Saddle bags packed with fresh clean clothes, washed shoes, fresh supplies of fruit and nuts, book, diary and pens. Wet gear on, Garmin in place and Go pro in my pocket. ( I had downloaded all my videos and photos taken on route to date. When I looked at the videos I realised I had videoed hours of roadway!!!! I laughed heartily as I had worn it everyday on my helmet or bike thinking I was capturing stunning views, instead I had hours of broken white lines. It summed up the nature of much of my trip so far-head down and bracing against the wind. I decided this time I’d stop every now and again and video around me rather than wear it on my helmet.).
I hit the road round 9.30am in a heavy mist. Down the Inagh Valley to Cashel Cross and back on to the WAW. After about 15 km the mist turned to rain and the wind strengthened. The two previous days had been dry and sunny. Was someone telling the rain and wind gods and goddesses that I was back on the bike????
This trip to Galway took me on roads I knew well as they had been part of my training routine over the past year. On a dry sunny day this route through Letterard, Carna, Casla, Inverin, Barna and Galway is beautiful with views across Galway Bay. But today all that was non existent. The rain bucketed down relentlessly and the wind was merciless in its strength.
I made one stop in a lovely café for coffee and lunch in Casla. I decided to opt to sit indoors this time even if I was to leave puddles of water under my table. It was a busy spot as I’d say many people where looking for a place to get a bit to eat and refuge from the rain and wind. I have noticed how much I like sitting in cafés, restaurants and pubs that have lots of people around. I think for that few moments I can feel part of a group rather than the relentless isolation of the cycle.
When I finished I donned my wet gear -I no longer call it rain gear- and headed non stop for Galway city. I was staying with my friend Marion for the night. The days I know I will end up staying with a friend have an easier quality to them. I have something nice to look forward to and will have someone who knows me to chat with and discuss the emotional issues of the cycle.
I had the most lovely hot shower to refresh me. I think water is a bit like weeds….bear with me in my imaginings, remember my mind is probably soaking wet with all the rain I have endured….. it is said “a weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place”. Well in my mind rain is water falling in the wrong place!!!! A shower is water falling in the correct place and I have to say each night on the trip I took great pleasure and felt blessed as I turned the faucets and out came hot water to ease my tired and sore muscles. This night was no different. Marion had the fire lighting so I could dry out my gear. A lovely meal, a bottle of wine, great conversation all prepared me for a nights sleep.
Through our conversation I had been able to finally find the word to describe the trip. Marion had asked was I enjoying the cycle. As I reflected I realised the word was endure not enjoy. My fantasy trip had been based on enjoyment, whereas the real trip was an endurance test especially mentally and emotionally. Physically as I have said before it was a surprise how fit I was. Every evening as I looked in the mirror I was constantly surprised to see a fit, tanned and very healthy woman look back at me. I kept expecting to see a haggard, old woman but no, my outside was looking very different to my inside -yet again the story of my life, a mismatch.
Repacked my bags, had breakfast, waved goodbye to Marion and headed out the road to Oranmore. The morning was grey and misty. Being Sunday the roads were very quiet. I also reckoned most of Galway had headed to Dublin and Croke Park as the All Ireland Hurling final between Galway and Waterford was on in the afternoon. I was hoping I might find somewhere to watch it on route.
Off I went through Oranmore and on to Kilcolgan. I stopped here for a coffee in the mist and then off again towards Kinvara. It was still damp and dull as I past through this lovely little town. I met my first early morning tour bus as tourists piled out and wandered across the road as only tourists can, to see the castle ruins. I managed not to knock any down or be knocked off my bike by groups of disembodied people chatting and absorbed in their wish to see the castle.
As I nearer Ballyvaughan the mist began to lift and I had my first view of the amazing landscape of the Burren.
No matter how many times I visit this area I am always taken aback by the limestone hills that give the appearance of a lunar landscape in my mind. I had the pleasure of removing all my wet gear and cycled along in shorts and light cycling gear. The one positive about the weather has been the lack of cold. It has felt quite tropical at times….warm and wet!
I decided to stop around Gleninagh for lunch. It was beautiful looking across Galway Bay to the roads I had travelled yesterday into Galway. I could see the Twelve Bens in the distance. I had no sooner sat down and opened my lunch when the mist came billowing in from Finore around the corner. On went the wet gear and my lunch was hastily put back under cover so save it getting soggy. I was joined in my little layby by an Indian family who also decided to stop and have lunch. The smell of curry was mouth watering as they dished it out from the back of their car. The mist was not deterring any of them from enjoying it.
I packed up all my bits and pieces and took off for Fanore. As I rounded the bend to view this beautiful beach it was like someone lifted a veil and the sun beam out. The change was striking as can be seen in the two photos below.
The rest of my journey to Milltown Malbay was cycled in warm sunshine. At times I was actually in shorts, tee shirt and for the first time out came my sunglasses. They had been a gift from my nephew in Australia but had not seen the light of day till now. Oh the joy of a pair of sunglasses!!! I actually managed to top up my tan! I finally experienced the weather I had dreamed of….a slight breeze and warm sunshine. The coastline of Co. Clare has always delighted me, the beaches, the rock formations, the cliffs all so radically different than anywhere else I had been. I cycled on through Doolin and Liscannor listening to the match on my radio although the signal was a bit erratic. I still kept hoping I’d find somewhere to see at least some of it.
Luck was on my side. In Lahinch I heard cheers coming from a pub whose door was wide open. I stopped and realised this was ideal. I could park the bike outside, stand near the door to keep an eye on it and still watch the last 20 minutes of the match. I ordered my usual pint of cider and as I leaned against the wall a man offered me his seat. I declined as I had been sitting on the bike for quite awhile and was enjoying standing upright. We got chatting as I am beginning to notice happens in pubs where matches are been shown and I’m also longing for connection so I take up each offer with gusto now. He was an avid Galway supporter so he filled me in on the seed, bred and generation of all the Galway lads playing. He made the experience extra interesting. Well the cheers of delight when the final whistle blew and Galway won could be heard far and wide. We were a on a high- I am becoming such a GAA fan!
The trip to Milltown Malbay felt so easy as I returned to listening to the commentary on the radio- utter delight for Galway and utter devastation for Waterford. I have learned that All Ireland Finals are never neutral events, they are packed with emotion on one side or the other and today was no different. I landed in my friends Mary and PJ’s house in Carrokeel just outside Milltown in time to appreciate the best sunset of my trip to date.
I had the house to myself as my friends were wandering around France in their camper van. It was nice again to be able to make my own dinner and relax in a house I knew. As ever I spent some time writing up my diary of the day. It was definitely weather-wise the best day so far. I could feel the “sun burn on my arms and legs” and see the outline of the sunglasses on my face. It was a good day and in the midst of that goodness was a vein of sad loneliness. The loneliness had a different quality to it as I am now mainly cycling roads and routes I have been on before.
Earlier in the trip the loneliness had been like a huge grey cloud sitting on the back of the bike, with its relentlessly critical voice telling me how stupid I was to embark on this trip; how I should have known beforehand how hard it would be; if only I was more sociable I would not be in this position; maybe I’ll never fit in; wasting my life; just get on with it; get over yourself no one has died; stop being so self-pitying, so dramatic and on and on and on…..I just could not stop them. My mind felt like one of those old fashion LP vinyl records stuck on the record player going round and round with no let up.
Since I entered more familiar territory it had a quieter quality to it, almost as if it had seeped under my skin. The feeling of loneliness had caught me by surprise at the beginning of the cycle and had shouted its messages to me back then. This quote spoke volumes to me:
” ...one of the most influential motivators of my own life, the longing to belong, was shaping me in ways that I was largely unconscious of, until it finally grabbed me by the hair and pulled me deep into its terrifying dimensions.” Toko-pa Turner.
Now I had come to accept somewhat reluctantly that this was my companion and there was no point in fighting it. My job was to try and open to being curious about it and why it was being revealed to me at this stage in my life. Why had a 2670km cycling trip opened up the doors of belonging, fitting in and loneliness at this time in my life?
I hung around the house the next morning hoping the heavy mist that had returned would lift. By 10am I gave up waiting, donned the wet gear and headed for Kilkee via Quilty and Doonbeg. Doonbeg is the home of Donal Trump’s Golf resort. I had the great pleasure of seeing it for miles along the road. Actually it is impossible to avoid it as it is located on the highest point in the area!!
I continued on to Kilkee with the intention of stopping off for a coffee. I expected to enter a buzzing town but instead it was virtually empty-like a ghost town. The only thing missing was tumbleweed rolling down the main street. I felt so sorry for the people there as their tourist season must be extremely short-lived. The beautiful beach was empty.
I found a small supermarket and bought a few bits and pieces for lunch and off I took to Loop Head. One of the reasons the WAW is so long is the double journeys in and out to the coast. This was one such. It’s approximately a 60km round trip from Kilkee to Loop Head! It also has to be the flattest road so far, well actually Co. Clare is mainly flat road cycling on the WAW. Believe it or not half way out the Loop Head road I began to long for a hill and had some nostalgic feelings for the hills of Donegal…..At least the wind was still with me -no fear of being abandoned by it on this trip. I cycled into it on the way out and thankfully I had it with me most of the way back. The lighthouse is beautiful with an unobstructed view right out the Atlantic Ocean. I have great respect for these lighthouses and the vitally important work they do in keeping boats and people safe.
After a lovely walk around the grounds to the cliffs I sat on the grass and had my lunch before embarking on the reverse cycle. The high point of my return journey was stopping to let 200 cows cross the road for milking! I know the number as the farmer’s daughter was stopping traffic and we got chatting about the number of cows and the length of time it takes to milk them, approximately 2 hours. Co. Clare seems to be full of fields of cows much more than I’d seen to date.
I had intended staying in a B&B about 5km outside Kilrush, but as I listened to the weather forecast for the next day I decided if I could get as near as possible to Killimer -I was getting the ferry to Tarbert- it would be best.
As I stood on the street in Kilrush looking at my map a kind man asked if I needed help. He informed me that Killimer was only 10km from Kilrush. When I enquired if he knew any B&B there he took out his phone and looked up the number of a pub he knew that might have accommodation. After thanking him I rang the pub. They did not do accommodation but they had the number of the B&B opposite the car ferry. I looked up Booking.com to book a bed only to find it was full!!! I decided to ring them anyway and boy was I delight I did. Yes they had a bed. I was standing outside it in half an hour later. A lovely woman greeted me and showed me to a very comfortable room. We discovered through our conversation that she had no other bookings, which surprised her as she always has someone heading for the ferry. We checked it out to discover she was mistakenly booked up on Booking.com. Thankfully she was able to rectify it before she lost much business. So I was delighted with the bed for the night and she was delighted I had looked to book in…a win-win for both of us!
After a shower and change into my only non cycling clothes I headed to the pub for a lovely dinner and a new type of cider, Cronins absolutely lovely. I had a great chat with the owners of the pub as the man was a cyclist. We spent about an hour comparing cycling highs and lows! These random conversations are like precious gems to me now and I have stopped holding myself back when someone offers to chat or is interested in what I am up to. I was well fit for bed by the time I left the pub.
5th September: The rain that was forecasted fell during the night so by breakfast it was just grey and dull. I felt a wave of excitement for the first time on this trip as I walked to the ferry. I was heading for Kerry my favourite county in Ireland and a few days camping near Dingle-my definition of happiness.
For all my years camping in Kerry I had never explored north Kerry before. This would be another day of unknown roads- yet being in Kerry I did not feel quite so alone!!! I would end my day in Tralee and meet my sister Geraldine….all positive things to look forward too.
My first stop of the day was in Ballybunion. After my experience of Kilkee I was a little wary of going there and finding another empty seaside town but no there were people wandering around and I found a lovely café with delicious brown bread and coffee. Another conversation was struck up with two people sitting outside a small art gallery. I am actually becoming quite adept at the art of easy conversations. And my well packed bike is often an opening to the positive side of Irish curiosity! I took some time to wander around this town, its beach and castle ruins before a huge shower fell.
As I left Ballybunion the road took me alongside the famous Ballybunion golf course and a statue erected to Bill Clinton. Many famous people have play golf here-seemingly. One would think I was an avid golf player but I definitely am not. My dad was an excellent player who tried his best to get me to play it but to no avail. That little white ball annoyed the life out of me. But as other members of my family play I am kept up to date on all golf matters…..
I came to a T junction Ballyheigue 2km to the left , the WAW route to the right, off I went cycling around Kerry Head – a 40 km trip to Ballyheigue!!!! Again the weather took a change for the better and out came the sun. Unfortunately the wind got stronger and it was a full blown head wind all along the coast. The fields were very busy with famers making hay and silage so there was a great air of activity all round. I was also meeting lots of cars and the start of the camper vans. Kerry was busy with tourists everywhere and later in the day I was to meet my first group of cyclists!!! Ballyheigue beach was magnificent with the waves rolling in as the wind was enjoying itself as it was blowing wholeheartedly now.
By the time I reached Ardfert I decided I’d go straight to Tralee and bypass Fenit. I just didn’t have the heart to face into the wind on the way to Fenit. Mentally I put it on my list to do in the future. My sister Geraldine rang to check my estimated time of arrival in Tralee. I assured her I was not going to Fenit so I ought to be in Tralee in about an hour. Decision made I set off with my spirits good, looking forward to being in Tralee and having time with Geraldine.
Much to my absolute surprise about 30 minutes later I found myself 2km outside Fenit with no notion how I got there!!!!!!! Being so close I decided I’d go and see what Fenit looked like. I have to say I was not disappointed as it was absolutely beautiful looking out at Fenit Lighthouse and I sent the two photos below to Geraldine to surprise her with where I had ended up.
As I turned for Tralee I had the most fabulous surprise as the wind was with me and I had the sheer delight of being whooshed into Tralee. I barely had to pedal and realised just what I had been missing cycling into the wind all the time. I imagined it took me a few minutes to get to the edge of Tralee. I found my B&B in a lovely small hotel in the heart of Tralee. The staff understood cycling and helped me put my bike away safely. I noticed a group of men and women having drinks in the foyer to find out the next day that they were a group of cyclists cycling from Sneem to Galway for charity. Right now a hot shower beckoned and I was ready for dinner and good conversation with Geraldine. I was so thrilled to be in Kerry:)