Ever since I did my first bike-packing adventure around the Wicklow mountains during a “freedom period” of the pandemic I became hooked. Human-powered adventure has ever since played a huge role in my life. The joy and sense of privilege that comes with ending up somewhere new through unconventional means is truly satisfying. Knowing the only thing on your daily to-do list is to get from A to B by bike, provides mental cleaning that I have not found anywhere else.

Alongside the adventures that the outdoors can provide sits physical challenges, goals and races. This trip was an opportunity to merge the two.

Day 0: Inspiration

In 2022, I recall seeing an Instagram story from Irish ultra-runner Gavin Byrne, it featured a fully packed-up road bike place beside the Dublin port terminal. The caption read, “Next Stop Llanberis for @ultratrailsnowdonia“. I thought this was seriously cool. Recently we asked Gavin why he decided to do this: “In 2022, I chose to bike pack over for a couple of reasons, the main one being for the adventure. It’s a good buzz loading up the bike, bike packing down to the port and jumping on a boat to head to Wales to race.”  Not only did Gavin successfully get to UTS and back he also ran the 100km race and came 3rd! The way Gavin managed to blend adventure and performance was seriously admirable. Most importantly he displayed that it was possible and this got the cogs turning in my head. Gavin also chose to cycle because it is substantially cheaper, “I suppose another reason is the cost. I was travelling solo. A man and his bike is a lot cheaper than a man and his car.” As a result of Gavin’s adventure last year I began considering replicating it, albeit not racing the 100k!

As well as the adventure that I would be able to share with a friend by bike-packing to Wales, it also was an exercise in reducing my carbon footprint while also getting to travel and experience something outside of my normal routine. A foot passenger on a ferry is thought to contribute about 19g/km of CO2 per person compared with 244g/km of CO2 per person for a short flight. (*these numbers are estimations and change depending on the model of the ferry and plane as well as how full they are). While taking the ferry is not perfect it’s a massive improvement on flying.

Day 1: Bike packing to Llanberis

With a fully loaded bike, I left home in Wicklow at 12:05 pm. I had a few last-minute pieces of gear to pick up at Dundrum Shopping Centre which proved to be more of a timely stop than anticipated as I tried to track down a foil blanket. Arriving at the Ferry Terminal it was clear I was late. The terminal was empty except for my friend Conall who was coming with me. “Ferry leaves in 5 minutes!” one of the staff shouted from behind the desk. After a speedy check-in, we quickly spun onto the boat, found a seat, and almost immediately the ferry left Dublin.

“It looks like France or something,” Conall said as we arrived in Holyhead. The sunlight was glimmering off the water in the harbour. A few minutes of waiting on the short shuttle bus journey later we were off, following the route we had loaded on the Garmins. The first hour of the cycle was stunning. We wound our way through the countryside lanes of Anglesea, shedding layers at regular intervals. We passed through the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and made our way onto the mainland. A short while later the warmth and accumulation of kilometres began to catch up with me a bit and about 10 miles from Llanberis we pulled over to have some Skittles. “Don’t go into the red on me now,” Conall said as he poured half the bag into my cupped hands. Fueled by e-numbers and sugar we made it to Llanberis just as the sun began to set over the hills of Snowdonia. A pitstop at the race HQ to register and buy a burrito, and we off to the hotel for a well earned sleep.

Day 2: Ultra Trail Snowdonia Eryri 25km

Waking up in the Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis my body was tired. We made our way down to spectate the 50km runners begin their race. Near the front, we cheered on Gavin.  He was taking it “easy” this year and just doing the 50km.

We grabbed some mindful calories at the hotel breakfast. It took a while for the coffee to kick in. I began laying out my running gear and I began to feel the pre-race buzz, or perhaps it was caffeine jitters. It was a hot day, at least for an Irish lad. I jogged over to the start, doing my best to stay out of the sun for as long as possible. With five minutes to go, I made my way into the starting corral. I recognised some familiar faces from the Irish trail running scene. Moments later we were off, blitzing through the town on our way to the Snowdon trail.

The race was excellent, an enjoyable mix of rocky ridges, runnable trails, knee-deep bog and long descents. The warm sun, foreign athletes and unfamiliar trails made it feel like a European race. The buzz at the top of Snowdon was electric, there were bells being rung and hikers cheering on the runners as they went past.

One of the most incredible parts of the weekend, however, was witnessing the midpack runners complete the longer-distance races. After finishing my 25km race we headed back to the hotel, got showered, changed and had some food before heading back to the race HQ. By this time there was still a steady stream of runners finishing the longer distances. This stream would continue for a further 18 hours until the final 100-mile finisher came across the line after spending a staggering 47 hours and 30 minutes in the mountains. I found the resolve and determination shown by the final finishers very inspirational.

Day 3: Bike Packing back to Holyhead the scenic way

The drive to make the most out of our time in Snowdonia and our ferry home lifted us out of bed. My legs were weak from the previous day’s effort. We had however agreed to go for a short run with two men we had met in the hotel the night before. Andy Norman and Andrew Davies are two Brits who also took part in the Eryri 25km. Both exceptional runners, Andrew Davies had held the British M40 record for the marathon up until London Marathon this year where Mo Farah beat it. As seasoned road runners who have recently taken to the trails and mountains, they were confident in saying that the Eryri 25km was the most technically challenging yet beautiful race they have ever done. After a short jog and a less restrained hotel breakfast, compared to the previous day, we packed up all our possessions on our bikes and began pedalling once again.

The direct route to Holyhead is 53km. With bike bags and sore legs it would probably take about two and a half hours. We decided to take the scenic way.

We cycled over Llanberis pass. Rock climbers to our left, hikers to our right, and vans with kayaks strapped to their rooves overtook us as we weaved up the valley. This area certainly seemed to be an outdoor haven. We were rewarded for our efforts with a long gradual descent with stunning views across the Welsh countryside. As we made our way along the base of the valley a ridge began to make itself visible to us. As we got closer it became more and more impressive. The mountain is called Tryfan and it resembles a Stegasaurous’ back. This jagged ridgeline is like something you would see in the Alps. We were reminded of something Gavin Byrne has said to us before embarking on the trip, “The terrain and hills in Snowdonia National Park are just epic! 1000-metre climbs all around!”

We had been blessed with awesome weather for the entire weekend so it was only fair that we experienced some Welsh rain. With about 30km left to ride, that is what happened. We crossed the bridge onto Anglesea and immediately were hit by a headwind and light misty rain. Luckily it eased off just as we crossed onto Holyhead. We treated ourselves to dinner in the Sea Shanty. The excellent food and generous portions set us up for the ferry home. We checked in for our ferry, with plenty of time to spare this time!

Day 4: Thoughts from home

Ireland has so much to offer, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you are a kayaker, rock climber, cyclist or runner there are endless epic adventures that can be tackled in Ireland. However, from time to time I have found that you need to experience another country. Whether to visit family, broaden your horizons or just experience something totally new. That is what our experience at Ultra Trail Snowdonia provided me with. A totally new experience.

Upon reflection, I am so delighted that I made the decision to backpack to the race. Bike packing instead of driving transformed a race weekend into an adventure holiday. I believe that humans need to branch out from time to time in order to avoid burnout. The act of branching out doesn’t necessarily need to be groundbreaking either. It can be as simple as finding a new way to get somewhere you were already intending on going.

More Travel Articles:

Our Whistlestop tour of the Wild Atlantic Way

Killarney National Park: Weekend Wander

Our Once In A Lifetime Colombian Trail Running Adventure

Trans Alp Bike Packing Race


By Matthew McConnell

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