"Sometimes I think life is just a rodeo. The trick is to ride, and make it to the bell"
Volume 15, #9 - Active Transportation Summit
IN THIS EDITION:
Pedalling an Acoustic Motorbike in Ireland
Gabarus to Forchu Ride
2018 Cabot Trail in 4 Days (CT4D)
Saguenay Lac St. Jean Cycling Tour
About That Funny
Pedalling an Acoustic Motorbike in Ireland
by Paul MacDougall
"The day began with a rainbow in the sand
As I cycled into Kerry
Cattle grazing on a steep hillside
Looked well fed, well balanced
Close to the edge
Pedal on, pedal on, pedal on for miles
I came upon Luka Bloom in 1992. The name of the CD was The Acoustic Motorbike and it had me hooked. The song of the same name has long stuck with me and many times before going out cycling for longer rides I either play it or sing it to myself. If I find myself in a gruelling uphill climb (I cycle the Highlands a lot) I find myself repeating "pedal on, pedal on, pedal on for miles, pedal on." The lyrics and pedalling combine to give me a huge endorphin rush and before I realize it, I'm over the top of the hill. Bloom sings it like this:
"I work my legs
I pump my thighs
Take in the scenery passing me by
The Kerry mountains or the Wicklow hills
The antidote to my emotional ills"
Cycling is my antidote, there is no doubt. Bloom is a cyclist himself. This song didn't just come out of nowhere for him. He's ridden the Kerry Mountains and the Wicklow hills in his home country Ireland, me I never thought I would. Until.
Enter the wedding. A number of us were invited almost a year ago to Joe and Barb MacInnis' daughter's wedding in Ireland. Going to a wedding in Ireland (the groom's home) is more complicated than racing off to a local church then beating it to the Big Fiddle for the dance. There was some convincing involved. In the end most of us went and had the time of our lives.
After a few days in Dublin we trained it to Wexford for the wedding. The day after we caught a hurling match. It's the fastest field sport in the world and worth seeing. Then we drove further south to a tiny village called Glenbeigh for three days. It's a truly spectacular place.
Along the coast a jut of land sticks out and creates a natural sand beach that stretches a great distance. To one side is the Atlantic Ocean and on the other a rather steep hill that circles back from Rossbeigh beach to the town and it's quaint pubs and grand hotel. The hill is part of the Ring of Kerry, a 175 Km circle ride people come from all over the world to drive, or like Luka Bloom, pedal on. To heck with narrow roads, steep cliffs and pedalling on the "wrong" side of the road, I needed a bike and needed one as soon as possible.
Enter Kathy of Seefin Grove. Seefin Grove is complex of five terraced houses located in Glenbeigh. It overlooks Seefin Mountain to the front and Rossbeigh Beach in the back. The place is gorgeous. We stayed three nights and Kathy who runs it also rents touring bicycles. And she cycles, and has maps and plenty of suggestions. And we're right on the Ring Of Kerry road.
"I never thought I could have come this far
Through miles of mountains, valleys, streams
This is the right stuff filling my dreams"
For 15 euros per day I had my bike, helmet, tool kit and pump. I had come prepared for cycling not knowing if I would get up on my bike or not. Cycle shorts with gloves jammed into shoes take up little room. It was worth the preparation.
On our second day Barb had us horseback riding on Rossbeigh beach in the morning. That was a wonderful experience and deserves many more words than this. I set out cycling shortly after noon from our accommodations. The bikes are rented just a few minutes down the road where Kathy has her office.
I worried a bit about cycling on the other side of the road but it only took a few minutes to adjust. As for cars, Irish drivers are quite respectful, and many people cycle. A gent I met on a pub rest stop told me fines are high for car/bike collisions. Drivers are at fault. So they drive slow when they see you up ahead, and wait for a good, safe time to pass. Simple as that.
I decided to cycle part way further up the Ring road, then double back, swing into the beach area and tackle that hill we saw from the beach earlier. Within minutes of leaving the village those "well-fed, well- balanced" cattle were the first creatures I met.
Sheep are all over Ireland, grazing peacefully anywhere from steep hillsides to people's front yards. Seeing them from the car is one thing, up close and personal is another. That's why you need a camera. Since there is so much to see and do cycling in Ireland involves stopping.
The trek up that hill proved daunting and midway I realized anyone with any sense would have come the other more gradual direction. But like cycling up Smokey from the Sydney side it's a challenge to complete whether you ride it all or get off and walk a piece. Either way you did it. I did.
Almost to a person Irish folks I met over three days riding would say, "you'll enjoy a pint or two after your ride." Everywhere you go are little pubs serving delicious food, Guinness from the tap and most often their own craft beers. It's a way of life, a way to get to meet locals and other visitors and just all out good fun. By the end of day one I was ready for that pint. Plus I had like Bloom;
that would eat the hind leg of the lamb of God
Even though you know
I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing."
On day two I piled the bike into the back of the vehicle we rented and we drove to Killorglin. It's a beautiful little town on the Ring of Kerry and an area known as the Wild Atlantic Way. The others continued on in the car while I put my wheel back on, gloved up and headed off. I cycled through beautiful countryside, seaside views, pondered the cattle and sheep and eventually reached the ferry to Valentia Island.
The ride across was almost identical to the Englishtown ferry, stunning and swift. A minute's ride to the right and I was awestruck by the majestic Royal Valentia Hotel. Valentia is a small island, but this was a big hotel. I had to go inside and take a look. Reminiscent of the Keltic Lodge a lovely foyer led directly into the bright and spacious dining room packed with visitors. More than just me were visiting Valentia today.
Across from the hotel were numerous exhibits and a small museum highlighting the island's history. For years a rugged group of locals operated a coastguard station there and a cart laden down with ropes and life preservers was on display. Ships had gotten in trouble in these waters, after all they call it the Wild Atlantic Way.
There was a coastal road leading to the other end of the island and a bridge across to to the main peninsula or an inland route heading up to the 600 feet top of Geokaun Mountain and the Fogher Cliffs. I took this route through winding countryside, abandoned ruins, stone walls and eventually a 15 minute walk to the very top. Spectacular views in every direction welcomed me including the neighbouring Dingle Peninsula and the Skellig Islands, the site of an ancient isolated monastery, where they filmed Luke Skywalker's swansong in The Last Jedi.
The ride back to Portmagee bridge to get picked up was all downhill and two ladies from the other side said I should come back and do the whole Ring of Kerry in the yearly charity cycle. 10,000 cyclists, no cars, 175 kms in one day. Hmm.
On my last riding day we had driven over to the Dingle Peninsula, passing through a number of beautiful little villages and stopping for a pint in Dick Mack's pub in Dingle town. Near the tip of the peninsula is a tiny town called Ballyferriter where 75% of the people speak Irish Gaelic daily. We stayed at the Ceann Sibeal, the westernmost hotel in all of Europe and the same one where the Star Wars crew stayed.
I discovered that the hotel desk clerk cycled himself. He arranged a bike for me for the next morning from a rental shop that delivered. I decided to continue along the same direction, eventually cut overland and ride back into Ballyferriter along the same route we had done in the car. The magnificent scenes of countryside and ocean seen from the car were magnified tenfold on the bicycle.
Fields full of sheep on either side of the road, some crossing the road, cattle grazing just like the song says, an Irish fairy ring, constructed centuries ago by well, fairies, pubs, small coffee shops and an 1840s era famine homestead in remarkable condition dotted the peninsula. Cycling in Ireland is exploring, it's stopping, it's history, it's remarkable. And everywhere you go someone talks to you and gets the distances wrong.
An older gent at the fairy ring exhibit told me I had 25 miles to go straight into a headwind before I made my hotel. But I knew where I was and my map said 10 kms. That slow drawn pint of Guinness in the pub across from the hotel was a lot closer.
I'd encourage anyone to think about Ireland for a cycling vacation. Almost everywhere rented bikes. I did no planning ahead, but you could. Less than five hours from St John's you are in Dublin. A train can take you anywhere and you can pick up a rental. Then it's just just you and your acoustic motorbike. And remember riding a bike is just
"a motion built upon human toil," it's "nuclear free" and "needs no oil." Pedal on.
Many thanks to Luka Bloom for letting me freely quote his song.
Listen to himself here. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=O5TFTbT5eEM