2022 Pan Celtic Race: Around Ireland on a Track Bike
Last month, more than 200 riders gathered in Cornwall, UK, for the 2022 Pan Celtic Race, a 1,600-mile, self-supported cycling adventure through the Celtic Nations of Wales and Ireland. After seeing the race leaders roll through town last year, Lawrence Walters decided to tackle this year’s event on a £140 track bike. Find his story and a stunning gallery of photos by Dan King here…
An té a bhíonn siúlach, bíonn scéalach.
We who travel have stories to tell.
In July 2021, the Pan Celtic ultra-endurance bike race (PCR) rolled through Bristol. I cycled across Clifton suspension bridge mid-shift delivering letterbox flowers and spun a few miles with the race leaders. I was enthralled by the race and rode non-stop from Bristol to Bangor the following weekend—220 miles along parts of the route.
I purchased a suitable bike later that year with a mind to race the PCR the following summer. However, the idea of riding fixed grew on me. I emailed race headquarters to enquire if anyone had ridden the event on a fixed gear bike. “No one has been daft enough yet,” they said.
Fast forward to July 2022, and I’m standing at the very back of over 200 riders about to roll out 1,600 miles around Ireland… on a fixed-gear track bike I bought for £140. The neutralised start to the ferry was calm and subdued after some complimentary and customary Guinness to get the adventure started.
The first few days saw the toughest sections of elevation, with temperatures into the high 20s Celsius and uncustomary tailwinds and blue skies. I was stoked to be able to ride most of the major passes of the first few days, including Healy Pass, Caha Pass, the Gap of Dunloe, and Moll’s Gap. Like many, I walked good chunks of Priests Leap, which averages more than 8% for over three miles.
On night three, I hit Glencar and bagged a bunk at the Climbers Inn hostel, which was already kicking off with a mix of endorphined-up cyclists and lubricated yompers. I bought drinks for anyone in the room who fancied it and had dinner with a hiker from Germany tackling the 134-mile Kerry Way and a befriended PCR rider.
The 90-mile Ring of Kerry dawned on me hauntingly fast the following morning and had me in a tricky headspace. A combination of fatigue, ominous mountains all around me, and a fear that the passes were too big to ride made for a turbulent start.
Thankfully, I’d picked up a tin whistle around Kenmare the previous day (keen to get right in the mix of the west coast), which now had its own holster on the aerobars. I spent much of the morning leaning to play Happy Birthday and started to feel much better.
The Grapevine Hostel checkpoint at Dingle was vibes central, and it seemed most in the race had the same idea for the place to be the evening of day four. I ended up playing some newly learnt tunes on the tin whistle with Mally on harmonica into the late hours. I was offered one of the last three beds for a couple of hours’ rest, and after refilling the hip flask with some warm cider the next morning, I headed into the sunrise to tackle the off-road ascent of Conor Pass.
I started to open up over the next couple of days into the second half of the race, and I flipped to 42:14 for around 200 miles up the coast. With most of the major climbs out the way and the back of the journey broken, I was in good spirits and increasing my daily mileage to 200+. Galway was beckoning! I couldn’t quite believe how far I’d come on this bike, having not even been sure if this was even possible. Having made the checkpoint at Dingle, I became more confident that I could bring her home.
The days were filled with ups and downs. I learned to trust that the stints feeling lethargic and tested would at some point give way to periods of strength and tranquillity, helped by the route continuing to offer up the most incredible roads. Connemara was a stunning national park of vast open plains that met white beaches and the perpetual urge to swim. The tin whistle got lots of air time.
The ride was starting to get dirty towards the final weekend, and thoughts of the mainland ferry home were rolling in. Saturday was the day of my race: shared miles with clan members, incredible coastline, feeling positive seven days in, and eating 200 miles a day with jelly babies for breakfast. The bitumen was so hot it was melting onto my tyres. That’s how lit this race was.
We caught Mally in the Welsh Embassy atop the Croaghaun, to whom I gave a fitting rendition of one of my favourite poems by James Elroy Flecker.
Saturday evening, my whole race changed. I suffered a front tyre blowout, punctured sidewall, and damaged carbon rim brake surface on my only brake. I decided to try and preserve the rim by riding brakeless (some 230 miles to Dublin), but my legs had other ideas and completely gave up after 30 miles. Searing pain in my right quad and no power left to push. I finished the day down on mileage with some whiskey and crashed on the beach to work out a plan in the morning. Dreams of a Sunday night ferry home were now in shreds.
The next morning, I hammered to the ferry to make the finishers’ party and entered “touring and self-preservation mode.” I got hold of some codeine and limped onwards. My leg was in bits, but the emotional trauma of potentially not finishing the race far outweighed the physical suffering.
I rolled into Llandudno Tuesday morning after a kip in Bangor and a satisfied need to jump in the sea to soak up the events of the previous ten days. The journey was closing and it felt right to take some time over the final moments of the race to reflect and reframe.
The evening saw a barn party throwdown bigger than shindigs at Downing Street. I felt incredibly welcomed and part of a vast clan of like-minded legends. The race had felt like “The Glastonbury of Ultra.” Spirit and community at its heart with the opportunity for self-exploration for those wanting more. A most heartfelt thanks goes to the race organisers Toby, Mally, and Rebecca and all the many members of support who made this event one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had.
2022 Pan Celtic Race Results (Solo Men)
- Paul Wainwright: 5 days 18 hr 28 min
- Ceri Middleton: 6 days 4 hr 14 min
- David Scott: 6 days 4 hr 14 min
- Stephen Haines: 6 days 5 hr 11 min
2022 Pan Celtic Race Results (Solo Women)
- Simone Eder: 7 days 17 hr 38 min
- Taylor Doyle: 9 days 5 hr 43 min
- Tamzin Dewar: 9 days 5 hr 43 min
- Anna Linden: 10 days 4 hr 43 min
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