Achill Island → Belmullet → Ballina
Mileage: 120.5 miles Elevation gain: 4,660’
Total mileage so far: 789.1 miles Total elevation gain so far: 38,843’
Yesterday I left Achill Island around 9:00 AM and suffered all the way to Belmullet, which lies somewhere in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Belmullet is like small town U.S.A. where people have nothing better to do than race Greyhounds, set off fireworks and do donuts in the middle of the street.
There was a group of men, maybe five or six, working on mopeds at the B&B I stayed at. One of them, tall and handsome, smiled at me when I walked in with a grocery bag full of dinner snacks—cheese sticks, bread roll, a pint of blueberries. I thought he was an American, but when I made a joke about how many of them there were they all kind of grunted in confusion and looked away. It turned out they were German and none of them spoke English, but I was proud of myself for at least attempting to make conversation.
It’s quite possible that Belmullet is actually beautiful but I have no idea. I paid it no attention whatsoever. I ate my snacks and went to bed early, feeling cranky and depressed.
This morning I don’t feel any better. Though the fog is thick and the rain spritz starts early, I can’t wait to get out of here. The Germans are in the driveway suiting up in the most outrageously overdressed way. Standing next to them I fling my leg over my bicycle. My calves are bare, my thin jersey the only layer under my even thinner rain shell. I don’t wear insulated gloves like them or sunglasses. I don’t wear shoe covers. I am exposed.
I pull out ahead of them, quietly grumbling, “Pussies,” under my breath. A quarter mile down the road they each pass me with a wave and at the corner they turn south where as I continue north.
The streets are empty. There is no one out. Not a single house has a light on inside or a car in the driveway. It’s Sunday but the church parking lots are empty. Where has everyone gone?
It’s a dark and dreary day and for the first time I’m cold. For a few miles I cycle in and out of tiny forests before being spit out into a void.
The landscape is different up here. Vast swaths of emptiness stretch as far as my eyes can see. Out here there is nothing, no side streets, no houses. I think to myself, all of this has to mean something. All this loneliness, all this drudgery, these miles after miles after miles on my own.
My first turn is in Barnatra. I stop at the intersection with a gas station and a recycling center, both closed due it being Sunday, and sit down on a cement wall across the street. I lean my bike up against my knees and pull out the custardy yogurt granola dried fruit concoction I bought at the store. I can’t help thinking this is as lonely as it could possibly get and that’s when it comes to me.
Tony Robbins talks about how nothing in our lives changes until the change becomes a must. We can have as many “shoulds” as we want. We should lose weight. We should get a new job. But until those things turn into “musts” nothing new will happen. We get what we tolerate. It’s up to us to raise our own standards.
Up to this point, which means for close to a decade, being single for me has been OK. For years it was necessary and then it morphed into something I tolerate. Letting someone in, having a boyfriend <GASP!>, is something I should do, something everyone tells me I should do. Avoiding the prospect has been the must, embracing it the should.
The road through Kilcommon is eerily quiet. It’s not until I get to Belderrig, fifteen miles farther, that I see a few more houses. I come back out to the coast road and this is where the route turns truly wild. The cliffs are high, the terrain rugged, the wind and the waves constant and fierce.
I usually don’t post pictures that are not mine, but I think this aerial is important to really show you what I’m talking about. (Just imagine it without the sun 🙂 )
There are stories from down south around Dingle about how European explorers who assumed the world was flat considered the southwest coast of Ireland the end of the world. But it’s up north at the Céide Fields, the oldest known stone-walled fields in the world dating back 6,000 years, in County Mayo, where I feel like I’ve reached the edge.
It’s here that my GPS goes haywire, unable to locate my position and inexplicably adding 30 extra miles to my ride that I never actually rode. It’s here, in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, on the northwestern coast of Ireland with nothing but ocean in front of me, that something crucial becomes clear.
I can see now that at the end of this trip my should will change into a must. I can see this journey as the physical manifestation of how much my heart has been breaking, and for how long. The way I feel right now—completely alone at the edge of the world—is how my heart has felt for nine years and counting.
It’s a good thing, really. Please don’t flock to the comments section to send heartfelt messages of sympathy. I can take it. In fact, this is what I needed. I had to get here in order to understand what I’ve been doing to myself.
After the Céide Fields I sit up higher in my saddle. The rain spritz continues but the winds die down a little. My eyes are open. I see the beauty again. I smile uncontrollably. I stop suffering and remember how lucky I am to be here.
Nine miles later I take a left at Downpatrick Head. A narrow twisting road leads me through cow pastures to a parking lot where I lean my bike against a fence and change into my sneakers. I walk up a hill and cross an open field with a few signposts warning about the cliff edge. And then almost as if it rose up to greet me I see the Dun Briste Sea Stack.
I walk right to the edge without any fear of falling and my worries disappear. It’s as if something internal permanently shifts. We don’t get what we want. We get what we have to have.
Walking down the hill back to my bike it’s Rihanna and Calvin Harris in my head.
The rest of the ride into Ballina is sublime.
Sending love and light ❤