Here's the story. My mom's bicycle clubs have been organizing trips to various places for years. I've gone on several of them (Nova Scotia, Yosemite, the Rocky Mountains). My sister Sue has also gone on several (Nova Scotia, France, Scotland). This year (1996) a bunch of the bicyclists decided Ireland would be an excellent place to vacation by bicycle. For reasons unknown, the group split into two tours; one in August and one in September. [Our mom says: For the record, our group was the forerunner, trip planned for avoiding the tourist season. The others coincidentally decided the annual Freewheeler trip would go to Ireland too, but in summer for the teacher and student bicyclists.]
I love bicycling, and I love traveling. I've also been running a little low on vacation time. Naturally, a tour of Ireland sounded interesting despite my having zero Irish blood. (I have been spending a good chunk of time playing soccer with a predominantly Irish team. And eating soda bread, corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day.) So I was up in the air about whether to go until May 3rd when my mom and sister visited for my birthday. We all went over to an English restaurant (Dicken's). [Things baked with pastry tops. Yum. -SueF] My Poughkeepsie friends Sue Payette and Craig Rebecca also came. Sue Payette had recently discovered that her mom was Irish and immediately decided that this trip was a great opportunity to visit Ireland. My sister was also interested, but was unsure of whether her shoulder or her work schedule would permit such a trip. [I'd been waiting for years for the bike club to go on another not too hard, not too dull (like all wine tasting) tour. Then my shoulder got frotzed. But time heals all wounds, if slowly, so I began to hope again. And mom thought she had to convince me I wanted to go! -SueF] Sue Payette (I still can't believe I spent two weeks with two Sues without renaming them. So you will have to live with this problem too. Most of the time, it will be obvious from context which Sue is which. The rest of the time I'll use SueP (pronounced 'soup') or SueF (pronounced 'soof') as we did on the trip) got some airline information. Part of the indecision related to a lack of itinerary; something Mom's group was working on in May/June. Having two companions made a revision to Mom's 3 week trip possible. A two week vacation made the trip possible for all three of us. [I should abandon my cat for three whole weeks?!?! I should risk so long with an iffy shoulder? (I should leave for three weeks just when we were supposed to deliver our software?, like I really believed we'd actually deliver then (and sho' 'nuff...).) -SueF]
Even so, I never told anyone at my office of my plan until just before I left. Boy, were they surprised.
The major carriers all fly from JFK to Shannon. Mom's group got on a new airline called World which flew a cheap ($550) EWR Shannon EWR route. Respectable airlines wanted $715 to fly from JFK. When I called the price was $515. They were merging with Continental. They then canceled our Saturday flight out and our flight back. They put us on a Friday flight out and an Aer Lingus flight back to JFK. For months they didn't send the tickets or charge my credit card. When I called they sent the tickets overnight. The return ticket was listed as "open". When asked, they said not to worry, everything was OK. In the middle of September they ceased their passenger operations.
[I never looked into anything but Aer Lingus. Nice airline. No smoking. They have a generous reservations policy -- none of this U.S. airlines' nonsense of having to buy non-refundable tickets within 24 hours of making reservations even 6 weeks in advance of flying. So I made reservations and called back repeatedly and managed to work the price down considerably. -SueF]
[Our mom: In this case having a block of tickets through a travel agent was a very good deal. I thought we got "bumped" into first class because they didn't have eight open seats in cattle class when World cancelled the Saturday flight and had to move a planeful to Friday. But why were there still plenty of open seats in cattle class. No more World reps to ask. We had the same non-stop Aer Lingus return from Shannon to JFK, but who wants to go to JFK? The travel agent finally badgered World into a combination flight through London and arranged to have new tickets for the return waiting for us at Shannon on the 14th. The flight to London took off from Shannon at 8 a.m. Nobody could face biking to the airport from some B&B and finding (maybe) boxes and boxing the bikes and being ready to check in at 6-7 a.m., so we were happy to promise to spend the night at the Great Southern, making sure to have firm reservations. We were less happy about the exorbitant price of rooms.]
Poor country, mostly rural. There are lots of blackberries. [They were just getting ripe. Most every bush would have a couple of edible ones. Yum! I never saw a single Irish person eat one, nor did I see any blackberry jam, blackberry pie, or even blackberry tea. Only blackberry stitch on the sweaters. Weird. -SueF] [Our mom adds: I saw locals picking blackberries once. Alas, most of them weren't ripe yet. We had a good batch once on Slea Head when sheltering under a bank in a rain too brief for rain gear.] Small cars, narrow roads. Gas is ~$4/gallon (£0.55-0.65/liter). The exchange rate is 1.64 to 1.67 $/£. Irish Pounds are not English Pounds (we didn't see any of those. All references to pounds or punts here are to the Irish variety). Coins are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p and £1. Pounds are punts in Gaelic. But everyone calls them pounds. Don't plan to cash traveler's checks anywhere but banks. [Did anybody ever try to cash traveler's checks except in a bank? We never did, having read somewhere that you could just about anywhere, except in some B&B's, but that the rate would be bad and the fee outrageous. -our mom] [I asked a few places early on, and gave up after unvarying refusals. -SueF] Credit is widely accepted at restaurants. [What about pubs and B&Bs? Did we try? -SueF] Pay phones take coins or magnetic cards (available in many shops). Calls start at 20p and go up. An LCD display shows your remaining credit. Everyone can speak English. Ireland is 5 hours ahead of New York. We did not experience any jet lag. Ireland is at the west end of the time zone so there is extra evening daylight. [It stays light a full hour later than Boston. -SueF] [Our mom says: To be really nitpicky, Sept. 13 till the Equinox on the 22nd we had more daylight than we would have in Boston, Poughkeepsie or Blairstown, due to being farther north than any of those; but after the Equinox, we lost our daylight a bit more than at home. However, it didn't cause nearly as much trouble as I had anticipated (none of those 90 mile days after sightseeing till 3 p.m.). Oct. 9 Trenton has 22 more minutes between sunup and sundown than Killarney/Torc Waterfall--that is to say Lat. 52°.] Ireland has gone metric. The new road signs are in kilometers and usually are labeled as such. Older signs (and people) are English. No one we spoke to was particularly metric (German tourists excepted).
Before we left we were really concerned that Ireland would be hilly. Very hilly. The kinds of hills that make your legs hurt at the end of the day and dead on the road the next. Like here in the Hudson valley. Or worse. I don't remember anyone complaining. There were hills. I spent most of the trip on my small chainring, which has 32 teeth. [I wandered back and forth between my medium chainring and my granny gear. There were hills, but not bad ones. By the second week (when I had gotten into shape), no hills were really difficult; at worst I had to drop into my lowest gear and go slow. I was expecting hills like Scotland, and that's about what we got. Keep in mind that we pretty much stuck to the shoreline most of the time. -SueF]
Public works projects are called 'schemes'.
Bartholomew's Handy Map Ireland is too small to be useful for biking. Michelin's 405 Ireland map (1:400,000) is very good. All the roads that it shows were paved. There are useful notations about grade and attractions. Many other maps are based on the Ordnance Survey. The official maps are very detailed. Excellent for hiking or planning bike routes, but too large for practical use. The tourist information shops sell Holiday Maps (1:250,000) which cover Ireland in 4 sections (N,E,W,S) and have 60 meter contours. These show more roads than Michelin, however, many of the extra roads are dirt or worse (paths). Mind you, you can do a lot of up and down and never go up 60 meters.
We had one day of steady rain. Almost every day had wind, often strong. Three other days had intermittent showers. Only the all day rain soaked us. Intermittent showers produce lots of rainbows. [Best I've ever seen. -SueF] Nights are cold (40-50F), middle of the day is warm (shorts and short sleeves possible), morning/evening is cool. Wear clothes which you can adjust so that you are comfortable in sun/shade, wind/calm, cold/hot, exercising/resting. Wool is good. Leg warmers are appropriate.
[The wind was so strong at times it was like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ. We had cross winds, head winds and quite the tail wind up Conor Pass. -SueP]
[They told us the first week and a half of all sun and no rain was very unusual for this time of year. Maybe it was to make up for the "rainiest weather in 10 years" we got in Scotland. :-) It was considerably cooler when it clouded up and showered -- long sleeves, leg warmers, sometimes a rain jacket. -SueF]
A separate ticket is required for the bike. Your bike goes in the baggage car. Sometimes the train is too long for the station -- when the train stops, get out. The train people were very helpful moving bikes, letting us cross tracks or generally directing baggage. The schedule is not well understood, however, so make sure you buy the complete listing (50p) and get two opinions before buying your tickets.
[Our mom: Not surprising the train schedule is not well understood. I spent a very long time over it (to get us from Galway to Tralee via three trains (not sure why it was "Westport to Tralee on Four Trains"), probably only succeeding because I knew from your ticketing it was possible.] [We were planning on three trains, but, and only Sue may remember, owing to the complexity of the schedule and our asking multitudes of Iarnrod Eirann personnel, by taking a fourth train, you can save a long layover and get to Tralee sooner. -Lee] [Yes, that was it. -SueF]
The ferries are similar. You pay extra for your bike and the seamen take your bikes and lean them in some less used portion of the boat.
The pictures were taken with an Olympus Infinity Twin (two lenses -- 35mm and 70mm). Often the built in flash would fire (check out the Scotchlite reflective clothing and tape on helmets, etc.) Kodak digitized them (good digitizing, lousy film handling). They were cropped, adjusted, (in some cases) sharpened, and converted to JPEG format with Adobe Photoshop. The result of the processing is usually brighter scenes than you'd see if you were there. All the usual contrast limitations of the photographic process still apply. Remember, your monitor may distort colors, contrasts, brightnesses. Adjust to taste.
The pictures are external to this document. They are generally big (over 1000 pixels in one direction) so may be painful if you have a slow link or are impatient. A 17 inch monitor and 24 bit color depth help.
Worked in the morning, feverishly. Got home at 1pm and had only messages from Sue: I'm late. I'm really late. That explains why she hadn't called the office looking for me. Repacked the panniers, worked on boxing bikes (we'd been stopped the night before at 2 am by sheer exhaustion). Although Sue's bike is smaller, we have to add an extra 2 inches to her box (by bending the flaps) to fit the handlebars in. I had to completely remove my handlebars. That's not really hard, but the "aero" cabling has much less slack than the old method. So I had to unfasten the cable from the front brake, and loosen the pick up wire from the odometer. Luckily, brake cable attachments are easy these days. I used brute force instead of undoing the derailleur cables. That would have been no fun. Adjusting index shift derailleurs requires some patience. We left the boxes partially taped so the airline could inspect them.
Loaded the Taurus and left. Stopped to deposit money/get cash. Stopped at Deb's to get three nipples. (She'd sold us all the spare spokes she had (three) but hadn't include the nipples.) Got stopped by construction delays on 287. When we got to Ariel's house, Sue collapsed (looked exhausted). Ariel inquired, "Shouldn't you look like this at the end of the trip, not the beginning?" After rushing to the airport I got on line while Sue finished taping the box tops. The airline did not inspect the contents. While talking to the agent I noticed someone at the counter a few positions to the left. Turned out to be Mom asking if anyone had come through with bike boxes. She hadn't noticed Sue with the two bikes just behind her. The baggage taker said "like those" and pointed to Sue. After checking the luggage (the agent said that Swiss Army knives would be confiscated by airport security), Mom, Sue and I went to find Jack. Sue said "Hello", but I blurted out "Hi, Jack" and immediately put my hand to my mouth. Oops. I packed my knife with the rest of my bike tools so there'd be no distinct outline on the xray. For some reason, security decided to search Sue's under seat wedge pack. After pulling out tire irons, a tube, allen wrenches, the guard stopped just before finding her key chain size Swiss Army knife. We got to the gate at the last boarding call. Mom's group had been bumped up to first class through some bizarre World Airways error. (They also got bumped off their return trip and had to scramble to get confirmed seats on a flight via London which happened to have the bonus benefit of landing in Newark). We had plenty of open seats back in cattle class. The DC 10 took off into the rain. Dinner was served after midnight.
Took the whole day off despite an early evening departure. Just as well considering I spent the whole morning finishing packing. My ride to the airport got sent to Japan on short notice, so I spent some time the previous day calling taxi companies and limosine services. The cheapest I could find was a limo for $34. Some wanted well over a hundred. It paid to shop around.
Decided at the last possible second not to take the grey sunglasses. This was a mistake. Who expected sun? I remembered Scotland. Managed okay with yellow and clear, though.
The limo came early, foiling my plan to run out for cash before his arrival. Had the limo stop along the way. No cash, bother. Had him stop at the airport cash machine. No cash, eek! Finally found cash at another airport cash machine. I had foolishly not been going to take my bank/credit card until I needed it to pay the limo. That would have been a mistake, though not fatal -- I'd have had to borrow from friends until hitting banks, because of the traveler's check problem. No one takes them except banks, as far as I can tell.
Offered the Aer Lingus people a look into my bike box, but they didn't care, so I just taped it up.]
[SueF goes Logan direct to Shannon:
Flew into Shannon at dawn. No window seat; couldn't see a thing. After deplaning, bumbled around a bit looking for my bike box, finally found it. Dragged it and the panniers (Aer Lingus let me check the panniers as two pieces, no extra charge) though the highly-secured customs area (two choices: go through the green area (nothing to declare) to not have your bags checked, go through the red area (something to declare) to not have your bags checked.
I blow an hour sort of getting train info (they won't give me a schedule, but they're very friendly about copying down parts for me), finding some free maps to Ennis and Limerick which I forget to use or mention to anyone when we pass through Ennis, and finding out that if we store our boxes in the airport, they are liable to be boxnapped by presumably irate bike tourists whose own boxes have previously been boxnapped. Shannon has good seats in waiting areas -- no armrests. I am able to stretch out on three seats and sleep for an hour, increasing my sleep quotient by a third. Amazingly, I wasn't troubled by jet lag or sleep deprivation, despite the short night and marginally comfortable nap.
Everyone else's plane finally arrives, but no one comes through customs. I espy airport workers pushing luggage carts back to the baggage area through a secret door, and ask one if I could go through and look for the rest of my party. Not a problem. I go through and there they are. Go out through the Highly Secure Customs Area to retrieve my bags and back in again by the good graces of another airport worker. Later several of us repeat this maneuver, reentering by sneaking back, in front of dozens of people, through the one-way automatic doors of the Highly Secure Customs Area before they can close after people have gone through the correct way.]
The Irish coast is jagged and rocky. The land is all irregular green patches separated by rows of trees or shrubs. Some of the green patches have white or black dots. We spend two hours in Belfast. Security checks out the plane and passengers. They check each bag in the overhead compartments to see if someone claims it. They won't let Sue visit first class or the bathroom. The next plane over is a soviet built Tu-138 with Cyrillic writing "Balkan" from Romania. Flying to Shannon we see the Shannon River and a lot more fields. In Shannon, the pilot announces for the people who boarded in Belfast that there will be a two hour wait while the crew is switched (so that the current crew can spend a week in Shannon). Several more Soviet planes are here. There is a whole terminal with German planes. Our passports are stamped, we collect our baggage. Our bikes arrive eventually. We build them back up. My sister shows up. There is a slight panic when we are told that there is no secure spot to store bike boxes for the return trip. Part of the group negotiates with the Great Southern Hotel (across the street) to store the boxes. I believe that they promised to spend the night. [We all store our boxes there. We take so long unpacking and building bikes that an airport worker makes fun of us. Only Lee and Sues are left. I tell the man "the older they are, the faster they go". This applies throughout the trip. Packing, unpacking, cycling, and especially getting going in the morning. Lee would have been faster if not Sued. -SueF] After much adjustment we cycle out (on the left side of the road, remember) past what I call the shark pool (a fountain with the vertical stabilizer of an old 707 rising out of the water) and make the first left turn toward New Market on Fergus.
[Less than a mile from the airport we are already in the countryside. There are many modern, stucco houses. I wonder why they use yellow stucco until I take off my yellow sunglasses. Stucco turns out to be the nearly-ubiquitous modern building material. -SueF]
There we find a quintessentially Irish "town". A colorful man (Smokey, the local drunk) directs us to a Pub where the first Pint of Guinness is ordered (along with soup and fish and chips). Everyone is mesmerized by the bubbles rising to the foam as the brew segregates into a dark brown liquid and light brown foam. We are very pleased to discover that the ginger ale in this country is more gingery and less sweet. [No, much more ginger and slightly more sweet. Thicker. Very tasty. -SueF] Also note that soft drinks (carbonated beverages) come in smaller bottles than in the U.S.
I end up leading the way to the next town (Quin) and inadvertently follow the signs left instead of our planned route (which I've cleverly left at home) thereby missing Knappogue Castle. The little farm road I've taken has a curious concrete water tower next to it, which I stop to photograph. The group has several huddles at the next few intersections deciding where the road goes. SueP misses the warning "Watch Out" and rides through fresh cow diarrhea, spraying her bike and panniers. The route is rejoined at Quin. The Quin Abbey is beautifully ruined, though, and provides a suitable experience. In Ireland everything is made of stone, except the roofs, so the building walls last forever. In fact, old buildings aren't really preserved, they just reach a state where anything that could decay, has. There's plenty of empty land so there is no particular reason to actively demolish anything. Interestingly, they build the new house right next to the old, ruined house. Sometimes the old house appears to stay in use for storage of whatever sort it can handle, other times it just sits there. There is a cute garden by the road, an old stone bridge with steps down to the river, and a long winding path to the Abbey. The neighbors are quiet, too. We walk on some graves. The interior of the Abbey contains more graves. The sun is low in the sky, bathing the ruin in rich horizontal light. My seat is getting low on my bike (because my defective seatpost bolt can't be tightened enough). It actually sinks 3 cm before I finally notice. A couple of rough roads later we are in Ennis. The traffic circle has three big arrows to help you around. The center is only 3 meters across. Our B&B (the Greenlea) is under construction. Men with drills move one of the beds. Dinner at a pub, then we walk down to the other end of town (but not quite to the river) past the Queen's hotel, just before the Friary, and listen to some Irish music. A loose assemblage of musicians with different instruments (cute hexagonal hand accordion). The place is packed and smoky. Ennis is overrun by young adults out for Saturday night. My first encounter with a wall mounted water heater which just heats the shower water. It takes me several minutes to turn it on since there is a ceiling mounted switch on the other side of the room wired in series with the unit. This after I have to swap light bulbs with our room's reading lamp to get light. The toilet's tank is up at the ceiling and has a pull chain. Also presaging the next two weeks of bathrooms are the sink faucets which do not combine the hot and cold water. But, if you are very quick moving your hands you can avoid scalding while still maintaining the benefits of a warm water wash. Or, you can put the stopper (no lever operated ones here; they're rubber and chained to the sink or faucet) in the drain and forego a running water rinse. Boy, are we spoiled.
First Irish Breakfast. And I don't mean the tea. Our first real morning is delayed by some equipment problems with Mom's bike. While waiting I adjust my seatpost, which had slipped down an inch or two while I was riding yesterday (yuck -- but your butt gets a rest since you end up standing in the pedals a lot.) The bolt won't tighten so I get out my collection of spares (maybe this is where the wind gloves disappeared). Finding the spare bolts is a major trauma, but we will soon be used to packing and unpacking every pocket several times a day. I end up using half the Campy bolt and half the hacksaw special Deb (the bikeshop owner) made. The four women have gone ahead and we leave with the Keefes. The commercial section of Ennis (a wide street with frequent cross streets; many bars) ends at another larger roundabout at which we turn onto narrow (by US standards) two lane. There are some ups and downs. Too long to coast up, but lovely to descend. Dan's pace is kept to ours by his frequent shutterbug stops. I, too, get the urge and snap a shot of a typical Irish castle ruin. Skip visiting Spanish Point. A tail wind gives us a good cruising speed. Jack Brohal and Dan Keefe tell Power Bar stories. Consensus is that they are more trouble than they are worth. Just getting them out of the package requires a scissors. Curious weirs in stream running through Ennistimon. The bridge has a plaque embedded in it memorializing an Irish patriot. At Lahinch we are going to get lunch but I see the Atlantic and am drawn to the beach. I carry my bike over the sand to dip the wheels in the ocean. The water is stinging cold. I squander a perfect opportunity to swim. On the other hand, we live in constant fear of cold rain, and we have much left to see. During this time the whole group has found each other again. We terrorize a small sandwich shop next. My crash course in Irish learns me what 'salmon salad' is. Not salmon bits mixed in with mayonnaise and seasonings but smoked salmon slabs on lettuce and tomato. My salmon sandwich is still delicious. Instead of eating in, we go over to the storm wall and sit watching the Atlantic. We are too honest to realize our good fortune. After sitting we discover we have two extra salmon sandwiches. Poor Dan Keefe, however has none, and further, has to go back and pay for the sandwiches after having convinced the cashier that they were never delivered. Ahh. The wind is strong but the sun is wonderfully warm, if you can find a spot out of the wind.
[I had fun the whole trip trying to figure out the mapping between English and Irish names for towns. Generally, the English spelling appears on top and the Irish underneath. Like Ennistimon/Inis Diomain and Lisdoonvarna/Lios Duin Bhearna. Lahinch (sometimes spelled Lehinch) had me stumped because it's Irish was An Leacht. I'd already figured out that An comes before town names in Irish and doesn't show up in the English. Somewhere, finally, I saw a sign with the full Irish name of Lahinch. I wish I'd written it down. It was very long. I think Leacht corresponds to just the 'La' (or 'Le') of the English. Whew! -SueF] [An probably translates to "Land of" or "Place of" or just "Land" or "Place", sort of like the French chez translates to "House of". So much for that theory, I looked it up in Collin's and it has no meaning. Collin's translates an as 'the'. -Lee] [Our mom adds: Gaelic! My Shannon dutyfree foclóir póca [lit., folklore pocket, right, Mom? -SueF] of 534 pages is an untouched mine. Did look up "an" ("the", but in genitive fem. s. & pl. "na"; also, however, an interrogative verbal participle; also means "is"; also gets a page in the supplementary notes). It has both "furze" and "gorse"! Furze = aiteann; gorse = aiteann. So where is it furze and where is it gorse (besides in Winnie-the-Pooh)? [Lots of furze and/or gorse in The Secret Garden -- must read it again to see which. -SueF] The Foclóir is by An Gúm in Baile Átha Cliath, with all the publishing info in Gaelic,except it notes "Criterion Press". But "gúm" means "plan" or "scheme".]
Leaving Lahinch we pass a golf course (daunting for golf, is also wildlife preserve) set at the foot of Liscannor Bay. About golf courses in Ireland. Your tee shot had better land on the green. [You're lucky if you can see 20 feet before the grass curves up and over a grass dune. -SueF] First wool shop at Liscannor. Machine made, 30 punts; hand made 80 punts. [I stop to check it out. Others seem willing to humor me, as long as I know I'm being humored. But it is due to this sort of scouting that I am able to determine how good a deal we get later. -SueF] [Dan Keefe and Jack Brohal also stopped, but for picture/luggage adjustments. -Lee] The cashier (proprietor?) is watching the All Ireland football (soccer) final on a 9 inch black and white television. Near the top of the hill that leads to the Cliffs of Moher, a road heads to the left. Up some more. On the corner is a pub. The owners suggest we explore the subterranean shrine. It's sort of a cave but the back end has a large opening back to the sky. Someone has filled the tunnel with pictures, messages, candles, and requests for prayers. I rode up the side road but it turns to a nasty dirt surface. A fine view back to Lahinch and Liscannor Bay. Some tourists are taking horses further up the road to the edge of the Moher Cliffs. I can't imagine trusting a horse! Sure, the horse doesn't want to be salmon's lunch, but, hey, would you trust someone you'd only met 5 minutes ago? A short steep ride later we reach the visitors' center. Big parking lot. Buses. Cars. Motorcycles. The path to the cliffs is paved with large flat stones which must be sedimentary. You can see the tracks the worms made crawling in the mud eons ago. On some of the stones the tracks are depressions; on others the tracks are raised. A rock wall bounds the path as it follows along the cliff line. The sign says: No tourists beyond the wall. Rumor has it they lose two tourists a year. It ain't just limestone, but it sure is sedimentary. We walk along the cliff to the right. [Lee courting death at the edge. -SueF] [That stone vibrates as you stand on it! I got off it pretty quickly -Lee] We go as far as O'Brien's Tower. It costs money to go up and see the view; we don't, since it only gets you a few percent higher above the ocean. The tower has some unknown and (based on the penchant for exaggeration -- many places seem famous beyond proportion -- and this tower is certainly one) unreal historical significance. Just before and below the tower, the peat (?) is burning -- smoking. No one pays any attention. We never get an explanation. Lee convinces Sues (SueF needs more convincing) to crawl over to the cliff edge and peek over. We see a jagged spike of rock coming out of the ocean. Mom's glasses are missing, and not to be found walking back along the cliff, so she and Jack go back to the bikes to look there, while we walk along the cliffs to the left (south). Also, after SueP and I tell Mom (the glasses were in her front bag) and Jack that we are going to walk along the cliff, SueF is missing. She's dressed in red wool, but I have my fluorescent yellow jacket on. Eventually we give up and head south along the cliff, only to find SueF already there. [I wasn't missing -- they were. I walked along the cliff to look for them. -SueF]. We see the jagged rock is half undercut at the base! I'm actually trying to find a view of a grotto I think I've seen from the point on which O'Brien's tower is built. Art student in the Burren. How many brothers and sisters do you have? Along the way we enter a crater and suddenly there's no one else around. SueF remarks upon this. The grotto was an illusion, but at the southern most point of our trek I see the road I bicycled up and the horse path connecting it to the cliff. On the way back we follow the wall (mudstone slabs sticking out of the ground (only a few have broken or fallen over the edge into the Atlantic)). The crater is on the Atlantic side of the wall. SueP buys chocolate. Downhill to Doolin. A giant bull roams the "highway". Doolin really is a one street town. And only one side of the street at that. The other side is a gully. But, they have a sweater shop, a grocery, a jewelry store, and a craft shop. Mom obtained lodging while we shopped. Although all the B&Bs are on the same (only) side street I managed to ride past ours twice before SueF noticed the rest of our group's bicycles. Dinner at O'Connor's pub. Order food (salmon) at bar. Sit on low stools by old treadle tables. SueF dances Scottish steps with our Scotch waiter to the local musicians' Irish tunes. They have an accordion, a flute/recorder/something and an electric bass. Three Guinness night.
Oversleep and have 20 minutes to get ready and get to ferry. I munch a brown bread slice and some fruit while paying the bill. Our landlady is distraught when we leave without breakfast. The ferry, however, is late. So we do have a little time to examine the harbor and the small island which guards it. But it is not quite that simple. I coast into the harbor past the line of cars and see people loading onto the ferry. Find Mom. Everyone is scurrying around wildly. Did they buy us tickets? Come to find out that the ferry which is loading (Happy Hooker) is not ours. Plans and schedules are being changed. Load bikes again, then unload. [Our mom: The ferry schedule among the brochures at our B&B breakfast was different from the one of the night before! Went next door to the rest of the group's B&B and found all finishing breakfast leisurely except Lee and the Sues. Grumbled that no one had taken on the task of foster mother and banged on their door. "They're not my kids." Only a problem because the ferry was now an hour earlier. I biked down to the ferry and checked to see how late we could arrive and still get on. The real cliffhangers were Jack and Dan Keefe, who went off separately to photograph the Doolin stone tower, getting to the pier just in time (more than the ferry did).]
We get the smaller ferry (Tranquillity) to Inisheer. Huge waves break against the harbor rocks and our ferry. The wind blows off the tops of the surf and the clouds swirl in the sky as we leave the Moher Cliffs behind. The small ferry allows passengers only in the stern and on the roof of the wheelhouse. As we get closer to Inisheer we see the hulk of a metal freighter high up on the rocks. Everyone gets their bikes loaded and we ride half a km off the dock. Dan Keefe snags his camera strap on Sue Miller's handlebars and she falls over, hitting her head. Since there are no real roads we just lock up the bikes and go to the pub (some of us skipped breakfast you'll remember). I got an orange juice. [We learn than Aran tapwater is not potable, after Mom and I taste salty tapwater in the pub's bathroom. -SueF] Then off to sightsee. We are able to walk all the way across the island and back (the short way) in a couple of hours. The "road" starts off across a dusty square (it's triangular but would be called a square in New England) with an ancient ruin (pile of rocks) in the middle. Plaques in Irish and English explain that these rocks were placed by the first (?) inhabitants of the island about a thousand years ago. The road then hangs a right and goes up over the hill (there's only one) to the top of the island. The abbey (pile of rocks) is almost at the top; at the very top is a tower. We are now walking on a grassy road bordered by stone walls. Beyond the walls there are more walls. Eventually (not that far) you reach the sea. We pass a boy with a cow. We catch up to the rest of the bike club when they are stopped by several rather large bulls milling about the road. The bulls are saying something, but we can't understand it. Luckily, two Aran men walk up behind us and advise not to worry about the bulls -- they won't bother us. Hoping this isn't the natives' idea of fun with tourists, I walk past the largest bull. Dan Keefe is timidly treating the bull like an unknown dog, "Nice bull, easy boy". SueP follows me. Beyond those bulls, several more are lined up single file between two steel fences. The veterinarian is taking blood samples. Later, Rory will tell us that the vet has come on the 9 o'clock ferry to test for mad cow disease. The "road" ends in the middle of nowhere (well, damn near the end of nowhere, really) just before a rocky beach. We walk to the beach but find no path to the lighthouse. Reasoning that the lighthouse must have a road to it, we start along the rocky beach. I realize that my Nike Pedali Combo shoes have some pressure points. I will use the Nguba 2's most of the rest of the trip. The metal cleats are best on grass, carpet, or flat surfaces. On jagged rocks, you invariably end up dancing on the steel. The etched limestone is worth the hassle of the shoes. The stone seems to have flowed here and there. Canyons are dissolved in it. Fractures at right angles form perfect little blocks. I stop to put some padding on a pressure point in my left shoe. Crossing the rock is like crossing the surface of another planet. Not the moon, the wind has long ago removed any dust. Hmm, some of the rock has dissolved to look like Swiss cheese. A few rock walls later we're stopped by the wall around the Lighthouse. Eventually, we get around to the front gate, but no one is home. On the way back we meet Rory, who's carrying some bins and will be moving some cattle from here to there. He's spent some time in England. They don't raise their cattle on the good food. Irish families are too small these days. It's the women. They only have two children these days. [Just Lee & SueP go to the lighthouse. The rest of us go the other way, over the rocks to the other dead-end road which stretches the length of the island. We have a similar experience, minus Rory, and, unfortunately, minus Mom's bike lock key. -SueF] [Our mom: Lee and SueP didn't get to see the giant thistle that grew inside a stone circle the size of a hand dug well. Talk about flourishing! In microcosm, the effect of walling on plant life: reduced wind and heat reflecting off stones.]
Airport. Generator. Lost key. Hacksaw. Dime novel. Soup and bread with Dan Keefe. Chocolate. [Cadbury abroad (was it France and Nova Scotia, too, or just Scotland and Ireland?) is what Hershey is in the States. Ah, what pleasant associations a Cadbury Fruit and Nut can bring to mind! Poor SueP never seemed to get any fruit. -SueF] [By the way, none of my Fruit and Nuts had any fruit either. -our mom] [I got a raisin or two here or there. -SueF]
Leaving Inisheer, the tide has dropped way down so we must take the medium ferry (Happy Hooker) from Inisheer to Inishmore. SueP wanted her picture in front of this boat when we first saw it at Doolin, but the tide was wrong. SueP to a bystander, "It's OK, I do this for a living". Hmm, that doesn't make it sound any better, does it? The medium ferry is large enough for people to move about and our group gets separated into the bow riders and the stern huddlers. Placement on ferries is actually quite a serious pastime. There is a stop at Inishmaan. Finally, Inishmore. The port city is Kilronan/Cill Rónáin. Opinions differ (the Irish we talked to didn't agree) on which of the Arans is the best. Inishmore is positively cosmopolitan next to Inisheer. There's enough island so the sea doesn't dominate every inch. The first Poste is located and stamps bought (38p for post cards to the US). The next door shop's postcard rack blows over in the wind. [Postcards fly everywhere. We help rescue some. -SueF] Lodging is obtained (for some of us at the Clai Ban (white wall?)-- the Arans have Irish as their primary language -- for others at Ard Mhuiris (pronounced 'ard wirrish', means high Morris, in memory of the owner's son Morris)). [On Inishmore, we learn, the water is potable if boiled. -SueF] A free hour is available before dinner. SueP does clothes. SueF scouts sweater shops. Others bike up the road. I start out after them but don't see them. I'm mostly looking to the right, across the road, and over the cliff to some low fields and ruins bordering Galway Bay. I'm thinking about the better view I'll have on the return trip when I'm riding on the other side of the road. There's a big downhill with a right-left zig zag.
Just before the road meets a little harbor I take the left turn toward An Sruthian. I haven't seen the map and don't realize there is a town there. (Actually, there are (were) two!) Seeing "An Sruthian" on a marble slab embedded in a stone wall doesn't give me much of an idea of what to expect, anyway. The road curves left until it is heading back to Kilronan. Just beyond the "town" the road turns to stone. Tightly packed into the soil so it is quite rideable. Foolishly expecting this to be temporary I continue. OK, I just hate backtracking. I'm rewarded with the penultimate in rocky desolation. As the road climbs up I can see nearly all of Inishmore. That means a giant rock tilted to the southwest (Atlantic) and the northwest (long axis of the island). The sun is low over the Atlantic. Huge waves geyser up against the island's rock coast. To the north east, the paved road and civilization are hidden below a steep drop off. All I can see is rock walls dividing the rocky soil into tiny plots. Traces of civilization are out of sight below the cliff line to the east (the main road). I have to walk up one steep section covered with loose gravel. After a couple of kilometers I reach a slightly smaller "road" defined by the rock walls running perpendicular. It too is unpaved. To the right it winds down to the cliffs at the ocean. Left is the big tower of Dun Arann. My road starts tilting downward (still toward Kilronan). At a cliff line the road is steep and treacherous -- large chunks, ruts. I haven't brought tools. It takes a couple of tricky executions but I don't have to walk (or bleed). At the bottom the dump greets me. 1 punt for cars, 2 with trailer, tractors, trucks are more. Striking black and gray birds share the posts with the seagulls. California Merlot at the fish restaurant. Stay out looking at the sky. Several satellites go by. Meteors streak.
Move to Ard Mhuiris B&B. All the school kids have similar features. The adults too. To the market to buy bananas, maps, and chocolate. Maps are at the Tourist Information shop, not the market. SueF wins a race against a jaunting cart (horse drawn carriage). They exclaim in French and Sue yells back. [Think I convinced 'em I was French. Oh là là! -SueF]
Dan Keefe's group (I forget exactly who) rode back on the low road yesterday and said the gravel section was only a mile or two, so we take that route out. The low road hugs the bay side of the island and passes by several teampals (churches). Of course they're ruined and deserted now. Ruined in the Irish sense. All wood parts have disappeared leaving a substantially intact stone shell. The road does become gravel and we walk the bikes. The grass is burning on the shoulder (the foot between the gravel and the stone wall) in one spot. The locals (yes, a few trucks did pass us) don't seem to care. A lone cow stares at us. Further on on the left is a huge building (sans roof, 'natch) with a fine view back up the hill to Dun Arann and across the bay where the sea lions (seals?) are playing tag. The fatter ones are sunning on a sand bar that is a few inches under water. They look like the tops of toris with their fat bodies curved between their heads and their tails which are arched up out of the water. We see many fine shore birds, but have trouble ID'ing them. Sweater day. Sarah Flaherty, Bungowla, Kilronan (also Seven Churches) (099-61233). Although the sweaters seem to be the perfect attire for the cool wind and sometime sun, I can't imagine riding in one or packing one (or more) into my panniers. Not a problem to ship shorn sheep. Sarah explains to us how to pack them ("just put them in a box"). I don't even see the point of us doing this. She estimates about £10 to ship to the U.S. (No UPS, FedEx; just Poste.) There's a discount for two. She charges me £13 to ship two sweaters. Her estimate of shipping time (2-3 weeks) is optimistic (5 weeks + one week until she gets to the Poste office). [Later I ship a package and am told 6-8 weeks for surface, which is how long it took the sweaters to arrive. -SueF] Lovely stamps (£12.60). Her husband only likes real Irish steak. Ouch, no one else we spoke to thought much of it. Turns out the voluble gent we met by the lighthouse on Inisheer was her cousin Rory. He should get married. Sarah is also quite talkative. We can barely get words in edgewise as she tells us about her business, her trip to the U.S. and which colors we can wear (me in solid peat? The Sues agreed, but I just didn't like the color for me.) [He did look good in peat, but then, I look good in pink and I still won't be caught dead in it. Wonderful sweaters. Thick, and lots of lanolin. "Only two kinds of American, very fat and very thin." Hmm -- where does that leave me? -SueF] Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul.
The western tip of the island. The bow of a fiberglassed curach. Wall sickness. [SueP only, I think. I loved the walls. The Aran islands had a stunningly beautiful bleakness to them. You could really see the land. It was depressing, though, to think of people actually hand hewing the rocks, and building the walls, and carrying the seaweed on their backs to lay between the walls, and pulverizing more rocks and spreading them over the seaweed to keep it from blowing off, and all this just to make soil. When did they start doing this? How many people did it take and how many years...decades?...centuries? Wish we'd seen Man of Aran. Must try to rent it. -SueF]
In our sweater buying excitement we missed the shore road entirely. So on the return from the end of the earth we were looking for the loop road on the wrong side. So we saved additional walking ('cause the shore road isn't really paved). Returning past Sarah's trailer at Seven Churches, we find Barbara and then the rest of our group also buying sweaters. Mom explains to us the way to the clochan. [Built by a Christian hermit centuries ago. 4th century maybe? Big enough to stand up in. Kept the wind out well. A little close for claustrophobic SueP, pleasant for claustrophilic SueF. -SueF] [The cave (er, room) SueF spent her childhood in was explained to SueP during some later walk/ride/dinner. -Lee] At the cross roads with a hostel, you turn right (in our case, down in any case) down a short steep road which turns to gravel immediately and to grass soon after that. Then the road just ends in a patchwork of pastures. Complete with cows. [And heaps of blackberries, yum. -SueF] No signs, nothing. I park my bike and follow the only likely path. This turns out to be correct. I walk back to collect the Sues, who don't ride down steep gravelly, rock, dirt grass roads and who have stopped for a bathroom (out wall) stop.
We're well into afternoon and the sky has been threatening all day. There'll be a lot of putting on and taking off jackets in Ireland. Before assaulting Dun Aengus we need to refuel. At the access road to the fort there lies a touristy art center (shops selling sweaters, books, lace, crafts). [Overpriced and not as nice as Sarah's. -SueF] A café sits across the street. Two fine cats are in the yard. It's a little too chilly to sit outside but the interior is dark (not unusual in Ireland and especially in the Arans (which have limited resources and lots of cold wet wind to keep out)). Even a bird flies in to the café. Perhaps the display of native baskets confused it. We almost order a huge meal (SueP goes for the turkey sandwich) but have the chowder with bread to save time. Past the large (but closed) inn. No bikes are allowed up Dun Aengus. The rocks are sacred. You aren't allowed to move them or damage them. There is no caretaker, no visitors' center. We lean our bikes behind a garage beyond the inn. Blackberry bushes threaten us. A strange rock shed is built into the side of the hill before the gate. As is the custom on the Arans, you must cross a rock wall. This means climbing over it or squeezing through a gap which is too small for a cow to pass. Just outside the fort (in the first ring) the grass is soft and green. It grows between squares of fractured limestone (bedrock, here). There is a spectacular view to the south and also straight down. The builders evidently expected no one to scale the 70 meter cliffs so elected not to erect an additional rock wall by the edge. Tourists beware. This rock seemed stable when I sat on it. A small door is the only way in. Remember that doors in the Arans look a lot like the walls. The inside of the fort is similar to the first ring. Maybe they ran out of rocks after setting up the jagged Panzer barrier outside the 2nd ring. Chocolate cake. Jumping up and down, then suddenly "when did you know?". [He means when he whipped out a piece of chocolate cake he'd sneakily obtained at the café. SueP shrieked "you have chocolate cake!" and then turned to me to demand when I knew. I hadn't. But I can see how after the panzer story she might not be trusting Lee or me any too well. I had been wondering why Lee refused Cadbury chocolate in the fort. -SueF]
The worm hole. After breakfast SueF and I had looked over the Inishmore literature to plan some sort of a route. The worm hole somehow struck a chord as being an intriguing natural feature. Finding it is another story (oh, good, another story). The descriptive paragraph gives some directions: Go to the village of Gort na gCapall, where you can see the birthplace of the novelist Liam O'Flaherty. From the village a track leads south west, passing a cluster of ruined cottages to the coast at Port Bhéal an Dúin. If you walk west over the flat limestone slabs for ½ km, you will find Poll na bPéist, the Worm Hole. The guide goes on to tell you that you must look over the edge of the cliff to see the Worm Hole. Sounds easy. The map does not show a road beyond Gort na gCapall, though. Irish timing appeals to us. The bed and breakfast caretakers are always suggesting later breakfast times. None of this up at dawn or 6:30 whichever comes first stuff that Mom loves so much. And the sun sets late. Seven or so. It isn't really dark 'til 8. But we're trying to fit a lot into the day and time is running out. It must be nearly 7 pm before we get to An Sruthian. SueF and SueP don't believe me when I say there is nothing beyond the town on the road. Thirty seconds later the point is moot. So we turn southwest on the largest driveway in town (the only drive?). I blow right past where the road turns right but am even sooner stopped by a lack of recognizable path. Really, the grassy track between the walls seems to wind to the south east, but we want to go west. Parking my bike I walk back to confer with the Sues. After careful inspection of the map (holding it right up to my eye) I confirm SueF's guess and we head to the right. Lo and behold, there is Gort na gCapall. Port Bhéal an Dúin must have been washed into the sea a thousand years ago. There's no trace. So it's off along the coast. SueP has set her watch so we won't stay out too long. Sometimes there's a trail, sometimes there's big slabs of eroded limestone, sometimes there's just jagged shards of limestone. [Lee wants to take the low route. SueF thinks the low route is way too close to the waves. Lee wins. -SueF] It's low tide so the Worm Hole isn't at its best (so they say) but the "beach" is dry. The beach is just a ledge that's present in front of the cliffs at the shore. Cows have been here. (A flush toilet for cattle?) I clatter over the tidal pools towards the Worm Hole. The Atlantic has carved a huge overhang out of the cliff to my right. Probably, that is the high tide mark. To my left the rock slopes ever steeper into the sea. Around one more bend there it is. Dusk descends as we watch the waves playing in the hole. Now the bigger ones are washing in over the rock. Large splashings occur when the water in the hole is sucked out below the level of some caverns in the sides of the hole. Then trapped air explodes up when the water level rises again. The tide comes in. The waves are now threatening to wash over the ledge that is our only route back. [We mostly retrace our route, and discover the "path" to the Worm Hole. Oh. How could we have missed that minuscule pile of rocks thirty feet beyond a rock wall. Looking back, we see our access ledge awash. I advise people to take the high route. No danger of being smashed into rocks by incoming tide. -SueF]
The dried rat. By the time we get to our bikes night has fallen. Well not quite, but when we get to the main road, headlights and taillights are mounted for the return to Kilronan. Kittens at Ard Mhuiris. The pub is closed by the time we return so it is back to the restaurant. That pesto that looked good yesterday beckons. Got to carb up for tomorrow, a long ride is planned. SueF discovers how to get water at a restaurant. Ask for tea, but insist that they don't put a tea bag in. This avoids the extra cost for Minerals (your choice of sparkling or not). On the way home SueP overshoots the left turn for the road back to the B&B. Possibly, she is mesmerized by the wind over the bay and the light house beacon across the harbor. Or the waves beating against the rocky breakwater that the road runs along. SueP falls over when she fails to get her foot out of the toe clip. The wind over the bay is wonderful. The back road to the B&B really does avoid a hill (I can't really call it a big hill, but a hill none the less).
[Our mom adds: That was Jack and me with Dan Keefe the night before, but the tide must have been wrong and we never saw any of the seals. We spent so much time with Sarah Flaherty (she got to box eight sweaters -- it took two boxes, but they came within a week of the Poughkeepsie box's arrival) that we ran out of time to go over to the Worm Hole. Would we have found it??? So far only know that SueF bought a cardigan and was having it shipped direct to Concord to have it sooner. What color? Did it come? [Yes, charcoal grey to conceal cat fur and because gorgeous blue color only available in sweater (she had sold her blue cardigan that morning); a cardigan is a must for easily overheated polar bears living amongst Pablo the Warm Blooded Penguin types. I had been failing for years to find a decent one that buttoned all the way up. Shawl collars? Boo, hiss. Sarah's cardigans? Cheer, rave. It even has pockets! -SueF] Jack and Dan and I biked out to the end of the island after the sweaters, and found the coast road back (more unrideable stretches). It was close to dark; the pub where we found the others had just stopped serving food; mad rush to the market to buy three subs and some drinks before appearing at the Town Hall for the 8 p.m. showing of Man of Aran. Had rushed to the B&B and left a note for the missing Lee and Sues (where were they in the dark? Who had fallen over at Dun Aengus? Didn't picture caught-by-the-tide-at-the-Worm-Hole) where we were going. Our host was just driving out in a van and offered to drive us up as we were late. The placard out front clearly announced it. But 'twas another case of the tourist info being for July-August. Our host knew one other place that also showed films, drove us there, but it was dark. All of us but Keefes had seen it in NJ as video, interesting but stilted very old photography. Try to see it in 16 or 35mm film at some college or museum, as the video has cut off the sides (opening titles were cut off). Nothing should interfere with the expanse of rock and sea. We went back to the B&B to remove the now red herring note and were on the road when the three missing bikers, with headlights, came rolling down in the dark.]
We'd packed the night before so we wouldn't have that task at such an early hour. No room to be late since this is another ferry day. Through a lovely bit of scheduling, we get to hop back to Inishmaan and Inisheer before heading out across the bay to Rossaveel. So the 45 minute ride is 2 hours. We're on the big ferry, Discovery, this time (yes, we got to ride all three). An even larger and much sleeker ferry is also moored as we board. That must be the 45 minute job. My bike is the first bike on. That means all the others are leaning against it. I climb up and velcro my bike gloves where my bike's top tube rests against the railing and where the next bikes top tube rests against my down tube. My hands will be much colder, but I really do like the green metal flake paint. But, as this was the big ferry, there was even an indoor cabin, with seats and big windows, just like a train or plane. In front of that was a smaller room with smaller seats and really small windows. No one ventured in there. No one I knew ventured into the warm indoor cabin either. The combination of old sweat and fresh half burnt diesel was too stimulating. In fact the only spot out of bilge and exhaust fumes was the bow. On the other hand, the bow moves more (up and down, mostly) than the stern and worse (better?) there's more spray. The only thing separating us from the middle of the Atlantic is Inishmore. As we enter the channel between Inishmore and Inishmaan our ferry is crossing the waves at a 45 degree angle. Every three or four swells the boat smashes down right into a crest, throwing water all over the bow and port side of the boat. This is fun. Especially if you are wearing rain gear. If you are on the windward side of the ferry you can duck behind the hull. Hanging on to the steel cleat gets cold in a hurry, though. Standing to the leeward of Dan Keefe works well too. Rounding Inishmaan, most of the bikers in the bow become concerned that we'll be turning directly into the waves and 1) will get more splashing and 2) have nowhere to hide. [You might want to visit Liam Cronin's Aran Island Lifeboat pages for more description of the local waters.] They retreat to the stern. For naught, since the boat is smoother heading directly into the waves and the waves are smaller in the shadow of Inishmaan. At Inishmaan we pick up some people and an appliance (a small clothes drier). At Inisheer, when the ferry backs out of the harbor, two waves crash over the stern, soaking the drier and Dan Keefe. SueP gets some of the wave but I have both of them to shield me. Moving to the back was definitely a mistake. Back to the front for me. The third leg of the trip (Inisheer to Rossaveel) is long. The wind is from the starboard (yes, they are backwards in Ireland, just like driving on the roads -- all the ferries dock with the starboard side to the dock). The passengers have all settled in to survive. Some at the front. Some inside. Some at the stern. [I had a great time. Survive, shmurvive. -SueF]
Jack finally got his chance for a Bianchi twins picture after we recomposed ourselves at the dock at Rossaveel.
We must have missed the town of Rossaveel. The coastline of County Galway is wrapped around serpentine bays. The fences here are wire so not as readily seen carving the lowland up into squares, trapezoids and other polygons. It is warming up but not yet warm. We turn right into a headwind to go around a particularly large bay. Everyone stops at the first (only) café along the road. We've got a lot of miles ahead so the group doesn't want to make this lunch. I'm ravenous, and order a scone, BLT, and hot chocolate. There is no soup today. Before leaving I have a pastry. Other bikers are there before us. German bike tourists arrive as we are leaving. It is the only food for miles.
I ride an extra nine miles (out to Rosmuck) and have to play catch up. Rosmuck was one of the towns along the way. Too bad it is 7 km off the through road. Entirely lovely. In one of the Gaeltachts, I believe. Everyone is drying peat on their front walls. Near the end I saw a nice jetty which looked like a good spot to wait for Mom. I was afraid she might not see me that far off the road. At the same time as I was wondering if this was the road, I found that the road turned left onto the jetty and (of course) ended. Definitely not the right road. Strong smell of rotting seaweed, as a bonus. I dug the Michelin map out of my pannier. I pass a dozen pubs but none with bikes in front. As I ride, I calculate how long until I rejoin the group. I've heard the names of several towns along the way (but don't actually have the itinerary). So I don't know if the route includes the scenic coast road or saves four miles cutting inland. What the heck, I'm behind, if I take the long road I'll only be a little farther back. The inland road appears pretty barren. Connemara, by the way, is stunningly desolate. We've just come from the Aran Islands, too! In the Arans, every inch of land has a rock wall over it. Here, besides the road in front of you, you see no signs of civilization. Scrubby fields then steep rocky mountains rising up to the sky. (If you look really closely, you can see some wire fences.) You almost wonder why they bothered to put in the road. Connemara has peat soil. Everywhere there are vertically sided trenches where peat has been chopped out. The peat is by the sides of the road drying in huge piles. Often, old tarps, plastic bags, or rags are covering the piles. The individual pieces are cut about 4 inches wide, 2 inches thick and 18 inches long with a trapezoidal cross section. So, I stick to the coast road. Sure enough, the rest of the party has the same idea. I first catch up to Jack. He tells me that Mom and Sue, no, Mom and Susie have taken the bypass. I've been racing too long today to go back to slow mode (and only once in the last 4 days have we put on appreciable mileage). I pass 4 or 5 other riders and find my sister taking a break by the side of the road. Aha. Susie must be SueP. I've passed the last of the group just before the coast road joins back up with the bypass at a hotel. Mom and SueP are there. There wasn't anything on that road. Anything permanent. A mobile bank was stopped and conducting business. ["Bankmobile"? "Port-a-Bank"? -SueF] The exchange rate is better here than in the little shops. Still no one wants to stop for a beer or lunch. We munch down biscuits. Later the mobile bank passes us. Flying monkeys. [Lots of Irish roads are chippings poured onto tar. Gives a rattlin' ride. Very hard on the shoulders if they are recovering from injury caused by rattling on a rock road on a bicycle. I cursed chippings all through the trip and slowed way down for them. Can't remember why they're flying monkeys. Something about out of the frying pan into the fire? Out of the bees and into the flying monkeys? What bees? -SueF] Having reformed (ha!) the group, we're (Lee and the Sues) are back in our customary position bringing up the rear. I'm riding behind whichever Sue is faster at the time (SueP is faster on uphills, unless she's walking, faster on downhills, and faster on rough roads, and slower at the end of a ride). Come to think of it, what with all the rock, you might not expect asphalt roads. But such was nearly always the case. 'Course you know there's got to be rock in there somewhere. Hence the "Loose Chippings" signs posted by fresh road work. Highway construction signs in Ireland are paperboard with some stenciled letters, attached to a lath, and pounded in by the side of the road. Or hung on the rock wall which bounds the road. It didn't take long to figure out that loose chippings meant gravel. After a particularly long section of chippings ended, I whistled the tune from Wizard of Oz (when the party leaves the forest and sees the Emerald City). But the end of the road work meant back to the cracked surface, so SueF yelled out, "Great, but here come the flying monkeys". Fuchsia. You thought fuchsia grew in pots on your veranda. In Ireland it grows in giant hedges and was in glorious bloom in September. Out in the peat bogs, the furze is in full bloom. Bright yellow. Look, don't touch -- ouch!
We pulled into Roundstone (Cloch na ron) fairly late. I was hungry. SueP wanted a snack. While the group was deciding what and where to eat, SueP and I went into a café for some cappuccino for her. I ordered a croissant to go. I was in a hurry to get a meal and get back on to the road since I was afraid that it would get dark [bull shit you were very very hungry and wanted a Guinness-SueP] and the group would not ride on to the next scheduled town (thus becoming farther behind in the schedule -- remember they have an extra week). The croissant was a problem since it needed to be warmed 2 minutes on each side (although it was already cooked). We persuaded the clerk to give it to us anyway. I nixed a tip since it was take out. While we were waiting for the cappuccino, I asked about the round stone. It's in the harbor about a mile from town by the friary(?). You can only see it at low tide. By then dinner had been decided. The pub next door (O'Dowd's) also has a restaurant. Our waiter turns out to be the clerk of the café. I confuse him by ordering two entrees (salmon pasta and plaice). He comes back and counts all the meals because he sees one more entrée than people when he puts in the order.
The ride to the B&B is truly lovely. The road winds left and right and up and down. The sun is setting ahead and to our left. Right over the bays and islands. SueP races me up and down some of the hills. At the B&B SueP floors Dan Keefe when she tells everyone that this has been her longest ride ever.
The Ave Maria B&B hosts Vassar students every year. We chat with two of them. The owner's cat is named Princess. We dry our clothes over the cast iron stove. We ignore the discussion about tomorrow's trip plan while rubbing backs. Peat is burning in the fireplace. Three stay at Lough Fadda due to lack of room at Ave Maria. Also a peat fire; these are our only B&Bs which have them.
[Our mom adds: Empty Connemara! We didn't see Rossaveel on the way back either, though once we stopped retracing our steps we ran into more and more buildings (and traffic). A different Connemara on the way in to Galway. And to think our original plan was to take a late ferry to Rossaveel and bike (in dusk or dark--or rain?) to the closest B&B(s) to the ferry. It would have been off the route in Carraroe, on a different dead end road going to a peninsula (and two islands). We missed too many sidetrips. Should have spent six weeks, or just gone north or south. I was also puzzled (unclear signing) where Lee turned off to Rosmuck, but after turning in, looked behind and saw the sign to the town I knew we wanted. I think it was the hard to pronounce Cill Chiarain. We photographed the signpost at Screeb (but names were in Gaelic only) onthe way back, Ros Muc and Cill Chiarain pointing left, Cros Bhothar an Mhoma (that's Maam Cross) pointing right. I read the easy, on top Ros Muc.... How to know it was in the same direction but on another road. Long cuts and being temporarily lost are a lot of the fun of biking! Lee caught us on the next long cut. Muriel's itinerary hadn't noticed that stretch of coast road, so the planned route and the mileage were for going the short cut that SueP and I took. I didn't want Lee to follow the itinerary and get ahead of us trying to catch up. I knew we wouldn't catch him if he was riding in catchup mode. So when the group agreed to lengthen a long day and take the coast road, I announced I was taking the inland route. SueP went with me and still managed to chalk up her longest ride ever. The mobile bank started to leave while we were still in inertial mode (stopped, can't get started again) with several bikes leaning on its right side. Screeches from bikers. No damage. It just occurs to me now that with right hand drive the "banker" should have seen them in his mirror before starting to pull out on the road. But after looking at the picture, the mirror is very high and the three bikes are very low. Guess I have to see Wizard of Oz again, since I don't remember the flying monkeys. Looked up the B&B's in the book. Ave Maria is in Ballinaboy but Lough Fadda lists itself as Clifden. We were over a little stream from you.]
Clifden founded by D'Arcy. While searching for Pastries, Poste, Punts I wandered up an alley to the inside of the town square. Here is Clifden without the colorful store fronts which are so famous, but more like the Ireland that is untouched by time (minus the aluminum kegs!). The witch. We find a B&B in Clifden and leave bags there for the day.
The Sky Road starts off like it was going up a canyon in Santa Barbara -- steep on both sides, thick broad leafy tropical looking plants. The hedges are really fuchsia, with the cute little red flowers hanging down. We pass a Disney-type fake castle, then a real castle, or manor, anyway, but ruined, that we would have missed if not for stopping to enjoy the view and wonder if that was the Arans in the distance. SueP veers onto the "high road" fork. This will be our highest climb until Conor. [I stop by a ruin of a stone house to see how big it was and picture what it would be like to live in such a place. It's tiny. There's a minuscule main room with partial wall separating it from an alcove, then another room with no door from the main room. Maybe the other room was the barn? Big enough for one cow. The house could have slept six, but only by packing them in like sardines. What was it? A family home or just a shepherd's hut? I will never know. -SueF] [That was typical of houses. Two rooms. Interior fireplace. -Lee]
At the top we find Mom and Jack have ducked through a hole in the barbed wire to walk up the last of the hill. As usual, the wind is strong. It's cold on top. Looking for the Arans. We have stopped moving, so it must be time for some chocolate. All along the road the view to the south is incredible. We see various peaks and islands which just can't be identified, despite our topo maps. With the wind, it takes two people to open a map. Riding back along the north side of the peninsula the road hugs a hidden bay. The tide will suck most of the water out, but a few fishing boats are moored nearer the mouth. Again, the scenery is unspoiled by any hint of modern commercial society. Sure, a few trucks and tractors pass us. A car or two even. We almost trespass onto some luxurious grass for a picnic, but the farmer's "go away" sign deters us. A smaller patch is found on the far side of a quaint stone bridge, under which the receding tide rushes out. Oddly, the jagged stone wall looks like a good spot to relax to SueP. Experience shows otherwise. Lunch. We elect to go out to Rinvyle Castle in the shadow of Tully Mountain, at the tip of the next peninsula but one.
We round the Sky Road. Crossing the base of the next peninsula, which we will not go out, there is a fairly steep hill past peatbogs, followed by a spectacular view of the other side including Ballynakill Harbour. We stop at a dusty convenience store for lunch supplies. [How long has some of this stuff been here. I buy a cat-in-window postcard which may have been there for years. -SueF] Tar is for sale in big tins at the convenience store in Moyard. You couldn't even call Moyard a hamlet. There is only the store. There is a house near the store. There are other houses along the road. The store is really a gas station and garage (Statoil). It's also the Poste. (Later, we'll see American style gas/convenience marts in County Kerry.) Dark chocolate (known as chocolate (not milk chocolate)) is found. Our first Avoca (Letterfrack, Galway 095-41058) shop. Possibly. [It calls itself "The 'Possibly' Store" [which is again a shortened version of "Possibly the finest shop in West Galway", or some such nonsense -Lee]. Outside Clifden was a place that calls itself "The 'Probably' Store". Oy. -SueF] They sell woolens and Irish crafts (pottery, furniture, art). They have a typical café. They sell postcards and related books.
The Sues and I catch up to the group at our first castle. We are quite surprised to find that it is small and plain. And ruined. There are no floors. There is no roof. There aren't going to be any tours. The castle is actually in a pasture owned by the neighbors, a B&B. I believe someone in our party talked to the B&B person. They let us walk up their drive way and through a fence (made of rock) so we could get a closer look. A huge crack runs up the west side of the castle. The B&B are using the castle as one of the two posts holding up their laundry line. Or maybe the laundry line is holding up the castle. The architecture of the castle is apparent from the remains of arches and floors on the inside. A spiral staircase runs up one corner. There were two floors and some smaller passages or rooms on the south side. Jack steps in a cow patty. More lunch in a grassy crater by a rocky beach. From our grassy nest we have a lovely view out over the bay, Crump Island, and the further mountains. The sun mixes with the clouds to cast a wonderful bright and dark patchwork varying as the wind and time react. The very farthest mountain is perfectly triangular and seems to gleam extra bright at the top. Like the back of a dollar bill? A very scenic but steep return. Half way up we meet a couple from New Jersey. They tell us the pyramid is Croagh Patrick [Later I failed to find 'Croagh' in the Gaelic dictionaries -Lee]. The name reeks of awe, but I don't yet know why. [They show us the correct route off the peninsula, happily, as we have found ourselves on very narrow, winding (up and down, that is!), disreputably paved roads which my shoulders would just as soon get away from. -SueF] [I didn't know we were lost. Those roads are on my map (along with roads that don't even exist) -Lee] On our right, Tully Mountain ascends steeply. Blotting out the sun. Sure enough, sheep as high as the eye can see. From the top of the pass there is a wonderful view of Tully Lake with our road swooping right and left. The town of Tully Cross is hidden in the hills. We swoop to an intersection where a dog barks at me and then at SueP. Very exuberant barking. His master (a small boy) finally persuades him to go along down the road. We continue swooping and around a sharp left turn stands a bull on the shoulder. He gives us a look which could kill (if looks could kill). Of course we feel silly backtracking back to Clifden (at least we didn't have to ride with panniers today). The Avoca shop is closed by now. As dusk falls we cruise the last leg back to Clifden itself. The insects are so thick you can see them splattering on your glasses. (Safety tip: Never ride without sunglasses (use clear at night, yellow in fog).) The bodies rinse off my wind jacket easily. Oh, and while I'm on the subject, the safety yellow rain/wind jacket is mistaken for pollen by a hundred bees on this trip. Deciding to split up. Dinner at Francesca's with Mom and Jack. Our 'more pasta than you can eat' informant didn't know bicyclists. Pesto good, desserts stale (we skipped). We want to see the southwest and Killarney Park so, even though it means missing Lough Nafooey, we decide to train down south. Much consultation of the less-than-clear train schedule results in the decision that we absolutely, positively must make Westport the next day in order to train down. The B&B has a map of the most scenic roads in Ireland. It is generally correct based on our meager exploits. We choose a few roads from it for tomorrow. This is the first room where we have a television. When I get out of the shower I find the TV is on. Murphy Brown is on CBS. The other channel has Mr. Bean, an English show I don't watch on PBS. So much for exotic. [Yes, but this B&B was more of a hotel than a B&B. Was trying to be citified. Hmph. -SueF]
Here is a long day. There is the psychological problem of riding up the long hill we buzzed down yesterday. It starts off quite cold. Somehow I manage to get behind everyone again. Adjusting something or other? Just the same, I take this opportunity to stop at Avoca (I'd forgotten the important weight paring exercise after breakfast). In return for using their fine facilities I buy a green wool tie. No problem accepting US dollars. Two brilliantly colored (blue with silver, green with gold) fish tapestries sorely tempt my charge card. I manage to resist buying them or the chocolate brownies. Next detour is Connemara Park. Our landlady has warned us that this needs to be hiked to be appreciated, none the less, riding to the entrance the road is surrounded by enchanted forest. I hang a right up (and I mean up) the access road. Two switchbacks later there's a fine view and a small gatehouse where an Irishwoman tells me I must pay £6 to go further. Better catch up with the others. Last dawdle is to chat with a bicyclist I've passed twice already. She's from NJ, but has only moved there recently. She rides a mountain bike very slowly up hills. Still, she catches up again when I get to Kylemore.
The temperature drops [plummets -SueF] as we leave Kylemore Abbey (the Yprès nuns relocated there). The last room you tour has some Yprès memorabilia including a fragment of a stone rescued from their church by two brave men, a priest and an officer in the army, who, at great personal peril, went into the church while it was being shelled. The fragment is mounted in a velvet case. Before the nuns acquired the estate (demesne) a singularly lovely gothic chapel was installed, the restoration of which is almost complete. They are still missing a cross in the apse. This chapel has only a south transept. The construction is concrete block, but the detail work is finished with small colored marble columns. Although the estate was landscaped and the literature includes a listing of the various exotic trees (and a description of the sound of the breaking glass whenever a storm hit the green houses), the landscaping is overwhelmed by the exceedingly steep mountain rising directly upwards from the back of the mansion. A view only slightly spoiled by the crosses and statues looking down on us from that great height. We check the gift shop (it's heated) but SueP becomes frightened that she will fall into shopping mode and not have enough time to cycle. The tail end of a bus tour is clearing out of the cafeteria line when SueF and I get hot chocolate, soup and bread. Cocoa, actually. You have to add your own sugar. Two or three bags is about right. The cocoa comes with a stick of chocolate formed into the shape of a large cinnamon stick. Nice touch.
The weather is worrisome but over the next hill we see some blue sky in the east (we are currently heading east, yippee). To the south is what I thought was a stupendously lovely green hillside (mountainside) with deep rivulets (ravines) running down. You could feel the mist condensing and running down the side of that mountain and the grass growing with it. You can also see the headwind whipping up Kylemore Lough. On the other side of the pass the terrain is right out of the Hobbit. The last homely house. A lake (estuary actually) with lots of strange pilings (fish traps?). And of course tall mountains rising into the clouds. (Low clouds, albeit.) A quick rest stop, complete with Cadbury bars, is called for. The Sues veto a Pub stop in Leenane looking out across the harbor. It is just as well, seeing as a group of kids on mountain bikes has taken over. Cold and bladder change their minds a mile down the road. Food at the pub is limited. Little sandwiches. A Guinness washes them down well. [Hot chocolate for me. I don't like beer. I tried a couple of Lee's Guinnesses and whatnot, but blech. -SueF]
The hills are so steep you can see the bellies of the sheep. A strong gust and you'd be eating a wool sandwich. [We've been calling them sweaters on the hoof since our Aran shopping mania. -SueF] At the intersection we peruse a sign about County Mayo. Irish translations are offered for common town names. Cill is church, of course, but Coill is children's graveyard. Both translate to Kill on the English signs. Population has gone from 500,000 before the famine to 300,000 after to 100,000 now. Place looks very sparse to us. The trip so far has been so desolate we actually believe there are only 100,000 people in all Ireland for a minute until we reread the sign. Now we cross the Erriff River and ride back along the other side of the inlet we just have ridden up. Near another infinitesimal town (one inn) we head for the Doo Lough Pass. We are right between the Bens now. I can imagine hidden lakes nestled up on the steep sides of the mountains where we see tiny streams rushing down. [A positively pyramidal mountain top (Ben Gorm? Croagh Patrick?) leads to the first song of the Musical Tour of Ireland. -SueF] [I thought that song was from the Conor Pass aftermath? -Lee] [That was just a reprise. -SueF]
Ice cream cones in Louisburgh while SueF reclines by the bikes. [My back hurt. Chippings. Wouldn't want you to think I was wimping out for any lesser reason. -SueF] From here on, almost every house has a red and green flag flying. Presumably to celebrate County Mayo's getting to the All Ireland football match. It is late but the map shows the last leg is flat (as flat as you can be when your contour interval is 60 meters). Croagh Patrick is behind a cloud. We see glimpses of it. The clouds clear some but one stubborn cloud remains on the peak as we ride to, past, and away from the mountain. The cloud is orographic -- the air cools as it blows up the side of the mountain. You can see the motion of the wind but the cloud stays put like a beanie on Croagh Patrick. A blocky white building seems to peek out from the peak. DeLorme says there is a chapel at the top.
Westport seems to never come. [Just before the harbor, the road curves back and forth and back and forth and... (Musical Tour) At each bend we're sure we'll reach the town. Finally we do! No, this is just the harbor. The Sues struggle on. (Lee doesn't struggle.) -SueF] Then it doesn't seem to end (we haven't been in a large town yet). After a hill, we meet a very confused cyclist on a heavy looking bike. He's not sure of much, but he knows about our group. A hundred meters before the B&B we give up and cycle in circles getting our bearings. The B&B's driveway is a very steep uphill. The rest of the party has left word for us to meet them at M s pub. They aren't there. But the pub seems to be filled with Irish. Sawdusty wooden floors. Smoky. We see an O'M s across and up the street. They aren't there either, but SueF notices that the door to their restaurant is one building to the right. I'm elected to run up the stairs to check (the Sues thinking twice about climbing stairs unnecessarily). Success. The waitress lets us stand around in a nook by the other bikers. We also find out she is a transplant from the U.S. (Chicago?). Visited Westport, liked it, stayed. She's embarked on a career as a massage therapist as well. SueP falls asleep during her meal. I didn't bring the camera, so I send SueF to borrow one from the other group. Before Jack can get his out, Dan Keefe has already volunteered his. Like a cat, SueP wakes up at the sound of the lens cap opening. SueF goes to return the camera but doesn't give it back. The ruse works.
Starting at 6:30? Lots of sleeping on trains. The ride is not smooth enough to write postcards. Plenty of seats on the first train, but subsequent trains require being social. We fail to obtain coffee at Portarlington when the pub has no paper cups. There is no concession at the station. The pub was a 5 minute walk away. They didn't have hot chocolate either. On the third leg, we chat with one older lady who lives in Cork but whose relatives are in Dublin. Senior citizens ride free. A drunken group in first class who is very rowdy is disturbing her ride. Somehow the concept of dual citizenship comes up. The lady asks "but who would you fight for?" More sleeping on the train. The Tourist Office books us a B&B across the railroad tracks by the sports center. SueP expects this to be the bad side of town (ever see America from a train?) but the Tourist Office insists. The B&B is in a residential section. We don't find it at first, so we get to ride by the 3 lazy dogs thrice. [It requires all three viewings to be sure they are alive. -SueF] The B&B has one palm tree in front. Remarkably it reminds both SueF and me of Dos Palmas, Omi and Opa's house on Avon Lane, Santa Barbara. Even the fronds stowed by the side alley. The owner is busy watering flowers in the back yard. She has a variety of roses. She warns us about the slugs.
Even though we're not in the center of town, the walk goes by quickly. Not quickly enough, since the shops are closing as SueP looks for a map of Ireland. Not a road map. Something for the wall. Like you might have in a classroom. Well, they don't exist. Tralee is big enough to have three bookstores. My sister cruised some toy shops looking for a puzzle map of Ireland for a friend's child. Those do exist. Adorned with little pictures of economic activity. (There are some pigs shown. [This will seem stranger later. -SueF]) While it was still light I wanted to see the famous Rose gardens. SueF questioned the motive behind the monument to Rose Kennedy. Quest for dinner. The restaurant (Pocotts) closed and locked up while we were eating our meal. We discuss adding miles by changing the Dingle ring from counter to clockwise. That puts Conor two days away, instead of tomorrow (still recovering from the ride to Westport?) and lets us be on the outside of the road. An antique steam train flyer in the B&B foyer catches my eye. The engine looks just like one a 'N' scale model of which my grampa gave me 25 years ago. He brought it back from a trip to London. Buffs have restored a tiny section of the old narrow gauge railway that went from Tralee to Dingle. The train makes the trip from Tralee to Blennerville every hour (and back, every half hour) starting around 10. Tomorrow is a long ride (longer now that we go clockwise) so looks like we'll miss the train. I'm more concerned with a possible detour over a mountain (better view of the Reeks) which the Sues will not go up.
SueP puts the kibosh on any discussion of clockwise or counter and we set off over the hill to Castlemaine. [Lee had run out of Waffles -SueP] We stopped at the first gas station convenience store to buy chocolate (SueP ran in). Just after that a bunch of kids dressed as IRA partisans attempted to ambush us with water pistols. I was busy trying to think of something witty to say so I forgot about my water bottle until I was along side the urchins. I think I wasted one of the younger siblings. Isn't that just the way it happens in the movies, too. You don't even have to stop to smell the roses. Just riding by is enough. Aquadome. Heaps of wildflowers. Steam engine to Blennerville. We arrive just before 11, so I get to see the train after all. I tell the engineers how I had a little toy model of that exact engine as a child. They let me stand in the cab. A job next to a coal fire is the one to get in Ireland. We watch the train steam off.
The high road to Castlemaine is not to be found. On the far side, it looks gravel. (The tourist office people later claim it really is paved.) But the blue skies have given way to gray and the misty haze blocks out any sign of McGillicuddy's Reeks. Ice cream and telephones in Castlemaine. [This town is an Irish twin of Meyersville, New Jersey. The exact same crossroads-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, nothing-but-a-store-and-a-pub feel to it. Possibly it's that I've never stopped in Meyersville except to refuel when biking. SueP -- what was the name of our favorite ice cream bar? I forget. -SueF] We head for Inch. [This is the first day I really feel strong. Is it the hard day to Westport followed by a day of rest? Is it the gentle slope of the road? Whichever it may be, I feel great. (Musical Tour) -SueF]
An unexpected sandbar protrudes into Dingle Bay at Inch. Sure, it is on the map, but how often do you have a sandbar which just juts out ¾ of the way across a bay? The locals use it as a glider landing strip. The mountains of the ring of Kerry are lovely across the bay. Sure, the water is still cold and no one is swimming. [For me, warm enough to go in but not warm enough to stay in. But no bathing suit, no towel, and other things to do so I just go in to my knees. -SueF] We are up for lunch, but the hotel/pub is closed until 4 pm. It looks pretty grubby up close. A commanding view of the strand (Inch beach).
Annascaul. We're still looking for food and bathrooms but the town is closed. [Aggressively. -SueF]
Deciding to visit Minard Head. The biggest castle on Dingle peninsula is on a big hill. Downhill, that is. The castle is right on Dingle Bay. Again, any wood is gone, so the roof and floors are missing. The ring fort nearby can not be found. Actually, the castle commands a tiny harbor with a beach. There are no homes, barns, civilization here. Another tourist has obtained permission from the local farmer (who we met down by the castle out for a walk with visitors from America) to go into the pasture to see some wedge graves, so so do SueF and then Lee, while SueP struggles on up the hill. Be sure to close the gate after you. The mound graves are typically Irish: the descriptions are more imposing than the relic. Across the road, the cows are expecting dinner. Pavlovian response to my wiring shut the gate. [We continue down the main road, not knowing how far it is to Dingle and -- we hope! -- food and bed. (Musical Tour) -SueF]
Lispole. This town is about one building big, but there is a pay phone. A motorist sells us 20p coins to use in the phone, but the Tourist Information Offices are closed. We pass the trio of German bike girls again. They ask us if there is a hostel in Dingle. One of their group is allergic to the horses next to the hostel on the east side of town. We don't know yet (since we've not yet reached Dingle). None of our limited maps mentions accommodation. We had let Mom carry the guidebooks. Looking for Shamrocks. After rejecting a room on the far side of town (too small?) [SueP puts the kibosh on it because it's a row house -SueF] we ride back looking for the places that looked likely on the way in. SueP starts thinking Best Western. It has a great view of the harbor entrance. The building looks a little too seedy and we turn around. I detour a few hundred meters to look at the Dingle sewage treatment plant. It's an oxidation ditch with brush aerators. The next candidate has no shamrock but looks relatively new. It is next to a gas station convenience mart. I watch the bikes. When the Sues get back they've taken a room. I ask SueP if she saw their credentials. "Credentials? They haven't finished building it. The porch light fixture isn't even installed." The owners/operators are very hospitable and professional. They have great brogues. Murphy's pub and the New Zealand Psychiatric Nurse (a.k.a. barmaid). We think she escaped. Lots of tourists in Dingle. The woman next to me at the bar has a Campmor windbreaker on. She does live in the NY metropolitan area but got the jacket at an outlet store in Colorado. I ask the barmaid how long she's been in Dingle to see how local she is. 15 days. And she's worked the last 6 in a row. Plans to work tomorrow and the next day. She got tired of being a psychiatric nurse and came here. She seems to know what a black and tan is, and admits she's done a poor job pouring it. It was almost completely mixed. I leave since the Sues have flagged down a waitress to get seats. The waitress has a table for us and will be right back. The table and booth in the front of the establishment across from the bar has just been vacated. Moving back to the bar, the barmaid asks me to pay for the beers. I counter that we'd like food and to have it in the booth. No problem, she'll add the beer to the food tab and send someone to take our order. A minute later, she's hopped out from behind the bar to take our order. I order the monk fish, SueF the salmon, and SueP can't make up her mind. Upon inquiry, the barmaid suggests the chicken cordon bleu. Our food will be ready in 25 minutes. Over half an hour later, the barmaid returns with the bill. "That's nice," I say "may we have our food, too." "You didn't get any food?" [Dumb looks] "I wasn't here." She sweeps off. Our food appears soon thereafter. Very yummy. Did I mention she forgot to bring our chowders? Postcards and ice cream at general store. Another of those cinnamon shaped chocolate sticks is stuck into the soft ice cream. We almost chat politics with the owner.
For breakfast we are asked "would you like the Irish breakfast?" Sue asks about the alternatives. "I don't know, but I'll check with the cook." We all decide to have the Irish breakfast this morning. Another late morning as I true up my rear wheel and SueF mails her puzzle (we stop at the Supermart, buy tape, wrap up, walk to Poste.) [My advice is never to mail anything from Ireland. Takes forever. Having Sarah mail the sweaters was a Very Wise Decision. -SueF] But the sun is out and the landscape is gorgeous. There's a quick uphill. Near the top we troubleshoot another wheel problem. A slight clicking sound as the bike rolls. Is it grit being tossed into the spokes by the tire tread? Is it loose spokes stretching and relaxing? SueP's spoke mounted reflector is loose. That's a lot quicker fix than retruing loose spokes. The town of Ventry (Céann Trá) is a pottery factory and a beach. On the far side, the main road heads sharply right. That's generally north and inland. Not knowing exactly where we are (hey, we weren't sure if we'd been through Ventry or not) and wanting to go clockwise around the end of Dingle, we turn left. No, the road signs weren't helpful here. A trailer park is near the end of the road. The actual end is a dock with several small fishing boats. A large sign warns that the dock is dangerous during storms. The dock commands a view of the entire Ventry Harbor. The beach is to the left, the opening to Dingle Bay to the right, and Ballymacadoyle Hill ahead. So it's back the way we came. Dunbeg Fort is now manned by sheep. The Dingle Peninsula has a large number of very old (Bronze Age? First millenium A.D., anyway) archeological finds. At least, a large number were marked on the tourist map SueP picked up in Tralee. This map was particularly overoptimistic, with dirt tracks marked indistinguishably from main roads. We never found many of the Historic Sites. For example, we'd have missed the wedge graves in the farmer's field above Minard Castle if the farmer hadn't shown them to the two tourist women. There are many clochans along Dingle Head, mostly in farmers' fields. Farmers have taken to charging you a small fee to see them. Most likely the woman who took our pound a piece for Dunbeg Fort was the local farmer. She gave us an informative handout sheet. And she had a San Francisco 49ers coffee mug. Dunbeg Fort was the most impressive ancient edifice we saw on Dingle. [Lee, didn't you take any pictures? -SueF [No]] The Skelligs rise larger than you would have imagined out on the horizon in the mist/haze. [And larger than Mom imagines, she having asked me three times if I really meant the Blaskets. -Lee] We ride on toward Slea Head. [We negotiate a hairpin curve where the road is washed out. No, not washed out after all; it turns out a brook just plain crosses the road there. The road is paved with cobblestones instead of asphalt where the water runs over. Only an inch or two deep. One can walk across without wetting feet if one is careful. Someone later tells of us a dreadful accident a few years previously in which a drunk truck driver was killed at the curve due to following the taillights of the next car, which unfortunately had already negotiated the hairpin and was driving away on the other side. -SueF] [SueP proceeded to ask the local whether the next of kin of the passengers sued the estate of the driver, but the locals did not understand the question. -Lee] At Slea Head is another prominent crucifix. Coincidentally, SueP is dressed in black. From Slea Head, the view of Dingle peninsula (Dunmore Head) sinking into a sea of Blaskets is enchanting.
With the exception of the towns of Dingle and Ballyferitter, the whole Dingle peninsula is pretty deserted. This is not so unusual but you really don't expect to find the isolation of the Arans or of Connemara everywhere. Tralee is the big city in County Kerry, and Dingle is next to it. So our choices for lunch stops are quite limited. Reports say a pottery shop has a café a few miles after Slea Head. [Visions of lunch dance in our heads. (Musical Tour) -SueF] A few thousand feet after Slea Head there is a café, but they don't have a real menu. They do have an incredible view of the Blaskets, Dunmore Head, and 1000 stuffed animals. The museum is an extra punt, but the bathrooms are free if you buy food. A special treat is reading the Irish version of the menu. The only soup is tomato but the scones are filling and the chocolate pie is delicious. Our waitress is an American who came often to the café when it was a B&B. She befriended the owner and now helps out from time to time.
At Dunmore Head parking lot a small road winds down the cliff to a smaller beach. About 25 meters wide, nestled into the rock. SueP laments how we never have four hours to just spend. On the other side of the cliff you can look down on the bow of an old metal ship. It is hidden from other angles. We leave the bikes in the lot and work our way along the sheep paths. One sign says No Trespassing but another says please not to bring your dogs, so we take that to mean people are okay. On top of Dunmore Head is a concrete shack, complete with fireplace. It has windows on the south, west and north overlooking the Blaskets beyond the end of Dingle peninsula. We see signs of former settlement of Great Blasket Island. Hard to imagine actually living there. Tiny islands compared to the Arans. The shack is very convenient to stand in the lee of as we are showered on -- our first Irish rain. [We see the most spectacular rainbow I have ever seen. Incredibly bright. Double, with a few moments of triple. You really feel as if you can reach out and touch it. No wonder they thought there were pots of gold at the end. -SueF] Also on the Head is an Ogham stone. After walking around it and staring for a few minutes we finally see unnatural looking horizontal grooves on the north side. The guide map has somehow translated these into a paragraph of English text. [Later I find a guidebook that explains that the writing consists of vertical and slanted lines in different combinations. Since it is written around the edge of the rock, the lines we see lie horizontal to the ground. -SueF]
We pass the pottery shop. Closed. Many pubs closed as well. Apparently they take the end of the tourist season seriously. [We had read elsewhere that September is big for some tourist groups, so I am surprised so much is closed. -SueF] There is a huge metal building which is the visitors' center for the Blaskets. Oddly, no one wants to use the bathrooms. The road traverses an incredibly scenic stretch here. The sun is brilliant over the Blaskets and the Atlantic. A small rocky promontory (Clogher Head) is to the left and Brandon Head to the right. We stop at the site at which all the Brandon postcards are taken. Just standing there is magical (not because of the postcards!). There is an awkward (for me) chat with a group from Northern Ireland and Britain. Since it is getting late fast, we don't stop for food, beer, or the butterfly exhibition at the museum in Ballyferitter. Gallarus oratory and castle. The oratory is still waterproof, but even though drops are falling, we've come for the four story castle. Touring the clochan (oratory) is a punt but I want to see the castle and ask the attendant for directions. Go out, two rights. Road looks like driveway, but was once paved. It curves to the right away from the castle. I'm about to give up on it when I see a zag to the left ahead. I get to the castle. A minute later SueF comes around "Well, you get to live". Haven't found out where that remark came from. [Since Minard Castle SueP had been making occasional comments about how if whichever current sidetrip turned out to be a bust, Lee would die. I think that's where this remark came from. -SueF] There is no grand estate surrounding the Four Story castle. Immediately to the north is an old stone barn where a cow lives. A somewhat modern house is across the drive. The castle has some old scaffolding around it. The guidebook says it was "stabilized". It's hard to tell whether the castle is holding up the scaffold or vice versa. Peeking in we see a big room, part of the roof. Very typical Irish castle construction. Block. No frills. [Very similar to Rynvyle Castle. Interesting to compare the two. This one was slightly less wimpy. -SueF] We get another soaking on the way home. You can see the rain coming over the hills. It is wonderfully backlighted by the setting sun. Darkness has fallen by the time we get back to the B&B.
The River Gods French restaurant and the Scottish (via Holland) waitress. She gives us an attitude when we aren't really ready to order when we thought we were (and by the way, they're out of the garlic steak whose smell lured us in). As usual we are the last customers in the establishment. McNiery's(?) pub and set dancing. [Four couples. Jig step. Very simple dance, mostly forward and back and do-si-do. Everything is done as a couple, including the do-si-does. -SueF] Ice cream at the convenience store next to the B&B.
Not needing sausage more than two or three times in a row (got to be light for the big climb) I order the "non-Irish" breakfast. SueP asks what this is when it is her turn. "I don't know, but I'll check with the cook." Some sort of fruit and yogurt as per the norm. SueF orders the Irish asking me if I'll help eat the pork. When I reply yes, the waiter offers to put an extra sausage on. My breakfast turns out to be a 6th of a melon, pre sliced up into bite size slices (resting on their rind), with coins of banana arranged around the plate and on the melon. Not much food really, but very well done. Remember we get cereal and bread, too. [Actually, SueP gets the Irish breakfast and I say I'll take the non-Irish if I can have one of her sausages, which leads to an extra one. Lee gets SueP's ham? Plenty of breakfast, what with all the bread and all. One of the nicest non-Irishes I've had. (Tralee's non-Irish was a yogurt and an unpeeled banana plomped on a plate, and no melon.) We suspect from the minor delay that they have to run next door to the convenience store to buy yogurt. Our hosts are very nice and very accommodating, but seem a little new to the business. -SueF]
We almost get on the road by 10 am including the bank and Poste stops. Turns out we could have gotten cash in the evening. The banks close at 4pm, but they open again from 5pm to 9pm (10?) [only a couple of days a week? -SueF]. As I make the last turn onto the pass road I see a yellow jacket ahead one bend. But I hear a high pitched yell from behind. Sure enough, getting sandwiches at the convenience store took longer than waiting for the bank to open and cashing traveler's checks. No, the squeak was from SueF, who said she thought high frequencies would work better in the mist.
Rain and El Condor Pass. We ride up into the clouds. At the top the wind is really singing. The shower cap on my helmet blows off in less than an instant. I can only see one sheep about 10 meters down the north side of the pass. Everything else is gray cloud. A 30 mph tailwind is murder when I go back down 1.75 km looking for the Sues (it's a headwind for me). The rain is really coming down on the far side of the pass. [Metaphor imitates life. For me, riding up Conor Pass is one of the high points of the trip (and riding down, one of the low points, but let's not dwell on that). We head out of Dingle Town on a long, steady uphill. SueP and I are indecisive about raingear, and Lee gets way ahead. We pass a stonemason building a wall. He picks up a rock, whacks chunks off of it with a mallet until he likes its shape, and places it on the wall. I stop at a bend and admire the last view of this side of the Dingle Peninsula. [That's the same bend I put on my rain jacket at while looking over Dingle town. -Lee] Sheep in the foreground, cow pastures around the town, then the town itself, Dingle Harbor with an unvisited lighthouse on top of one head, Dingle Bay, and finally the Ring of Kerry. I ride on, the wind practically pushing me up the road. Between the tailwind and low gears, the pass is an easy climb. As I get higher, I approach the bottom of the clouds. I enter the clouds. I stop for another view down, but can only see clouds. I wait for Sue to catch up, then go on. The road is so curvy and visibility so low that I soon lose her again. On the left, the mountain side climbs up a hundred feet or so, covered in rocks, peat, and an occasional sheep, before disappearing into the clouds. The hillside somehow manages to be simultaneously grey and luminous. On the right, there is pearly nothingness. I have the feeling that for all I know, the rest of the world could have disappeared, and what I can see is all that is left of the universe. I have the feeling that I have been here forever and will be here forever. Every rock, every blade of grass, seems twice as real as usual. The only sound is the rain and wind, so constant that it seems like no sound at all. I stop for another looksee at nothing, and to wait for Sue, and run into Lee returning. I go on while he goes down. The top isn't far beyond. There is a parking lot, and a low wall on the far side edging the drop where one can view the other side of the peninsula. Well, not today. I lean my bike (shower cap on seat! mine is foam and turns into a puddle when rained on) on the wall and see what I can see. The clouds thicken and thin unpredictably. In a moment of clarity, I see down to two lakes just below the top. It never clears enough to see them again. I turn back to look for Lee and Sue and am forced to walk backwards to the other side of the top. The wind is fierce. How did Lee manage to go down through it? Did he have to pedal downhill? Lee and Sue soon arrive and head down the far side. I follow but soon lose them, as I progress slowly due to wet brakes, sudden gusts of wind threatening to blow one over the side, and periodic stops to prevent my shoulder muscles from tearing into shreds (all that braking). -SueF] After I miss the waterfall (my brakes needed a rest (brakes? My hands need a rest!)) it blows us up a small incline in the middle of the descent to the north shore. My brakes start bumping probably due to crud on the rim joint. I stop and check the wheel for trueness, mistaking the crud for a loose spoke. I wish I knew where my winter gloves were. SueP and I huddle by a rock wall waiting for SueF who is more conservative on the downhills (watch that back, now). We haven't quite optimized our clothing for full rain. A little hindsight would call for the winter tights and winter booties. SueP is quite afraid of hypothermia so we stop at the first B&B we find. (This means I get to ride upwind along a rutted dirt road.) More of a resort in the decayed Catskills style, but smaller. The lights are on, but it is deserted. At the second B&B (Strand View House, Kilcummin (066-38131)) SueP quickly negotiates a room to change in and three towels all for £5. She's in there so fast that SueF and I are left standing on the welcome mat dripping for 15 minutes waiting to find out where she's gone. SueP doesn't hear us calling her and the landlady is also missing. After changing into dry clothes SueP notices we're missing. I switch my middle layer from a knit plastic to fleece. [I merely exchange my short-sleeved wool top and armwarmers for my longsleeved wool top, as it is too hard to haul up sinking armwarmers under raingear. Otherwise my wool has kept me soaked but warm. Chilly toes. I put toeclip covers on the bike and am fine after that. -SueF] SueP gets the wet-and-warm or wet-and-cold choice. ("I want to be dry." "Sorry".) The tailwind is now a cross wind but still makes riding easy. The rain is a great distraction from the ups and downs. On the other hand, the rain is cleaning out all the barnyards. The muddy water runs in sheets across the road. It is no longer a matter of riding around the cow dung in the street, but of dodging the spray of your wheels.
Passing the Scenic Road to Inch at Camp. [No chance of taking it in this rain. Okay to ride along or away from, but not into. -SueF] For most of the coast road, SueF has been riding quicker but stopping to relax her shoulder. After Camp, we stopped at a gas station/convenience store and SueP reminded us of lunch. [SueP? Hah! I had wanted to stop earlier to bolt a sandwich but SueP, always tuned toward survival, considered removing ourselves from the imminently life-threatening rain more important than risking mere hunger. Famished little me considered bonking rather more likely than dying from what had devolved to mere drizzle, and unilaterally pulled in at the gas station. Extracted from her bicycle, SueP immediately warmed to this idea (and shortly thereafter to the cocoa, ba-dum dum, ching). -SueF] Thoughts of drying up while eating soup in some restaurant (weren't any, anyway) were too horrible to imagine (going back into the rain afterward, that is). SueF and I masticated a ham and cheese sandwich in about 30 seconds. Then SueP came out and told us of the nice proprietor who opened up a fresh tin of Cadbury cocoa to make hot chocolate. Going back into the store we order more cocoa and buy some more lunch material. The owners show us to some plastic chairs in the corner of the convenience store. So there we sit, dripping in the corner. "No problem", say the owners. Perhaps the Irish are used to a wet rainy mess. Very hospitable people. They don't think there's much in Blennerville. While in the corner, we notice something called Mansize Kleenex. Same as regular, only bigger. Hasn't caught on in the States. My shower cap is gone. [At this point the rain is not so bad anymore, or at least, the wind is less. We had originally planned to circle around, recross the peninsula, and go to Killarney, or at least Castlemaine, to spend the night. As I look toward Castlemaine, though, the clouds look worse. We end up heading for Blennerville/Tralee. -SueF] The map shows the main road bypassing Blennerville, but we end up smack in the middle of it without even seeing a turn. Practically without seeing a town. One of the advantages of bicycle touring is that when you blink, you miss less than when you tour by car. There is at least one B&B and one beer garden in town. The narrow gauge train's station (concrete platform) is across from the Blennerville windmill but the train is not there. The windmill has a small tourist center complete with shops, café, and museum (interpretive center?). The current exposition is of Famine furniture (no teeth marks visible; nor ogham runes). Behind the windmill site a new commercial building is under construction. The tourist office in Tralee finds us a room at St. Joseph's B&B right in the middle of town. The town is a buzz due to overflow from the Ministers meeting in Killarney. The bathroom is tiny. The chair is far too nice to use in our wet condition. [Very well appointed B&B. Plush. Civilized. Red velvet wallpaper in the dining room. Fancy furniture. Poses problems for soaked bicyclists. When we arrive, the hostess makes subtle but unmisinterpretable inquiries ("It's a double and a single; will that be alright?"); I refrain from various possible wicked remarks and reassure her ("The two women will be sharing the double bed.") This is St. Joseph's, after all. -SueF] We pile all our wet belongings into the shower. No fat people allowed -- the door is about a foot wide. The landlady's washer is broken so SueP runs off to her Laundromat, while SueF and I wring out all the wool and plastic clothes. SueP has a wonderful time chatting with the locals. Our room now reeks of sheep. Turns out we all would have done well at the Laundromat because they have a centrifugal dryer: like an enhanced spin cycle; no heat. Hindsight. [We leave our wet wool draped over the best radiator/clotheslines we've had yet -- two triples of metal plates, the plates in each triple spaced just wide enough apart to hang clothing over each plate. Other places had single metal plates. -SueF] Dinner at Brogan(?) steak house, which the B&B owner recommended. Looks touristy to me. People were ordering and drinking Budweiser. Food is excellent, although I had good luck with burgers, in general.
Arguably our lamest day. We're on the road by the crack of noon, but we have accommodations lined up in Killarney. A really small road. [On the way to Dingle, we had taken a semi-main road which switchbacked its way up and mostly around the Slieve Mish Mountains. The topo map shows a straight road just east of that, and we take it, expecting to just miss the mountains. Hooray for low gears because -SueF] The road is straight so makes no attempt to switch back up hills to make them less steep. This is our first straight road. The sun glistens brilliantly off the wet road going up a steep hill after a rain shower. The Gap of Dunloe is visible way ahead and a little to the right. Also good views of Tralee behind us. Blackberries and mail on the downhill. In a tiny town I'm still checking my wheel and use SueP's for comparison. One of her rear spokes was loose. I tighten it and retrue the wheel. I adjust the rear brake. We check SueF's wheels and brakes but there's nothing to fix. SueP asks the general store owner for a bathroom. The store hasn't one, but we can use her house's down the street. Sue protests she wouldn't feel right going into the woman's house. No problem, the toilet is outside. SueP declines. A main road joins our straight road for 200 m and branches off again. We're still looking for a bathroom (no suitable off road sites lately) and while checking directions, SueP befriends a kitten. [Killarney is a small town. After hours of riding (puttering? it was a lame day) we're riding through the middle of the Irish outback, the next thing, the road turns suburban and every house is a B&B, and then we round a bend and there's the town. -SueF] Minor troubles finding the B&B. The landlady lets us use her hose to clean our bikes, but the stink of dung won't leave. There's too much of it in the streets from the jaunting carts.
Looking for lace, maps, family crests. We have heard there is a good lace shop in Killarney and check it out, but no one buys anything. [Pretty good lace, but who can afford any lace except the slave-wage Chinese kind? Well, sometimes you find good cheap stuff in antique stores in the States, but the supply is chancy. -SueF] The bookstore, at which we buy ice cream, sends us to the department store for maps. The other bookstore suggests the hiking outfitter's. One of SueP's family crests turns out to be roadkill. Honest. It's the head of a deer between tire tracks. There's no motto for the Dooley family either. Some of the plaques actually say "No motto available", right there in the fancy, curly banner type motto area; some programmer's idea of an error message I guess. Back in Albany, NY Sue finds out that the Dooley family is one of the older ones so the lack of motto is understandable. Her other crest is seven stars on a blue field.
Dinner at Celtic restaurant, across from the lace shop. Mead. Authentic food. Salmon and chicken wrapped in a flour tortilla? Tasty. [Four kinds of Celtic cuisine: Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Breton. Lee has Breton pancakes. I remember them fondly from Brittany many years ago. Yum. I get a stew. The Welsh one? Lamb, I think. Delicious. -SueF] Guinness at Failte Inn. Blues band (middle aged guitarist, electric base, computerized percussion) plays some rock (Steely Dan, Van Morrisson, Santana) then some blues. ("OK, I think we've done the obligatory rock numbers, now let's play some blues".) Guitarist speaks with brogue, sings without. Good blues guitar.
We determine that it's the end of the line for the Protogs wool leg warmers. No fault of Protogs (except for going out of business), they're just too old and worn. [Hey! We do not so determine! Okay, so I had to do a little darning. So maybe SueP decides not to borrow my extra pair anymore. But mine are still fine! And a lot less holey than my shortsleeved Protogs shirt. -SueF]
[All the tour books have agreed that Killarney is a small and dull town, but that the mountains around it are beautiful beyond imagining, due to all the water. History is made as we discover the tour books are actually correct. Due to yesterday's lameness, we have only one day, and decide to ride up to Moll's Gap and back. -SueF] Did we mention that the ministers had just left from Killarney during which time the farmers had staged a protest which included an unruly mob scene of which much press was made trying to embarrass the farmers (who ostensibly had the moral high ground, issue-wise)? Rain threatens but we stop at Torc waterfall trail. The bathrooms are closed, but the waterfall is nearby (200m). The path beyond the waterfall right out of Tolkien. [The ground is all over moss and ferns. The trees are all over moss and ferns. Moss on the north side. Moss on the south side. Moss all over the young saplings, even, and their branches, and ferns growing right out of the sides of the trees. The moss covered rocks certainly look like leprechauns, or elves, or dwarves. Did Tolkien visit here? -SueF] Gazing at the lough and beyond we see the spire of the Killarney church glowing in the sun.
The rain gets heavier as we return to the bikes but fizzles as we ride up the road. [(Musical Tour) -SueF] The road side substitutes for a bathroom. While stopped, gusts of wind try to persuade the twisted trees to break and fall on our mounts. The other side of the road portends things to come. Lunch on Upper Lough. The rain has stopped entirely and the sun shines brilliantly. The wind is really blowing (from the west). You can see dark clouds in the west. You know you'll get a closer view of those. Just beyond the east end of the lough is a tiny parking area with a small path that leads to some jagged tilted rocks forming a tiny point (and associated "harbor"). We take the bikes half way and sit out on the rock. We'd look out to the west but the wind would be in our eyes, so we look south and east toward the mountains which form the Gap of Dunloe and towards the lower lakes. A lone bird fights its way up wind. Some tiny church at the intersection of the hiking trail (it is only paved for the first hundred meters). Ratty castle. Another typical Irish ruin, we name this Ratty Castle. We despair of finding stonework that matches our mind's eye image of a "real" castle. (Don't even think about the Loire valley). Ladies View. SueP needs a coffee stop. Sheep fleeces be sold here. The view really is gorgeous. Without my really noticing, we are looking down on the Upper Lough and the lower lakes by Killarney. [We ride on and attain a high, semi-flat section. It opens out across a high valley (but not as high as us) to the right, where the lakes have devolved to a stream. A lone house looks like the Last Homely House until I ride a little further and see another Last Homely House then another They are neatly spaced far enough apart to be almost, but not quite, desolate. -SueF] A short downhill stretch leads past a small lough on the left and an abandoned store/guest house on the right. All the shutters are painted black. Crow birds are here. Quite a setting with the grey misty sky and a headwind.
Moll's gap is really a gap. They've ka-chunked out an extra 4 meters of rock where the road passes from the Killarney side to the Kenmare side. I want a picture of the "Molls" standing in the gap, but SueP wants one of the Felshins. She hesitates and we have to jump off the road several times to avoid traffic. I'm interrupted from taking gap pictures by rainbows which keep forming over the valley. I don't buy a sport coat at Avoca. I don't have dressy clothes. I prefer to be doing things which require moving or being exposed to nature. On the other hand, sitting in cafés and pubs has potential. I do buy a scarf after SueF touches it, starts petting it uncontrollably. Despite the lateness of the hour (1:30 pm) we have lunch upstairs at the Avoca café. Our seats have a commanding view north and west. Lunch is a large selection of salads and desserts accompanied by soup.
[We head down. I go a hundred yards along the Sneem road to see what I can see, and Lee follows me while SueP gets a head start on us. Around the bend is another long view and winding descent. We turn back and head homeward. (Musical Tour.) The tourbuses are now headed in our direction -- or is it the other way? -- at any rate they let us know, as they pass, that they're only letting us live because they happen to feel like it. Beautiful views on the way back down but it all goes by much too quickly. -SueF] [On the downhill, speed is limited by nerves and preference, so we can go as fast as the cars if we wish. -Lee] [A little behind Lee, I slow and keep to the edge to let a car pass me, then watch as the car is stuck behind oblivious (or unconcerned? unmoved, in any case :-) Lee for most of a mile. -SueF] Pinch flat. And I've just added air to the tire yesterday. Sheesh. Natch, the sky picks this 15 minutes to relieve itself of some rain. SueP has cruised down already and waits for us 40 minutes at the entrance to Muckross House. Through a huge combination of bad luck and bad design, we manage to miss the tour of the house by 15 minutes. Despite SueP's nearly biting the head off the doorman. The low sun over Muckross Lake and onto the grounds is stunning. All the grounds are landscaped. Little garden paths; huge old trees placed just so. The whole impression is similar to the grand mansions in the Hudson River valley. In fact, much of Ireland is reminiscent of home. The rolling hills, the farms, the greenery. Dinner at Café ? Head waitress gives us bill before our desserts arrive. We sleep through the lunar eclipse, despite the picture window by the bed.
We manage to get up early enough to get to the train station (before the train). I lead the way and get to the parking lot in front of the station but fail to find the building. The Sues see it immediately. After some haggling with the clerk we get tickets. Turns out we were given a bum steer by the Westport clerk. Iarnrod Eireann gets a few extra punts out of the deal. On the train we discover that the schedule really doesn't make any sense, but our two minute change in Limerick Junction becomes manageably longer. I believe I see the Devil's Punch Bowl off to the south. That is a small lake surrounded on 3-1/2 sides by high cliffs. It's part of the mountain range in Killarney Park. We search for pigs in the fields but see none. We are getting suspicious.
Limerick is the largest city we ride through. Of course the traffic is challenging. [None of the streets are labeled. Most of the streets are either one way, or this lane left/right/straight only, or both. People drive like maniacs and pay no attention to the law. This Boston girl feels right at home. -SueF] The milk market is not in session. The Poste is out for lunch. The vegetable market has no lunch foods. No suitable sandwich shops appear so we head off to Bunratty due to my impression that food will be available on the main road (not much though). Guess we aren't real city folks. Leaving town we pass by the tourist information center and then a right turn on to the Ennis road. In large letters in the crosswalks is written "Look Right" so fresh tourists from outside the empire aren't squashed by right hand drive vehicles. A small lunch shop is on the last block before the bridge over the Shannon. We purchase lunch "to go". They have sandwiches but it's hard to tell what your choices are, since there's no menu and the cold cuts are hidden behind the salads. The bridge is quite wide (has a sort of Charles River feel to it) and passes over what looks like a lock. They are restoring a large house which appears to have been the lock keeper's. Tall stone walls border the river. Either the tide is low or a dam has broken down stream. There are rapids upstream. The clouds, which have just sent us some rain drops, move away and we stop in a small park on the other side of the Shannon for lunch. The couscous salad has way too much vinegar. The rest is good, though. Awesome chocolate dessert things. The Ennis road soon joins the N17. The N17 is the first limited access highway we've ridden on. The first we've seen really (except for 30 seconds from the plane). Two lanes in each direction. A real shoulder, nearly as wide as a lane. A real headwind. Oops, we've seen those. I draft SueF for a while. She seems content to lead, but I pass her after a while. We lose SueP when she overheats. After removing rain gear, we're back in the pace line. Non stop to Bunratty. Pretty impressive considering neither Sue is comfortable drafting (or has much experience). The power of the wind. [At Bunratty we thank Lee. "The best draught I've had in Ireland," I tell him. In fact the only good one :-). -SueF]
After dodging a truck off the overpass we manage to glide past the last Avoca shop (061-364029), past a resortish motel, lots of billboards, and lo, on the left is a castle. No fence or moat. No door. Same cubic architecture, but much bigger than the rest. Durty Nellies is just beyond. On the right is some sort of inn/restaurant. We circle about looking for the entrance and eventually ride down the left between the castle and Nellies. A stone wall prevents our access to the castle grounds. After a quarter mile we are rewarded with a large parking lot and the visitors' center. Parking the bikes presents a small problem. We are worried about our gear and all the tourists. Most of the last two weeks we've been totally isolated from civilization (or have the bikes safely tucked away at the B&B). Now, we have to tour first and go to B&B second (it's getting late again). Just before locking our bikes to a light pole we notice security cameras on the pole. So we move from the middle of the lot to the far edge. Now the guards can watch someone walk off with our stuff.
Bunratty castle is the largest castle we see. Also the best preserved (having been restored this century). It is also overrun by tourists (it is next to Limerick and Shannon Airport). To get in you must pay £4.50. There is also a recreated village with stone houses, thatched roofs, stores, whatnot. The castle is impressive. The gift shop is lame. We tag along with some school girls in burgundy outfits who are being guided by a tiny Irish young lady in a blue hoop(?) dress of period style. [Yes, but what period? Cross between several, with lots made up. And very obvious zipper. -SueF] Each corner of the castle has a spiral stair. A fifth stair is by the front gate. For some reason, the tour guide tells us exactly how many steps before taking us up any of these. Not sure of the point of the dungeon. Watch out for that eleventh step, it's a lulu. It be easier to just kill the prisoner. I guess throwing them in the dungeon pretty much was easy enough. The castle is filled with the smell of bread and stew from the banquet planned in the evening. The guide claims that the hay in the soldiers' room was only changed twice a year. The "kings" mostly lived in the house down the street; the castle not being at all comfortable. [While Lee and SueP are still investigating the roof, I hear another tour guide tout this castle's big feature: you're allowed to touch. Stipulated when it was made a public castle. You can sit in the chairs, climb up to the parapets, everything. I cease to feel guilty about peeking at the back of a tapestry. (Lined; couldn't see a thing, rats.) Now I understand why they let us up on the roof. Would never happen in the States for reasons of liability. Despite the added handrail, the worn, narrow, tortuous circular stairs are not for the fat or clumsy. I feel for the original inhabitants, having to run up and down these stairs, and along the even more dangerous rooftop stairs, probably carrying pots of boiling oil. -SueF] The moat has been abandoned over the years. There is a depression, but no water. The river is quite a few feet down from this level. We tour the recreated village. [A little like Plimoth Plantation. Actually, probably more like Sturbridge Village, which I've never been to. I talk to a blacksmith at work and he admits that the horseshoe he's banging at will not be used. They have recreated farmer's, fisherman's, and burgher's houses of various eras and opulence (mostly lack thereof). Even a poor farmer's house was much larger than the tumbledown ruin I saw on the Sky Road; this house was very small, but livable. -SueF] Beyond the gift shop is a recreated town with school and shops. Some of the shops sell crafts but it's just about closing time.
The Volvo ride to dinner. The ??? B&B was recommended to us for lodging by the August bike tour crowd. It being booked we ended up about a mile down the road. A fine relatively new house (the shower leaks onto the floor -- don't leave your clothes there). While debating whether to walk or ride back to the castle area for dinner we asked the proprietor about restaurant options. She recommended the other restaurant (not Nellie's, that the August tour recommended) and insisted we catch a ride into "town" with her husband, who was going out any way. By the time we'd changed, he'd gone, so she insisted on having her son do the driving. This added a new complexion to the tip question (do you tip? How much?). The son turns out to look like a teenager. The Saab 900 is gone but a Volvo 940 has replaced it. Far cries from the 1.3 liter Fords and Vauxhalls and Nissans we've seen scampering around the roads. We let SueP ride shotgun so she can chat up the driver. Her first ride in a right hand drive car after all. The kid cruises down the road with wild abandon swerving into the other lane to miss pedestrians or signs on the side of the road (no shoulders, remember). "Into the other lane"? Ha. The car is a lane and a quarter wide to begin with. On coming traffic is a treat, too. While obtaining his history (he's been living in the States for awhile) SueP asks him about insurance and licensing requirements in Ireland. There's some sort of a test you have take. He's planning to take it next year. SueF and I trying not to giggle in the back seat.
The restaurant is in a suitably decadent building. Calling the states (once you get used to the dial tones, it's a no brainer -- dial ATT's local access number). Guinness and salmon. After dinner we walked over to Durty Nellie's for a Guinness. It's located across the river (stream) from the castle and has apparently been in operation since 1642 (or thereabouts). This is the only bar that draws a shamrock in the foam. It's standing room only. There was an Irishman or two but most of the clientele were tourists about to leave on our flight. One of the runners from the Guinness half marathon recognizes us as Americans. A couple from the NY area tell us what's happened the last two weeks in the NFL and college football games in the U.S. SueP and SueF sing the song of the lowland lowland lowland sea, but argue over who the enemy is. [I am correct, of course. Pop quiz. Do you know who it is? SueP is also wrong about what sea they are on. -SueF] I almost get into a political discussion when I ask the man next to me when the Spanish owned Holland. I make the mistake of mentioning William of Orange, which sets the gentleman to talking of Orangemen. We do find out that the man is from The Burren (Bronx move over) and lives near Lahinch. A dark walk back, which would have been perfect had I gone to the bathroom recently.
Breakfast at the B&B was slightly better than usual. By this time (the last day) SueF had figured out that porridge (oatmeal) was available if you asked for it. We did so. Self service cold cereal and mini yogurts (some Yoplait product which called itself fromage) about the size of a large strawberry (guess the flavor). [The label indicated it was some sort of yogurt-free soft cheese. Odd. -SueF] [I couldn't tell the difference. -Lee] We asked Mrs. D'Arcy (the owner) the pig question.
Have you ever seen a pig?
Uh, come to think of it, not in a long time. I did see some on a farm many years ago.
We also asked the other guests.
Have you seen any pigs in Ireland?
[immediately, but in a slow voice] Yes.
[stunned amazement from us] [pause]
[still slowly] Stuffed. In a shop. [they smile wickedly]
SueP was first to the bikes and got them out of the shed where they spent the night protected from rain drops. I found mine leaning against the house between two piles of cat poo. Another paceline down the N17 and Shannon access road (hitting 15 mph for a while, too) and we were at the airport. Checking in was first order, then getting boxes, packing, and finally, postcards and shopping. The Aer Lingus rep balked at my tickets. Either World took my return coupon in Newark or they'd never sent me one. Their ticketing procedure was so screwed up I didn't properly check. The rep disappeared to check with her manager. When she returned she told me I needed to speak to Mic Donnelan. They'd paged him (though I hadn't heard it) and then tried him at home. I asked about this since, hey, World's out of business, and he might have skipped the country. The Aer Lingus rep didn't seem to think there was a problem, Mic's wife didn't notice anything strange this morning. Obviously he was still in the country recently, so I decided to give him an hour before I got excited. We still had 4 hours before our flight. SueP didn't take this news so well. After all, she'd complained to me a few days ago that the scrap of paper from World wasn't a ticket, even though I assured her it was. I went over to the SRS office to see if Mic was in. He wasn't so SueF and I started the box retrieval process. This meant changing a £10 note into two 5's to use as a tip for the hotel staff. The restaurant told us to take a hike to the bank. I should mention that prior to our beginning to retrieve boxes, SueP began her own crusade for tickets. First she wanted to find out if we could reserve seats in case World didn't issue a new ticket. We talked to Aer Lingus who said that we were definitely booked and were just missing tickets. They'd be happy to sell us such for money (£800 it turns out). Then we went to Mic Donnelan's office. He still wasn't there. Sue grilled an SRS employee and found out that SRS isn't really Mic's office, he doesn't have an office (he wanders around the airport), and he doesn't even have a desk. "No wonder World is bankrupt", screams Sue. After a little more of this we determine that we can leave a message for Mic to page us. Now back to boxes. Right before the bank is the news stand. SueF goes there, I go to the Bank of Ireland (Banc na Eirann). While on line there I hear our page. Abandoning SueF, I run back to SRS. Mic has our note. I tell him I was on World and have a small problem, "No ticket". He's not sure that is a small problem until he sees the receipt. He can fix it but needs a few minutes. He goes off to a back room. I bop outside the office and see SueP waving and collect her. Turns out she's been up to no good with Aer Lingus, and hasn't heard the page (must be a problem on that end of the airport). Not able to wait to see if Mic Donnelan will ever show up (other Aer Lingus employees have given her more generic versions of his tale: his job is nearly over (when the last World scheduled flights are done), he only shows up once in a while, no one's seen him today) Sue has been hammering at Aer Lingus to find substitute World representatives. [We had to call Mic Donalilin, the last remaining world employee, at home to see if he could arrange for our departure. the problem was not one person from SRS or Air Linguis could tell us if this person really was expected to show up at the airport."he usually walks around"...messages?? -SueP] She tells me she's been complaining to them about their procedures for dealing with missing tickets. After a few minutes Mic shows up with a new scrap of paper that he says will get us boarding passes. He has to take our coupon receipts though. We go back to the Aer Lingus rep and she gets her supervisor's OK. Unfortunately we can't check in because our luggage isn't ready. I make SueP apologize to the other Aer Lingus rep but she qualifies it. "I was upset, but ". Meanwhile SueF has gotten the 5's from the news stand and we are off to the Great Southern Hotel for our boxes. It takes three porters and two managers to find first the room the boxes are stored in and then the keys to the lock on that room. It takes 4 trips to the office to get the right key ring. What a feeling when the key slips in and turns in one smooth motion. Our porter is from Lahinch area and going to school in Galway. The airport area is boring for him. He refuses a tip, but offers to help us move the boxes across the street to the airport. He takes one, and Sue and I take the other two. Sue gives him the 5 anyway ("buy your friends some beers"). SueP has her pedals off. Frenzied taping ensues. SueF leaves, but when we finish packing our bikes we find her jacket is still here. I decide not to chase onto the plane to return it but just then SueF runs up. We shove the jacket at her and she runs back.
Got a little upset when I found out there was no Poste at the airport and that I'd have to buy stamps from the machine. It takes punts and gives 3 32p stamps and a 4p. Great for letters, eh. Oddly, 4 punts gives me the right number of stamps for our 7 left over cards. I boiled putting 64p on a 38p postcard. 40p (one 32 and two 4s) wasn't so bad. Decided definitely not to write any more cards at the airport.
Shopping is interrupted by declaring at emigration. The authorities wanted everyone early to avoid the rush when boarding was announced. Only a little awkward since we haven't completed our purchases (What is the value of goods you are taking?). This fine point was lost on me (the amounts involved being certain to be below the thresholds). The duty free shop has all manner of stuff you can get anywhere. The curse of living in the US, the world's greatest merchandiser. (That reminds me, I've got to get to the mall.) There are a few Irish crafts. Woolens, drums with knot work patterns. There are no good sport coats in my size.
The last Pint of Guinness.
After boarding the plane we engage in the usual inspecting the magazines and safety card rituals. It's an L1011. (Forgotten about those? -- there were three of them in a row. Never having seen more than one, I wasn't sure they were real.) No empty seats this trip. A quiet young girl with a dark blue Irish style wool sweater and a claddagh ring gets seat C. After a long time just sitting the captain explains that some blighter's been bounced by US immigration. They're going to have to take his luggage out of the hold. Should take 15 extra minutes. Sure, if it's the last bag loaded. Forty-five later, we taxi off. I'm too confused to figure out our estimated time of arrival. Very noisy flight. All spirits on the plane are used up. The half marathoners are partying. The captain has to tell people to stop clogging up the aisles so the stewardesses can move the beverage carts. Nova Scotia is seen briefly, and Long Island, but the rest of the Atlantic is under clouds. We make our neighbor cry. She has seen pigs. [What?! Where?!! -SueF] [On a farm. Toward the east I think. She spent the whole summer in Ireland. Wanted to stay. -Lee]
The long walk through immigration. Customs is a joke. Neither Ireland, nor the US checked our bike boxes. The U.S. did check some people's luggage though. Ireland let us wander in and out at will. After customs, you drag your two bike boxes down another hallway and through some more doors. These open into a large room filled with people. The way to the exit is kept clear by barriers on either side of the walking route. The barriers are wood for the first 4 feet then glass. So all these hundreds of people are watching you drag your bike boxes out to daylight. Sort of like running in the NY marathon. Due, I suppose, to the vagaries of airline scheduling, most of the attending crowd is hispanic. As we clear the end I can see my cousin Ariel smiling and waving. What a great feeling. Back on familiar ground. Not that Ireland was frightening or disconcerting at all. Traveling by plane across international borders is. Ireland is more of an economic shock. The small roads and cars. The barren landscape. Mass merchandising in its infancy. I don't remember much culture shock. The people speak English, drink and eat common food, watch sports. Or maybe I've been hanging out at O'Neil's [Irish Pub] too much. They did sponsor our soccer team.
At JFK Ariel tells us that when he called Aer Lingus to confirm our landing time that the message said that all flights were now flying. Apparently, they had suspended flights on Tuesday or Wednesday because of a bomb threat. Excellent steak at the Outback, and free drinks and dessert.
After realizing I'd left my jacket, I wasted 5 minutes trying to find someone to ask if I had 5 minutes to run back for my jacket. I eventually found someone who told me, well, yes, but hurry. On returning (with only a minor panic at how long it takes to get through customs, or whatever they call it where you have to declare what you're taking home), I found 10 people still waiting in line to board, so that was okay. That was the start of my fascinating opportunity to observe pathological human behavior. The line was being held up by this guy who was arguing with the woman at the gate over whether or not he could take on his suit bag and two large carry-on bags (of the size that if the plane isn't too full, they let you carry one that big on). "They let me carry them on before." The plane was late and the woman finally let him take his bags on because she didn't want to delay the flight any longer. Undoubtedly that's why the previous flight let him carry them on.
With him out of the way, we boarded quickly, and I made my way to my window (yay!) seat. With an aisle seat next to it. In which is seated -- you guessed it -- the guy with the luggage. Actually, he's not seated yet because he's too busy stuffing his bags into overhead luggage compartments over other people's seats. Let's hope they don't have much carry-on luggage. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the whole way home. But I amused myself, when not reading a book (which had traveled untouched in my panniers all the way through Ireland), by observing this guy's behavior. He buttonholed passing stewardesses to joke with them and make flirtatious comments. (He was about forty and paunchy, with the sort of beard which some guys grow to look younger, less double-chinned, and more virile. He clearly thought he was a sexy guy. He made no passes at over-thirty, make-up-less, silicone-free, non-blond me, dressed in a much-patched bike wool shirt and polyester slacks.) They were polite to him but escaped as quickly as possible since they had work to do. He told one of them about how he'd be making a big duty-free purchase when they came through with the duty-free carts. I was making as little conversation with him as possible since I considered him horribly rude, but with the stewardesses gone, he was willing to settle for me to impress with his importance. He explained how he had to bring presents back for every one at the office (subtext: "see what a great guy I am? see how hard I work?"). He almost missed this flight -- he had to run across the airport ("you should feel sorry for me; someone as important as me shouldn't have to run"). He was in Ireland to play golf ("see? I'm virilely athletic"). Oh, at least there'll be a good movie (compulsive talker; by the way, the movie was "Mission Impossible"; I told him quellingly that I'd heard it wasn't very good; as for me, I liked the show as a kid and I was looking forward to a chance to find out for free if it was as bad as I'd heard). [It was so good, I completely forgot we saw it (couldn't understand a word of the audio). -Lee]
Finally he takes out his reading material. Natch, I read over his shoulder. It's a self-help book: "Have you ever wondered why some people are successful in life while other people aren't? Well, I've discovered the secret to being successful: all you need is to follow my 10 [or however many] rules. These rules apply to any kind of business, but to save you time, I've tailored them exactly to you." Oh, god! It turns out it's an Amway salesman tract! It keeps on in this vein for pages. He reads slowly. The print is large. By page thirty or forty, we finally get to the first rule. Turns out to be "You must believe you will succeed." The author tells some idiotic "inspirational" story about his three-year-old son figuring out the secret of success in life. Barf. We are interrupted by in-flight service. The captain announced the duty-free carts will be making their rounds. The duty-free cart goes up the aisle. I wonder why he doesn't stop the cart, but don't say anything, since he couldn't possibly have missed it. Later, it comes down the aisle. He stops it now. I need 8 T-shirts. What do you mean you don't have 8 left? I'm sorry, sir But I need 8! We have 7. That's no good! I have to get presents for 8 people! I'm sorry, sir I said earlier I'd be making a big duty-free purchase! You did, sir? (Probably not to this stewardess, and he just mentioned it -- didn't ask then to be served specially, and anyway, it's a big plane. Why should she remember?) Well, what am I supposed to do now?!, he demands Two stewardesses end up scrambling all over the plane to try to find more T-shirts, suggest other merchandise to him, and generally try to keep him from having a fit. He's really angry. I bet he, or at least his subconscious, was having a great time. It's so important to him to appear wounded that he even complains about it to me. (Ah?, I say non-committally, buried in my book but not reading.) Finally he runs out of ploys to keep them catering to him and subsides. The movie starts without either of us noticing. He complains while I put on my earphones. Then he puts his on. Yes, the movie is as bad as I'd heard. For no discernible reason, when it is over they replay the last 15 minutes. I read my book.
Soon we will land. He interrupts a stewardess to ask her if he can move his luggage near the front of the plane so he could deplane more quickly and make his connection. ("I'm important. I have to make my connection. Treat me special.") No, he can't. (Wouldn't speed things anyway unless he was willing to climb over people. Hmm ) We land. We deplane. Behind me, I hear a woman tell her husband, "look, he got to take all that luggage on. Why couldn't we?" I drop back next to her and explain to her sotto voce that she too can carry on that luggage -- but only if she's willing to be as obnoxious as him. I explain about boarding. She is mollified. I wait for my baggage. The unshakable Mr. Really Important comes by and asks me to watch his bags while he does something Really Important. ("I'm important. And sexy. And successful. You who are not should be quivering with happiness at the chance to serve me.") I tell him I have no idea how long I'll be standing here, so I can't watch his bags. He acts put upon, but goes away.
Really, the trip would have been quick boring without this guy. Unless, of course, I'd been next to someone nice, thoughtful, intellectual, observant of the natural world, funny, or possessed of any of the other qualities that makes a person interesting to be with. But hey -- what a story he left me with.
My friends of the minivan couldn't pick me up because it was the day of the Sudbury Fair. Which I would have been at if not for Ireland. As would have Scott (Volvo station wagon), if he hadn't been going to go to Spain, but then his company pulled that unfair Japan trick, but fortunately for me, by that time he had forgotten all about the Fair and agreed to pick me up.
Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig. Kili is in raptures to have me and my lap back.]
Nonfat whipped cream(?) at IHOP. And this not far from the huge Tuscan milk depot by Route 22 and GSP.
Sue confides that she never expected to return from the Ireland trip.
Sue catnaps (kidnaps cats). Dropping Sue off, she insists on going by Lisa's to visit "the boys". Gina's car is parked in front but there is no sign of life except Noir's butt disappearing up the stairs. After unloading, Sue returns. No one is home yet, but Noir cries at the windows. Sue also cries. She opens the window and both cats jump out. She puts them back but they jump out again. She takes them home. (Lisa gives a post facto OK and is rightly concerned at the security of her apartment.)
Sue gets culture shock at the Price Chopper supermarket.
|Day||Distance km||Average Speed km/h||end point|
SueP reports 407 miles. My total is 439.
Includes size in bytes. Sure, looking at these pictures, you're going to ask, "Is Ireland really deserted? There is no one there." Yes, pretty much, it is deserted. [Yeah, but I was impressed by Lee's ability to photograph O'Brien's Tower at the Cliffs of Moher sans people. There were lots there. -SueF] Many of the people we saw were actually tourists (primarily from the U.S. and Germany). Mind you we skipped the cities, but Ireland's most famous export is people.
>From NJ/Pa: Lili Nathan, Jack Brohal; Dan and Carol Keefe; the four women: Sue Miller, Muriel Mota, Barbara Klag, Roberta Auerbach.
>From NY: Lee Felshin, Sue Payette.
>From MA: Sue Felshin.
I hauled about 35 pounds (16 kg) of gear. SueP took 25 lbs. Here are some observations:
Panniers: SueF's BN panniers were well liked. They include a pocket which zips off and becomes a fanny pack. Some German tourists were seen with waterproof panniers which had just one big compartment. My Kangaroo bags are dying (the wood has broken on the right side one (see rack trunks, below).
Rack Trunks: Difficult to install with panniers on. And vice versa.
Shifter/Gears: The Campy Mirage appeared corroded and worked poorly after being exposed to salt, dust, oil, rain, sand, and road grit. The brake hoods can move and interfere with downshifting.
Wheels: the Deb built rear wheels required retruing after spokes loosened.
Cyclometers: the Trek and Avocet meters performed flawlessly. SueF's Vetta worked intermittently.
Clothing: Microfiber rain/wind coat worked great. The Performance "Triflex" was good in rain. SueF liked her wool. Arm and leg warmers were very convenient for adjusting to different temperatures.
Frames: The Bianchi Eros is stiff and quick with or without load. Deb can't fix a seat post binder to save her life. I had to redo both Bianchis. Luckily, I found the parts. (Sue's was fixed prior to leaving for Ireland.)
Pumps: The Zefal HP-X isn't that light and takes 75-100 strokes to pump up a tire.
Fenders: A couple of mountain bikers had a nice clip on device made from a liter or 2 liter carbonated beverage bottle and two clips which clips to the down tube.
Lights: Cateye micro halogens light up a nice spot. SueP used hers in the rain, too? Blinker LED lights are good but must be aimed properly to be seen.
Clothes: Goretex pants were too hot or too cold or rubbed too much. Triflex tights and socks worked great in cool rainy weather. Microfiber jacket was reasonably breathable and wind resistant; shed rain well; great combination with polartec 200.
Cleats: SueP, SueF, Mom and Jack used toe clips. I had Speedplay Frog pedals. Everyone else had SPD. I heard no complaints from the clipless crowd. Try not to take brand new shoes.
We didn't even set foot in a bicycle shop during our entire 2 weeks. So we can't tell you what parts are stocked. The other bicyclists we saw seemed to have mountain bikes with Shimano equipment. We compiled a list from some guidebooks. We did ride past John Mannion's shop.
Jack Brohal's poem.
Nashbar wind gloves missing in action.
Server works but mail system zombies out (still running but won't respond). Restarting it fixes.
Annabel's box was filled and her bowl was empty. When I first got home she was sleeping. After a minute or two she woke, meowed and came out tentatively ('til she saw it was me).
Haven't gotten the Discover bill, yet. My mail is being held by the mailman. Don't know if, when, or what World will/did charge my card. Got mail Tuesday. World charged 830 something to me. No wonder they went out of business. This is $100 per ticket less than they quoted me when I agreed to buy the tickets.
Sue Payette was running all over the soccer field tonight (10/1/96). Haven't seen her move that well in a while. She says her skills are rusty.
The Bianchi really flies around town.
Just found out (10/1/96) I only took 2 spare spokes but had two spares for my old bike's wheels along also. Buried deep in the pannier from days gone by (can it really be 10 years ago).<--! Joan Carter told me today (10/3/96) that she was surprised to find out I went on vacation (I hadn't told many people, and I hadn't told them in advance (Larry Paggi's office was surprised too). When she mentioned it to some of the ladies in the office they said yes, I was on vacation, AND to Ireland. Apparently, they couldn't understand why any non Irish person would go. Of course, Joan pressed them on the reason they were surprised I would go to Ireland, but they revealed no rationale. Joan speculated about other countries I could visit that were "more catholic". -->
Kallen got a mystery post card from someone in Ireland. Turns out to be Mom's.
Our sweaters arrive 10/31/96. I'm so happy to see them. Sue wears hers three days in a row. "I take it off to sleep." You do just want to pet them. BTW, Sue's turns out to have a decidedly rock-wall-like pattern knit in. Yikes.
Collin's mini dictionary has a lot more English words than Irish words (not really a surprise). The Irish spellings are not what I remember nor are the definitions quite what I'd thought they'd be.
On November 23, 1996, Muriel Mota hosts a party at her home. Everyone but SueF is able to attend. Lots of pictures are looked at before and after Guinness (from cans) and Irish stew.
December 1, 1996. SueP's bike is still boxed.
Copyright © 1996, Lee Felshin and Sue Felshin
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