May 21, 2017


There is still some land in Ireland that's farther north than we would travel today, but nonetheless we traversed an area that is not frequently visited.

Four cyclists from the Cill Chluana Wheelers refueling, near Armagh, Northern Ireland
We packed up for a long drive to our starting point, near Sheephaven Bay. Some chaps from a local cycling club (Cill Chluana Wheelers) were refueling at the same place where we stopped to refuel the van.

Amazingly, we happened to be in just the right place at just the right time to catch the start of one of the races in the Emyvale Cycling Club Grand Prix.

Car leading cyclists in the Emyvale Grand Prix, Emyvale, Ireland
Being here, I already had seven-time Irish Champion Ryan Sherlock and his wife Melanie Spath on my mind; as visitors, they have dominated a few of our Low-Key Hillclimbs. Evidently Melanie won the 2012 Emyvale Grand Prix women's race! For us, she set a new women's record on the Mt. Hamilton Low-Key Hillclimb in 2010—which she bested in 2015.

Outward view through an arched doorway, Doe Castle, Sheephaven Bay, County Donegal, Ireland
We had a chance to roam through what remains of Doe Castle, dating back to the early 16th century, before enjoying our picnic lunch on the grounds. The rain came down just as we were ready to begin our ride.

View of Doe Castle from the east side of Sheephaven Bay, County Donegal, Ireland
We found shelter in the little snack bar onsite and chatted with the family who tended it. We set their little boy off in a fit of giggles with our American and Canadian accents. [It took just one word: “cow.”]

Our cycling group descending a hill flanked by stone walls and blooming hawthorne and gorse, near Ballymagany Lough, County Donegal, Ireland
Eventually we started riding up the Fanad Peninsula ... in the rain. The hills were pleasantly rolling (not steep!), and the rain came and went. A distinctive bird call spilled out of the nearby woodlands: Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Our guide schooled us in their parenting approach: Mom deposits her egg in another bird's nest and flies away. Once hatched, the interloper sometimes crowds the foster parents' own chicks out of the nest.

South of Portsalon we joined the signposted scenic drive route, which we shared with very little traffic until ... Ballymastocker Beach.

Snack break at Ballymastocker Beach, County Donegal, Ireland
There we stopped for snacks, with a view toward the lovely bit of pavement snaking along the edge of Knockalla Ridge (also known as the Devil's Backbone).

Unfortunately, some local lads were keen on time-trialing their way around the curves, tempting the devil ... in their hotrods.

I was not keen on sharing the road with them.

My blue Merida Ride 400 parked in a blue bike rack shaped like a fish, Ballymastocker Beach, County Donegal, Ireland
The lovely blue bike rack beckoned ... where better to park my shiny blue bicycle?

And then came the rain. When would I be happy to ride in the rain, ever?

Today. The rain got heavier, the road got slicker, and the boys turned tail and drove back to town.

View of Ballymastocker Bay from the road above, County Donegal, Ireland
It was a bit windy, and the rain came and went; still, it was worth pausing to take in the view of Ballymastocker Bay and the beach below.

View of the road below and Ballymastocker Beach and Bay, County Donegal, Ireland
We made our way to Rathmullan, on schedule to load cyclists and bikes onto a fishing boat for a shortcut across Lough Swilly to the Inishowen Peninsula.

Bikes stowed on the Enterprise fishing boat, crossing Lough Swilly toward Inishowen, Ireland
Once across, it was a quick ride to our lodging at Buncrana. For the day, a scenic 29 miles with 1,820 feet of climbing.

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