Hot! The Accidental Cyclist

I had a plan to hike Ireland’s peninsulas. There are five of them. Like fingers reaching out to the Atlantic, their legendary cliffs rising out of the sea forming calm, scenic bays and nesting small, scenic islands. The northern peninsulas are the most well known and tourist filled. The southern ones are more remote and day-to-day.

I had a plan to hike one of each – the Sheep’s Head in the south, and the Dingle in the north. As part of my plan, I spent weekends hiking in Flagstaff building an endurance to altitude and distance. I would be more then prepared for flat, sea-level walks.

Then I decided to rent a bike.

It was part of the plan. Transportation to the villages on the Sheep’s Head only runs twice a week, and I wasn’t ready to try hitchhiking. I was headed to the village of Kilcrohane –only 14 miles from the main town of Bantry. How hard could 14 flat miles be?

The morning I arrived in Bantry, my head was like the weather – cloudy. I’d had a little too much fun the night before, but it was nothing food and exercise couldn’t shake. Nigel the Welsh bike guy set me up with a purple mountain bike, a side bag, and a bell.

After a stop for lunch, I was wobbling toward the peninsula negotiating gears, my pack, and riding on the left side of the road. I knew I was supposed to look for the main road following the south side of the peninsula, but cars were speeding by on my right. I saw a small single lane path pointing towards the Sheep’s Head and took the chance to get away from the traffic.

I went up small hills and down small hills happy with my choice as I passed by peaceful farms, blackberry patches and open views of the Bantry Bay. I knew I was on the wrong side of the peninsula, but I would find another side path and cross over eventually. By the time I shook the clouds from my head and focused on getting to Kilcrohane, some serious mountains were in between me and the other side.

All I could do was keep riding over the rolling hills that became less and less quaint as the hours passed. Also on my mind – the dark clouds coming in off the sea. As it started to drizzle, I stopped at a potter’s studio to put on rain gear. The potters were surprised by my visit and smiled a little when I told them where I was going. “ You are almost there,” they said. “You just have 3 miles up hill and 2 miles down…. But it is a very steep hill.”

It started to rain as I started to climb. I wasn’t alone. Four other riders on a Cycling Safariwere leapfrogging me as we made the push. None of us spoke. The hill leveled and we looked out over farms, old ruins, and the bay. That wasn’t too bad.

But it wasn’t over.

The hill continued and I got my wish. I was hiking in Ireland. But instead of walking through pastures and castles, I was pushing a purple mountain bike up a road called The Goat’s Path. The higher I got, the less I saw. The fog settled in and I couldn’t even see the Safari-ists a few feet in front of me. There was no visual “carrot” to encourage me to the top. I was stuck in time and space and all I could do was walk. Somewhere a leprechaun was laughing.

Eventually, we all made it to the top. I caught my breath then jumped on my bike for the reward – 2 miles of downhill switchbacks with a refreshing mist in my face. Cars be damned – I had a bell and a very focused need for a hot shower and a Guinness.

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