May-June, 1994

And so I decided to use the three weeks of vacation I had accumulated, for a bicycle trip around Ireland. I found a cheap flight on an Air Transaat flight out of Toronto. I was seated near the restroom, and during the flight the toilet overflowed and soaked the carpet. Meanwhile, the toddler on her mother's lap behind me screamed and kicked the back of the seat for the entire flight. I spent nine hours with my feet raised keep them dry and my turtleneck pulled up over my nose to block out the smell and the noise.

As we began the descent toward Dublin, we cut through layer after layer of clouds. We were five minutes from landing when finally a hole in the clouds revealed a sweet landscape of the most brilliant emerald green, cut into crazy shapes and separated by low stone walls. The air of Dublin hit me like a damp towel. I caught a shuttle to Connolly Station. I was nearly run over as I stepped off the curb. Cars were racing toward me on the wrong side of the street, and the drivers were on the wrong side of the cars. "Look right, look left, look right again" does not work here.

I took the train from Dublin along the Royal Canal, part of an elaborate 18th century that connected much of central Ireland. It was spitting rain when we arrived in Sligo, and I got hopelessly lost in the maze of unmarked streets, arms breaking under the weight of my awkward panniers. A sports journalist offered me a ride, and then invited me out for a pint. I promised to meet him at a local pub later on, but instead I settled into a bottomless chair in front of a roaring peat fire in the salon at the Eden Hill Hostel.

Beyond getting out from under my luggage, my top priority was renting a bicycle, which I finally secured late that afternoon at Conway's. By then I knew the village quite well, considering the distance I had traveled on foot. The bicycle was a dog with dragging brakes, but the sub was peeping out and I was happy to pedal. I headed out toward Knocknarea, but it was a steep climb, and it was already 6:00 pm. The sky opened up about once an hour, for about two minutes. By the time I put my rainsuit on, it was time to take it off. The roads were very narrow, and the cars didn't give the bikes much space, even when there was no oncoming traffic. I was wet and discouraged and I'd been up for 30 hours straight. I had a nice salmon salad at a cute little restaurant I'd passed earlier in the day. On the way, some derelict hit me up for change, then grabbed my ass as I walked away. I took a swing at him and then ducked into the restaurant. But he followed me in and tried repeatedly to steal the bike, while the bartender and I shooed him away.

Back at the hostel, I sank into a chair in front of a cheery peat fire, and thanked myself for bringing a warm sleeping bag. Even big drafty Victorian homes like the Eden Hill Hostel had no central heating, and were warmed only by a handful of bricquets in a ceramic fireplace.

I slept so hard that night that I had to drag myself out of bed at 8:00 am, and all the hurrying in the world didn't get me to the station in time for the first bus to Donnegal. But along the way I followed a few pedestrians down an alley and stumbled onto the Rooftop Restaurant, where I enjoyed a bird's eye view of Donnegal, big thick slices of cured ham, a bottomless cup of coffee, a pitcher of fresh cream and the best bread I'd ever eaten. "Does it have a name?" I asked. "Brown bread," replied the cashier. So I drank cup after cup of coffee, wrote in my journal, contemplated the rooftops of Sligo, and waited for the noon bus to Donnegal.

Curls of smoke rose from double chimneys — smoke that I now knew came from peat fires — and it is this smoke that gives the sweet flavor to the air that I noticed the minute I stepped off the plane. I passed a shop that morning selling tiny stoves, refrigerators and washing machines. Everything on a scale for the tidy two-story row houses with their pointed tile rooves stucco walls and doorways every color in the rainbow.

I had a nice ride up the coast, passing one adorable village after another. The castle perched on the mountain ringed by wonderful sandy beaches was Mullaghmore, Ireland's St-Malo. I arrived in Donnegal around 1:30, and was a little horrified by thr hoardes of tourists choking its tiny streets, and it was nerve-wracking to navigate the narrow sidewalks with my heavy load. I finally find O'Doherty's Fishing Tackle and the bike I had rented. The bike was basically okay, with good gears and tires, but I had almost no brakes. The pads were top brittle, and I couldn't adjust them down because the wheels were out of true. The pedal and the rear wheel were sticky. I worked on the bike for several hours, adjusting the brakes as best I could and adding fittings to hold my panniers. By then it was late and I decided to spend the night in Donnegal. I got a room at the Donnegal Town Hostel, dropped off the bike and my gear and went on a grand tour of the town, from the crumbling castle to the the Franciscan Monastery. It continued to rain for about two minutes once an hour. I no longer bothered putting on my rainsuit. Suddenly I was ravenous, so I popped into the Atlantic Cafe, where I had a wonderful meal of Irish lamb with a tangy mint sauce, a big potato "mushy" (dressing?), fistfulls of fresh cauliflower, carrots and big fat puffy peas (reconstituted from dry). I stopped into the Castle Bar for a beer and then made my way back to the hostel, ready to turn in for the night, but ran into three lively Swedish ladies who were looking for live music. Birgitta, Ava, Helen and me ended up at the Scotsman, where I got my first taste of Irish pub "craic". "Father Molloy" (was he really a priest?) and Ignatius, his straight man began a hilarious dialogue. Sitting next to him, I took the brunt of it, but soon began dishing out as much as I received. The bartender bested us both, and soon we were all laughing until our sides ached. We closed down the pub at 11:00.

I tossed and turned until the wee hours. Hostel beds have mattresses worn pancake thin and stretched over a skeleton of back-stabbing springs.

Finally, the next morning, I started to pedal. The weather alternated between steady drizzle and cloudburst. I discovered that on busy Killybegs Road there was barely room for two cars, and none at all for. bicycle. And the road had neither shoulders nor ditches. When two cars met, I had to throw myself over a stone wall. Resort to Plan B: zig-zag along the six-foot- wide paved cowpath on either side of the main road. Great scenery, big hills and 18th-century bridges in the middle of the woods. No place for breakfast. But in Dunkineely I found a divey-looking cafe. The only clients who 10 old coots in tweed caps and me. But for 95 pence I had "white coffee" (with fresh cream, that fabulous brown "soda bread" and a bowl of homemade soup. I made good time into Killybegs, though it was still pouring. Most of the traffic turned off at Ardara, and I found myself biycling along the side of a cliff. Sheep grazed on vertical pastures that rose to a rocky ridge concealed in clouds. I stopped again and again to take pictured of the stone houses, sheep on the road in front of me, and the fuschia bushes that ran rampant everywhere. By now I understood that Ireland was going to be about biking in the rain, and I would have to find a way to be okay with that. I followed a hand-painted sign for "scenic route to Kilcar - cliffs - beaches - fishing" and was soon pedalling along a rollee coaster of a road along a lovely seacoast. It reminded me of why I decided to bike in Ireland, despite the rain, the cold, the hills and how far I was from home.

In Muckros Head, I bought purple mohair sweater from a knitter who sold her work out of a closet in an old shed. The farther north I went it seemed, the nicer the people. I walked down to a wide sandy beach among the sheep. The cliffs above me were prehistoric, green with patches of gray granite, the same color as the stone houses and the same color as the sheep that dotted the cliffs, as high up as I could see, all the way up to the gray clouds that concealed the top of the ridge. I wound along the coast road, either pushing the bike uphill, or barreling down the other side, and arrived at Derrylahan Hostel in Kilcar, happy for a cup of hot tea, a place to wash my mud-soaked clothes and a tepid shower.

Slieve League

The forecast called for relatively dry weather, so I decided to hike to Slieve League instead of continuing to Glencolomkille by bicycle. I biked to Teelin, where I threw my bike over a bank and locked it to a tree. I was prepared to walk from Teelin to Bunglas, but the first car that passed gave me a ride to the end of the road. I was hoping to make a loop along the cliffs to the first peak at 430 m, then follow an abandoned road down the other side of the mountain to Teelin. There were quite a few cars at the trailhead, but most people only hiked up a half hour or so to Eagle's Nest for a view of the sheer wall of Slieve League dropping away to a green ocean and some spectacular sandy coves. The ground was totally saturated, so it was difficult picking my way up to the top of the ridge in my old sneakers. It was the closest thing to a sunny day in Ireland, with a high cloud ceilings and some outbursts of actual sunshine. The mud was greasy, and there were many neat cuts of turf beside bricks of drying peat. In addition to sheep, the dominant life form here was fuzzy brown bunnies, and there were so many rabbit droppings that I began to wonder if peat was no more than layers and layers of decaying rabbit shit.

Near the top of the ridge I caught up with two other hikers — Connie from Idaho and Ann Farley from Delaware, and they decided to accompany me to Teelin. I was quite pleased since by then the clouds were descending and I wouldn't have had the courage to set off over the mountain alone.

We headed down into a saddle with wisps of clouds shooting over the gap and vanishing into the heather in front of us. From the peak, we had an astonishing view of the knife-edge of "One Man's Path," (so- called because it was only wide enough for one person). The path down to Teelin was now a clearly-defined silvery ribbon loping along the left side of the valley above a tumbling brook. But how to get there? The pitch was much too steep. Finally, Connie spotted a narrow path among tge rocks straight in front if us which appeared to angle off toward the road. This was the hardest part of the hike, but we managed. We passed through one section where huge boulders had tumbled together to form caves and passages, and where I fully expected to encounter druids. Even the road was mysterious. Both sides were built up with stone walls for its entire length.

Later our host at the dairy Derrylahan told me that the road — and the shrine at the top of the road — were built by Spanish sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of the 16th century. Only a few survived the wreck and the treacherous climb up the Slieve,

As usual our descent was carefully monitored by sheep — isolated males near the top, and more females and white-as-snow lambs as we approached Teelin. They have black faces and black legs and shaky white bodies. They are so alert and so agile and I sense only curiosity from them. Maybe they are the most highly evolved of sheep, who have now died and come here to Sheep Heaven. I took pictures of them and of the tiny wild orchids and yellow potentilla clinging to the riverbanks. It only rained for 20 minutes or so near the top and we were able to hike out of it.

Back in Teelin, we exchanged addresses but unfortunately couldn't share an Irish coffee at the Rusty Mackerel pub since it was closed until 6 pm. I retrieved my bike and pedaled over the hill to Carrick and then Kilcar. I exchange the last of my money — already! — at the bank in Carrick. It's just someone's living room, and customers are only allowed in one at a time. The missus exchanged my money while her better half arranged plastic bags full of coins on the floor!

In Kilcar, I had an Irish coffee at the Piper's Rest and noticed that in this village, the gas pumps are on the sidewalk, and the cars block one lane of traffic when they fill up. Kilcar is my favorite village so far. I've made three trips into the village so far, including a wild ride to the pub last night. There was supposed to be live music at John Joe's and at 9:45. I somehow got the energy to go out. It was still light and our host showed me the way to a shortcut over the mountain and said it was only 20 minutes. By now I should have realized all estimates of distances in Ireland are off by at least 200%. But what a great walk through the landscape from 100 years ago of abandoned cottages and barns and stone walls wildly overgrown with potentilla and fuchsia and bluebells. Though the descending dark made skeletons of old farms even eerier, I felt only exhilaration and awe of the moonlit rock.

How amazing is this Irish institution of the pub! In the smallest, dingiest most poorly furnished of old storefronts, all of society — young and old, fisherman and farmers, tourists and natives — gather simply to chit-chat over a bottle of Guinness. Two young fiddlers made an appearance about 10:30, but by 11:15, I was on my way back up the hill, knowing I had a good 45 minute walk in front of me. But a farmer gave me a lift all the way to the hostel, and he said, "ayuh" by aspirating great quantities of air like I've only heard people do into other two places on earth — Sweden and Newfoundland.

The hostel in Glencolmcille.

Thursday, June 1, 1995
Glencolmcille, Ireland

Once again I am overwhelmed at where I find myself tonight. I got a pretty good start this morning. I rolled down the hill into Carrick after a warm goodbye from hosteler Sean McCloskey, a romantic character who made lots of references to married women having affairs while traveling. He was a guest for Derrylahan 14 years ago (although he grew up in the area) when the owner had a heart attack. Sean revived him with CPR, then looked after the hostel while he recuperated, and eventually cared for him at home until he died. The owner (Patrick) willed his property to Sean when he died.

On the road between Carrick and Malin Bay, I met this lovely lady and her retired sheepdog, and asked if I could take their picture.

This morning was a chilliest day so far, although it only rained hard a few times. I climbed into the moors behind Slieve League, heading for the next valley. I feel I am penetrating deeper and deeper into the heart of Donnegal, leaving traffic and civilization and mild weather farther and father behind. At the height of land, the road split from Malin Beg Bay or Glencolmcille. Ahead was a narrow track behind Slieve League, shrouded in thick clouds as usual. I wound through a peat bog where the earth was cut like corduroy and there were stacks of peat bricks everywhere. In the middle of this gray and navy and burgundy landscape came a tiny blue-eyed white-haired fairy with a dashing black-and-white sheepdog. I abandoned my reservations and asked to take their picture, so stunning were they against the dark mountain. I knew there were many megalithic tombs along this road, but the earth was so tortured it was hard to tell a tomb from a tumbledown house from an old stone wall from a pile of rocks. I pedalws all the way out to Malin Beg running on empty and searching in vain for a pub or even a grocery store. But the great crescent-shaped bay backed by the shoulder of Slieve League made it all worthwhile. I had a picnic in the rain of cheddar cheese, apples and the candies leftover from the previous day's hike.

Another long push over the mountain to Glencolmcille, but what an eyefull of a downhill ride, careening toward Glen Head and then veering off sharply toward a village at the mouth of a river. I thought he would have a heart attack dragging my bike up the footpath to Dooey Hostel, but this place is suitably mystical, ensconced in some sort of ruined fort pinned to the side of the cliff. It is damp and drafty as can be, but our room stares straight out at Martello Tower on Glen Head.

Mary McGinnis from Cleveland, who has five sisters and loves decorative painting, immediately offered me a cup of tea and eventually I added my tomatoes and carrots to her spaghetti sauce and we ate dinner together.

I couldn't resist another short sprint into the village after supper, where I finally found a few Celtic stone pillars. This feels like a holy place. There are so many ruins of shrines, churches and hermitages all around. The atmosphere is deep, dark, contemplative, stone-on-stone. I have come to love the cool air, the constant light drizzle, the smoke of the peat fires, the villagers in their thick Irish sweaters and wool caps, and the subdued burgundy of the heather on the cliffs. I summoned my courage and stuck my nose into Roarty's Bar, where a hot whiskey (hot water, whiskey, sugar and cloves) warmed my bones. The bartender with big blue eyes —-young enough to be my son — came around and sat down beside me and we talked all about Canada and Ireland.

Visible at my right is the devil's penis. All that was left of him after St. Columba hacked him to bit and threw him into the harbor at Port.

Friday, June 2, 1995
Glencolmcille, Ireland

So I decided to stay another day. Today it was almost sunny, and it only rained a few times. The best weather I've had so far. This morning I took pictures and visited the folk museum and the Ulster Cultural Institute. I went to the local factory store where a nice woman agreed to make me a sweater and exactly the color size and style I wanted by the end of the day, and started my bike ride I bought some bananas and carrots for lunch and started my bike ride over the mountain to the ghost town of Port. "Bike" is a figure of speech. I pushed the bike up a 300 m cliff on a dirt track that lead to a radio tower at the top of the ridge. From there I had a staggering view of the huge burgundy-tinged massif that disappeared into the sea on one side and continued forever on the other. The road became a streambed through the peat that either fell off the cliff to my left or vanished into the bog on the right. I had a moment when I realized that if anything happened to me out there it could be days or weeks before anyone found me. Aside from the skeletons of the last three cars that tried to make this trip and some sticks of drying peat there was no sign of other humans and certainly no bicycle tire tracks. It was a bumpy ride, but what a view as I hooked right just before the edge of the earth and bounced toward scarred cliffs and piles of stone that were all that remains of the village of Port. And all that was left of the devil that Saint Columba hacked to bits and threw into the sea was a giant black stone penis in the cove at Port. I took the long way around via a backroad to Glencolmcille. It was at least 10 km through the gray rock and Heather and the lowering sky with only the curl of smoke from an occasional chimney to remind me of civilization. I saw not one car all day I arrived back at the knit shop just before five and gratefully snuggled into my new sweater as the rain began to fall.

Monday, June 5, 1995

There was supposed to be a musical event in Min an Aoire, a tiny town over the mountain from Glencolmcille, but it began to rain and I was afraid if I took the bike I wouldn't be able to find my way back in the dark. My host assured me lots of people would be going, so I set decided to hitchhike. It was a lovely walk through a light film of rain up the glen and over a mountain pass, but I only had the sheep for company. Only one car passed me and he didn't stop. At the top of the pass there was still no village in sight and the rain had soaked me through, so I turned around and started back down. Luckily a car picked me up and drove me into town, where I spent the evening at Roarty's listening old timey music and drinking hot whiskey.

I rolled away in a light rain the next morning, climbing up and over the same pass I climbed the night before, but this time making it all the way to the infamous Min an Aoire, where I stopped for tea at O'Donnell's Pub. It was raining hard by now and I was heading into the Glengesh Pass. Luckily I found a way to adjust my brakes so I had a better chance of getting down the other side. Soon I was completely soaked despite my rainsuit, and it was a steep climb with more pushing and pulling than pedaling. The sky was a bit clear on the other side and I had a fantastic glimpse of the pass through the fog. I was surprised to see fir trees on the glen walls. There were some sharp hairpin turns sliding down the pass. I squeezed my brakes until my hands were numb and I really thought I would fly over the handlebars. The sun peeked out for a bit at the bottom of the pass, but then the clouds returned and the temperature began to plummet.

I was appalled by the crowds at Ardara. It was the Weavers' Festival, and I wanted to continue on, but had a few problems to solve. The local pharmacist/photographer rigged up a makeshift darkroom in his attic so he could remove a roll of film that had torn off inside my camera. He wouldn't take a penny for it, but seem thrilled when I gave him a maple leaf pin pen and a loony. I A bigger problem was that despite my bank's guarantees, I had discovered that my ATM card did not work in Ireland, and I had just learned that the banks were not open at Saturday nor Sunday nor Monday, since it was a bank holiday. I had only 30 pounds to carry me through the next three days, and the hostels would take at least 18, which meant I could have only one small meal a day and no other expenses. I had lunch at the heritage center, but by then it was getting late, so I decided to stay in the hospital at Ardara. There was good live music on the village square and in all of the pubs, but as I wandered I began to feel ill, so I bought a book about Irish history and spent most of the evening reading in bed? Around 11pm, I felt a bit better and ventured out for an hour so. In every pub there were dozens of musicians jamming and it was impossible to get in the door, let alone find a place to sit. I finally found a corner in a smaller pub where musicians outnumbered the audience 2 to 1. An older couple bought me a beer and we talked a bit.

I had settled in comfortably at the hostel when two drunk local girls barged in and started laughing and chatting with the lights on at 2 am. At 2:30 I asked them how much longer they'd be. A few minutes later the drunk boyfriend came into the room and crawled into bed with one of the girls. That was too much for me, so I woke up the warden and asked him if I could sleep someplace else. He gave me his bed in the living room, where I slept a bit finally before several more rounds of drunks coming in turning on the lights yelling and throwing up.

On the beach at Crohy Head in my brand-new Irish wool sweater, with Mount Errigal in the background.

At 7 am it was light and I waited no longer to pack my stuff and pedal away through the deserted streets. I took a tiny side road over the moors from our Ardara to Maas to cut some distance. I was completely alone and it was a bit spooky. Suddenly I came face-to-face with a young farmer and a magnificent sheepdog. I don't know who was more startled. He asked me where I was from and if I was traveling alone. When I told him the truth — although I wondered if I should have — he said, "Geez, you're a tight woman." At the time I felt frightened, but later realized this was one of the sweet moments of the trip. "I'm a farmer," he said simply, and set his companion to lightning quick action with one word.

It was cold and cloudy and I was comfortable wearing the two polar fleece jackets. I had gotten rid of the T-shirts, would only get cold and clammy. I was pedaling near the ocean now, bumping over the rocky headlands from one cove to another. The road was deserted. Near Dungloe the low hills were completely bare — not even shrubs. I sat at the fork in the road and ate a long overdue breakfast of soda bread and cheese, and pondered whether to take the back road to the hostel in Tor, or head along the coast to the hostel in Crohy Head, or get a cup of tea in Dungloe. I opted for the tea and Dungloe, hoping I might get lucky at the ATM there, but it spit spit out my card as usual. Nothing is open on Sunday in Ireland. A small brown dog jumped on me and then on a young woman coming up the street. I asked her if she knew where I could get a cup of tea and she invited me to her place. Her name was Louise Ewing, and she was an ex-nun and bookbinder from Sussex who had come to work in a factory in Dungloe after a horrible experience at a hermitage in County Mayo. She lived in the tiniest of cottages — just one room with a nice ceramic fireplace — and she had a cherubic face with curly hair and rosy cheeks. She spoke freely of her spiritual quest, and of her love for, and eventual disillusionment with, the nuns where she lived for six years. Now she was taking two years off, but planned eventually to return to a life of solitude and prayer. She was born in Zimbabwe and has lived all over the world. We ended up pooling our resources to make a lunch of spaghetti with tomato sauce. Then she took me for a tour of Dungloe including the beach Crohy Head and a magnificent sand dune peninsula known as Cruit. It was a beautiful sunny day — the nicest of the trip. We walked on the beach and picked shells. We also visited her friend Sadie, a very perky 66-year-old who had spent most of her life in Portland, Maine. She met her American husband in Glasgow, where she spent her adolescence and where he was stationed during the war. That evening we all ended up Leo's Tavern. Leo had been hosting sing-alongs at his pub near Crolly for 27 years, and his children founded the Irish supergroup Clannad. It was a wonderful evening. Many local people got up and sang. I love these pubs with their bar on one end and benches against the wall and tiny coffee tables. The musicians usually sing and play wherever they're sitting. The cigarette smoke drove us out at midnight. I slept on Louise's floor. By morning she was feeling a need for some solitude, so I made her brewed coffee — a luxury she hadn't enjoyed for a while — and she stayed in bed with my books while Sadie and I drove to Poisoned Glen. We arrived in thick fog and a light rain, of course, but the vertical walls of Mount Errigal were still stunning, and I was even more impressed by the lower bare rock walls that the line Poisoned Glen.

Louise and Sadie

We had lunch at the center of Dunleavy — Sadie wouldn't let me pay for anything — I and bought a T-shirt showing the "four seasons of Ireland" (a sheep in rubber boots in the rain).

I was sleepy, but it was time to move on the weather was a bit drier now I gave one of my guidebooks to Louise, we exchanged addresses and I rolled down the coast toward Burtonport. I sat for a while on the quay and debating whether to take the ferry to Arun Island. But the weather was clearing, so I continued up the coast. It was the nicest biking of the trip, wandering between sand dunes covered with long silky gray-green grass from one adorable village to another. Arungaire was irresistible, but I still had no cash for the B&Bs, so I continued on to Crolly, where after a quick Guinness at Paddy Oig's Pub, I crawled up the cliff to the Creag an Iolaire hostel in Tor. It was misting rain of course, but I had come to love walking through the bog in the mist. Thevcuckoo was calling across a small lake that I could barely see in the rain and the fading light. The hostel is a low rambling 200-year-old farmhouse which was probably perched on a mountaintop, though it was impossible to see where we were in the thick fog.

Tuesday, June 6, 1995
Dunfanaghy, Ireland

I never saw the place where I stayed last night. I woke up in the cloud. I sat around until 10:30, but the weather had not cleared, so I pedaled away in the pouring rain.

My first priority was to get to a bank in Bunbeg. How wonderful it would be to finally have money in my pocket again! So I almost fell to the floor when the clerk announced the bank had refused the transaction, then threw me out because they were closing for lunch.

I sat on the stone wall and cried my heart out. My worst nightmare had come true. I was flat broke in the rain 3000 miles from home. A bus driver came to use the phone and asked if I was okay, and I sobbed out my story. He got me into a bus bound for the Garda, where the most charming policeman helped me calm down enough to figure out that I must call my bank. The international operator put me right through. The problem was that my limit was apparently much lower than I thought — only $2000 — and one missed payment had put me over my limit. A very nice lady took pity on me, and after asking me a few questions, increased my limit to $4000. I returned to the bank and triumphantly fattened my money belt with 150 Irish pounds. I was still a bit shaken, so I decided to have a good lunch at the Errigal Inn in Derrybeg. Big plate of lamb, vegetables, white coffee and strawberry flan.

I almost checked into the Inn — there was a ceiladh nearby that night — but it was 25 pounds and the weather had cleared a bit, so I moved down the coast. The moral of this trip was, "when in doubt, pedal." I was happy biking that broken road through the bog and the fine mist. I was thinking about Flan Brian's theory that excessive bicycling can cause the molecules of the bicycle to merge with those of the rider, producing a creature that's half human and half bicycle, and I was wondering if that's what is what was happening to me.

Wednesday, June 7
Dunleavy, Ireland

I'm staying in the darkest, dampest, dingiest of hostels. I will repay myself in Irish sweaters for putting up with these hellholes and never paying the extra 10 pounds for a bed-and-breakfast. I ran out of steam today. This morning and I biked a very fast two hours from Dunfanaghy to Dunleavy with Noreen, the Australian woman who had been on the road for five months with her husband. She was the mayor of a suburb of Melbourne, and her husband was an engineer who opened a bicycle shop, and they sold everything to bicycle around the world. They planned to settle eventually in Turkey.

It was a fairly dry day, so I wanted to hike into Poisoned Glen. after a big Irish breakfast in front of a roaring peak fire at Dunleavy Center, I checked into the hospital started up the Glen. But the farther I ventured up the glen, the deeper the water got. I tried to get to drier ground by hiking uphill, but the blog was everywhere. I crawled back to the hostel, exhausted and cold, and zipped myself into my sleeping bag. Now the fire is going, my shoes are drying and I feel a bit better after consuming new potatoes and a can of what looked and smelled like dog food.

Mountain pass near Slieve Snagh, on the road to Doocharry.

Saturday, June 10
On the train and Sligo

The hostel and Dunleavy got a bit better when the owner came in and made a lovely peat fire in the hearth. I curled up in front of it with the book. I also made friends with Anna-Katherine and Thorsten, a couple from the Faroe Islands. They had sailed their boat from the Faeroes to Northern Ireland, and has been cycling for two weeks. We took a perverse pleasure in getting up at 7:30, since as usual the revelers woke us up at 3 am. We pedaled together for a while up the pass in the light rain. I lost them in a hard rain on the other side where I turned off for Church Hill. The landscape was softer here, and I thought the wild west coast was behind me. But on the other side of the village, I was once again in the bog with a fierce, icy headwind. It was a dreadful faux plat that actually climbed like hell, and with the wind so strong, I couldn't move the bike at all. I finally got off and walked to save energy, since I only had two scones and two green apples for food, and I couldn't get any more food until I reached Doocharry. The bog seemed to stretch forever. I couldn't believe this road was on the map as a major highway. There were no cars and no houses, and I could hardly see between the wind and the rain. By now I was wearing all my clothing — heavy pants, two sweaters, a rainsuit, two pairs of gloves and a wool hat under my helmet — and I just kept crawling across to bog. I had been on the road for four hours and was beginning to wonder when the soggy sun poked through the mist and the bicycle began to roll downhill. I hardly touch my petals for the next hour as I streaked downhill through unspeakable, beauty between 600 m cliffs and into a high valley with a sandy-shored lough. I coasted into Doocharry, half-dead with fatigue and badly beaten up by the rain and the cold when. I went into the pub and learned they didn't serve meals, but when they saw my expression they produced a pot of coffee and two ham and cheese sandwiches which I wolfed down in record time. It was another climb out of Doocharry up and over the moor, and I was still battling high winds, rain and cold. It was the longest, hardest day of the trip. I decided to treat myself to one night in B&B. But although the room and especially a real bed and a real shower were fabulous, the owner and the other guests were invisible, and I was more alone than at any time on the trip. I'll take the hard beds in the cold rooms and the condensation on the windows and the cold showers and the roommates who come home from the pub at all hours of the night and I was hostile anytime over the icy perfection of the B&B.

I was in fine form when I arrived in Donegal. I left off my baggage and went to the went on a shopping spree. Bach at the hostel I was delighted to run into Noreen Moore, the cyclist from Melbourne, and we spent the evening together. I even dragged her off to the Scotsman — her first visit to an Irish pub — and once again the joint was jumping. At one point there were two whiskeys and three glasses of Guinness in front of me, and somehow it all disappeared. We were serenaded all night by Danny Martin on the accordion, and Danny and I eventually took a spin around the floor.

Noreen Moore, former mayor of Collingwood, Victoria, at the hostel in Donnegal.

I dropped in at the Scotsman the next morning to say good-bye and give Veronica, the bartender, a maple leaf pin. She bought me a whiskey, and someone else bought me another and another, and I was barely able to grope up my way down the street to the bus to Sligo.

A memorable end to a memorable adventure!