Riding the Jewel of the Irish Sea

You often want what you can’t have. I first heard of the Isle of Man End to End Challenge whilst working for SCOTT, it always fell during a busy time of year, so the closest I got to riding was making sure Nick Craig had the right bike. Fast forward a few years and with eager friends and the time in the diary to make the trip across the Irish sea, we signed up for the 75 km ride. Captivated too by the TT, I wanted to discover the magic that captures so many riders attention, motor and pedal bikes alike.

Teaming up with close friends Sally and Helen, we planned a girls weekend with a slight twist. Crossing to the Island, we took the fast ferry, joined by other lycra-clad, endurance junkies. Stepping off the boat in Douglas, we were met by a salty seaside town lined with a row of Manx flags framing a never ending line of townhouses. A slight eery lack of people, we struggled even to find a restaurant or bar. Dinner came in the form of the local Spar shop, a meddle of sandwiches and hot chocolate to fill our boots.

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Saturday was a chance to explore; a plan was made to visit the highest point on the island,   complimenting our mission to ride from top to bottom too. A whole 620m above sea level, we took a gentle trot towards the summit of Snaffell, being very nearly blown off the tops! Rather than ruin the legs, we chose to experience the quaint and traditional ride to the bottom by tram. Boris the driver kept us highly entertained, posing for selfies and sharing the history of the island with us.

Sunday was race day. Starting at the most northernly point – the Point of Ayre – we piled on the early bus at some unearthly hour and drove the reasonably short distance to the start line. With a baron but beautiful landscape facing us, we rode out to the oldest lighthouse on the island, amused to also see it was for sale. A unique spot indeed. Our prompt arrival had us waiting a while and hope the growling clouds above us would make a move on before the start. Other friends joined us at the start line pits and the sense of community grew as we chatted to the local riders and sheltered from the wind.

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With the Coast to Coast AR still in my legs, I pushed as hard as I could off the start line but dropped quite sharply. The first few kms are on the tarmac and at that moment, the sky torn open and threw rain down hard and fast ad we began the challenge. Thankfully not for too long. The stretch of road gave me time to warm up and slowly pick up the pace, only to come to life once we hit the trails. The first climb out grows quickly, with rocky, technical sections that instantly put a stop to the unfit and less able. Frustratingly my lack of power in the beginning left my weaving my way up the climb, polite shouts out to those on the trail that a rider was coming through.

After the kick of that first section, I sprung to life and enjoyed the views and the flowing trails, covering sections never normally accessible to the public. Mostly farmland in the beginning, we hit the first feed station at 30km but I pedaled on, happy to make the most of my munchie box on my bike and keep a rhythm going.

The route is a real mix of it all; farm tracks, rocks, winding bridleways and sections of man made trails – fast and flowing to contrast with the wet, dark and boggy! At 75km, the distance doesn’t seem so far, but the ascent makes you think twice. With 1500m of high gain, I felt in the legs by the end. At the second feed station, the younger riders ended their day and left the rest of us to tap it out to finish the final 30-something kms. Crowds of supporters keep my spirits up. The end was in sight and aided by a helpful cheer from an enthusiastic lady, “This is the last hill!” she cried, I truly hoped she wasn’t lying.

Coming into the end, there’s a last kick up a tarmac road, which opens out with views to the beach and the lively finish line. Weaving down the grassy bank, it’s a steep decent to the end, with a cheeky technical drop that caught me out! Coming into the finish at Port Erin, the last 200 meters takes you to the beach front lined with supporters and sweaty riders. Negotiating the narrow concrete path, I was tired and distracted by the cheering children around me and stalled at the steep ramp, throwing myself over my bars… and sliding spectacularly to the bottom. Ouch.

Bent bars and bruised pride, I tentatively rode to the finish line, happy to be in once piece and ready for an ice cream!

After a pit stop in the sunshine and a face full of food later, we decided to finish the day with a last spin of the legs. Riding alongside a local Lake District legend Ray, we took a steady pace back to Douglas, earning some extra eating points and dreaming of dinner.

Coming in to the harbour, we made time to take views and made our way to a well earned rest and recover before sailing back to the mainland early the next day.

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