I had an enforced ‘rest’ week between my active Paddy’s Day weekend and The Easter Bank Holiday. Close family visiting, a deluge that flooded and blocked the N11 to Wicklow, a truly unseasonal avalanche warning in the snow laden Mournes and a rather nasty tummy bug, all combined to keep me off the hills and out of the gym. Then an invite came to get out on Spinc Mountain on Good Friday with Concern/Uganda buddy Vera Baker, and I decided to push all thoughts of weakness aside and ‘just do it’. I was so pleased afterwards. It was a beautiful day in Wicklow with blue skies and bright sunshine, despite snow and ice underfoot; and it really stopped me feeling miserable and sorry for myself! Vera and her mate Lisa were just starting a new round of training for their latest charity appeal in Kenya later this year, and it was good to be out with them, as they bubbled and planned, all full with the sense of a new adventure.
When invite number 2 came to join Mountain Rescue volunteer Grainne Ryan on a trek up the Galtees on Saturday, again it was hard to refuse. I was probably quite weak after my tummy bug and I decided to take the train to Thurles rather than drive; the guys agreed to pick me up and drop me back afterwards to the station, which I felt was much easier than driving when I was feeling tired. It took the pressure off a bit, but I was still feeling a little nervous. I hadn’t climbed with Grainne or her mate Kevin before, and I wasn’t sure about my hill-fitness or strength. I just hate the thought of getting in ‘over my head’ and slowing people down. It’s always about picking your pace – but it doesn’t stop me getting a bit apprehensive first time out. Grainne reassured me they weren’t planning any hill-running…and off we went!
We headed first for Galtee Beag; intending to then skim the ridge and move on up to climb Galtee More 919m (3018ft) snow, ice and wind permitting. The pace was manageable, the company good, and the scenery stunning. Again another perfect climbing day, with snow underfoot and blue skies above; made all the more special by a natural phenomenon which I hadn’t seen before. As we left lunch and Galtee Beag behind and pushed on for Galtee More, we came out of the lee and the force of the wind hit us. Pushing onwards and upwards the cold was biting and it felt like being in a wind tunnel. I was using walking poles and could actually feel the wind tearing them from me as I walked. But I walked with care, staring in amazement at each footfall. I was nearly crying as I stepped on and smashed through these lovely snow crystals on the way up. Rime, Grainne called them. It was like walking through a bed of brittle diamonds… I’d never seen that before, the delicacy of the wind-blown ice formations on the frozen bog; I felt like an elephant in a china shop…
The last few measured steep steps to the summit; then walking across the flattened top to the cross, straining against the wind, leaning forward into it at an angle and pulling my fleecy buff up around my nose and mouth to try and help me breathe through the frosty air. We scrambled down a foot or two among the rocks and suddenly the wind stopped and I realised it had been roaring in my ears. Suddenly as if someone flicked a switch, we found ourselves in stark silence as we snuggled in to sit down among the frost-sparkled rocks, like ice-thrones in a winter wonderland at the top of the world. Swiftly turned to Ice Princess – I surveyed the 360 views of Tipperary, Limerick and perhaps Cork far off in the distance, with bright sunshine cutting through the bitter cold, now sheltered from the wind and feeling so incredibly grateful to be here.
My perfect Easter weekend didn’t end on the hills. I splashed my way through large waves in Malahide in bright sunshine on Sunday morning with Fergal Somerville and the Low Rock swimmers. I’d actually turned up with a wet-suit, but I was shamed when I saw them all getting into the surf in their swimming suits, so I decided to leave it in my bag and take the plunge – literally. It was icy cold. 4 degrees apparently, but it was beautiful being bounced around by the icy waves in bright sunshine. I didn’t last long; getting through about three swells before turning around and swimming like the clappers for the shore. But as my skin burned with fire afterwards and I drank hot coffee and pinched someone’s chocolate biscuits, there was no doubting I was alive.
Monday the holiday continues and I’m still off work, so I’m hitting the gym in the morning – then meeting the ‘Get Off The Couch‘crew as the six participants in our new TV series on Setanta go through their paces on the track at the prestigious Morton Stadium with Triathlon trainer, Eamonn Tilley. It’s our second session and I’m dying to see if we’ve made any progress. Last time we were training with Eamonn, the wonderful Katie Taylor gave us a pep talk and that really fired us up. The show’s taking 6 men and women from around the country and encouraging them to get out and active in the great outdoors. After my exciting ‘holiday’ break, I’ll have plenty to talk about!
I’m standing on the shore and the old guys coming out of the water are telling me it’s the best it’s been all year, and much warmer than yesterday. Now yesterday was bloody cold, so any improvement is welcome. But the sun is shining and looking at their open, friendly faces, I believe them. Idiot!
Plunging into the waves, the shock almost takes my breathe away. I come up for air (and to scream), only to get a face full of salty water, as the next strong roller nearly knocks me on my back. Struggling to right myself and grasp a breath, I come up again and sneak a glance at the girls on either side. We’ve got a couple of channel swimmers out tonight and their long limbs sweep palely ahead into the torn and angry sea as they pull ahead, aiming for High Rock or maybe even the Tower – far out of my league. There’s Jessica from last night, who’s been ‘minding’ me for a couple of swims now, and is fast becoming a life-line. Either I get quicker, or I’ll soon become a nuisance, but for the moment I’m happy to accept the help and the company out here.
The high breakers are new to me and it’s a case of head down and push to get out beyond the break-water, then on a choppy but less violent sea, I get back into my stroke and my rhythmn and swim out parallel to the shore in the direction of High Rock. I’m not used to this choppy water, but after a while I start to enjoy the slap and battle of pushing through. It seems faster than last night when I spot the red bars of the High Rock bathing spot ahead… and it probably was faster, because when I turn to head back, the tide hits me in the face – lifting me up out of the water and slapping me down through air onto the green sloping waves below. I realised too that I’d managed to get myself seperated from the rest of the swimmers who had broken into groups. I could see a couple of caps heading off in the distance, presumably aiming for The Tower and for a moment I hesitated and thought I should follow. But it was cold, and rough, and I hadn’t swum in sea this rough before, so I gather myself and head for home.
It was much rougher swimming into the diagonal surf and I felt I was being battered as I pushed on, but once I got used to the rough and tumble I began to enjoy it, and with the sun piercing through the greeny light of the water, I felt a grin working its way between my ears. After about 20 minutes I see the yellow blaze of the clubhouse up ahead and relax a little. I take my bearing between a type of castle silloutted against the setting sun and a dark blip somewhere in the distance towards Malahide, and push ahead, checking my landmarks every 15 or 20 strokes. My swimming colleagues caught up and checked me out before bolting off ahead. I so wish I had their speed, but maybe in time. Approaching the swim-in to Low Rock, my buddy Vanessa pops up beside me like a seal, but wearing a pink swimming cap. Laughing she commented on the waves and advised me to ‘dig in’ for the shore and dig-in I did! It was a tough swim in, for me the toughest of the 43 minutes I spent in the water tonight. I felt the waves pulling me back away from the beach despite my best efforts, but gradually I could see the shore coming towards me, and before long I chanced a toe down, and with relief gripped the sandy bottom below. I’d made it. Pulling myself from the water, I hesitated and took a few steps slowly back into the surf. It felt warmer than the air around me, and felt welcoming. Maybe it’s true. Maybe you do finally begin to acclimatise to this lark…. hmmmmm…
PS. I made the WeightWatchers’ weigh-in on the way home. I lost a half a pound this week. I’ll take it! 🙂