Most people who pedal from Mizen Head (in the south) to Malin Head (in the north) in Ireland do so by a rather straightforward and direct route. As you know, I took a slightly longer approach. I am so delighted to have had the opportunity to share the sights and sounds of my fantastic trip with you all. Thank you to everyone who tagged along!
It seems like it was ages ago that I was at the Aille River Hostel in Doolin, County Clare, fighting with a shower that was programmed to emit warm(ish) water for only ten seconds at a time. I would press the button, scrub the chain grease off my shins as fast as I could while I counted to nine and then straighten up to hit the button again, hoping to keep the stream flowing so I wouldn’t have to stand there and freeze.
One thousand miles along the west coast of Ireland by bicycle is at once miraculous and a little bit disappointing. I really wanted to complete the full fifteen hundred. That was the whole point when I started. I’m not coming down on myself for taking it easy after being hit by a car—I promise I’m not that bullheaded—but I do feel a bit shorted. Not just by the accident but by the daily struggle.
I really underestimated the triple whammy of exhaustion I was in for. Physical exhaustion from riding so many miles with so much elevation gain. Mental exhaustion from being in a foreign country. (No matter how similar you may think Ireland is to the United States, I assure you it is a foreign country.) Plus emotional exhaustion from tackling so much of it on my own.
I wasn’t tired when I got hit though. In fact, just the opposite. I was excited because Noel and I were simultaneously heading for Donegal from different directions. We planned to meet up again because he wanted to do recon work for Wild Atlantic Cycling (which will soon be offering tours of the entire Wild Atlantic Way—send inquiries HERE!) and he hadn’t seen a lot of the northwest corner yet. I, of course, was more than happy for the company. On Day 22 from Ballina to Sligo, in the worst downpours I’d experienced yet, I kept reminding myself with a laugh and a smile, “This is it! This is my last solo ride! I’m not gonna be alone anymore!”
And then—WHAMMO KABLAMMO—I’m sprawled on my back squirming like an insect, unable to get up, unable to say my name, fifty miles shy of Donegal.
It all leaves me wondering on my last day, drinking my last cup of tea at a Costa Café in downtown Belfast… What was the actual point of this journey? I’ve ridden well over a thousand miles in a month before. My record to date is fourteen hundred, so really the mileage wasn’t it. I’ve been to six foreign countries so travel abroad wasn’t the point either.
When we take a journey we expect an outcome, a shift inside ourselves. What did we see? Who did we meet? What did we learn? What will we miss and furthermore what did we miss about home? Are we happy to be heading back?
I will miss the scones. I will not miss the plumbing. I will miss my partner in mileage, the near constant flush of fresh air on my face and the local pubs cranking out traditional Irish music. I will not miss the hotels with twin size beds and no top sheets (seriously people, just you and a duvet cover on a bed made for a child). Obviously I will miss the sheep and the cows most of all. Though I can’t wait to get back to my dogs and my car and tortilla chips. I will miss the quiet nights in the country and the kindness of the wonderful innkeepers who fed me and washed my smelly cycling clothes. Not surprisingly, I suppose I will also miss being regularly disconnected from the Internet. It was a pain in the ass anytime it happened but I know how good it was for me.
All of those memories and experiences tell a great story but they don’t answer the underlying question. What was the point?
Really when it comes down to it I can’t help but think that the lesson, the real takeaway for me is this: I learned how to get picked up at the hospital by someone who traveled fifty miles to get to me even though I said I was OK, which I wasn’t. And furthermore I learned to believe that he was much more worried than he was put out by the trouble of it.
Instead of insisting I was fine, I stopped pushing when I was in pain and took shortcuts away from the coast even though I knew I was ruining the excursion for the person who came to help me. In essence I let myself be broken and vulnerable with another human being.
Help is hard but trust is harder. And the audacity of believing that it’s OK if I’m not always at my best? Zoinks! This is big for me. Really big.
After Malin Head and Muff, Noel gave me a tour (by car) of the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. First we ate Morelli’s famous ice cream in Portstewart. Then we continued on to explore the vast beauty of Giant’s Causeway.
And then for the last few days of my trip I walked slowly around Belfast and let everything I accomplished, all the miles and experiences, really start to sink in.
I completely understand the shoulds that need to be turned into musts now and I’m no longer afraid to dive in and allow the change to happen. More than ever before, I truly feel ready for the next phase of my life, the one where I’m not alone on my bicycle fighting a gale force wind and a spitting rain by myself, but rather enjoying the ride alongside someone else, even letting him occasionally shield me so I can draft comfortably behind him. That is, until he rushes to my rescue when I really need it.
Thank you for everything Noel. I miss riding with you already. Thank you Paul Kennedy. Thank you Wild Atlantic Cycling. Thank you Wild Atlantic Way. Thank you innkeepers, paramedics, musicians, sheep farmers and more. Thank you to every single person I met, even the feckin’ eejit who hit me.
Sending love and light from my last day in Belfast ❤