Late in September we went on a vacation and anniversary trip to Ireland with my wife’s two sisters and their husbands. We had not been on a vacation in years. Jeannie and Don travel a lot and they did most of the trip planning which made this a novel vacation for me- I was not the adult advisor who was responsible for everyone and I was not carrying everything I needed for the ten days on my back.We arrived in Killarney in the evening. The plan for the following day was a boat ride/ bike ride through the Gap of Dunloe. The tour guide says, “The Gap is ideal for cycling and walking.” It suggests that there is some uphill on the ride but a beautiful coast down the other side. Note to readers- in order to coast down the mountain you have to go up the mountain.
This day trip started with renting bikes at a local shop and biking to “the castle” where we met up with a boat that took us on the first part of our trek. The trek includes a 13 mile boat ride across the five lakes and then a 7 mile bike ride over the mountain and then a ride back to town. The trek can be done in either direction (with the boat ride first or last) so you usually see some travelers making the trek in the direction opposite of yours.
At the dock eight of us (6 bikers and another couple who were walking the trek) piled into the little outboard motor boat that would take us across the five lakes. The day was fairly calm and chilly as we left the dock but the wind picked up some as we got out in open water. The boat ride is very scenic and a very wonderful trip. The hour and a half ride provides a lot of time to talk with the “captain” and to learn about the local culture and lore. About halfway through the boat ride we reached the picturesque Old Weir Bridge. A few years ago the flooding was so bad the water reached the underside of the arch of the bridge. The water level on our day was fine but going under the bridge did pose one problem. The current through the narrow passage under the bridge is so strong that our little boat could not power through on its own. So we off loaded five people who would take the short walk around the bridge and meet us on the other side. Three of us stayed with the boat. At the bridge we got out of the boat and grabbed the tow line. With the little out board revving for all it was worth and three us pulling hard we got through the passage. We reunited with the rest of our group and continued the ride. This is a gorgeous and relaxing boat trip.
Arriving at our destination we disembarked, got our bikes and began the “ride.” I use the word “ride” loosely because there was as much pushing the bike as riding the bike. The first part was some uphill and some downhill but nothing too extreme. We must have looked pretty unprepared though. As we passed two British women who were making the trek in the opposite direction, one turned to the other and said, “Out of shape and bitten off more than they can chew.” Rude… accurate but rude.
A short while later we came to a fork in the road. One road led straight up the mountain. The other was a more leisurely ride. We took the latter option. About a mile down the road it went from paved road to a rutted trail. A short while later we had to go through a gate across the road. These were pretty good signs we were not on the right trail. The trail ended with two men in a small trailer camp confirming we were on the wrong road and had to return to the fork. They said we were the second group that day they had seen. On the way back to the fork we passed the other couple from our boat walking the same direction, so we convinced ourselves that it was a signage problem, not our inability to read directions.
At the fork we took the uphill option and began the climb. I now have much more respect for Lance Armstrong. Looking up the mountain I thought I was back at Philmont. Narrow trails (the roads were very narrow and really resembled trails); switch backs visible all the way to the top; light rain that had you deciding rain gear or no rain gear, rain gear or no rain gear. The difference was pushing the bike instead of carrying the pack. (Some are probably wondering why we didn’t just use a lower gear. In the lowest gear in the lowest gear setting, there was no riding up the mountain). About two thirds of the way up the mountain I asked Bill if his legs felt like jelly. He said that they had stopped feeling like jelly a long time ago. The British women were right.
We reached the crest and began our descent. Although it was much easier on the legs on the downhill side, the steep grade allowed for pretty high speeds. On a flat paved road this would have been exciting. Sharing the narrow rutted road in the Gap with cars going too fast (and driving in the wrong direction, I might add) made the downhill somewhat of a challenge as well.
After a thrilling downhill we arrived at a stopover. Time for water (or a Guinness). Some of our group wanted to get a cab for the rest of the trek (about 4 miles through traffic to the bike shop)but the cabs wanted $75 to take us back. Too much money. So off we went. At the bottom of the mountain where the traffic began, we were able to flag down a cab. Three got in the cab (with the bikes) and returned to the shop. This cabbie only wanted $10- he got a nice tip. The other three finished the ride to town.
The bike ride through the Gap of Dunloe was certainly a challenge. Like completing one of the challenges at Philmont there was a terrific sense of accomplishment when the ride was over. It is a very memorable part of the vacation.