Three go down to the Sea

Three go down to the Sea on the good ship ‘Scarke’

Preparing for the voyage

When the President of the Tricycling Association in the UK saw this photo. He responded thus:
‘We have had heavy rain in the last week or two, but nothing to match the flooding that evidently covers half of Ireland. It’s good to see that, unlike Noah and a boatload of animals, you decided to save your tricycle first. Good man!’

It was funny that he mentioned my lookalike from Genesis (the book not the band) as people have mentioned my somewhat biblical appearance since I have left my now flowing locks to their own devices in my solo protest against the Virus.

Indeed, as my esteemed colleague noted it was “Tricycles and children first” for this nautical escapade. The main difference between my experience and the one recorded in the ‘Good Book’ was that we went to the water as opposed to the deluge coming to us. This is how the story unfolded:

Ireland entered a new Covid lockdown on the 21st of October, with rules that stipulated that there were to be no visits to other households and exercise was only to be engaged in with family groups and within 5kms of home. Cycling Ireland reiterated this by stating that “all training activities should be solo or with members of your own household.” So what’s an addicted cyclist to do? Well this one decided to ride every road within his 5km cordon with his, long suffering but agreeable, offspring. The only problem was that there was a body of water in the middle of our territory so some of our approved roads happen to be on neighbouring Great Island.

The Route

Riding the roads on our side of the channel was not without its challenges. I have often remarked on how many roads Ireland has for its size of population. For example, our county of Cork had a population of over 800,000 prior to the Great Famine it now has 450,00 souls. The elaborate network of roads characterize Ireland’s past, the many derelict houses represent our history. Cycling them was a great reminder of this, and an education for my offspring.

During this adventure I discovered many new roads and short-cuts, found quarries and intriguing dead-ends. On one trip as I trundled toward the village of Cloyne, I noticed an opening with a road number. “Every road” I reminded myself as I turned down the gravel path where I met some wellington wearing walkers. Is this a road?” I inquired. “Well yes, but you won’t get down it…on that”. ‘The Fools!‘ I thought, ‘every road surface is a challenge’ and to a tricyclist, generally, just a minor inconvenience.

The beautiful boreen was overgrown. It had seen the tyres of many tractors and they had created a little plateau in the centre, conveniently just wide enough for the track of a tricycle. What a misguided fool was I! Having always wondered at what pitch the tricycle would topple over I found out in jig time. Steadying myself and machine I made it through to the other side, passing bramble covered ruin upon ruin on my journey. This was possibly the route once taken by local girls and gossoons on their way to school.

My adventure respecting the Covid lockdown adhered to the rules of the game. If the red perimeter of my allotted 5k dissected a road I returned at that spot. This required much ‘guesstimation’, head scratching, soul searching, local inquiry and of course endlessly doubling back. That my local town of Midleton was within my boundary meant an amount of urban riding that left me wondering if the Gardaí (Irish police) would be receiving reports of suspicious activity in the area. All these highways and byways clocked up 130 Strava miles and still there was a bit to do, and they lay on the other side of the channel. What to do?

The grass always looks greener on the other side

A ‘Raleigh Lenton’ riding uncle of mine once contacted me. “Brendan” he said, “I’ve decided to give my inheritance before I die. You’re getting my boat ‘Scarke ‘ and my model cars”. That was fifteen years ago and I am proud to still have Uncle Conrad’s boat moored at the bottom of my garden. At the start of every Spring, when he was still alive, I would report the annual ceremony of starting the engine. However, I had already taken ‘Scarke’ out of the water, removed the wheels from the trailer and ‘winterised’ the engine. But somehow it spoke to me. Mentally I estimated the width of the rails on the cuddy and the tricycles rear wheels; I considered the drop over the front screen and the placing of the cleat on the bow in relation to the front wheel.

The crew

Then I heard the weather forecast and storm warning: “Storm Aiden prompts nationwide weather alerts for Halloween. Orange or yellow weather warnings for all counties as first winter storm approaches”.
Halloween was the next day and we were in the calm before the storm. That morning I rushed through 35 local miles while the children were at school. Using the tide table our estimated launch time would have to be 3.15pm, giving just two hours of remaining day light. Once they arrived home and were fed, I called the young seafarers into action. “Get the trailer tyres, lifejackets, petrol, engine”. Such was the rush I even let my 13 year old reverse the van to attach the trailer. The boat was now shipshape and it was time to check my mathematical calculations. Would the tricycle fit in its chosen place? All those years spent studying geometry weren’t wasted, the wheels of the trike almost formed an equilateral triangle which coincided perfectly with the shape of the cuddy. With the children’s smaller bikes stowed and the trike bound to the roof we launched the ‘ Scarke’ on its voyage. With a slight following wind, and a sparkle in our eyes, we set sail from the harbour of Rathcoursey (i.e. the bottom of the garden!) and like characters from ‘Swallow and Amazons’ navigated towards Great Island. What an adventure.

However, trying to ride those final roads with darkness quickly descending was always going to be a challenge. As the sun started disappearing in the West I was feeling the pressure. The voyage home was now going to be in dusk at best, or at worst darkness. We still had some cycling to do and as we approached the final climb my young daughter tarried as her brother shot ahead. In order to complete the challenge I had set myself I had to get me and my Strava to the end of this road before darkness fell. I tried to chide, then bantered, coaxed and encouraged. When she dismounted to walk the climb, I feared the worst. In silent exasperation I called out to my son to return to his younger sister so I could make it to the end of the dead end ahead. “Where were you?” I said when he reappeared. “Sorry Dad, I was taking a photo. You should see it, it’s lovely up here”. With those words all pressure dissolved. We would sail home by moonlight, sure how bad? So yes, indeed like Noah, me with my two dears.

Life doesn’t get much better than this!

– Brendan Hennessy

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