inside I was crying. Good progress was made to the gap in dry weather as I unashamedly sandbagged the two lads. Upon reaching the gap the Gods decided to make it more difficult as the weather deteriorated and we were treated to a gale force headwind and hail. The only thing to alleviate the stinging hail on the face was the fact that the snow from earlier had melted.

Orwell tradition dictates a sprint finish over the Featherbeds but Bernard didn’t have to try too hard to take the King of the Featherbeds title for 2018. There was a quick stop at top of the viewing point to acknowledge the effort and reflect on an epic spin.

General feedback from all was that it was a great day out and that the weather added to the sense of achievement. A Strava review indicates most did around 120km and over 2500m in difficult conditions which was a big achievement.  A big thanks to Donal for organising.

 Here is to better weather over the summer!!