I last left those of you interested in my trip upon my arrival in Dingle. The next morning I got up bright and early in my person-free hostel room, and went down to my included-in-the-price breakfast. After a hearty meal of cereal, eggs, toast, bread and jam, juices, and tea (need to have the energy to get over those hills), I set off for the Slea Head loop at the farthest tip of the Dingle Peninsula
. The sun was gentle and the sheep were out in force munching on the hilltops. From a distance you could see entire herds shift on the hills like tiny cotton balls swarming in unison. Riding through the countryside few cars were evident and the ride was quiet except for the ever present wind rushing past my ears.
The peninsula is filled with fascinating artifacts from BC era undecipherable tablets to early Christian churches and forts. They are scattered about like a history jigsaw puzzle of slate and crafted stone. I visited a particularly interesting early Christian church with attached cemetery called Kilmalkedar. As a side note it is important for me to reference the fact that all the names that I have been and will be giving are in English as a result of the British Ordinance Survey in the early 19th century from their Gaelic original names. I feel as though this does not lose the effect as most of you probably do not speak Gaelic and the names given in English do not lose anything in the translation for us common English speakers. The highlight of the artifacts of this area is Gallarus Oratory which is an impeccably preserved beehive type structure from the 7th or 8th century. It is oriented towards the rising and setting sun like many of the older structures in Ireland.
The route around the loop continued on through hilly terrain of hedged fields of stone and brambles. Amazing cliffs could be seen around the bend to reveal Great Blasket Island. The amazing history of this island is retold at the Blasket Center, a museum superb in its information and exhibit design. The museum tells of the small community that lived on the island till its evacuation in 1953. The history of its people would not have been possible if not for Robin Flowers, a linguist, visiting the island to study the local language
. He became fascinated with the people, their stories, and the life on the island, and began encouraging many of them to write about their experiences. Many great writers emerged from this encouragement, and a literary culture flourished. The people spoke of their lives, the sea, the wind, the climate, death, and their traditions. The museum was a splendid homage to the people of this island off the western coast of Ireland. Many quotes were featured in the exhibits in order to explain the cycles of life, death, and the sea which the people lived with intimately. There was a general closeness felt in their words in regard to the earth itself within the context of their harsh environment. One quote featured was particularly eloquent to me and went as follows:
"Bitter the tears that fall but more bitter the tears that fall not."
This quote spoke to the character of the people that last inhabited the island, yet continued to preserve the culture of the generations before them. The museum is a lyrical yet melancholy testament to a lost culture thrust out into the unyielding whims of the Atlantic.
The afternoon was finally well on its way and I still had a long distance before me so I prepared myself for the most grueling part of my cycling trip
. The Connor Pass separates the two halves of the Dingle Peninsula which are split but low mountains. I was headed for the blustery heights of the central peninsula. The climb began quickly after leaving Dingle. My legs braced for the 6.5 kilometer straight uphill climb past the green fields and into the windswept rocky hills. After a kilometer a steady gale descended to impede my upward trajectory. The hills and wind were merciless, and my legs gave out several times at particularly steep areas. The drivers zoomed past me kids eating ice cream and passengers lounging lazily staring out the windows of their cars. I was battling and willing myself to continue up and up. This was monumental and I pinned myself against the mountain as at this point it was no hill but a mountain in need of conquering. I peddled further with the wind pushing against me and whipping at my face. I was in my cycling shorts and t-shirt at this point as I was hot from exhaustion. The wind was cold and sharp yet I could feel sweat soaking my back. I finally could see the pass and all my focus went into that pin point location. My legs cranked the wheels of the bike and propelled my bags and myself up towards the destination. Finally huffing and puffing I reached the top to the applause of several waiting tourists. I felt strong and victorious. I enjoyed my victory looking onto the expanses of the countryside below.
The final leg of my cycling day involved the steep descent down the other side of the mountain and further onto Tralee
. The clouds quickly closed off the blue sky and a cold biting wind picked up. My hands and legs were practically numb by the time I reached the gently undulating countryside below. The wind continued to be blustery for the remaining 30 kilometers of my trip and traffic picked up considerably. Several scone breaks later to break up the focused determination I reached Tralee at 7PM. I had been biking since 9AM and my limbs were on the verge of quitting. I biked around Tralee with no luck of finding a place to stay. When I got lost several times, no one knew where anything was and could not help me. The evening would soon be enveloping the town and I needed desperate rest. Finally after multiple rounds around the town which did not have one correctly marked road as is often the case in the rest of Ireland I found a B&B. The lady opened the door and greeted me cheerily which was a welcome sight. She ushered me in and pointed me towards some hot tea. I went upstairs and collapsed into a heavy sleep. I woke up hours later and went hunting for food. I located a local deli and stocked up on the carbs which I ate in the B&B living room. Finally I went back upstairs and had a lucid sleep, conscious of my aching legs.
Kilometers cycled: 102.5
The next morning I woke to overcast skies, an Irish breakfast, and two German students. It was a hearty beginning to the day before setting off for another long day. I would be crossing into county Clare from county Kerry via a ferry later in the day. The morning was traffic free and a bit lost getting out of town. Once I hit the country side my only companions were the loud crows in the trees and perched on the road hedges eyeing me from the side. After 30 kilometers the rain began. It began slow and gentle but that was only the tease
. Soon the damp became a relentless pelting of cold drops creeping into all layers of my clothes. My legs spun the wheels continuously towards the ferry dock. After arriving at the dock I was glad to see a pub waiting for me underneath the dark skies. I walked in to have a hot bowl of soup and warm pressed sandwich while the other patrons snickered at my cycling garb. I was too famished and cold to care and waited it out for the next ferry in the pub. Finally I loaded myself on the ferry and we began the 20 minute crossing over the Shannon River. On the way I glimpsed a pod of dolphins with dark gray dorsal reminiscent of the sky cutting through the river surface. We arrived at the dock and I climbed the steep road out of the harbor. The rain continued merciless all the way to Kilkee.
I arrived in Kilkee after a quick stop in Kilrush to watch a Walk for Kidney disease commence. They certainly need more of those in Ireland along with a Liver walk for all the boozing going on. It's a warm congenial boozing that comforting in its commonness. The hostel in Kilrush was closed so I continued on to Kilkee as intended. Eventually I arrived in my destination and quickly found a B&B that was an old creaky building by the sea. The windows rattled in response to the ocean gales and the walls were thin paper screens. The beds creaked and moaned under my weight and drafts seeped in through the window cracks
. It was truly a Victorian by the sea moment. I wandered about town and took the sea air. I ate a hearty dinner at Myles Creek pub and watched the patrons interact. I then returned to my room with cookies and crisps in case of energy recharge requirements. There I read and fell asleep. My coughing returned which resulted in a night half unslept.
Kilometers cycled: 98.2
This morning I woke up to a bright day with a fierce northerly. I ate my large breakfast and set off for a short jaunt into the loop head to see some cliffs. Unfortunately I became very lost amongst the farms and side roads and couldn't locate anything. I accidentally ended back in town and instead of trying again decided to head north towards the Cliffs of Moher. The day was filled with sunlight and fast moving clouds. The countryside was splendid except for the foul smell of slurry in parts. Rolling hills dotted with farm buildings like sentinels over herds of grazing cows. The occasional donkey lazily looking up to see me peddle by. The dogs however were a different story. Self righteous overprotective mongrels of the foulest temper tried to chase me off the road. I nearly resorted to wielding my pump as a weapon envisioning me bludgeoning them to save myself from collision with oncoming trucks
. I certainly don't need gym cycling classes to motivate myself as I had enough fear within me to peddle faster at the slightest hint of a bark. This was particularly strenuous climbing a hill to see an approaching mutt in full gallop ready to bite at your calves. I managed to maintain composure and prevent myself from canicide.
I passed through the lovely seaside town of Quilty where I admired the surf breaking against the sand and limestone beaches. From there I continued on to Milltown Malbay to have lunch at the Bakers Cafe and grabbed a sizeable fruit scone to-go for a late afternoon recharge snack. The road became hillier and the gusts became a steady wind against my progression. My legs had toughened up by now so I only found this mildly irritating. The final steep series of climbs to the very popular Cliffs of Moher produced forehead beading and a practical disrobing due to overheating at the top of the cliffs. The tourists filed past me between the visitor center and the cliffs. I composed myself, locked up my bike, and speed walked to the cliffs. The tourists were abundant and the views were immense. Huge craggy limestone cliffs beaten my waves and wind jutted into the ocean solid and stern. The birds circled below and wild flowers bloomed from the crevices as tourists walked along the undulating edges. The enormity of this natural wonder were alluring and frightening. The ocean was far below and the edges plunged into the sea filled with heavy boulders. I rested on the edge and watched the waves spray and beat the rocks below while eating my scone. The sun was warm and the grass soft so I decided to take a power nap coming to the ever present Polish spoken so widely in Ireland. Polaks are everywhere here and I must hear more Polish than English.
After enjoying the cliffs I headed towards the quaint rolling town of Doolin
. Truly a spectacular sight that breathed of comfort and arcadian ideals. I found the Aille River Hostel with a unique charm of its own. It was filled with backpackers commiserating in the front room that adjoined the kitchen of course. I was even able to use the internet and do laundry as most of my clothes were sweaty and man smelling at this point. I had a brief dialogue comparing the east and west coast of the US with a fellow vagabond from SF as I waited for the drier to give me back my clothes. The drier produced my fleece which I promptly put on to absorb its comforting warmth. I then hoped on my bike to satiate my looming cycling hunger at the local pub on the other end of town. I think I quite like it here in Doolin. It has character and charm the likes of which are new and pleasing. It feels good to know places like Doolin exist and I take comfort in that knowledge.
Kilometers cycled: 87.2
Due to a lack of internet in the various towns on the way coupled with a long holiday weekend in Ireland which resulted in the closing of luxury tourist necessities such as the web, I have been unable to update my blog. Rest assured as I took notes along the way and will debrief you in a long and painful diatribe regarding my last several days cycling. You might want to get yourself a glass of water and some eye drops in order to get through this entry. I am feeling especially verbose due as a result of a lovely first of May and available laundry facilities at the current hostel in which I am staying till tomorrow morning.