Neil Parker’s report on the Lough 2 Lough 500

3 days, 330 miles, 12k calories – the mid-life crisis!

So this year was the year of a big birthday (and no prizes for guessing which one). I think the mid-life crisis set on a few years back when I bought a bike, but the fact I can’t swim ruled me out of doing Iron Man, and besides, it looks tough!

A good friend in work was in the same situation as me, and after a few coffees we decided we’d like to raise some serious money for charity to mark turning 40. My friend Mark (more commonly known as Benny) is a member of the 0745 Rouleurs, and we soon discovered 5 of them were turning 40 over the next 12 months. We set the wheels in motion to plan a big cycle. We debated all the big peaks in Ireland, a full loop of the border, but then settled on the Lough to Lough 500 – a 3 day cycle from Belfast – Bundoran – Portstewart – Belfast. Just over 520km in total (330 miles).

We set off on Friday 2nd October at 7am from the Stormont Hotel. A misty damp morning, 16 cyclists, a support van and car, and an “unofficial” outrider to get us out of town.

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Straight up the Lisburn Road, out to Lisburn, Moira, Waringstown and the first stop at Gilberry Fayre. After a quick scone and coffee we pressed on through Tandragee, Markethill, Keady eventually hitting Monaghan just before lunch for another break. The mist had lifted and as we pushed on back across the border we eventually got lunch outside Derrylin on the shores of Lough Erne.

The mood was good with 90 miles on the clock, but as we crossed into Blacklion at 100 miles, the thought of another 2 hours on the bike began to take its toll. But we pressed on eventually hitting Bundoran just after 5pm. Great relief that day 1 was over……beer consumption limited to one pint and an early night. 132 miles up.

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Day 2 began with an early breakfast and we rolled out at 8am.

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I’d been in Rouleur kit on day 1, but now was the time to pull on the KCC colours…..the subject of much banter for the next 2 days. We rolled easy through Ballyshannon and Belleek, crossing a few bridges over Boa Island and then some rolling hills before racing fast into Castlederg for coffee. From there we pushed on hard, wanting to stay on schedule, hitting a steady 20 mph through Strabane, up the Lifford line, eventually hitting Derry at 12.45pm, 15 minutes behind schedule. We picked up a few more Rouleurs at lunch and pushed even harder out the main carriageway towards Limavady. A late night change of plans meant a slight route change – 6 more miles but taking in the coast past Benone – one of my favourite places on the bike. I’ll never forget pushing into a head wind at over 23mph at the front and asking Gideon beside me to please ease off! I ran out of fuel just before uphill at Downhill, but we were nearly there so I grit my teeth going past Castlerock and we eventually hit Portstewart at 3.40pm, where I was glad to see the familiar face of our Chairman, Ross Galway. 240 miles up.

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The last day was always going to be the hardest…..physically I was fine but mentally I was very tired. We rolled out steady from Portstewart after 8am, grinding up the easy and the sharp costal climbs towards Ballycastle, with Ross and the extra 10 Rouleurs who had arrived taking the lead out in a mild headwind. Over the vanishing lake Ross and the others pulled a nice steady pace and as we dropped to Cushendall, I was getting exhausted so was glad to see lunch at Glenarm. After a quick bite the end was near, and taking the safest and quickest route we swung in and up at Ballygally, eventually dropping into Belfast with just over 80 miles done that day. We were now 2 groups so we reformed into one big group of now around 45 cyclists and caused as much buzz as we could on the Newtownards Road, eventually being welcomed back to the Stormont Hotel by family and friends around 3.45pm. 330 miles complete.

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Lots of counties, lots of cycling, and most importantly lots of support from my family and friends. Thanks to everyone for your kind support….financial and otherwise. To date we have nearly £44k raised for 4 different charities. We initially talked about raising £40k and laughed it off, but it isn’t so funny now! I’ve met a great bunch of lads, many who took a lot of the pain at the front, for which I will be forever grateful. If I haven’t bored you enough there’s lots more on twitter @L2L500 from the weekend.

My wife has now hidden my bike (well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

Chapeau!

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