Days 19 & 20, Bye Bye Belmullet

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.

Baby… this is what you came for…

The rest of the ride into Ballina is sublime.

Sending love and light ❤

Days 17 & 18, Achill Island

Westport → Achill Island

Mileage:   59.2 miles                                                      Elevation gain:   3,265’

Total mileage so far:  668.6 miles         Total elevation gain so far:  34,183’


It’s been a wonderful few days for my sheep obsession. First I took the Great Western Greenway, what we would call a Rail Trail in the U.S., from Westport to Achill Island.

Then I settled in at the Pure Magic Lodge.

And today I tackled a super steep climb to take in Keem Bay.

I particularly like this guy who simply does not give one flying fuck about anything.

And these two lovebirds casually balanced on the edge of a 600′ cliff with a sheer drop straight into the ocean like it ain’t no thang.

I got lucky and stayed dry but a storm was brewing offshore the whole time. Here’s the view at Keel Beach in town.

Day 16, Back in the Saddle

Galway → Westport through the Maam Valley

Mileage:   78.9 miles                                                       Elevation gain:  3,695’

Total mileage so far:  609.4 miles         Total elevation gain so far:  30,918’


Today I’m saying goodbye to Galway and hello to a 14 member tour group halfway through their Mizen-to-Malin trek. This is what Paul and Noel do together with Paul’s company Wild Atlantic Cycling. The tour is a 7-day, 575 mile straight shot from the southernmost tip of Ireland, Mizen Head, to the northernmost, Malin Head. The riders are from Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. with varying levels of ability.

It’s a day without panniers for me thanks to the Support + Gear (SAG) vehicle and I’m so excited I can barely stand it. It promises to rain but I don’t care. I’ll take a downpour over saddlebags any day.

Usually Noel drives SAG for these trips but today Paul will take the car and Noel will cycle with the group. He’s pumping up my tires, tightening everything that can be tightened, and running back and forth to make sure everyone in the tour group has what they need.

Paul takes one look at my saddle, Saddle #2 that I picked up in Bantry. “Yah that’ll give you blisters on your ass,” he quips.

“Yep,” I agree with a knowing nod. Granted it’s an improvement over Saddle #1 but it’s still not right.

He pulls a spare from their trailer—Saddle #3—a beautifully unpadded skinny little thing that looks exactly like my road bike seat at home. This will most definitely spell THE END to my saddle sores. He says I can rent it for ten quid a day. I love Paul because almost every single thing he says is a joke and he laughs all the time.

The drizzle starts as we set out. Our first twenty miles run along Galway Bay. Noel is in front of me to set the pace but he can’t provide any shelter from the wind gusting at us from the bay to our left. For the first hour he constantly checks back for me and skips a few pedal strokes anytime I need to catch up. I appreciate that he’s staying with me because there are quite a few strong riders in this group who are eager to see what he can do. They’ve been Googling him to see his race records and are blown away by his results.

“One year I won nine races,” Noel had said to me over drinks in Kenmare two weeks ago. This was only a few years after he started cycling in his mid-40’s. I followed up with the tale of my last place women’s finish at the Syracuse Half Iron Man. It’s safe to say Noel and I participate in races for very different reasons.

Paul put it the most succinctly. “We all hate him,” he said on our way to dinner last night. “I can’t help it if I’m an athlete,” Noel sighed.

Today though, Noel is a coach. He’s pulling me, silently egging me on to go just a little bit faster than I can. The wind doesn’t let up and for a while it gets so hilly my legs and my lungs can’t take it. And yet somehow they magically do. The unspoken rule of the day is that Noel will slow down so long as I speed up.

Finally we make a right turn away from the coast and the countryside opens up to reveal a desert-like scene. Despite the rain I fully expect to come upon prairie dogs and tumbleweed. The landscape is empty for miles, save for the Maamturk Mountains in the distance. The road is long and curvy, snaking its way across the plains at a very slight decline. The wind kicks back up and blows the rain sideways in sheets, seemingly changing directions with every turn. It is pelting my eyeballs like ice chips as we pick up intense amounts of speed, leaning into corners, gently pumping brakes so as not to skid. I get up to 35 MPH, holding my tuck as best I can. I am terrified and grinning like a donkey. It’s quite a lovely combination.

Caffeinated after a quick tea break I’m able to keep up with the leaders, all strong middle-aged skinny white dudes. Cycling definitely attracts a specific type. Again my legs and lungs can’t take it, yet again they somehow do.

At our lunch break we all change out of our soaking wet kits, wringing water from our socks into puddles on the floor of the pub we’ve stopped at by Killary Fjord. Warm and dry, we plow through soup and sandwiches before heading back out to be re-drenched for our last 26 miles.

Now we are riding through the Maam Valley without a house in site. Sheep line each side of the road and the lush green spreads as far as we can see.

At the beginning of the final big climb Noel says he’ll see me at the top. Climbing big hills on a bike seems to be one of his favorite things to do in life and he’s off with a whoop like a happy little kid. He rides to the top, turns around, comes back down and meets me a third of the way up to climb it again.

“Who knew you were such a good climber?” he jokes.

“I can do anything without panniers!” I cry.

We crest the top with the group and head down into an enchanting mist.

As we come down from the pass and inch closer to Westport Noel gets sentimental. “This could be our last ride together,” he says.

“Don’t say that!” I protest. “It’s just for now.”

We’re quiet the rest of the way. I stay strong so I can ride next to him even though my knees are aching and I’m so tired I can barely stay upright.

In Westport, after 79 miles of cycling at a 17 MPH average (the fastest I’ve managed so far), I head to my B&B blissfully exhausted for a shower. Meanwhile Paul and Noel head out to Croagh Patrick for an extra 27 mile spin before dinner.

I’m nervous again when we say goodnight out in front of Matt Molloy’s pub. I know I’ll be fine on my own but I just feel like I do so much better with my safety net in place.

Sending love & light from Westport ❤

P.S.
As of today I’ve climbed the equivalent elevation of Mount Everest!

Day 15, Reunited (and it feels so good)

Rest day in Galway

Mileage:   0 miles                                                                    Elevation gain:  0′

Total mileage so far:  530.5 miles         Total elevation gain so far:   27,223′


Tonight over dinner at Magnetti’s, Noel called me a cheeky cow. I had just said he’d be dead in ten years so it was a fair comeback.

I don’t know which one of us was happier to see the other when he pulled up at the Victoria Hotel off Eyre Square this afternoon. Peaches & Herb crooned in my head as I strolled up to the truck and started helping him unload the gear.

Did I ever fully explain that Noel and I had never met before the day he picked me up at the Cork Airport? And yet we caught up over coffee and tea like BFF’s who hadn’t seen each other in months. He’s kept up on my blog but I re-enacted all the details for him anyway. Later we met up with Paul and we all headed to the Latin Quarter for Italian food and live music.

Since I started this trek Noel’s been making fun of me (and I him, obviously) and Paul’s been following up with supportive emails telling me I’m doing such a great job and to never give up or listen to anything Noel says. Paul naturally takes on the supportive dad role to Noel’s toss-‘em-in-the-lake-and-they’ll-learn-how-to-swim uncle character.

Now we’re at The Quay’s enjoying a fantastic traditional Irish band called Rianu. I could listen to them all night just like I could write a thousand more words, but I’ve got to get a good night’s rest in. Tomorrow we ride to Westport, about 80 miles or so, and I can’t wait.

Day 14, Galway

Rest day in Galway

Mileage:  0 miles                                                                     Elevation gain:   0′

Total mileage so far:  530.5 miles          Total elevation gain so far:  27,223′


I love getting the opportunity to write in new places, and Caffé Ristorante on the corner of 300 year-old Eyre Square in downtown Galway does not disappoint. I’m guessing the name loosely translates to Café Restaurant so you really know what you’re getting into before you even sit down. Clever stuff, guys! The staff is friendly, the mid-day raspberry muffins and tea divine.

This morning I covered the entire city with an eight mile walk that took me to the end of the Salthill Promenade and back. Galway Bay is beautiful and the city is alive and exciting.

Galway has everything a great city should have: Mexican food made by people who are actually from Mexico, traffic, pedestrian walkways, 24-hour delis, homeless people sleeping on the streets. I’m in heaven.

Even so, it’s difficult to write today. Everything I want to tell you about seems trite compared to what’s going on at home right now. My love/hate relationship with hostels for instance, or the saddle sores I’m sure you’ve been dying to read about.

My father believes our family history links back to a village called Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary, but the Lynch’s are especially prominent here in Galway—Lynch’s Castle which was built in the 15th century and oddly enough renovated into a bank in the 1960’s, Lynch House on Market Street where the elected mayor condemned and hanged his own son in 1493… greeeeaaaat. My family’s crest is even flying on a banner in the middle of town.

It’s fun to see my family name everywhere, but I didn’t come to Ireland to discover my heritage. Sure, I might buy myself a piece of jewelry while I’m here but it’s not going to be a claddagh ring. I don’t mean any offense to the people who do that. I’m just saying I feel my ties connected to the folks who had the idea to get the U.S.of A. started, even if it’s really hard to say that today in light of the tragedy in Charlottesville, VA.

The Latin Quarter of Galway comes alive with street performers at night.

I already know the best music is at Quay’s. I know the best lunch options are off the main thoroughfare—a burrito box from Tuco’s or a falafel sandwich from the Lane Café, taken to go and carried down to the river to eat with the swans and the sea gulls. Or perhaps even better, up to a grassy spot in Eyre Square, if you can find a few feet not already taken by the locals so grateful to have an afternoon in the sun.

Give me another day and I’ll have the bus lines figured out.

This is an environment I am very comfortable in. I could live here. And yet… the only souvenir I buy in the Latin Quarter is a tote bag with cartoon sheep on it because I have apparently, and very quickly I might add, come to miss the little buggers I’d been communing with every day out in the wilds.

I have a very big decision to make. Option A is I ride with Noel and Paul’s MizMal group for a day and then I stick with them. In three days I can make it to Malin Head, the northernmost tip of the country, via the direct route, straight through the middle as opposed to sticking to the coast. I’ll have company, no more saddle sores, and cut a few hundred miles out of my overall ride. Not only will it mean friends and conversation, it will mean going home sooner. I’ve been frustrated and lonely so often, I feel like I have a million reasons to quit. America is a hot mess right now but it’s still home and I miss my dogs something awful.

Option B is I keep going as originally intended. I ride with the group for one day and then I head back out into the wilds on my own for twelve more days of cycling. It’s the journey I came here to make. Do I finish what I started or do I crap out and head home? I really don’t know what to do. The news from home makes me feel even more disconnected than I already have but it also gives me a renewed sense of how important it is to see the world as one, to experience any kind of beauty at any moment it is available to us.

Walking back towards my hostel I come across a street mural by O’Connell’s bar on Station Street. It’s a set of wings painted by Kelsey Montague. Her work can be seen all over the world and this is the first one I’ve come across in person.

What lifts you? she asks. The answer comes to me very quickly. Travel lifts me, even though it can be difficult. Learning, exploring, understanding. Adventure lifts me. The consequent payoff of getting out of my comfort zone lifts me.

I ask a passerby to take my picture and when I look at myself smiling back on my phone, I realize my decision is already made. I’ll be riding strong and seeing this through to the end. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Sending love & light to everyone in Charlottesville ❤

Day 13, Through the Burren

Doolin → Galway through the Burren

Mileage:   52.8 miles                                                       Elevation gain:   1,849′

Total mileage so far:   530.5 miles        Total elevation gain so far:  27,223′ 


Cycled through an area called The Burren today. Didn’t get rained on.

Took in a geosite called Murrooghtoohy.

Made friends with some donkeys.

Passed a castle.

Even had someone to talk to for most of the way. His name is Lee and he’s from Newcastle. He’s riding the exact same crap bike that I am, except that he has no trouble at all getting down into his small ring.

Lee will ride twice as far as me today, all the way to Westport. I’m stopping in Galway where I have two days off before meeting back up with Noel and finally meeting Paul and their entire Mizen-to-Malin tour group.

It’s been a damn fine day and I am absolutely adoring Galway. Sending love & light ❤

Day 12, A Cow is Born

Rest day in Doolin

Mileage:  0 miles                                                                      Elevation gain:  0′

Total mileage so far:  477.7 miles          Total elevation gain so far:  25,374′


This morning is starting out with a 2 km walk from my hostel to the Doolin Harbor. I stop to pet every dappled grey horse along the way, convinced that they have fallen in love with me as much as I am in love with them. It’s overcast and windy but not raining.

Yesterday when I cycled past the Cliffs of Moher (perhaps more importantly known as the Cliffs of Insanity! to geeks the world over) they were socked in with a fog so thick and I could barely tell I was anywhere near the ocean. So today I have the brilliant plan of taking a ferry ride to the first of the Aran Islands, Inisheer. The tour will swing past the cliffs on our return trip giving me a to-die-for view of the very spot where Wesley inconceivably kept up with Fezzik (who was carrying Princess Buttercup, Vizzini and Inigo) just before the best choreographed duel of all time. But I digress…

Never mind that I’m a Pisces and the daughter of a sailor—I’m afraid of boats and drowning. Like a lot afraid. Yet I understand the importance of regularly doing things that scare us. The winds are strong this morning and the sea is churning. Still in the harbor our small ferryboat is banging and clanging into the others and I feel seasick before the gangplank is even released from the dock.

Heading out to sea I do my best to keep my eyes on the horizon as the waves bob us up and down six to eight feet at a time. I don’t have the mental fortitude to release my white knuckled grip on the seat in front of me. As if when the boat capsizes I’ll be able to save myself by simply not letting go. Rockin’ and rollin’ on the high seas, we are in this together. When the ocean comes crashing over the front of our boat the whole crowd screams in unison and when we slide down the backside of a particularly high wave we all groan in tune.

My glasses are smeared with salt. The wind is fierce, the sea unrelenting but Inisheer is getting closer. It’s a good thing I didn’t eat much for breakfast.

The harbor to this tiny island is like the entrance to an old world filled with horse drawn carriages and dogs running underfoot.

Everyone is hiring a carriage driver or renting a bicycle but I’m happy to take off walking. Within minutes I’m in the midst of a maze of rock walls lining the paved road. They twist and turn to create small animal paddocks and pathways to the houses on the hill.

The rock walls go on forever. I can’t begin to imagine how long it took people to build them there are so many. At first glance the rocks look haphazard but somehow there is a pattern to them and the walls are sturdy, enduring harsh weather conditions and standing for centuries. In less than an hour the clouds and wind have cleared to reveal a perfect summer day. Ponies trot quickly past me. I feel like I’m in a fairytale.

On the far side of the island is the Plassey shipwreck, an entire boat wedged into the rocks and completely rusted through.

A carriage driver is stopped nearby and I walk over to say hello. He was born on this 3 km X 3 km island and has lived here all his life with the other 260 residents. His first language is Irish and he has one eye stuck in a permanent squint. He rolls a cigarette as we chat. “You’re here for the beauty, right? A lot different than New York, eh?”

I can take the road down to the lighthouse, the only road to the lighthouse, cross over the rocks and then look for the path to the castle. This is what he says to me without a trace of facetiousness or self-deprecation. And this is exactly what I do.

Out past the shipwreck seagulls chatter on the beach paying me no mind as I make my way to the lighthouse. On the rock path I’m reminded again of the difference between pictures and what we see in real life, stories we read vs. experiences we have.

The path to the castle makes me wish I were a little kid. Oh how my imagination would soar and I’d want to live here forever! The rock walls continue but there is no more pavement on the ground. The now grass lined paths are narrower, flushed with flowers and vines. I stroll happily in the sun… scratch that… I frolic. I skip wistfully up and down rolling hills through this never-ending maze of indescribable beauty.

When I come down the hill from the castle I happen upon a calf being born in a paddock. The mother cow is lying on her side, the baby’s feet are out and a farmer is gently pulling him as the mother pushes. I suppose even cows sometimes need midwives.

For half an hour I am transfixed. I can hardly believe I’m bearing witness to this. The baby comes out quickly and the mother immediately stands up and gets to licking him clean. He’s already mooing and figuring out how to stand and walk. We always think we’re smarter than animals but this guy’s got something figured out in twenty minutes that it takes us a year to learn.

It never occurs to me to pull out my phone to take pictures. I just rest my chin on my forearms on the top of the paddock wall and take it in. Stories vs. experiences.

With the sun out, the water on the beach by the harbor has turned aquamarine. For a short stretch it looks like the small cove is a tropical paradise. The water couldn’t be any warmer than it was this morning yet there are swimmers in the deep and children splashing at the water’s edge. Young boys are taking turns jumping from the sea wall, which now, with the tide out, hovers fifteen feet above the surface.

The boat for the return trip is much bigger and more powerful than the one we took to get here. We surge into enormous waves and skim along the surface at high speed. Children rush to the sides, squealing as they get sprayed by the salty water.

And yes we stop to take in the majestic Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s #2 most popular tourist destination just behind the Guinness factory tour. And yes they are beautiful. But all my pictures contain the heads and iPhones of tourists duking it out for the best shot. And besides, I’ll gladly go out on a limb and say they don’t hold a candle to my day on Inisheer.

Back in the Doolin harbor, captains zip the ferries around like cars, parallel parking them along the dock. I am grateful to be back on the mainland, as the Irish call it, but even more grateful for my dreamlike walk in the sun.

I’d been told there’d be nothing to do in Doolin and I wholeheartedly disagree. The town is full of restaurants and artist’s shops. There are walking trails, castle ruins and a babbling river. I love it here. This has been my favorite day off so far.