The past few weeks since my last post has been a bit of a roller coaster.
Sadly Conor's mom passed away only just over a year after being diagnosed with Motor Neuron disease.  Again Marie Curie initially got involved with her care as things progressed, and again they proved how dedicated a group of people they are to respite care.  Thankfully Conor has a really close and supportive family and group of friends so hopefully we can all help make things a little better as the days go on.
On the flip side our friend Fintan had invited us to his wedding in Limerick the following week.  Conor was happy to be involved with the celebrations which turned out to be a great laugh as the reception was held in Knappogue medieval castle and included "authentic" medieval singers and dancers to keep us all entertained.  Unfortunately going to the wedding meant that we missed the fourth round of the Irish cross country race series BUT Limerick city is less than an hour from the Ballyhoura MTB trails - a group of designed xc trails totalling 90km, set in the Ballyhoura mountains and which will be the venue for the Irish MTB Marathon Championships later in the year. So we headed down not just to celebrate the big day but also get some quality mtb riding in too.
We managed two days of riding on some great off road trails.  The first day saw us have a bash at the "Garrane" trail, 35km long and at least 80% twisty fast singletrack with sections of northshore built bridges and track, with the best section left to the last 10km on the homeward straight leaving us with big smiles at the end.  Infact the weather was so good and the trails so dry if we imagined hard enough we felt like it might have been somewhere in Spain!
Day 2 was planned as a bigger day, both of us feeling a little less sensitive after the wedding.  We were to do the "Streamhill" trail, however only 20mins into the ride Conor managed to come a cropper and came down quite heavily on his knee meaning a trip back to the van and the first aid kit.  For the sake of giving the new trails a test we agreed I could continue on as planned and meet Conor back along one of the other routes on my way back.  Three hours later and after riding mostly tight twisty and hardpacked bumpy trails I bumped into Conor, tired and battered on the hardtail bike but very happy with 53km and only 900m of climbing under my belt.  
Sunday brought a sunnier morning and we packed up the cottage and headed across the border into Louth for Day 2 of our epic trail adventure.  We decided that a trip around the Cooley Thriller MTB challenge route would make for a good days riding, and today I had Conor as biking buddy.  We parked up in the historic village of Carlingford and headed off into the mountains.  A little more road climbing is needed for this route which follows the local Tain trail – named so after the legendary Cattle raid of the Cooleys – before entering into the mountains proper.  Basically the route travels along the slopes of Carlingford Mountain along the eastern range of the Cooleys and then climbs up over and traverses the western range before looping back up over Slieve Foye and descending quite quickly back into Carlingford village. 

Conor woke that morning feeling a bit of a cold coming on so wasn’t in great form when it came to climbing the hills, but in true fashion had no problems with the technical descents, something which I continually have to work on.  The pace for the day was a steady plod with a break in the forest overlooking Dundalk bay for a quick sarnie lunch and to take in the views, nice cause I was feeling the effort from the previous day.
My favourite part of the route is up to the Goylin Pass which is a lovely grazed track which takes you up to the top of the last descent into Carlingford, not only because its the last climb of the day but even though its an uphill gradient for some reason it rides quite easily.  Another nice feature are the loads of little boulder technical sections which make climbing more of a challenging puzzle and even more rewarding for getting it right.

Once we got back into Carlingford it was decided to warm our north wind chilled bones in the local pub with a bit of heart warming pub grub before marking the end of our weekend and the trip back home.

With the opportunity of an entire 3 days from the daily grind this weekend was a perfect time to get some nice long distance mtb riding with loads of chill-out time in between.  So it was off to Rostrevor having booked a cottage with Lecale Cottages - run by the MTB friendly Baxter family, Meave Baxter being European Masters DH silver medalist - for a weekend of MTB mountain exploration.  The plan was to do a long ride Mourne Mountains one day and an epic ride of the Cooley Mountains in Co Louth the next and to see where our little legs would take us.

First off though was a Saturday morning spin with the Cycling Ulster MTB girls around a local Co Down forest.  It was nice to get a good fun ride out with the girls, both to wind down from those nasty interval training sessions during the week and prep for the long rides ahead and more importantly get together for a good bit of craic and gossip!  

Conor left me to my own devices on Sunday to spend some quality family time with his folks and his little nephew who is over visiting from America, so off "up the Mournes" it was for me.  I'm not too sure what my plan of action was precisely, the Mournes are very rugged and strewn with boulder fields in the higher reaches so trail riding is often limited to the forested slopes and the bog land plateaux, but as I headed up through the Fairy Glen I decided that a good 3- 4 hour bike ride coupled with a few long hard climbs with the aim to hit around 1000m ascent would be a fair challenge.  The ride took in a similar route to the run we had done a couple of weeks before - aiming for Leitrim Lodge climb and over the Mountain at Castle Bog.  I decided to add in the killer climb up to Red Bog before heading up Leitrim Lodge and went exploring through a part of Rostrevor Forest I hadn’t been through in a number of years.  Leitrim Lodge was as tough as ever, the steep sandy path taking you right into the Mournes and is great for that all mountain experience.  The descent back towards Kilbroney was a bit chilly after being caught in a hail shower so I decided to warm up again with another climb, this time up to what is known as "The Big Stone" with its views right over Carlingford Lough towards the Cooleys where we would be heading the following day.  I went exploring again on the descent from the Stone and found some gnarly (am I allowed to say that!) downhill runs which I think I would prefer to ride on my full suss- mental note I need to do some much neglected trail exploration – then on to meet Conor and young nephew in the park below only to discover that there was no room in the car for a bike leaving me with the long old slog back up the road to the cottage...

So after 3.5hrs on the bike I had alot more climbing under my belt for not a great deal of distance (and boy did the legs feel it) it was a case of off for a shower and a nap!  And for anyone interested in doing a day in the Mournes based in Rostrevor the route is on out GPS log page.