Despite sleeping in the most beautiful room of my life, I awoke for our last day of riding feeling exhausted and somewhat fussy. Moving down to breakfast in the dining room, it was as though I were walking through mud. “I must have hit a wall,” I thought. It just seemed so strange, given my energy levels on previous days. But having never done such a long trip on bikes, I figured this was just something new to learn about myself.
“Don’t tell the kids,” my Co-Worker whispered sweetly in my ear as he passed, “but I’ve added some mileage to today’s ride.”
“Great,” I said, forcibly curling up the sides of my face in something resembling a smile.
Jon V., who had helped us plan our ride, had suggested that we go north today, through the mountains. But the locals all said we needed to go south, through a town called Roundstone. What to do?
“Where are you adding miles?” I asked. “Are we going north, or south?”
“Both!” he grinned, and I groaned inwardly. Still, not one to be a spoil-sport, I saddled up and followed him as we headed out on the road around Cashel Bay. After all, this was my trip! I had waited all year for this. I had to be gung-ho, right? The weather was much like the day before: changeable in an instant, but without the threatening Dark Cloud.
Standing at this spot, fiddling with my camera, an amazing thing happened: I hit the wrong button. All along on this trip, I’d been attempting to take my pictures “manually,” without using any automatic camera features except the focus. Sometimes this was successful (it took me several days to figure out how to get the camera to “focus” on a landscape, and I’m still not 100% happy with every result), sometimes less so. Having zero experience with a camera that wasn’t point-and-shoot, I figured out how to adjust the shutter speed and the ISO, but I didn’t really know what they were or what they did. I just knew if I turned the button one way, then the other, the pictures got better.
Ah… but I had one complete bugaboo: whitish skies. I just could not get them to “pick up.” Then, magically, when I went to adjust the shutter speed… the f-stop adjusted instead and the sky… looked like that sky above! Wait! What button did I push??? I wasn’t sure, and I had to keep riding.
Riding… riding… riding… we were mostly just toodling along on a relatively flat road, but my legs were killing me. It felt like tiny saber tooth tigers were attached to my thighs, shredding my muscles with their claws (I guess regular tigers could do that too, but the saber toothed variety just seem that much more aggressive, don’t they?). It was painful and exhausting. Boy, had I hit that wall. But I was still puzzled. Just the day before, I had ridden over thirty-five miles, with rain even, and still arrived with more energy than most of my students. On the Aran Islands, I was the only one not sitting on a bed all evening. Where had this sudden complete energy drain come from? Had I somehow overdone it without realizing it?
My Co-Worker’s route took us along a lovely river, where small private fishing “shacks” stood at every bend and fly fishermen cast their long lines into the grey water.
I knew the Support Van Parent would be eyeing this with great interest, as he and his son would be going fishing after our trip ended.
So far, the ride wasn’t particularly difficult, but I still felt like I was about to die. More photo stops ensued.
All I could really do was curse the saber tooth tigers and move on. I caught up with the kids and my Co-Worker, who were waiting for me at a crossroads. The Support Van Parent was also there, gearing up on his bike to ride with us for our mountain loop.
“We’re going to be climbing a bit now, and as we’re all tired,” my Co-Worker said chirpily, “let me explain to you all about spinning.”
I watched him through slitted eyes, the way a saber tooth tiger would.
Ready to spin, aren’t they? No one looks much bothered by this idea. Only me. Off we went, climbing up a slow grade next to the river.
We rounded a small bend, with the Support Van Parent waiting for me to catch up. By now, I was light years behind all the kids and my Co-Worker, struggling to keep going. The weather was getting nicer, the day was cool and slightly misty feeling at ground level, the roads were mostly fairly flat or long, slow climbs. I should be tearing this up!
“You okay?” Support Van Parent asked. I explained about the tigers and the exhaustion. He commiserated, and we took pictures of the view from a pretty little bridge. I was mostly hating everyone right now, especially my Co-Worker for the extra miles.
The Support Van Parent rode with me, chatting. He wasn’t just a fabulous resource for us, but also a fascinating man who has lived a full and varied life. He’s crazy-fit, too, enough to impress my Co-Worker, who is no slouch in the fitness department (though when I once asked my Co-Worker what he did to get biceps like that, thinking of My Sweetie, who does Kung Fu, Crossfit and hard-core backcountry skiing year round to stay in shape, the Co-Worker replied: “Oh, a little of this… a little of that…” Whatever. I do a little of this, and a little of that and I ain’t got biceps bulging with veins like small snakes). The Support Van Parent was a wonderful sport about anything we needed him to do, and literally saved our kids’ butts more times than I can count. I enjoyed his company immensely. Riding with someone was a good balm, as was rounding the corner to this:
“HOLY S**T!” said I, unencumbered by youngsters to hear me. That is Ballynahinch Castle, where the amused Support Van Parent noted that he and his son would be having dinner after we left: “I had to bring sports jackets and ties so we could sit in the dining room!” Um, yeah, I’ll bet. He rode on as I stood and stared, then snapped this picture. What a spot for a manor house!
A few moments later, I was coasting up to the pretty guard house at the entry gate:
The guard house is nicer than anywhere I’ve ever lived, you know? I found the kids and Co-Worker investigating the front of the castle, and stopped them all as they started to ride on. “I need a picture with you guys there!” I called.
“More photos?” my Co-Worker growled, clearly irritated at being asked to stop right as they began to leave. “Unlike some people, I like to live in The Now.”
“Oh shut up and pose,” I said, sticking my tongue out at him. Of course, I can’t publish this photo of the kids here, but he is in front looking somewhere between pissed off and amused. I just grinned at him as he rode by. This is when you know you’re actually friends: when you no longer care what the other person feels!
I was sort of hoping we would then go back down, but instead, we continued up the hill. Reaching a major road, we pedaled along it cautiously for a few hundred feet, then waved each other across during intervals without cars. From here, it was all uphill. I rode very, very slowly, and at first, mostly alone.
The views were tremendous. I gave up on riding after a few minutes, content to walk. After the castle, I had just decided that my mood, and my legs, were what they were. Obviously, getting in a bit of mileage wasn’t going to change anything, so I needed to stop worrying about it. Soon I was very Zen about the whole thing, enjoying the many photo opportunities our climb provided. And by then, I was so far behind that thinking about it was meaningless.
That attitude, however, was not shared by the only other person I could see on my climb: one of the girls had also fallen behind, and she was not feeling very Zen about it. In fact, she was very upset at being so far behind her cohort. I’m afraid I wasn’t the greatest comfort, as I was still sort of on the borderline of miserable myself. She was insistent upon riding through her tears, and while I admired her spunk, I kept shouting: “Just walk if you need to! I am!” I don’t think it helped much to be told she could wimp out like a forty year-old mom if she liked.
We were riding into the Twelve Bens mountain range, which around the Seattle area, would be mere foothills, but in Ireland… those puppies are steep! She and I finally crested a small ridge and found ourselves getting rained on. Wet pants, I know I have said, just suck the soul from my body. I dialed my Co-Worker, prepared to tell him that we were done and needed to ride back down. He didn’t pick up, but it didn’t matter: seconds later, I saw them coming back down from the top.
“It was too rainy, and we couldn’t see anything, and the wind was blowing like crazy, so Mr. (Co-Worker) let us come back down! It was so cool!” the kids explained, looking hyped up on wind and energy. We just stared at them. All was right with the world again: descent was on the agenda, and the rain had stopped as quickly as it had started.
This photo was taken by the Support Van Parent. I believe it actually documents my Co-Worker ignoring my phone call, but I can’t prove anything… I found another one from the same spot where he appears to be eating a pork chop, so my information may be unreliable. There’s no way he took a pork chop on that ride: I know that much for a fact.
Anyway, note the ominous grey background there. But as soon as we were all headed back down the mountain, any existential crisis passed and I was okay with my Co-Worker again for his grinding us all up there to see the views. I told him so, too, in my own delightful way: “You’re lucky I love you,” I hissed as he rode past. He just smirked. None of the kids with him were sobbing, so I think that he was more sanguine about the experience.
Click below for fine examples of my mood swings. The photo on the left was taken of me at the beginning of the ride, when I was still willing to fake it. The photo on the right is coming down the hill after pooping out near the top. Note that I am no longer as adept at hiding my feelings.
We paused again at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill to eat M&Ms and gear up for the flats. The Support Van Parent, who was clearly spending too much time in the car, was seen doing push-ups behind an abandoned building. Even my Co-Worker was moved by the Support Van Parent’s manliness at this juncture, but little did I know just how moved. More on that in a minute.
At any rate, I thought things were prettier “down” than they were “up.”
This is the view of where we just were:
I hadn’t yet rediscovered that f-stop button. Where was it? Oh! There it is!
Better. Less washed-out skies is a very good thing, but there’s still room for improvement. I found that if I pushed one of the buttons on my camera, it would toggle me between shutter speed and aperture adjustment. When both worked, I got better skies. I was ecstatic, though it would take me the rest of the day to really get this to work. I set the ISO on the lowest number, and just worked with shutter and aperture. It was glorious! But rather slow.
Not that it mattered how fast I was, or wasn’t normally able to go, as at this point, we had hit another wall. Literally. I call it… The Headwind From Hades.
Now to be fair, I knew going into this day’s ride that I could end up with this problem. Each time I googled information about Cashel to Clifden, our final destination on the coast, I was warned to cycle in the opposite direction due to the wind. One tour company even offers to bus cyclists to varying locals based on the morning’s headwind. But at this point in our journey, there wasn’t a way to cycle in the opposite direction. “How bad can it be?” I thought, having never really cycled in a serious wind.
At first, the wind wasn’t that terrible, and the scenery was spectacular enough to distract me. Note the bent-over tree in the top picture. Ponder why it looks like that. Then notice: f-stop! Look Ma, clouds!
I fell further behind, rationalizing my growing exhaustion by thinking about my role as photographer for a bunch of kids who were going to want to see these pictures later. And what pictures they were turning out to be!
I mean, c’mon, how can you not stop for this?
The wind was picking up by this point, and I was feeling a bit battered and very, very slow as I rolled into Roundstone a good fifteen minutes behind everyone else.
This looked promising! I topped a small hill, and found downtown:
Roundstone is an exceptionally pretty spot. I can see why the locals in Cashel all recommended that we come here. The promenade of colorful houses and shops runs for several blocks along the water.
The small harbor has picturesque sail boats moored there, though by the time I arrived, the kids were so anxious to go eat that I didn’t have much time to wander about and take pictures.
My Co-Worker and the Support Van Parent had wandered off to find a restaurant, and I was soon accosted by a creepy guy holding a small dog: “Do you want me to take your picture?” he asked. I declined, noting that if I needed someone to take my picture, I had nine people with me to do so. “I like having my picture taken,” he said. “Do you want to take a picture of me and Lily? We’re traveling the world together and we just love to have our picture taken.” I looked around. Who the heck was Lily? He set the dog down, then picked it back up. It yiped loudly. Ah, Lily.
“Uh, that’s okay,” I said, eyeing his clearly suffering little dog.
“We’re gathering information on a new line of ingredients for dog food,” he said. “Lily and I are traveling around the world.”
“That’s nice,” I replied, edging away from him.
“I’m totally joking with you,” he said. “We’re not doing that. But we do like to travel, Lily and I…”
I raced back across the street. My Co-Worker and the Support Van Parent had returned. “I just met the creepiest guy with his little dog…”
“You mean Lily?”
“You met him, too? He wanted me to take his picture.”
“Yeah, we met him too,” my Co-Worker said. “I tried to pet his dog, but it was clearly in pain. It cried when I touched it. The dog needs to go to a vet.” I agreed wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, Creepy Man had talked the Support Van Parent into taking his picture. I think guys like this are less intimidating to men, anyway.
I’m sorry, but he just looks creepy. Here he was making friends with a local man sitting outside a pub. I’m sure he’s perfectly nice, and simply has strange social skills and a very arthritic dog. Uh, or something.
Lunch at Roundstone was otherwise uneventful. Another serving of pub grub. By now, I was tiring of this sort of food. “I’ll just have a bowl of chowder and some bread,” I thought. What could possibly go wrong?
I probably should have realized that I was in for a real treat when my Co-Worker gladly accepted the offer of the Support Van Parent to drive the van so that he, the Support Van Parent, could ride the last leg with his son and the other kids. I thought my Co-Worker was just being nice and giving the Support Van Parent an outlet for his monstrous push-up-doing energy, but I should have known better! Who wouldn’t want to ride the last 12-mile leg of a six-day tour?
Someone with half a brain, that’s who. More on that in our final installment:
In Which My Co-Worker Proves to Be Vastly Smarter Than Me
The mystery of my sudden weakness is solved, the chowder comes back to haunt me, and while my Co-Worker saves my butt, he also nearly kills me, in the space of six miles! And that’s just the end of today. Stay tuned…