“This isn’t too bad, I must be pretty good at this stuff!” - I’d made it past The Deep Sink, supposedly the worst part of the route, and now the rocky gnarly path became muddy slippery. Just need to be in the moment, let my balance flow with the terrain. ‘OOF!’ I hear behind me, another casualty. Right then my own front and rear wheels have a disagreement, and I land on my side. Look back to see Leonard sprawled in the soft mud a few yards behind me

“Any damage?” 

“Nah, just my ego - don’t mention this to anyone, will you?” 

“Sure thing, not a word.”

The inaugural meeting of the Orwell Cycle Touring Society took place a few days ago; both members were in attendance. The past year had been hard work: a single-minded focus on training for PBP. This was necessary for our success, but Training is by definition Work and not Play, and some of us missed the pleasure of Just Riding.

Audaxing is perhaps the best way possible to know a country - you behold the ebb and flow of the land, the major roads, the forgotten byways, the desolate stretches. You see a thriving village with a bustling weekend market, and the next one is deserted, its youth gone onwards to the big city. You notice when the deciduous trees turn coniferous, when the pasture becomes bog. In a barren landscape you come upon a lone grove next to a hill, and say “ahh, this side must be the lee of the prevailing winds”. Unladen by the heavy panniers of the cycle tourist, you master the ability to traverse vast distances, countries, continents, in a time scale that is between too slow and too fast.

And yet - perhaps there is room to dial it down a bit. The club spins, the Wicklow 200 training, all are excellent, but what if we add some occasional variety, for the sake of interest and exploration and going a bit into the unfamiliar? Exactly what form will this take? Is it bikepacking? Gravel riding? Pannier touring? Who knows? Instead of trying to pin down what we want, how about we just do the easiest to organize ride that’s sufficiently distinct from a club spin, and see how it goes? Leonard did a ride along the canals last year, and felt it was a bit tricky but not prohibitively so. We figured we’d announce it, maybe a couple of folks will show up, we’ll get our narrow roadie tires stuck and have to backtrack, but hey it’ll be a good laugh.

3 p*nct*res in the Dundrum parking lot before we even roll! Obviously a good omen - get the mechanical issues out of the way - what’s the chance we’ll have more than 3 on a single ride? Brief stop at JD to restock CO2 on the way out. Twelve riders had turned up, far more than expected. It felt like playing truant: the Elders of Orwell are in the Portlaoise Weekend Away, and here we’re doing something "unsanctioned".

It’s a cold and sunny morning along the Royal Canal, nice gravel path, can’t go too fast but otherwise just dandy, no problem with tires or such. Leonard has a new catch, and is trying to sell her on Audaxing. “Oh yeah, it’s always nice and chill like this, fun times and great company. You should definitely join us!” He gives me a wink; never mind the 22 hours in the rain, the 15 minutes allowed stops every 100 km, the Maxol dinners and sleep deprivation training rides, all the while Dave Mac watching our every move on Strava to decide if we are worthy. But yeah, honestly, you all should definitely join us!

And now the trail vanishes, lost to the panjandrums of the Royal Canal Greenway Planning Commission, perhaps to be found again one day. The path is rough grass, with muddy ruts that tempt like Sirens - my tire should fit them perfectly, except the rear sloshes around and slides out from under. After several falls we all learn to ride on the grass and avoid the ruts. One fellow is clearly a mud virgin - he gets off and carries his bike to avoid getting it dirty! A couple of painless falls later and he’s broken in, grinning like everyone else.

There are several asphalt crossings, planned bailout options, but not one rider wants to leave the path. It takes hours of slow progress to get to Maynooth: plenty of falls, a few more punctures. Nobody is particularly bothered - I didn’t even bring my Garmin/Wahoo, so I don’t know my average speed or Normalized Power or HR zone, and I don’t care to.

The Coffee Mill in Maynooth is always welcoming, though even they were a bit taken aback at the muddy crew in the usually immaculate Orwell jerseys. On the way home we jump on the Grand Canal grass path. By now we’ve gotten our sea legs; you just need to let the rear wheel slosh around and not fight it, or something like that. Soon we’re on the city roads, the interminable junctions and cars and lights, and slog it back to Dundrum.

So what did I learn? Normal road bikes are perfectly capable of venturing afield, all we need are grippier tires. Falling isn’t a big deal, unless you’re going fast or the road is hard. And there are many ways to have a great time on a bike, so lets try them all out!

Your correspondent blithely carrying on while carnage ensues behind.


Thanks to Kashif Qayyum for the excellent write up! Keep an eye on the forum for details of the next touring event