This trip took place 9 years ago and pre-dates my writing up of regular reports on bike trips. However, with Xander Harkness’ untimely death from cancer this last weekend, it’s a trip that has really come back as one of the stand-out journeys I’ve made on the bike and as part of working for Red Hat. 9 years okay, things were a little more ad hoc in Consulting and myself and others in the UK team, which was 7-8 people had picked up reputation of travel-anywhere fixers. This was at the end of period where the bulk of our work was doing Oracle RAC installs on Linux in 4-5 weeks, that were taking Accenture and others 12 months. A couple of years earlier, following a Severity 1 call from Bord na Mona in Ireland at 9pm, I’d ended up on another overnight ferry trip and in their data centre in Kildare at 8h30 and problem solved before the morning tea and scones.
Therefore the consulting team was made up of some very self-sufficient people, who could plan travel and make decisions autonomously, all to good effect with the customer. Over the previous year or so, Xander had been working with large retail in Eastleigh and Southampton and in a creative effort to cut expenses we’d rented a house cheaper in the marina in Southampton, so we’d spent some time together onsite and at the house, and we’d even held a UK Consulting team meet up there, which involve a lot of recycled computer hardware and skullduggery. At one point, Xander has discovered the main build server and version control system was on a PC under a receptionists desk, rather than in the data centre. With 80% of the people working there as contractors, it wasn’t the easiest environment, especially as you normally had no desk or chair and worked from cardboard boxes. The main office was Mitchell House, opposite Eastleigh railway station and it’s reputation amongst the Red Hat team wasn’t high. At one time over 50% of the RH Consultants in the UK worked there.
Like all good trips, it wasn’t really planned and unfortunately I cannot remember how I ended up in Cardiff at 22h00 on a midweek April evening and picking Xander up at the station. I was going to the Red Hat Cork Office for a meeting, and as a bit of a surprise for Dave Owens, original Finance lead for Red Hat in Europe, as was leaving and taking a new job with ex-RH CFO Kevin Thompson. Somewhere during the day, I must have said to Xander I was off to Ireland and did he want to come. So with some borrowed motorcycle kit, we headed off at 22h30 from Cardiff, with the aim of getting to Fishguard for the 02h30 sailing to Rosslare.
At the time, my KTM 950 Adventure was nearly 3 years old and just run in. Pretty good bike for a two-up run and it didn’t hang about. It was a pretty chilly run down to Fishguard, but pretty rapid and we ended up in a cabin on the boat by 02h00. Unlike some friends and colleagues, Xander you knew was pretty self-sufficient and one of those people who leads and adds to trips rather just follows and doesn’t want to get involved. As with some previous trips, travelling and working with Xander was easy as he (like me) had a natural self sufficiency and an ability to pass this on to others.
You get off the ferry a bit too early at Rosslare, at 06h15, and that’s especially true in April as its only just getting light. It was going to be a nice day, but it was a chilly start. As part of the reason of being in Cork was to be a surprise turn-up at the leaving party, we had some time during the day and given it’s only a 2 – 2.5 hour drive to Cork (this was before the Waterford bypass before you ask why it was taking me so long on the bike), I’d already planned a bit of diversion. At the time I was doing some Geocaching with the kids and as part of work event in the Black Mountains in Wales, had placed a few caches, including one that I’d rated 4 / 5 for terrain. Therefore I’d been eyeing up a cache in the Comeragh mountains between Waterford and Dungarven, which had had very few finds and was a bit inaccessible. Crotty’s Treasure was obscure to say the least, and rather than picking off hundreds of micro-caches in motorway services and in city parks, I’d started to do a few of the difficult ones. It was probably this plan, with a bit of walk in the middle of nowhere that had interested Xander in the trip, as much as the Red Hat meeting and Dave’s leaving do.
After some breakfast somewhere around Waterford, we’d headed up towards the mountains, with some printed instructions of where to get access, to park the bike and then kick off for the walk. The KTM was excellent offroad and did a couple of steep miles up a track until we hit a locked gate on the mountain, and then finding somewhere flat parked the bike and got ready for a walk. The mist was burning off and it was going to be an exceptional day in April (for Ireland) with no wind or rain. Unlike the UK, where most upland areas have some form of right to roam and public access, this isn’t the case in Ireland and as such the paths are less well define (or undefined) and access is a little more restricted. We’d asked permission to go up the lane and not had any issues, though this why the cache was archived later in the year. Walking in Ireland is a little more wilder in Wales and you have a greater sense of remoteness. The walk up to the lake, following the description and the GPS was all good. Getting up to the cache wasn’t so easy and was a bit of scramble to the base of a steep gully. A few exchanged glances and we continued up what was all a bit slippery and filled with loose, recently descended rocks. Xander found the remains of the cache in washed down mud and rocks at the bottom on the gully. The cache owner, who I’d contacted beforehand had asked that as I was going there, whether I’d take a replacement with me, just in case. I’d therefore taken a plastic tub with us on the bike and carried it up the hill and we set about finding the remnants, putting then in the new box and signing the new log book I’d also brought.
We went up the gully, to what we though was the right location and position the cache out of the way of water and rockfall, though we suspected that it’s future wouldn’t be a long one, given usual weather. It was a great walk and scramble and on the way down it was even warm enough (just) for a swim in the lake, though instant testicle retraction was guaranteed, as was the afterwards warming up agony of feet and hands. Given the lack of sleep the previous night on the way over, it was one way of keeping awake.
Back to the bike and down the lane, before continuing on the road to Cork, I think stopping for a late lunch in Youghal. The KTM was a great bike and went brilliant until 2010 until an idiot in a Mazda RX8 put me and the bike into the central reservation on the A419 coming out of Gloucester. We made Cork in plenty of time for the meeting and then the bar, prior to having an interesting night out with Dave Owens and colleagues for his leaving do. To be honest, whether it be the 9 years or the amount of drink consumed on the night I don’t have many recollections of the evening, though searching through the photo/video archive I’ve some scary footage that should deter some people from trying to remember what really did happen.
Coming back from Ireland a day or two later, I was heading for the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales to spend a week with the kids and then wife (and the ex Mother-in-Law) and Xander also joined us for a day, doing some surfing and canoeing on the beaches of Broad Haven and Newgale. It did involve taking him down to Withybush A&E and he got smacked in the chin be the canoe when he got wiped out. He headed back east on the train from Haverfordwest, hopefully having enjoyed the trip. He did speak to me afterwards and like many things at the time, it was part of the culture of Red Hat, combining what wasn’t an easy job with quite a few laughs and adventures to keep you sane.
Over the last few years, with Xander changing jobs and settling down in Stockholm, I’d seen less and less of him and not really spent anywhere the amount of time that I’d done up to an including 2007. A really nice guy and great colleague, he was a person that was easy to be with and who had taste for the adventurous and less ordinary. Though I’d not forgotten about this trip, it’s something that I’ll now look upon with even fonder memories and with a continued to determination to live as much life as possible. If there is an opportunity, then grab it, as you may not get another.