There is a quote by Ernest Hemingway that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it over two decades ago. When I first heard it back then I had spent most of my life on the roads of the north and west coast of Ireland, and I was about to start making my first trips to Europe.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through, as you gain by riding a bicycle. “
A few weeks ago I was back on some of those same west coast roads. We were driving along the N15, when on what I thought then was a hunch, I took a right turn down what looked like what could be at best described as a “Lane”. All in the car turned with looks that said “where the hell are you going?” (apart from my wife who trusts these instincts now). At that point I had no real idea, other than I knew we were pointing towards the sea.
This became a lesson in you never forget the great roads when you have suffered over them on a bike. Those days when you are out clocking miles, and have the time to explore and discover random roads and lanes stay with you in ways that are not always apparent. Roads that when viewed from the saddle reveal things that are disguised when in a car. The Borough Road down to Mullaghmore is one such road.
It is a typical west coast Irish road. Too narrow for two cars, with a variation between high hedges and low stone walls. It has a terrible surface, that surprises you with holes that can break a rim in two. Surrounded by Peat bogs and the Donegal Mountains these types of roads always present you with something special when you reach their end. Just after a left hand split you go up a rise on Castle Road, past Classiebawn, the former castle of Lord Mountbatten. At the top of that rise you are presented with a view (above and below) that even in your subconscious decades later pulls you back to that very spot. A road that I probably did 10 or 20 big gear hills up, and stopped at the top to suck in the Atlantic air and take in the view. I have memories of being in this spot and literally being blown of the road by Atlantic winds. Memories of grinding into a headwind on the flat, in rain that makes your BB creak for a month. Roads like this made me tougher. Here we were back at the same spot on a glorious fall day with it all coming back, and acid in my legs from muscle memory. Hemingway was so right, you learn and remember the contours of a country best when you suffer over them on a bike.