It was that time of year again – time to support Barretstown and hike the Dublin Mountains Way.
There were two options as usual, the 25km hike to Three Rocks or all the way, some 42km, to Brady’s public house in Shankill. This was to be my third year hiking the Way in support of Barretown. The first year i had signed up for the 42km but had been sick and only attempted the shorter hike. The second year, i had been suffering from a bad back and was doubtful if i would be able to hike at all – i signed up for the 25km and completed it successfully. This year i was fitter, time to up the challenge.
Us aspiring 42ers were to start at 8.00am in Tallaght at the western trail head. The check in point was at the Maldron Hotel where we collected our numbers and handed over our fundraising efforts. I was early, as always, and walked into the hotel at 7.10 only to find the place full of like minded individuals milling around in a state of excitement. ‘Wonderful’, was my first thought, ‘these people are as daft as i am’. My number was 100 – auspicious i believed. The variety of clothing worn by the hikers exceeded even the extreme efforts seen regularly at races – walkers have more options – and a fine selection of hats, boots and rucksackes were on display as well as a rainbow of jackets, trousers and shorts. I wore shorts and my trail running shoes as much of the Way is on tarmac roads and walking boots are too rigid for comfort.
A short introduction and warm up followed.
And we were off.
As always when you are walking on your own, you fall in with a few people for a while and chat along the way before you lose them again. I know the route fairly well at this stage and it didn’t seem long before we reached Bohernabreena Reservoir – a beautiful walk on its own that i visit sometimes. The volunteers were out in force, all smiles and wonderful waves. It was such a beautiful sunny morning, all our spirits were high. We crossed over the reservoir and i stopped to take a photograph of the crossing behind me and the beautiful reflections in the water.
At this stage i was looking forward to a cuppa tea; knowing that a community centre up ahead in Glenasmole Valley, never failed to provide for the hikers. And soon it came into sight. There are few cups of tea so enjoyed as one which has been anticipated and thought about for at least half an hour before hand. Lucozade were also present again – as they proved to be at so many stops along the way providing cereal bars, many flavoured drinks, energy gels and, of course, jelly babies.
In i went for a cup of tea. Now regulars will know that i became a vegetarian about three weeks ago and here was a mini challenge – i had to turn down the most delicious looking ham sandwiches – i compensated with a slice of cake and took to the road again. As you’ll probably know, i have joined the Sri Chinmoy meditation centre in Dublin and have been meditating regularly again. The centre asks, advises really, that, if you are serious about meditation and maximising your return from it, you will abstain from alcohol and all recreational drugs, become a vegetarian and wear bright coloured clothes to reflect a positive outlook on life. Certainly, when it came to the attire making an impact on the Dublin Mountains last weekend, Sri Chinmoy would be proud of the bright colours.
Up around the corner and soon the 10k marker was in sight – two hours hiking and almost a quarter of the Way completed – this gave me my first insight into how long it would take me – keep up this pace and i would finish in about 8 hours. A steep climb lead us to wonderful view back down into the valley and further afield across the city itself. Walkers to the front of me, walkers behind me. I had calculated that there were about 200, maybe 220, 42ers heading off this morning but i had no idea how many were in front of me and how many were behind. The majority of hikers, over a thousand more i understand, were confining their considerable efforts to the 25km test.
We were now approaching an area known as the Feather Beds where our first check point was to be as well as more welcome refreshments. One of the walkers had gone on a mini-strike and sat down, refusing to budge until she had a rest. Her companion, anxious to keep going, declared her intention to rest later and they parted promising to meet up later – i wonder if they ever did. New conifers had been planted in this area since last year and the plastic protective surrounds did indeed make the area look like a bed of feathers blowing in the wind. I was counted in ‘100 and not out’ and selected an orange which turned out to be the most juicy and delicious orange in the whole know universe – how lucky can one get.
A road section followed before reaching the upper entrance of Cruagh Wood – one of my favourite places for trail running as there is a lovely 4km circuit with good hill sections and great views. I had ran there in the snow earlier in the year. I remembered two years ago being very very tired at this stage – 3 hours in to the hike. I’m not sure if it was my added fitness this year or the knowledge that i had a lot longer to walk, but i felt quiet fresh except the inner part of my right knee was beginning to bother me. Part of the Way in Cruagh Wood follows a narrow path which was magical in the sunshine. A few hikers were not far ahead of me and they moved in and out of my vision as the path curved around the trees.
Down into the valley and i started to get stomach cramps – not good. I tried a bit of walking meditation to take my mind off my stomach – irritable bowel syndrome is one of my compendium of ailments, and just as i was feeling a bit better, i crossed the road and there were a couple of portaloos – God Bless the organizers. The hike then led us past the zip-wires in Tibradden Wood and a steep climb up Tibradden Mountain. Best wishes and encouragement from local walkers gave me the energy to keep going and soon i could see into Wicklow with the Sugar Loar Mountain in the hazy distance.
And suddenly i was on my own, not another human being to be seen, i savoured the moment and was amazed that we had become so spread out that it seemed i was all alone. I pushed on, crossing the Wicklow Way and meeting an encampement of volunteers and Civil Defence, ready to help out if needed. I pushed on past the Fairy Castle knowing it was only a short distance from there to Three Rocks and the 25km point. The option was available to any of us 42ers who felt unable to continue, to drop out at that stage but dropping out is never easy and unless you were suffering from heat stroke, blisters or severe muscle pain, it was not likely that you would. I checked in again. Turned my back on the Irish stew but thankfully received another cup of tea and settled down to eat my fruit and bars, barefooted in the heather.
Someone, somewhere had told me that changing your socks halfway through a days’s hike was akin to been given a new pair of feet, and so it proved to be. Someone else had told me that it was all downhill from Three Rocks on but that information proved to be slightly optimistic. I re-applied my factor 50 and finished my chocolate covered rice cakes – a vegetarian delight.
People were heading out in small groups and i followed amazed at the variety of ages and sized on the move. We had a lovely stroll down through the forest but soon we were on the tarmac road – a considerable part of this section runs along the narrow roads. They were not particularly dangerous but were busy, probably due to the lovely day.
We passed Johnny Fox’s pub with dozens of people sitting outside in the sun, eating, drinking and looking very relaxed. The madness of my endeavour struck me sharply, i had never hiked more than 25km in a day before and hadn’t hiked since the weekend in Donegal. So i carried out a mental check and, other than my sore knee, i felt pretty good. No point stopping now i thought – its not called a challenge for nothing – and the people sitting around eating too much and drinking too much suddenly seemed the mad ones.
By the time we reached Kilkiernan village, i was suffering a bit and the group in front of me seemed to be suffering too. The sun was blazing down and all hazy protection had been burned off. The suface was unforgiving underfoot and the tarmac road radiated heat like an open pizza oven. I kept taking in fluids and allowed myself to think of the shady paradise that the Scailp would provide which could not be too much farther ahead.
I decided that one of Sri Chinmoy’s favourite chants, ‘Supreme, supreme’ would get me through the next half hour or so. I chanted it quietly to myself and quickly the tough conditions softened and i recovered my strength and enthuasism. Before i knew it, the entrance to the Scailp had appeared with plenty of volunteers, more Lucozade supplies and beauteous, wonderous shade. A few hikers were resting in the shade but i wanted to keep going. I helped myself to some refreshments and took off up the trail. Several encouraging signs had been placed along the side of the trail and i had been told that we had less than 8km to go – nearly there.
Suddenly, i was being waved off the path and into the woods, i realised that i was so tired that my mind couldn’t really understand what was happening. I saw a small bunch of people ahead and realised that someone was down and receiving treatment. I made the detour and said a few silent prayers for whoever was suffering. i climbed up to the top of the Scailp and memories of walks and picnics we had there as a family over the years came flooding into my mind. At that stage i was walking with three lads and we were all worried about the accident which had happened. Two cheerful volunteers met us as we exited the Scailp and, miracle of miracle, they were giving out ice-cream. I sat down, all the better to enjoy it but everyone else kept on going. Refreshed, physically from the ice-cream and emotionally from talking to the volunteers, i set out to finish the challenge. A short road section and then into another of my family’s previous haunts, Carrickgollogaun Woods.
My tiredness had gone, even my knee was no longer sore, i started to walk faster, passing out about twenty-five hikers, all who had become familiar to me over the miles, several of whom were suffering but keeping going. At this stage it was all downhill and shady. Eventually we crossed the M50 on a bridge, the noise of the traffic coming as a shock after the quietness of the woods. A young volunteer welcomed me to Shankill and i followed the path through a residential area, ably guided by volunteers wherever a complicated junction might have confused a tired mind.
I turned a corner and there was the finish sign. Got my photo taken crossing it and into Brady’s to collect my goodie bag and t-shirt and to eat a burger-less burger – third vegetarian challenge of the day. I filled up the warm bun with cheese, lettuce and tomato and it was simply delicious. A bus was leaving shortly for Tallaght so i climbed aboard and watched my fellow hikers cross the finish line.
Half an hour later, by the time we reached the Maldron Hotel again, my legs had completely seized up and i got off the bus with extreme difficulty. Sore but proud.
And all for Barrestown and the children and their families whose lives are enlightened by that great organisation and their wonderful staff.
And, as promised by vegetarian athletes, my recovery time was very short, less than two days.