Tuesday night proved to be a long and painful experience for all involved – but, obviously, especially Tucker.
Following the quick-fire posting of the last blog from the reception of the Connemara Lake Hotel in Oughterard (a quick shower too!), I raced back to the van just in time to see Tucker come in with Jon and Morgan behind. All in all the stop lasted about 40 minutes, but Tucker was re-fuelled and he and Team B were back on the road, next TS just the other side of Galway. Misty, long undulations and magical lakes through the gloom but steady progress until we hit rush hour in Galway which turned out to be a hellish experiences. There might not have been any massive climbs, or ponies in the middle of the road but rain, horrific traffic on dual and three carriage arterial roads and incorrect navigation guides made it … complicated. And comms only working one way – we could still only talk to our rider but couldn’t hear anything back, so frantic hand signals had to do. And Galway drivers didn’t seem too sympathetic to our tired, lone racer who was just another traffic hazard to be got around at all costs.
But then as the gloom became more so, we were on quieter, more suburban roads and then out the other side and passing by the next TS at Oranmore. And quite unexpectedly we saw Chantal and the girls parked up, waving and cheering frantically. Tucker stopped briefly and once more we were on our way – destination the small coastal village of Ballyvaughan to changeover with Jon and Morgan. Roddy and I headed off to the next 50 mile point while Team C headed with Tucker to the TS at Spanish Point.
Meeting up with Paul and Trish in yet another (closed) rural service station we attempted to get some sleep, Roddy kindly offering me the back of the van. I didn’t decline this time. Bed (sleeping bag on a carrimat) at 11, and then as if I’d only just shut my eyes Paul was banging on the side door urging us to get up quickly and get back to Spanish Point – 20kms away – ASAP. It was 2 o’ clock. Racing through the dark, slightly behind Paul and Trish, we met with rest of the team in a hotel car park right by the sea and in the wind. Tucker and Team C had got there maybe 30 minutes earlier, the former so cold, so wet, so tired…
It had not been intended as a long stop point, but he’d been going without serious rest for many hours and we had to take our time to sort clothing, get some hot food down him, find a place for Morgan and Ashleigh to manipulate all the right places and finally a chance for Tucker to have an all too brief lie down. 30 minutes…. then once more off into the dark with Team A following. I think we were all beginning now not only to grasp the magnitude of the objective to but also to see what it meant in terms of our rider’s physical state.
With myself and Roddy in the auxiliary van, and Jon, Morgan and Ashleigh in the other we headed to the Limerick TS, another Circle K 24hr service station. A query from Jon led me on a quick walk up the road to identify the other Circle K, the one with facilities, a shop and coffee… so after relocating (Roddy snoring gently in the back) we tried, as first light began to show, to get some sleep. Not easy stretched across the front seats, traffic roaring past. But our pain was nothing like Tucker’s who, following Team A’s ‘5k out’ alert, simply collapsed across his handlebars when he came to a stop by the vans. We could all see the toll this race was taking, but, once again, gently separated from his bike, fuelled and manipulated and slightly rested with Roddy and I following, we headed south.
At this point, about 8 o’clock I think, the roads were dry and the sun was beginning to show itself. We were more or less on plan and to all intents and purposes things were looking up. And barely four kilometres (apologies for the mixing up of metric and imperial) as we passed through Mugret I was able to inform Tucker he’d reached the half way point. 655 miles seen to, just another 655 to go. Shortly after, he waved us into a layby and with some jokes and laughs I stripped him of three jackets. It really was getting warmer, and his morale was looking better. But then, but then…. Roddy and I had noticed the pace was slowing up a bit, and that every now and again he’d clutch at and maul his left thigh and perhaps just 45 minutes after the jacket hilarity he motioned for to come alongside. His leg was really hurting, he wanted to find somewhere and stop. He wanted to get Ashleigh and Morgan back to see to him. They had overtaken us only 15 minutes earlier, so they had to be reasonably close. And very shortly after, he wobbled into a side turning, barely making it.
The calls had been made and while we waited all we could do was sit Tucker down, and wait and try and get him to drink something. No joy. The other van appeared shortly. Ash and Morgan quickly got some mats down beside the road and did what they could to ease the leg. Ash confirmed that it wasn’t a new thing, this pain, that it had been making itself known since the previous night. And for the first time maybe, we allowed ourselves to think that perhaps reaching the finish at Trim was looking less certain than it had barely an hour previously.
The whole stop was perhaps just 50 minutes and incredibly, massaged and cold pack applied, Tucker mounted up again and we were off. He said Ash and Morgan had done wonders, and he looked good, putting more power into the pedals than we’d seen for a while. An added boost was provided by Chantal and the girls who were in the next town waving placards and cheering him on. No time to stop sadly, and shortly after we were once looking at a, for Tucker, relatively easy but long ascent. But then he grabbed at his thigh once more and Roddy and I could see that he was throwing out his left leg, using the right to provide the majority of the power. Following a powerful restart it all began once again to slow down. Descents were mostly free-wheeled and even more now we could see that the writing on the wall becoming more legible. But on, and on we went until around 13.30 just south of Ballylongford Tucker pulled us over and asked that we go ahead the next and wait with the others at our stop point, Ballyduff. We protested, suggested leap-frogging a few kms at a time so we could keep in touch. But it was Tucker time, just him, his thoughts and a bleak, empty road headed deeper into the south west.
Getting to the small town and reporting to the others I think we all knew what was more a probability than a possibility. Sorry Ballyduff, but you’re not much of a place but you were appropriate to the mood. So we hung around, and waited until we saw a distant figure at the other end of the long open street make his way towards us, turn in towards our vans, and stop.
We went through the usual procedure of cold bag, hot soup and upbeat chat. But Ashleigh had spent the time consulting with a mentor, and it was time for Paul to put the question to Tucker. It was simple enough – the situation was that if he carried on, with some really huge climbs ahead let alone the 600 odd miles to go it was likely he would do some really serious damage to his body. If he stopped there was a fighting chance he’d be fit for the world time trials in Barrego Springs in October. No-one there doubted for a second that the heart and head were in it but the final decision obviously rested with Tucker, which was made with simple style.
And so, 718 miles and 69 and a half hours after starting off in Trim, at 3 o’clock on a grey Wednesday sitting in a van outside the ‘Your Mans Bar’ (where’s the apostrophe?) our story ended. For now.
Tucker: Your Man Bar None