August 26th: Refreshed after a day off the bike and lots of great conversations with Rita that began to help me sort out some of what I was emotionally feeling on this cycle, I set off from Rosses Point to Killala in Co. Mayo. I realised I was- metaphorically speaking- taking my life in my hands as I placed my Kerry flag in my bike. It was the replay of the drawn match between Kerry and Mayo and I knew there would be a great desire for Mayo to win. As I cycled through Mayo I think most people must have gone to support their team as it was very quiet on the roads. I saw one other Kerry flag on route …we were in the minority and in the end Mayo won. Sad and all as I was for Kerry not to win I could not begrudge Mayo another chance at the All Ireland. That was to be played on the final day of my cycle.
It was a dull morning with a heavy mist as I left Sligo town heading for Strandhill. This cycle was the first on familiar roads as I had often driven here on my way to teach in Sligo. It actually felt good inside to know for once where I was going, at least this first stage into Strandhill. It was very quiet as I stood looking at the waves that relentless roll onto the beach here and provide surfers with so much delight.
From here I headed to Balisodare, Easky and Enniscrone. I was now back on unfamiliar territory. I stopped at a church fête near Balisodare and bought myself coffee and some lovely brown bread. I was so enthuastic about the homemade breads and cakes, home grown fruit and veg that I made the fatal mistake of stocking up only to realise I now had quite a bit of extra weight to carry. Well at least I was assured I’d have a good supply of wholesome food for the next few days!!!
The cycle was interesting in that most of it was damp and dull with little or no wind and hardly a hill to be seen. My first day of flat cycling. The views across the bay to Donegal were beautiful and interesting to realise I had been looking the opposite way two days earlier.
I arrived in Killala in the late afternoon and found I had booked into a very quaint B&B over a pub full of Mayo supporters. The building was very old and the room had a slight tilt to the left which gave the impression that I was moving sideways as I walked around the room!! Even in bed I thought I would slide out of it.
Killala had an air of old fashionedness about it, as if I had stepped back in time. It had lots of pubs, one supermarket I could find and a really lovely restaurant. I had a delicious meal there. It was such a new thing for me to eat in a classy restaurant on my own. This cycle is throwing up opportunities for me to experience many new things. I have spent so much of my life doing things on my own and yet I never experienced being alone in doing them. This cycle has such a different quality of aloneness to it. I think it is the constancy of it …I cycle on my own, I eat on my own and I stay in the B&Bs on my own, I talk to myself. It truly is shining a light on an aspect of my life I have lived yet not fully experienced before.
Over the last year I paid a lot of attention to getting physically fit, to be able for the amount of cycling required. Now I have no worries about completing the cycle and am not questioning my fitness. On the other hand I paid only cursory attention to the mental side of the cycle. I think because I was cycling in Ireland I didn’t imagine for a moment being lonely or lost. Maybe if I’d been going abroad it would have dawned on me. Anyway I now am beginning to accept it is part and parcel of this trip -just like the wind! I meditated on staying brave and acknowledging the aloneness as a way to give myself support. I developed the manta “Courage before me, courage to my right, courage to my left, courage behind me, courage above me, courage below me. Courage in my body especially my legs, courage in my heart and courage in my mind.” I recited this over and over as I pedalled the highways and by ways. I felt the words slowing sinking in as the days passed.
Thankfully this part of the journey had stunning views as I spent quiet an amount of time “lost”. Again the WAW signage was totally inadequate and I just had to find a way to keep trusting myself as I cycled up and down tiny roads some with grass growing up the middle! The WAW is definitely not organised around solo cyclists. I met absolutely no one for the first half of the day. I truly wondered did anyone live in this part of Mayo. The trip from Ballycastle to Belmullet was very tough. I realise I find cycling hours of bogland very challenging and lonely. Somehow the landscape as in South Donegal gives off the feel of deep sadness and emptiness. I could not find a pub or coffee shop open so I had lunch by the side of the road in Pól a Thómas. My purchases at the fête in Balisodare were feeding me well and I was also lightening my load.
The weather deteriorated by the time I reached my B&B in Belmullet. I could hardly see around me with rain and the wind was blowing a gale. To this day I do not fully know what kind of B&B I stayed in. Again I only had text contact with whoever owns the house. The key was under the potted plant and I was the only person there. My room was lovely and big but so weird to have a house to myself. I found out in the morning that it was bed only as there was no sign of a breakfast anywhere!
28th August. I left this strange bed and no breakfast house around 9.30am. I kept putting off leaving as it was so wet and windy. Finally I decided I had to bite the bullet and go, otherwise I’d not get to Achill- my destination for today.
I had decided I would head straight for Bangor as it was so bad but again the rain eased up and off I went on the WAW 10 km outside Belmullet. A trip that would have taken me 20km directly to Bangor took 50km on the back roads to Bangor via Tullaghan. Again the WAW signage proved none existent and at one point I actually had to call into a house to ask where was I plus get directions out of the area. The people were very helpful and interested in the trip -although they were not envious of the weather – lashing rain and wind. They set me on the correct road and although I can imagine it is very beautiful around this area I could see nothing. Head was down as I made my way up and down the hilly roads eventually arriving in Bangor.
I stopped for coffee before heading to Mulranny via Ballycroy National Park. This park is very interesting as it has a special status as a dark sky area and they are very proud of this achievement in the area.
By the time I reached Mulranny I was wall falling. A huge wave of tiredness hit me so I decided a bottle of cider and a sandwich were in order in the Mulranny Hotel. It did the trick! I never felt my cycle on the greenway to Achill. I was helped enormously by the fact that the sun came out and the rain stopped.
It was a most beautiful ride into Keel and my B&B. But this was not the end of my cycle as my landlady encouraged me to continue on to see Keem beach. She was right in that it was beautiful. But I decided only someone who does not cycle would encourage someone who had cycled 110km to her B&B to keep going for 30km more including a very steep climb up and down twice! She did check if I was fit???? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that question as we had been discussing the last 110km I had travelled!!!!
When I finally completed my cycle for the day I headed to the local hotel for a bite to eat and another cider- I never drank so much cider in my life but it has become a lovely treat. The hotel was full of tourists and for the first time I felt at ease, just like everyone else and loved the feel of company around me.
I had my best night’s sleep of the whole trip so far. I woke up the next morning and realised I was no longer cycling into the unknown. I had cycled most of the roads ahead of me at some point or other over the last few years. I felt so different as I packed up and left my lovely, “normal” B&B in Keel.
29th August. It was a bright morning as I set off to cycle around Achill Island. I stopped a few km out the road to sort out my saddle bags only to see behind me a very dark sky laden with rain. I just about got the rain gear on before the heavens opened. Life was back to normal, the earlier sunshine had been a bit of a blip! I took off to Dugort, Dooniver, Cashel, up Meewlin to Dooega and the Atlantic Drive to Achill Sound. I had another feast of hills and valleys. It was a spectacular cycle and the rain stopped as the sun came out as I approached Cuan na hAisléime
The Atlantic was wild as it threw its spray up on the roads close to the sea. It was a nice change to be hit by sea water rather than rain water. I could taste the salt in my mouth as I licked my lips.
After my lunch in a lovely café at Achill Sound I sadly left the island and headed for the greenway though Mulranny, Newport and Westport- my stop for the night. Achill had proved to be a most enjoyable day as my mind felt much calmer and less stressed than to date. I knew I was entering very familiar territory in South Mayo and west Galway. I had spent hours practicing on these roads so I knew them well.
I had a most enjoyable night staying with my friend Mary. Again I treasured being able to talk about the issues that this trip was throwing up for me and not feel stupid or ashamed.
30th August: A great night’s sleep in a very comfy bed, a tasty breakfast and off I took to Louisburg. Again the morning cycle was a mix of showers with a growing taste of sunshine. By the afternoon the sun had won out and I was cycling in shorts and tee shirt through the stunning Doolough Valley.
This has to be one of my favourite cycles from Doolough through the Delphi valley, around Killary harbour and into Leenane for a coffee. Then on to Glasilaun, Lettergesh, Tullycross, Letterfrack and finally to Aughrismore in Cleggan. I so enjoyed every minute of it and the weather was sunny and windy. Amazing how different the wind feels in the sunshine- we were not fighting all the way!
I was back in my partner’s house and ready for two days off the bike-well sort of….-I would cycle part of the WAW to my house in Recess the next day.
It was so lovely to be in a house I knew well, able to cook for myself, wash all my clothes and actually wear something new! As my way to wind down and relax I cut the grass and enjoyed watching the sun go down on Omey Island.
31st August: As I packed the bike ready to head to my house in Finisglen, Recess I noticed I was feeling heavy in my heart. I had to go back to the place I had called home for 27 years but now no longer felt like that. The feeling of no longer belonging in a place I had tried very hard to fit in, was upper most.
I set off up the Sky road to Clifden. It was a beautiful day sunny, dry and windy.
From Clifden I headed out the road to Ballyconneely and Roundstone. I have begun to notice since I left Westport the number of tourists on the roads. I am meeting tour buses and camper vans. It’s like two different versions of the WAW. Donegal and North Mayo do not seem to be as well known as South Mayo and West Galway. As I moved down towards Kerry and Cork I met more and more people including cyclists and walkers -more about this at a later stage.
Today is a lovely trip right beside the Atlantic Ocean most of the way. I went as far as Cashel Cross and then left the WAW to make my way to Recess and into the mountains.
I was delighted to see my two cats Milly and Joey. They are very sociable so there was a noisy, run around the house welcome. I have decided they know me well and were delighted to see me too!!!! Milly is a chatty cat so she had to fill me in on all that had happened for them since I left! Joey is the silent handsome type just looking for lots of hugs.
I then decided to tackle the garden, cut the grass and do some weeding. I recognised an aspect of myself that always comes to visit when I feel stressed -I get very busy. I allowed myself to be so, as I knew before the sun would go down I’d have the ugly lights to contend with -reminding me of not belonging. I felt as if I was going round in shock when I was there as I could not believe how all had turned out. And I just want to pack the bike head and head off again. Although the cycle has been a difficult and surprisingly emotional rollercoaster it feels better than staying in my house at present. This issue has triggered very old deep hurts and I know I’ll have to face them when the trip is over. But for now I just want to be gone.
The picture on the left as it was , the right as it is now.
To be continued……