"It's a bit of a challenge, especially on this bike," said Ciaran Rowen as the Athlone native detailed his crazy plan to cycle round France to follow the Republic of Ireland at UEFA EURO 2016.
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"I'd had an idea that I wanted to travel by bike as much as possible between the Republic of Ireland's EURO 2016 games," Ciaran Rowen told EURO2016.com, after we spotted him standing alongside his bicycle in Bordeaux. "I had match tickets, but that was about the only thing."
It has not been an easy journey. Having cycled a significant distance from Cherbourg in north-east France, the Athlone native was 50km from Paris when he realised he had lost his phone. Dressed only in a well-worn Republic of Ireland shirt, a pair of shorts and flip-flops, he was suddenly without a navigation tool to direct him on towards the French capital. His spirits flagged. And then it started to rain, heavily.
"My phone had fallen out of my bag somewhere," he said. "I had everything on it – all of my accommodation bookings and all of my maps. I had no idea how to reach the city. I tried to navigate my way through small towns and got lost. It started pouring down with rain. It was a bit of a disaster. But I somehow made it in the end."
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Although Rowen is occasionally using trains to help him on his way, his is still a phenomenal undertaking. Paris, the venue for Ireland's opener against Sweden, is 580km from Bordeaux, where they play Belgium on Saturday. The journey from Gascony back up to Lille – where Ireland face Italy in their last Group E game – is more like 800km.
"It's a bit of a challenge, especially on this bike," Rowen said with a weary smile. "I bought it about a week and a half before I came for about €300. It's not really designed for cycling these type of long distances; the brake pads are starting to wear a bit, but hopefully it will be OK. I'm pretty light on luggage too, but one of the bags broke yesterday."
Setbacks notwithstanding, following Ireland for a second consecutive EURO is what it's all about for Rowen. "I've absolutely no regrets," he said. "Being at the Sweden game was great fun – if only we'd won the three points. But even so, it really was something else. There are so many Irish people here."
Rowen is bent on continuing his travels if Ireland make it to the round of 16. For his sake, let's hope Martin O'Neill's men can top Group E, leaving him with a 190km trip from Lille to Saint-Denis. Finish second, and it would mean an 800km schlep to Toulouse.