The joy of dot watching

For the last few days I’ve been at my computer screen even more than normal. I’ve been glued to the Transatlantic Way ultra distance cycling race. It’s a 2,500km event that started in Dublin, made a bee-line to Derry and is now wending it’s way around the Irish coast to (near) Cork taking in a great deal of spectacular scenery. Of course I’m not seeing that much scenery but I’ve been hooked on the Trackleaders website, a hub for long distance racers. Each rider has a dot with their initials on and you can have your screen update the position of their GPS tracker every 60 seconds.

If you happen to know a rider, whether an acquaintance or better, it’s more addictive still. In the Transaltantic Way, I’ve been following Jo Burt, the illustrator and writer, as he undertakes this event for the first time. Jo and Gavin Peacock had a crack at the Transcontinental Race back in 2017 but didn’t manage to finish, this time I reckon Jo is going to get the job done but there’s no guarantee as anything can happen on a ride that may take up to 10 days. He’s around half way at the time of writing and about to reach Checkpoint two. From there it’s still over 1,100km to the finish in Kinsale.

In these social media rich days, many riders are on Instagram posting pictures of the race – you can of course follow them via the event hashtag #TAW2019, which is also a wonderful chequerboard of screnery, bivvy locations, cafés, service stations and tired looking riders. It brings the dots into a sort of staccato pixelated life.

From watching a several of these ultra distance events, a few things stand out now. To be at the pointy end of an event like this you’ve got to be able to knock out around 400km per day, which is enormous on it’s own, but you’ve got to be able to that up for 6-10 days solid depending on the race. That’s 16 hours riding a day at 25kmh. Now it’s easy enough to imagine 25 kmh if it’s flat – but throw in lots of climbing and that’s a herculean task for anyone.

So if you knock the speed back to say a 15kmh average over a 16 hours a day to allow for a chunk of climbing each day, you get 240km or 150 miles in old money. That’s still longer than I’ve ever ridden in day and for the Transatlantic Way at around 2500km, that’s 10 and half days riding. Wow.

As exciting as it is to watch those at the front ride their 380+km per day, it’s the people doing around 250km a day that I’m captivated by. These riders of all ages on all kinds of bikes are still knocking out huge distances and stopping at little mini-supermarkets or petrol stations for food, perhaps they’re dropping into a B&B or hotel for a comfy bed and a hot shower every few days.

They’re riding through wind & rain for hours and days at a time. Stopping for short breaks every few hours. I have the most enormous respect for each and everyone of these riders. They’re all getting on and doing something that I’m not sure that I could.

All I’m doing is watching their dots and looking at the Google Maps reference points and looking on Streetview at where they’re stopping for food or for a bivvy. I raise a smile when I spot them at a hotel or B&B as they richly deserve it, but even them they’ll mostly only rest for 4-6 hours at a time before they’re on the move again.

It’s fascinating watching dots catch and pass one another as well.

For something as inanimate as dot on a computer screen, it’s strangely moving and very compelling. Once it draws you in, you’ll sit like me checking in during the evening after my kids are in bed, with the TV on in the warmth, thinking about dynamo lights and whether it’s raining where they’re riding and is their sleeping bag dry enough. Did they manage to get enough food at the last town before the shops shut. How far will they  ride into the night? In the morning when I get up to make a cup of tea and start my day, I’ll be dot watching as the kettle boils or the tea brews.

Sometimes you can work out when they’ve stopped. You also wonder how tired they’re getting and how are their legs? How do you feel after 5 days riding without a proper sleep? When you’ve been soaked every day …. And lets face it, riding around the Atlantic coast of Ireland, you can expect a good soaking or two and that it might actually be pretty cold – even in June.

All of this and more is why I have so much respect for anyone doing a ride like this. I imagine you have to get into a place where you just keep cracking on. You’ve got to keep pedalling, keep moving. Get to the next town, the next junction, over the next hill. Get your next meal, get a few hours sleep, get up and repeat. Just keep moving until you get to the end. Every kilometer ridden no matter how slowly gets you closer to the finish. I worry about the drivers, how are they going to be around riders they don’t know are probably exhausted.

I imagine you start with a riding target in mind but much like they say about plans – once they make contact with reality they change.

Watching the dots you can only imagine and surmise and speculate. Instagram helps give more flavour but only the riders themselves know what’s really going on. You can see them catching and passing each other – ebbing backwards and forwards on the leader board across the ups and downs and twists and turns of the Irish coast.

I love watching the dots. If you’ve not tried it, give it go. If you don’t know anyone even as a distant acquaintance, choose someone in the second half of the field and follow their dot. Seek them out on Instagram or Twitter and ride with them in pixels.


I love dot watching

Good luck Jo Burt and everyone of you crazy mofos’ doing these amazing rides, you have my enduring respect and admiration.

You can find out more about the Transatlantic way here: https://www.transatlanticway.com/

You can dot watch here: http://trackleaders.com/

And of course the BIG race of the year in my book is the Transcontinental (#TCRNo7). If I’m lucky I’ll wangle a way out to that one to watch – not to ride https://www.transcontinental.cc/

Thanks for reading