Day 21, Ballinaaaa and the Fucking Faucets from Hell

Rest day in Ballina

Mileage:   0 miles                                                                    Elevation gain:   0′

Total mileage so far:  789.1 miles          Total elevation gain so far:  38,843′

My pronunciation of Ballina has been corrected three times. The name is to be spoken whimsically, perhaps while wearing a tropical sundress and gazing wistfully past a sheer curtain that blows in the gentle breeze of an open picture window overlooking swaying palm trees that dot a beach down by the ocean.

The first part, Bali, like the island that makes up part of Indonesia. The accent saved for the long drawn out Naaaa at the end, melancholically prolonged with three or four A’s the way my mother holds the notes of a Bonnie Raitt tune for extra beats when singing along to the radio.

But Bali-Náaaa is a town that doesn’t really fit its paradisiacal name. It’s actually one of the most suburban areas I’ve been to. Comfortably sprawled with everything one would need, but not much to do for a tourist. It lies in stark contrast to the no-man’s land I was in for most of yesterday and, unsurprisingly, I learn from my innkeepers and others that no one ever enters town the way I did.

“Oh no, we would drive from Sligo in the east or maybe come in from the south. It’s really empty out where you were,” they tell me over breakfast.

Yah-huh. It sure was.

Ballina sits on the River Moy and is the salmon capital of Ireland. Settlements in this area date back to 1375 and the town itself was established in 1723. Notable architecture includes the 15th-century Moyne Abbey and St. Muredach’s Cathedral, pictured above, which sits between the Upper and Lower Bridges across the Moy. I want to visit the Belleek Woods but it has been pouring, like full on down pouring, all day nonstop. Nonetheless I do take a stroll through town before heading back to my B&B to warm up with a shower.

Which brings me to my second point.

I have done the best I possibly can to quietly adjust to the oddities of the Irish way of life. I’ve eaten my soggy vegetables. I’ve grown accustomed to riding on the wrong—I mean left—side of the road. I’ve adopted the strange phrases of this foreign land like I’ll take tea at half seven and Can you tell me which way to the toilets?

I apologized for my entire country when one innkeeper mentioned, “Everything in America is perfect except the people aren’t very nice.”

I even stayed polite when another innkeeper said, “Oh it’s no big deal that you’re cycling the entire Wild Atlantic Way. I know a girl who kayaked it!” I smiled and said, “WOW!” when I really wanted to shout, “Well fuck you very much Margaret!”

But there is one area that I cannot for the life of me get used to and I will no longer stay quiet about: the plumbing. I want to climb the highest mountain and scream from the top of my lungs, “WHAT THE FUCK IRELAND?! IT’S 2017, NOT 1954!!!”

To that end, I give you Exhibit A:

Here we have a prime example of almost every faucet I have come across in my 21 days in this country. Perhaps the first faucet ever designed by man, it gives you two options: scalding hot to the left or freezing cold to the right. There is no in between, no moderate, no single faucet system that melds these two disparate temperatures together into a cozy and inviting flow of warm.

And can you see how much space there is between them? Seriously!

It’s not like you can easily mix the two together. No, no. It’s either Burn the Baby or Freeze Your Tatas Off.

I’ve gotten into the habit of turning both sides on, cupping my hands to fill them with cold water and then whisking them over to the hot side in an attempt to come away with something mildly satisfying. It doesn’t really work but it’s better than the third degree burns I’ll get from using just the hot side.

And how about this little nugget:

First of all, can you even tell me what it is? OK, you figured out that it’s a shower because of my little shampoo and conditioner bottles sitting on top. Good job. Now why don’t you go ahead and fancy a guess on how to use this thing? Go ahead, tell me to turn the power nob on the right and then adjust the temperature with the nob on the left. Simple enough, right?


You can turn those damn nobs all you want, ain’t nothing gonna happen until you back yourself out of the bathroom closet—and yes every bathroom I’ve been to in Ireland has been the size of a closet—then flip the big red switch on the wall by the door because that shower is electric and you need to give it power before turning on the power.

But don’t bother turning on the power after you’ve given it power because the only nob that’s going to make water come out of that shower head is the TEMPERATURE GAUGE!

As far as adjusting the actual temperature goes, I have no idea. I’ve taken two showers in there—one hot, one cold—and still not figured it out.


Sending love and light to all the eclipse watchers back home ❤


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 sight. 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 ❤

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

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.

Day 9, Sheep Shearing up on Connor Pass

Dingle → Ballybunnion via Connor Pass and Brandon Point

Mileage:  74.6 miles                                                     Elevation gain:   3,849′

Total mileage so far:   399.6 miles     Total elevation gain so far:   21,855′

This morning I’m climbing 1,700’ out of Dingle to the top of Connor Pass. I put my bike into the small ring manually. (Did I even mention the part about how my bicycle doesn’t let me shift down into my low gear while I’m riding and that’s a big part of why I haven’t gotten up all the steep hills?) I’m covered in grease but I’ll be able to make it all the way without dismounting.

It’s ridiculously windy at the top of the pass.I don’t stay long because I’ll get too cold if I do.

Halfway down the backside I come across some live action sheep shearing on the cliff side of the road. This is the beauty of traveling by bicycle. The drivers are concerned about passing on the dangerous single lane curves that fill this descent. Meanwhile I’m swiftly weaving my way through stopped traffic full of nervous tourists and pausing on the side of the road to chat with local sheep shearers. I never would have caught this if I was in a car.

They tell me I can have a discount on a haircut today.

The wind blasts up the pass with such ferocity that I barely need to squeeze my brakes for the three and a half mile coast down. Even with a 10% grade the wind holds me back to a comfortable cruise. Mount Brandon towers to my left and the ocean stretches out in front of me.

When I get down to the bottom I take a left to head out to Brandon Point. I’m not sure at the turn off if it’s going to be worth the extra miles but it absolutely is. The views of Ferndoyle Strand (beach) are so cool. Low tide has dramatically pulled the ocean far out from the shore. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I take a few pictures then ride down to the beach to experience the salty sea air and take a snack break. After that, and for a long time, I’m on a road that climbs high above the shoreline. Cow pastures fill the space in between me and the ocean. It’s a beautiful clear day and I am loving every minute of it.

The second half of my ride from Tralee to Ballybunnion is surprisingly boring. It’s the first dull stretch since I started in Kinsale. The route turns a bit inland and I kind of feel like I’m in Iowa farm country. (No offense, Bret.) For thirty miles I’ve got my head down, hands in the drops, spinning into the wind. This part is more of a workout than climbing the pass had been.

It’s a sweet relief when I get into the cute seaside resort town of Ballybunnion and can stop pedaling. This is where the River Shannon opens up to the sea. It’s a beautiful area and I feel quite welcome upon my arrival to town.

Day 7, Stopping To Take Pictures of Cows

Killarney → Dingle and the Slea Head Loop

Mileage:  67.3 miles                                                        Elevation gain:  2,892′

Total mileage so far: 325.0 miles           Total elevation gain so far: 18,006′

One of Noel’s pet peeves is people who stop on the side of the road to take pictures of cows. I never let on to him that I am one of those people. For our six days together he respectfully refrained from taking pictures of his food, which is my pet peeve, and I repeatedly beat back my urge to pull out my phone as we passed cow after cow after cow.

But those days are over. Noel is gone now and I’m free to take pictures of whatever I want.

Hey girl, how you doin’?

My first true solo ride is spectacular. From Killarney to the beginning of the Dingle Peninsula I cruise along back country roads around little farms. Once I get back out to the ocean the landscape changes and grows more and more dramatic the farther out I get.

Dingle town is a crowded tourist trap. I’m happy to get through it as quickly as I can and take the turn onto Slea Head Drive. I’m going to make a long loop out to Ballydavid where I’m meeting my parents. They landed a few days ago and have been traipsing about Dublin and Cork. This evening they’re coming to Dingle and we’ll all get a day together tomorrow.

Every inch of Slea Head Drive takes my breath away.

I’m tired today and with my parents now. Though the scenery and rides have already surpassed my expectations, homesickness is overwhelming me tonight. I hope I can fight my way through and see this journey to the end but in this moment I’m not exactly sure.

Sending love & light ❤

Day 6, Two Gaps and a Valley

Kenmare → Killarney via Moll’s Gap and the Gap of Dunloe

Mileage:  35.6 miles                                                        Elevation gain:   1,591′

Total mileage so far:  257.7 miles           Total elevation gain so far:  15,114′

I’m thankful for the rain today because it’s sending us on a route I would never have discovered otherwise. The rain is steady enough to make it tough to leave my B&B, but stalling in a dry room really only delays the end of the day. It doesn’t change how much time will be spent getting wet. And once I get out on the road I realize the rain’s not as heavy as we expected.

I’m only leaving with a twenty minute head start this morning but it’s enough to get me to the top of Moll’s Gap before Noel. I make a video of him cresting the hill as I cheer congratulations for his second place finish, ha!

The descent into the Black Valley is just awe inspiring. It’s not a desolate or scary place as the name implies. It’s only called the Black Valley because it was the last place to get electricity. Once we get down to the bottom we race alongside a raging creek. The small rolling hills are again like mini roller coasters and we zip up, down and around quick narrow corners for miles. All in all I think we pass three houses, only two of which may be inhabited.

On the far side of the valley we begin the ascent up to the Gap of Dunloe. A gap in Ireland is a mountain pass. It’s a tough climb filled with sheep on both sides of the road. The views stretch for miles but nothing prepares me for what’s coming at the top. I almost can’t believe it when I get there.

I wouldn’t know how to begin to describe the Gap of Dunloe. I can share a picture.

I can tell you about the Wishing Bridge,

the men driving horse buggies, the dips and turns and the beautiful lakes. But nothing will compare the experience of being there.

Before continuing down into Killarney we stop for tea and one of the most delicious berry muffins I’ve ever had at The Coffee Pot Cafe.

And for the rest of the day we explore the old city from end to end including my first castle, Ross Castle, and of course more ice cream, this time from Murphy’s. Noel knows the city well and insists we end our night at The Killarney Grand. From the outside you’d never think to give it a chance, but the locals know it’s the place to be for the best Irish music in town.

This is a very bittersweet night for me. It’s exactly the experience I’ve been excited to have, but it’s also my last night with my impeccable tour guide Noel until we meet again in Galway.

Day 1, Welcome to Ireland

I arrive in London Heathrow Airport exhausted from a red eye, without a single wink of sleep in me. The border guard quizzes me with a string of pointed questions. How is it that you’re temporarily unemployed? Are you a housewife? What do you mean you’re not married? Where do you live? How are you financing this trip? She demands I show her how much cash I have on me. I slowly pick through my backpack to find the fifty euros my mom had exchanged for me and tell her I’ll mostly be using my credit card. A Visa? You have a Visa card? Show me your Visa card. What’s your credit limit?

Finally she lets me through but not before warning me that if I give any different answers at the Ireland border, they’re going to ship me back. “Why would they ship me back?” I ask, quite honestly confused. “I don’t know!” she cries as she stamps my passport.

Three bleary-eyed hours later I board an Aer Lingus flight for Cork and manage a forty-five minute nap. It is as though I wake up in a completely different land. It looks the same but it feels different.

Irish immigration has three cheery sentences for me. How long are you staying? Wow, a month! Well have a great time! And I’m on my way.

The local time is 11:00 AM but my body tells me it’s 6:00 AM. I am that delirious yet delightful mix of so fucking excited, so fucking scared and so fucking tired.

Noel Boyce, so deliciously Irish with his ‘Wee bit’o’this’ and ‘Wee bit’o’that’, puts out his hand for a shake but I give him a hug. “Welcome to Ireland,” he says with a big smile and immediately takes my suitcase. It’s clear from the start that I’m in very good hands.

For a few hours we get my bike set up and explore downtown Cork. It’s grey but there are brightly colored flowers everywhere. My delirium quickly simmers down to pure sleepiness so Noel drives me to Dempsey’s Hostel in Kinsale, the official starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way. He pumps up my tires and makes sure everything is spot on for our first ride.

By 8:00 PM I am out like a light. Tomorrow the journey begins.

The Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 kilometer (approximately 1,500 mile) scenic coastal route which covers the entire west coast of Ireland. It is comprised of a near constant slew of peninsulas, headlands, points, outcroppings, etc. On this trip I’ll be exploring all of them as well as some intensely rugged landscapes with hills that might make my eyes pop out.

You can CLICK HERE for a map from the official Wild Atlantic Way website or check out the picture of my paper Michelin map below:

The pink stars represent where I’ll be starting (in the south) and ending (in the north). And the squiggly pink line on the left is the route I’ll take to get there. It is the longest defined coastal route in the world.

Let me repeat that for effect:

The longest defined coastal route. In. The. World.

You wouldn’t expect that given that Ireland, at 36,000 square miles, is not a particularly large country. Driving a straight line through the center from south to north would be akin to driving from New York City to say Burlington, Vermont. But cycling every nook and cranny of the coast? Quite a different story.

In the ever-so-thought-provoking words of my dear friend Art: It’s nuts. Well really he said I’m nuts. But whatever, close enough. Bear Grylls, who actually replied to my post on his Facebook wall, said, “Sounds epic.”

I like his take better.

Brendon Burchard says, “It’s OK that you dream bigger than some people around you. Don’t wonder if you’re crazy for wanting more, and don’t minimize yourself just to fit in. That restlessness and ambition you feel is normal.”

Long distance high fives to Art, Bear and Brendon! Thanks for all the motivation and support. You guys rock!