Blackstairs Slaney Challenge
28 November, 2009?Let them eat cake?, said Marie Antoinette, a role masterfully performed by Niamh Ni Cholmain, resplendent in her gown, and well coiffed with a toilet paper roll managing her blond tresses.(Actually she said ?Ils n?ont pas de pain, qu?ils mangent de la brioche?, but you get the idea.) And then at half one in the morning I found cake, to have with my tea before bed. It was that kind of day where everything just worked out right.
The Blackstairs Slaney Challenge was an adventure race organized by Jane and Graham Porter who though they have moved on to sailing remain the first couple of Irish mountain running, to serve as an excuse for having a house warming party at their smashing new residence in County Wexford. The fact that it was Bastille Day and a special play had been written for the occasion by Isabelle Lemee only added to the buzz. With Mount Leinster and the Slaney River both just about visible from the house the venue was ideal and our hosts had also arranged for the rain to stop. The first leg was meant to be an easy mountain bike ride through some country lanes to the base of Black Rock mountain where the mountain run went up the steep eastern slope leading to a long ridge that led all the way to Mountain Leinster and then down through some rough ground for a ways where the tough mountain bike leg took the cyclists back over Mount Leinster and down to the Slaney River near Bunclody where the kayak leg led back towards Castledockerell where a short run took you back to the finish at Jane and Graham?s house.
The bikers took off at around 10:30 and I think there was a bit of a mixup about some laneways but when Paul Mahon handed off to Bernard Fortune with a small lead on Beth McClusky , he sure did not look like he had spent much time on the road with mud caked all over him. The bikers filtered in over the next fifteen minutes and I got to see all of them because my partner, Diarmuid O? Cholmain found the Wexford scenery so nice hed decided to do an extra 6K or so before handing off to me. The climb to Black Rock was a steep ride leading to some burned rocky ground which made it quite good going , though very steep. When you met Paul Nolan at the cairn on top the mist was gone completely from Mt. Leinster and the view over the ridge we were about to travel was fantastic (especially for someone who had been away from these hills for so many months) It was boggy going along the ridge but not too tough and as a first for me, I passed Dessie Shorten on top of Mount Leinster , though in fairness he had been carrying his bike through the mud for a while before he started running. Up in the front Bernard Fortune increased the lead of the men?s team over Roisin on the women?s dream team, while Alan Ayling was not too far behind as a solo competitor. Down through some rough ground (I may have turned off the road too soon before the track) we eventually reached Nora Lawlor at the transition back to the bike. Somewhere in there we had our first casualty as Justin Rea competing solo did in his ankle.
I wasn?t there but I?d say the next bike leg was the toughest of the day, though all competitors took the road back to the top of Mount Leinster there was no avoiding the muck once you arrived. Reports from Paul Nolan said that Beth was the only one able to ride just about the whole thing but he was most impressed by Alan Ayling?s descent and Tommy Galvine reported a top speed of 50 on the descent among numerous trips over the handlebars. I heard Rachel Cinnsealech had the most creative descent, missing the track down and descending through gorse and other assorted forms of shite to complete the leg.
Paul Mahon handed off to Sean Pearse with a substantial lead and though he flipped twice in the unstable K1 that Eileen Murphy forced him to use he did a very fast leg and handed to Bernard Fortune for the runin for the victory. Beth handed to Eileen about 10 minutes later calling the bike leg savage and Roisin ran the girls in for second place, while Alan Ayling competing solo with a great performance that was only topped by his even better performance in the play later in the evening. A very dirty Jackie O handed off to Elaine Mullen and the two of them along with Paul Cullen won the mixed teams division. Diarmuid rode a great second bike leg and was in 5th and I got to have my first kayak adventure on Irish water. The water was not moving fast but it was definitely moving and for some reason the boat did not want to stay straight, but when I could relax it was the most peaceful sight with no development, just high grass and weeds and birds and blue sky all around. I knew there was a weir just after the bridge where we were supposed to finish the kayak, but I was convinced there was going to be a big joke and we would have to navigate the weir before the takeout, so I was very relieved to see Vivien on shore just before the bridge to pull me out.
Phillip Brennan had a near disaster when he flipped the kayak and couldn?t get out but after walking barefoot through fields he made it to the finish and Joe Lalor caught in a big shower late in the day completed the course solo as the 7th official finisher. There were lots of other folks doing bits and bobs at various times including Dessie who made his own second bike route before a kayak adventure and Cormac and Naimh who did the run and then rowed down the river in an inflatable raft. There were two Crusader teams that probably did the whole course but due to a scheduling conflict with the kayaks they did not do it continously so someone else may need to sort this out, but they were carrying enough mud that I am sure they did the whole course. Even Mick Kellett made it back to the house after chatting with some ducks in Bunclody after many hours marshalling on top of the mountain.
At the barbeque the food was smashing that there was enough for us to fill our plates three times even with both Bernard Fortune and Paul Mahon eating their fill. But then the directors called for quiet and the actors got in place for the event of the evening as King Louis and Marie Antointte (Cormac and Niamh) took the stage, the hags knitting (Mary, Nora, Ger and Caitlin) seemed to be led by Caitlin in a French ditty called ?The Streams of Bunclody?. Diarmuid and Vivien were well cast as french peasants and Shane O?rourke had a perfect beret and then Gavan(who was dressed like the michelin man to represent the french people) said something in French and the king and queen threw potatos at the audience and the hags pulled weeds and threw them at the king and queen and then the riot sign was raised and the guards (Sean and Paul Cullen, looking dapper in their dressing gowns) arrested a bunch of folks and put them in the Bastille (which had been built on the property for the occasion.
Eileen made a spectacular escape over the walls and then the entire crowd stormed the Bastille, and Alan Ayling had grown some large exposed breasts which came out of his pink dress and waived the flag for liberty and the king and queen were brought before the judge and condemned to death. Then the real star of the play appeared as Grahams guillotine stole the show , clicking its way ominously to its apex and then falling on the neck of the king and then queen as theirs heads rolled into the basket. The show ended to a group singing of a rousing Marselliase and then applause all around for the acting troupe, Jane and Graham as directors and Izzy as author. And then Graham announced that we could all get pissed and so we did.
I can?t remember all that went on, but I knew the young ones would keep going quite late, I remember Caitlin leading some sing songs and putting flowers in everyones hair, and for those who could not get near Grahams heaters there were dressing gowns to keep us warm and Gavan kept pouring another beer in his coffee cup and Justin keatinge arrived at some point and Dessie kept telling me how good I ran because I beat him and Liz Kinsella intoduced us to the next super Band ? We are from Barcelona - and their mega hit ?Treehouse? went through endless iterations and became the theme song for a portion of the evening. And Bernard got hungry and ate again before I fullfilled the queen?s request and ate my cake before bed.
I think all would agree that the day lived up to all expectations and a great time was had by all. I think the best way to imagine the scale of Jane and Grahams hospitality is to think how dirty you are after a race like Corrig and then imagine 20 of yourself coming home to use your shower and hang up your gear and eat a big feed and drink beer after the race. Surely a day for the ages.
Results (finishers as best as I can figure)
1. Paul Mahon (2 bike legs), Bernard Fortune(run) , Sean Pearse(kayak)
2. Beth McClusky(2 bike legs), Roisin McDonnell(run), Eileen Murphy(kayak)
3. Alan Ayling (solo)
4. Jackie O(both bike legs), Paul Cullen(run), Elain Mullen(kayak)
5. Diarmuid O? Cholmain(both bike legs and run home) Bruce Shenker(run and run home and kayak)
6. Phillip Brennan (solo)
7. Joe Lawlor(solo)