If Wishes Were Bikes...

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If wishes were bikes then last weekend (Saturday 30th/Sunday 31st August) at the Annual Across Ireland 2008 we had over 700 of them! Combined with pillions numbers taking part went over a 1,000. The total amount of money raised for the 'Make A Wish Foundation' will not be confirmed for a few weeks but the organisers seemed very confident that we have overtaken last years total of approx €140,000. So the event had succeeded on that front.

Though I believe it right to point out now that there was a downside. I must offer my condolences to family of the rider who was fatally injured in an accident on Saturday as we traveled to Galway. This news had not been confirmed until the Sunday morning just before we began the return leg. The accident occurred behind me so I can offer no account. This is the only death in 9 years of the Annual Across Ireland's history.

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So now onto the event itself. Registration began at 0930 Saturday morning in and around Dawson Street. A number of roads were sealed from traffic and used as staging areas. Depending on which direction you entered the city from thus determined which street you ended up parking up on. We arrived at around 1030 and were luckily enough to get up to the front of our staging area. This also gave us time to wander around, take photos and chat to all the various participants.

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Every type of motorcycle seemed to be represented, while no two bikes looked the same! Every owner seems to have made their own mark on whatever they were riding, ranging from various comfort mods, all the way to custom paint & body work. It was like walking around a custom bike show. Everyone was friendly and happy to have a chat, coming over and asking questions about each others rides and so on. We managed to have time to grab a coffee and watch some of the controlled chaos evolve before us.

The marshals did their best to get everyone in position while the Gardai were also out in force, though all that I spoke to were very pleasant and seemed to be enjoying this as much as us. The members of the Bikesafe team were also their offering their services and getting people to sign up. Inside the Mansion House was were everyone gave in the sponsorship money they raised and got a T-shirt, stickers and fluorescent vests (from AON bike insurance) for their efforts.

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Come 1250 all the barriers holding us back started to come down and the streets were lined with people cheering and really getting into the spirit of the event. As we pulled off at 1300 we snaked through the city centre and were generally very well received by all onlookers. Most seeming surprised by what was going on before their eyes!

Out on the road all seemed to go as plan for the vast majority of us. The marshals and Guards worked very hard at keeping ahead of us to ensure a clear path. We did get bottled up in a few places, like Kinnegad, but we kept moving and enjoyed the streets lined with onlookers waving and cheering us on through every town. Our fuel stop was at Kilmartin's Fuel Station in Athlone, this felt rushed and I think the majority of us were expecting refreshments to be laid on. None the less, with some food and drink thrown down out necks and a drop of fuel in the tank we were rolling towards Galway once again.

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The ride to Galway was fun and kept at a spirited pace, so we found ourselves in Galway in next to no time. Here we all parked up in Eyre Square and patted ourselves on the backs for a job well done. Now things were a bit chaotic and I would say that at this point the communications between the marshals and the participants broke down. As my partner and I were having a tea & coffee while chatting to some tourists from Wales (whose son rides a Fazer...) a corner of Eyre Square turned on their engines and pulled out!

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Now most were soon jumping on their bikes to chase them down, but I was happy to go to our hotel and freshen up before heading over to the Clybaun Hotel for the evenings festivities. We were staying in the Galway Bay Hotel, which had been recommended by a family member. Sadly the shower did not work, nor the TV! Both were fixed by the morning but it was a disappoint for such a highly rated (& priced) hotel. The breakfast was very good though and the staff as helpful as they could be. Though the managers comment on Sunday morning after hearing of our problems, “It was not your night was it?”, was not very welcome.

Anyway, we were soon back in the Clybaun Hotel in a taxi where we got some dinner and a few drinks. The atmosphere was upbeat, though no-one seemed to know what was going on. Either way the next thing I know the band was beginning to play...

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...The next morning after breakfast we were back on the Ulysses and riding up to the Clybaun once again. Here we were all called into the function room to be told the bad news about the accident the day before. Their was an obvious sense of shock in the room and as we solemnly walked out many mutterings of “what a waste”. If nothing else it focused us on the task at hand that day, getting back to Dublin. So soon we were back on the road and heading to Dublin.

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The weather turned wet for a brief period, with many pulling in to scramble into their wet-suits. My partner kept busy trying to get as many photos she could from her perch on the back of the Buell. Obviously not the fastest hardware on the event, but certainly one of the most comfortable and attracted plenty of queries and fun chats.

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Now Sundays stop was at Dolans Service Station in Ballinaloe. While Saturdays stop was too short, this stop was too long. That and this is when I believe the marshals decided to change the route, without telling the rest of us! So everything was going according to the script up until we got to Dublin until we reached the M50 slip road. Now we broke up into two separate groups! It turns out the marshals changed the destination & route to the Phoenix Park but there was no marshal blocking the M50 entrance or even giving instruction. So at least 200 of us ended up at the original destination (Xtreme 45 Motorcycle Shop) with just an A4 notice on the door saying the event had been canceled.

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This was a very disappointing turn of events. In fact, those that went to the Phoenix Park still came over to the motorcycle shop, seemingly not being informed nothing was going on. They also said there was confusion at at The Phoenix Park with the marshals just dispersing without any general announcement. Though the death of the rider the day before had been a bad blow, the failings in communications on Sunday compounded matters to tarnish the event further.

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Without a doubt this had been a great experience for a very deserving cause and I will not hesitate in getting involved again. There are obviously some organisational issues that need to be improved which leads me to worry that future events either need more marshals or a possible cap on the number taking part. If nothing else communication needs to be improved. I will keep my ear to the ground and update in the future with how much we finally managed to raise.

As always, keep the rubber side down.

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