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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 18 January, 2020
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'Dragging myself out of bed on cold mornings, I wonder if I'm mad – but it's for a good cause'

Ever fancied cycling cross-country from Kildare to Galway? It’s not always easy but you’ll raise much-needed funds (and have serious craic).

Ciara Galvin

HAVE YOU EVER noticed how lovely Ireland can be in the spring? The thought randomly crossed my mind last Friday, about 50 kilometres into our 200 kilometre cycle across Ireland.

We were cruising through the second leg of our five leg journey and the sun – gradually breaking through an otherwise cloudy sky – was throwing patches of light on wide green fields and daffodils waving in the ditches. Ireland looked truly lovely; it was one of those rare moments when you can see what visitors see in our green island.

‘Tis a long way to Galway…

We had set off at the crack of dawn from Maynooth in Co Kildare as part of the 28th annual Galway Cycle, consisting of 300 cyclists plus marshalls, support crew and collectors.

The day started well. We were fortunate in that we had cold but dry weather the whole journey down, and very little wind to slow us. By the halfway mark, however, tiredness was setting in and the picturesque Irish landscape was losing its appeal. A combination of the gruelling pace and some long slopes between Moate and Ballinasloe put cyclists through their paces – and I don’t think a bowl of pasta has ever been eaten with more gusto than the ones they gave us in Ballinasloe.

Collecting agus craic

Time is oddly elastic when you are tired on a bike. It felt like miles between “Welcome to Ballinasloe” sign and the GAA club where we stopped to refuel whereas in reality it was probably less than five minutes. I for one was definitely struggling at that stage, to the point that I was wondering if we shouldn’t rename Ballinasloe “the longest town in Ireland”.

Thankfully one of the marshals lent a helping hand up the last hill and when we hit the road again 40 or so minutes later I made sure to stay near the front. It’s easier to cycle near the front of a large group, I find. The pace tends to be steadier there.

We took the last 80 kilometres nice and handy but still made good time and, aching legs almost forgotten in the excitement, swept victoriously into Eyre Square at 6 o’clock, just under twelve hours after leaving Maynooth.

After that the rest of the weekend swept by in a blur of laughter, live music, costumes and collecting. If you were in Galway at all on Saturday you probably saw us in our green hoodies, stepping up the fundraising efforts by busking, face-painting, making free smoothies on a bicycle powered blender and much more. Almost before we knew it, however, we were sweeping back into Maynooth at 6pm on Sunday to a warm welcome from a few hundred people who turned out to cheer us in.

Camaraderie and community

This year was my third year cycling and I doubt it will be my last, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, because by getting involved in the Galway Cycle you get to do good for an array of worthy causes. In my first year, we supported Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, and in my second we raised funds for Pieta House, the centre for the prevention of suicide and self harm.

This year the cycle was in aid of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. It’s a fantastic organisation which relies almost entirely on donations to operate, with money going directly into the provision of services. At time of writing the total figure we raised is €115,000 (and still rising), which will allow the Irish Guide Dogs to reopen the waiting list for their Assistance Dogs programme for children with autism.

But although we can be rightly proud of how much has been raised, the charity aspect is only one part of the Galway Cycle. Even the actual cycling and the huge sense of achievement you get when you finally arrive into Eyre Square (or back into Maynooth) is only part of it. The Galway cycle motto is “charity, cycling and craic” and definitely what keeps people coming back year after year is the sense of camaraderie and community in what regulars refer to as the “Galway Cycle family”.

It’s also one of the best organised charity cycles you will ever take part in. A tremendous amount of effort is put into organisation and cyclist safety every year, especially by the Galway Cycle’s committee members who make sure the weekend runs like clockwork.

On yer bike

I would highly recommend the Galway Cycle to anyone who has even the slightest interest in getting out on a bike.

I’m not going to say taking part is always easy – it isn’t. In particular, pulling yourself out of bed early in the cold and/or wet for training every weekend from the start of January is demanding. There will be mornings where you are out on a bike in the rain somewhere near Kinnegad wondering if you’re totally mad. Then you realise it’s fine, because the likelihood is that pretty much everyone around you is probably a bit mad too, and at the end of the day it’s all for a good cause.

The cycle is open to anyone, of any age and with any level of experience of cycling. The oldest cyclist this year was in his seventies, and the training spins start at 10km so unless you still use stabilisers you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to finish the first one, and you build from there. It’s a great way to learn if you’re just starting out – old hands are happy to impart their wisdom to newbies.

Equally it’s challenging enough for even the more experienced cyclists to want to keep coming back, and if you aren’t interested in cycling, or perhaps don’t feel you could commit the time for training, there is always the option of going as a collector. Basically, everyone is made feel welcome.

If you would like to keep up to date with the Galway Cycle over the summer and as we begin to prepare in the autumn for GC2016 you can find us on Facebook, or on www.galwaycycle.ie. And sure, maybe we’ll see you next year on a bike! 

To donate €4 text WOOF to 50300. (100% of text goes to Irish Guide Dogs across most network operators. Some operators apply VAT which means that a minimum of €3.25 will go to Irish Guide Dogs. Service provider: LIKECHARITY. Helpline: 0766805278.) Alternatively, you can donate or buy items from their shop online.

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About the author:

Ciara Galvin

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