When I turned 40, I decided to take off to Ireland, with a bicycle. An untrained cylist, a new bike, tons of gear, a few outfits, not too much cash, a few phone cards, a map, no reservations & my questionable intuition. No reservations, EXCEPT for the one I made at the Ballynahinch Castle in the Connemara area of Ireland for two nights, for the night of my birthday, and the day after. I figured why not turn 40 in a castle, right? I had a back-pack on, panniers on the bike, and water. I had a list of hostels i could stay in, energy bars, and some kind of mad drive. So here I go….
The day I was leaving, I freaked out. I started crying to my friend Claudia who was taking me to the Atlanta airport. I basically felt totally nuts. I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t even get into the training aspect too much of biking & here I was thinking I could actually pull this off. Now it was time, and I was having an emotional attack on the way to the airport, crying & insisting I couldn’t do it. Claudia was awesome & spewing all kinds of wise encouraging buddah words – none of which I even heard – all I heard is, you are so fucked. You are a sadist. And I think I even heard my old friend Cathy saying ” why do you always take the hard road” …..To myself, I whispered…You spent all this money and now you have to go do it… everyone will think you are a big giant baby. I self-talked myself to death. And then I drank rum in the airport bar and I was able to get on the plane.
The plane was one of those huge roomy ones, and the flight was to take about 8 hours. I ended up with a three-seat section all to myself across from a great guy who also had the same set-up. He was quiet, and had peaceful energy. I read a little, I listened to music and I tried to sleep. We smiled at each other, but we didn’t speak. I appreciated this, because I was deep in meditative thought – where would I end up? what would I experience? Who was I going to meet while I was there? I was breathing, I was opening. The book I took to read was speaking to me in deep, thought-provoking ways and I began to feel certain I made the right move by planning, and then following through with this trip after all.
When I arrived in Shannon, it was about 2 a.m. US time & I had a bike to assemble from a big box/bike bag that I borrowed from Mike Palermi at the Cartecay Bike Shop. So I carted it into this long glass hallway, unpacked it and assembled it in there. This took probably longer than it would take most people, but I was a girl with no plans, no deadlines, so I didn’t rush and just welcomed every conversation that came my way and listened to words resembling, “May the Wind always be at your back Love” and “OOOHHH Love, are you so pretty and traveling alone? You shouldn’t be traveling alone in the country” oh and unfortunately other words like, “Does the US have their heads up their arse? What was your country thinking bringing him back!” Speaking of George Bush, as our country had just gone through it’s re-election process, and let’s just say, most of the Irish weren’t so happy about it and I apparently was a target for some Irish political opinions. (which is actually funny, given I have this rule – I don’t talk religion or politics, so i did some heavy nodding)
So my plan was to assemble the bike there, but gratefully skip the chaotic airport traffic by hopping on a bus. This was soley to avoid having to ride my bike on the interstate, and not being sure of the whole riding on the other side of the road issue, as well as 7 rotaries to go through before I even got to that interstate, I figured I’d get dropped off in Clarecastle, one of the first stops on my way to spend the night in Ennis at the hostel there on the river that runs through town, making the chances of me crashing within my first hour, greatly reduced. I had it all figured out.
I starting rolling my bike, everything was packed. I went up to the line of buses sitting there waiting to take passengers away…. the first bus driver sitting there drinking coffee, reading the newspaper. He says, “Oh NO Love, No buses for at least four hours… you have to ride out! (plus, the bike would have the right to be refused if they were full, so I could have waited, and still been sitting there) Look at you, you’re all set!” You should go now. I told him there was no way I could, asked him why all these buses were here , and in my own foggy hell, I see him writing me directions on a little piece of white note paper. I said No! I’ll take a taxi, and he laughed and said – “oh Curly Cue! You are only afraid! You will ride out because you’re all set…it’s easy! You can do it. Here, I am drawing you a map. Just follow it”. He drew 8 rotaries, listed by number, and he drew an arrow to the exit i was supposed to take from that particular rotary. He filled the paper with arrows/circles/numbers. Okay. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that this is like being presented chinese or some puzzle -but I didn’t have a choice. I had to listen intently and I had to follow this funny map. I was either riding, or I was staying at the airport for a long time, which would have thrown off my whole day; not to mention that big coward self talk that i had to battle… so i took a deep breath, looked for the car that could be speeding toward me to end my life, shut my eyes for a few minutes, and just started pumping these thighs.
I rode to the first rotary, stopped & watched how the traffic flowed (opposite) and i look at my hand-made map, and I took it on. I jumped in there, rode against what I was used to, and followed the gripped, white knuckled directions in my fist. This trip was going to be a trip! Following directions? Doing everything opposite? Yeah okay.
Needless to say, I made it out of the airport and started my ride on N18 toward my first stop, Killone Augustinian Convent in Clarecastle. I roamed around, touching stones. I examined the incredible cemetary stones, carvings… I ate figs in the field, and thought about the years I spent wanting to join a convent when I was younger. It appealled to me, and was something i considered with great thought in my life at one time. Then I thought about all the lives and thoughts i’ve lived already in this body, and the rocky earth surrounding this place. I said goodbye to my first stop and started peddling again.
The padded pants I was wearing were not feeling quite thick enough after only three hours, my feet weren’t thrilled, but I was. I was almost forty, I was free. I headed toward Ennis, County Clare.
I found myself on emptier roadways with lots of walls, and even though i rode along side them, I felt like I didn’t care if I really got into whatever those walls protected, I was simply happy to ride along side them. I’m 100% Irish, so by this point, my face is BEET Red, and I am probably panting with my mouth open, but somehow, my legs kept moving. I looked at the little white houses all in a row…. and then I hear the loud BEEPing of the Bus approaching from behind me, I’m surely not too far in the road?? But out of the driver’s window is my map-maker, and he yells out his window to me…. “HOW DO YA DO, CURLY CUE????” and he drove on past me, waving and laughing. I think I may have mumbled something not so nice, and probably screwed up my face slightly, but today, I’m considering that guy, an angel in disguise.