Today, we rode from Ennis, our starting destination, to Doolin, which is along the Western Irish coast. The weather was particularly mediocre, wet and cool, as we took off. Though we didn’t get much actual rain, there was a significant amount of drizzle. Being from Seattle, this was only moderately off-putting and several of us (including me), rode without our jackets much of the time. Seattlites are tough about rain. Owning an umbrella, other than a designated Soccer Mom umbrella, is considered a bit wimpy. Just put on more fleece and stop whining!
Our first port of call was a supermarket, to stock up on water bottles and snacks. I let my Co-Worker go in with the kids, while I watched the bikes. I must say, his snack selection proved to be excellent, though a bit peanut-heavy. Before I left Ennis, I acquired a small handlebar bag in which to store my camera for ready-grabbing.
I’ve been cushioning it with a sweater, and whipping it out when I can for one-handed ride photos. Once I mastered the wiggling and making sure my wrist went through the strap (thus ensuring my camera’s safety) it hasn’t worked too badly.
We quickly discovered that the route we had selected was very hilly, especially for some of our less-bike-y kids. The boys plowed out ahead early, setting a rapid pace for themselves, with many of the girls working hard to keep up. Nothing on earth has more energy than a teenage boy on a new bike. Consequently, all my ride photos are of girls, not boys. They were waaaaay too far ahead of me.
Jet lag was an issue for everyone. Few of us had slept well the first night, waking multiple times in the darkness, unsure whether it was yet morning. The kids’ energy was very low and the whine factor was high. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wipe the smile off my face to save my life! I was riding a bike! In Ireland! Travel, for me, moves my soul, spirit and mind. I don’t get to do it often enough (this is the point where someone emails me to sponsor my next ride overseas on The Raleigh. I promise to be particularly eloquent and poignant, if necessary).
My Co-Worker is one of my favorite travel companions partially because he can read my mind. No, really. It’s the weirdest thing. As we were cycling through some pretty countryside, I spotted an old collapsed stone church and glorious ancient graveyard beside a pretty, “modern” church along the side of the road. “Dangit!” I thought, “he’s going to ride right past that and I want photos.” Then I rounded the corner, and heard him whistle from the parking lot of the church. Mind-meld, I tell ya. This doesn’t really happen at work. It’s a trip thing. Why? Who knows, but I’ll take mind-reading when I can get it.
Here’s the old church and graveyard:
The headstones were very beautiful, as was the carving on the walls of the crypt.
I also liked the interior of the newer building, which had to be at least 100 years old.
We continued on our ride through the countryside. I parked myself in the rear of the line, and followed whomever was slowest. One of our girls was having a tough time. Coming on the trip had been a bit of a leap of faith for her, due to personal and health issues. Her struggles at last culminated in exhausted tears, so we loaded her into the Support Van and continued on. The funny part is that the next one to drop (one of the girls who had ridden out ahead with the boys earlier in the day) was wearing the same jacket, so I ended up following girls in orange all day!
Riding slowly is not always easy, but I found I was much less exhausted than some of the kids who were riding toward the front of the line. There’s a certain luxury in tackling hills at a grindingly minimal pace: it’s hard in the moment, but pays off after the end of the ride. The kids were slow for many reasons: exhaustion, jet-lag, lack of preparation, and the fact that we had a 20mph headwind battering us the entire time. Then there was the chain dropping. Six times, three for one kid! And the badly-maintained derailleurs, which required several adjustments. How I longed for my Sturmey Archer. Having 21 speeds is nice, I suppose, but having a perfectly-working bike is nicer. Still, my Raleigh was comfortable enough, even the saddle!
So after all those practice rides, what was the pay-off? I felt good. I didn’t just feel good, I felt great. Yes, my thighs hurt (it’s now day four, and they still do), but in terms of my stamina, I was shocked at how much energy I still had at the end of each leg of our journey.
The countryside was absolutely stunning. I kept wanting to shout: “Beauty! Truth!” like George in the film version of A Room with a View (“He’s saying his creed,” explains his father, as George falls out of tree shrieking “BeaUTY!”). We stopped for lunch at a local pub, and inhaled huge bowls of real Irish stew.
I took another window photo. I just like them; I don’t know why. Maybe I like frames.
More crumbling churches! More graveyards! More!
After lunch, we rode up a series of hills toward the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way, we passed numerous small farms, and eventually, a pretty little spaniel followed us. And followed us. And followed us. I tried to be less-than-persuasive, telling it “NO. GO HOME!” in the Very Bad Dog Voice. I forced the two girls accompanying me to Mean Up as well, but they were not as effective. The dog simply trotted around me and kept going. As we were climbing steadily into the wind at this point, the dog had little trouble keeping up.
By the time we reached the main road up to the visitor’s center for the Cliffs, the dog was still with us. The road was brutally congested, and I was certain he would be hit. But what to do? Who, after that climb, would be willing to ride him all the way back down to his farmhouse, miles back down the road? My Co-Worker listened to our tale of woe and made an attempt of his own to scare the dog away. No luck. Car after car nearly hit it. The kids kept petting it, eliciting growls of anger from us practical (and jaded) adults. My Co-Worker began ranting: “I have no use for a dog like this! So stupid and passive! I like dogs… but this dog is just an idiot!”
We called the Support Van Parent to come and save us from Serious Dog Trouble. But before he could arrive, a white van pulled up beside us and out popped a rather rugged farmer-type. He scooped up the dog, muttered something about this happening before, and turned around the way we’d come. Since none of us can understand more than three words of ten uttered by anyone in this region, we think this was the dog’s owner.
“I don’t care,” my Co-Worker declared cruelly. “That dog is far better off with him than with me, at this point, whoever he was.”
One of my students took this photo on his phone.
We skipped the horrendous hill up to the visitor’s center, and simply headed down into Doolin. Everyone was crabby and exhausted and a forced distribution of Snickers bars did little to ease the carping. Fortunately, it was all downhill from there.
The ride into Doolin was spectacular. In addition to this local… castle thing…
… we had magnificent views of the coast and the white clusters of farm houses. I decided firmly at this point that I dislike descents. My hands rattled like maracas, and I was braking so hard that our Support Van Parent teased me later, saying: “I kept wondering how it was possible to make a bike go that slowly.” Downhill is scary. It just is.
The kids and my Co-Worker bombed right down, of course.
That evening, we ate together in a local pub, celebrating the 16th birthdays of the twins on our trip. A mandolin player serenaded them and cakes were brought, courtesy of their parents, who had arranged it all ahead of time.
Unfortunately, one of the twins was the young lady who found the ride too difficult. Though she did well the next day, her mom arrived yesterday to stay with her until her brother is finished with our trip. I’m proud of her for making the attempt, as we all knew the trip would be hard for her. Sometimes, just getting out there and doing your best is all you can ask for.
The exhausted kids fell asleep quickly: one literally at the dinner table! We retired to the rather sweet little B&B I’d booked us in Doolin, and collapsed into our beds. Day One of riding was done. I had assured the kids all day that Day Two would be easier, even if the terrain wasn’t any less steep. They refused to believe me. Was I right? Stay tuned…